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Funding for Inclusion: Bringing Women and Girls Into the Equation

June 07, 2012

(Nicky McIntyre is executive director of Mama Cash, an international women's fund based in Amsterdam. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

MamaCash_coverMany foundations in Europe are actively focusing on issues related to social exclusion, considering it a key strategy for bringing about a more fair and just society for all. As much as race, class, ethnicity, or disability, gender is a factor in social exclusion. Yet foundations often say they don't "do gender." This doesn't mean their work ignores the different experiences men, women, and trans people have, but rather that foundation staff and leadership are not intentional about integrating this perspective into their work.

Why do foundations say they don't "do gender"? It may be due to a perceived notion that "gender" is only about women and girls, and that by bringing in a gender lens you effectively "privilege" one group over another. Viewed this way, gender may be seen as a characteristic of beneficiaries, instead of as an integral part of a foundation's mission and programmatic strategies.

GrantCraft and Mama Cash commissioned a new guide, Funding for Inclusion: Women and Girls in the Equation, to explore what foundations in Europe already are doing to bring a gender lens to their work -- and, when necessary, to set up specific funding aimed at women and girls. The guide follows on recent research that showed that while there is considerable interest in funding women and girls among European foundations, in practice a significant gap exists between interest and action.

Mama Cash believes that applying a gender lens is about recognizing there is no "neutral" philanthropic effort and that women, trans people, and men have different experiences of inclusion, exclusion, discrimination, and inequality. Given that the "status quo" is characterized by inequalities and power imbalances, not applying a gender lens to a foundation's work may mean reinforcing stereotypes, attitudes, or practices that could result in discrimination against women, girls, and trans people.

As such, applying a gender lens gives us an opportunity to shed light on differences in power and access that may otherwise remain invisible and negatively influence the effectiveness of a foundation's efforts. If we are not conscious of these differences, then our solutions to societal problems may not take into account the different realities of our neighbors. By applying a gender lens, we can help foster consistency across funding portfolios, ensuring that work is broadly inclusive of women and girls while also taking into account the specific needs of men and boys.

"Balancing the equation," then, is really about working more intentionally with women, men, and trans people to ensure that a foundation’s efforts are not "gender blind" and inadvertently marginalize or exclude particular groups of people.

The new GrantCraft guide is filled with examples of what foundation professionals in thirty-one European foundations (and their advisors) are doing to integrate a gender perspective in their work and/or to focus some of their investments on women and girls. The guide is purposefully framed around a broad definition of gender and provides insights into how gender analysis can reveal the diversity among men, women, and trans people.

Funding for Inclusion highlights how foundations identified entry points to a discussion of gender internally and with partners and how they adapted processes and procedures to favor programs that bring women and girls into the funding equation. The guide also includes an extensive list of relevant resources and contacts covering a range of thematic topics.

Some highlights:

  • Support from foundation leadership is an important ingredient in efforts to use gender analysis and enables a foundation to explore, innovate, network, develop new partnerships, and take calculated risks. Support from above helps to build an enabling internal and external environment and is essential in order to deepen and institutionalize inclusion and gender sensitivity in an organization.
  • Bringing a gender lens into a foundation's work does not necessarily require great effort or organizational upheaval. For instance, some foundations have chosen to set up specific projects, while others have diversified their boards. Examples in the guide show how this can be done by foundations at any stage in their organizational development.
  • Adjusting communication materials, application processes, and the like can help a foundation become more accessible to a broader range of organizations. For instance, one foundation interviewed for the guide found that once it made explicit on its Web site that it was open to women's organizations, the number of applications from these groups increased significantly.
  • The guide also shows how many foundations find that drawing on existing expertise can be a useful starting point. For example, a number of individual philanthropists and larger foundations argue for working through intermediaries such as women's organizations and funds as a strategy to reach small, grassroots initiatives led by women and girls and to foster the development of local philanthropy that is inclusive of women and girls.
  • In recognition of people’s diverse experiences and expressions of gender, the guide moves away from seeing gender as a binary and includes references to trans and intersex people, two groups that face both overt and subtle forms of violence and discrimination but are often invisible in discussions of gender and development.

We are encouraged by the examples in the guide that illustrate how gender is a cross-cutting issue relevant to all areas of philanthropic focus -- be it education, migration, health care, or the environment. And we look forward to continuing our conversations in the philanthropic community to encourage foundations to take gender into account in all their work.

-- Nicky McIntyre

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