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Powered by Women: Philanthropy in the Age of Trump Needs to Address Gender

September 08, 2017

Pink_pussy_hatsAttacks on women and gender identity have been central to the policies coming out of the Trump White House. Whether it involves dismantling Title IX, rolling back access to reproductive rights, defunding programs that aim to end gender-based violence, or seeking to ban transgender people from enlisting in the military, this administration has made attacking gender equity a key priority. To respond effectively, the philanthropic sector, too, must make gender justice, in addition to economic and racial justice, a core principle. 

Women have been central to resistance efforts across the country and around the world, with millions participating in Day Without a Woman and the Women's March. In record numbers, more and more of us are becoming engaged in the political process, advocating with state and national elected officials, and running for office. Across the country, ever larger numbers of community leaders are working daily to organize our friends, families, neighbors, and communities. In fact, as I write this, I'm meeting with representatives of hundreds of other women's foundations at the Women's Funding Network conference in San Francisco. All of us are committed to defending democracy, restoring respect, and challenging bigotry, misogyny, and racism.

With the role of gender elevated in our new political normal, philanthropy must address gender and gender issues in its response. Looking to, learning from, and partnering with the women's funding movement will be critical to philanthropy's overall success in the months and years to come. It's a smart and necessary approach because women's foundations:

  • continually engage with and are accountable to the public, listen to our grantee partners and donors, are responsive to the current moment with our program strategies, and pivot quickly as needed;
  • develop and train leaders, building capacity at the local and state levels by supporting leaders who are rooted in their communities;
  • work across issues, making linkages between health, safety, and economic security;
  • are nimble and can deploy money quickly; and
  • can reach small, grassroots organizations, often making the first grants to organizations that go on to be critical to social justice movement advancement.

Today, women's philanthropy is responding to the current political moment in ways that the broader philanthropic sector would be wise to emulate. In this first year of the Trump administration, the women's funding movement is answering the urgent call to step up and support community leaders, centering those who are experiencing attacks, including women, immigrants, people of color, low-wage workers, and LGBT people.

And women's foundations do all this on a dime. When the women's funding movement started in the 1970s, less than 1 percent of all philanthropic dollars went to fund women's and girls' issues. Now, four decades later, that number has grown to somewhere between 7 percent and 9 percent. That's still way too low — especially when one considers the gains associated with investing in gender equity. Research has shown that when we invest in women, the benefits ripple out to families, neighborhoods, communities, and the broader economy.

Collaboration and coordination are key to the way we do our work. Two years ago, twenty-nine women's foundations from across the country gathered at the Obama White House to launch Prosperity Together, a five-year, $100 million commitment to create greater economic security for women and girls of color and low-income women. In the first year of the initiative, we made almost $30 million in grants, surpassing our goal while coordinating our efforts and learning from each other. The broader philanthropic sector can join this already-successful effort by partnering with us and adding resources to the table.

Last year, at the United State of Women Summit in Washington D.C., eight women's foundations came together to launch a Young Women's Initiative modeled on the successful initiative led by the New York Women's Foundation. Through the initiative, women's foundations in Dallas, New York, California, Memphis, Minnesota, Birmingham, western Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., are raising up the voices of young women and girls of color, including lesbian and trans people of color, and helping to develop solutions that will improve our communities, for everyone.

Policy advocacy is a critical component of achieving systemic change. At the Women's Foundation of California, our Women's Policy Institute has taught more than four hundred and fifty leaders how to advance gender equity through policy change. In turn, these leaders helped pass twenty-nine laws that have improved the health, safety, and economic well-being of millions of people living in California. Among those laws is the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, which extends overtime protections to an estimated 500,000 domestic workers in the state. (Ninety percent of domestic workers in California are women, while 46 percent are immigrant women.) And this year, we launched a Philanthropy and Public Policy Institute, modeled after the Women's Policy Institute, to teach funders about the public policy process and help them be more effective grantmakers.

In this political moment, we all need to recognize the centrality of gender to our social justice efforts. From community foundations to national grantmakers to individual donors, philanthropy can leverage its resources for tangible, systemic impact in our communities by putting money and trust in women and making gender and racial justice a central part of their giving.

Headshot_Surina-Khan_for-_PhilanTopicSurina Khan is CEO of the Women's Foundation of California. Follow @SurinaKhan and @womensfoundca.

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