Women’s Issues – Show Us the Money

“Women’s issues” are not a priority. This is the subtext of polite rejection letters from foundations and philanthropists – when they bother to respond.  My experience is not unique.

The Women’s Philanthropic Institute found that between 2000 and 2014, 1,226 gifts worth $6.22 billion were directed specifically to Women’s and Girls’ Issues (W&GI). The figure represents just 1.6 percent of all gifts included in the data.  From another perspective, women’s funds and foundations have estimated that only 5- 7% of all foundation giving is directed specifically to W&GI.  in most data, W&GI are not even a category.

This range of giving – between 1.6% and 7% of all charitable giving – is indeed a sad commentary on the disconnect between donors and the needs of women and girls.

In the five years since I founded Women’s Centers International, I’ve written over 100 proposals for funding for support of WCI’s two Centers, as well as for further expansion of the Center network. Admittedly, the early stuff was less than tight; I thrashed around looking for the right words to distill what is a wildly urgent mission:  provide key resources to women trapped on the margins – at or below poverty level. The range of soul-damaging needs among them is breathtaking Theirs are twisted, overlaid wounds – with all the vulnerabilities – of homelessness or inadequate housing, poor heath, lack of education, egregious abuse (often in childhood), rape, and/or domestic violence.

I see women desperate for safe, personal help. I see women who can heal from a LOT of damage.homelessness011515-600x450

Here’s an analogy:

To fish, water is environment, invisible even when toxic.

For over two millennia women’s ‘less-than’ status has been our global psychological environment – largely invisible, even when discussed. But the facts don’t go away.

Women with 'please stop' on hand     Women are the targets of epidemic levels of violence  – with no apparent brake in sight.

Access to competent health services for women declines precipitously with income. Most conditions are preventable with more culturally responsive, woman-informed providers. Health risks are highest among women of color, generally also least able to afford the best care.

Almost two-thirds of all illiterate adults globally are women. (At Oakland Center, about 24% of the members have made it only as far as high school.)

Women still earn about 79% of men in similar jobs. That disparity widens for women of color who, if the trend continues, will not see pay equity for over 200 years.

Women are so resilient it’s killing us.

Here, the analogy between fish and human environments ends. A fish out of water dies. A woman rising out of her second-class status is a force to be reckoned with.

How do we improve the environment so this can happen? We nurture strong, self-possessed women who work together and support each other.

Women’s Centers International creates environments that enable this ‘rising up.” Ultimately, a critical mass of women imbued with the power self-worth and sisterhood transforms communities to reflect women’s priorities.

Listen to one week of news about the unremitting horrors that men’s brutality and greed inflict on women and children, and you’ll grasp how urgent this mission is.

Now we women have to stand up and tell men: “Take a seat, we’ve got this.  Time for you to move aside and let women drive the ship until we set things right.”  Even a slightly conscious male would have to admit men really have messed up the planet. Women are inherently better at urgent tasks at hand: healing and restoring a damaged humanity. We have to re-balance gender privilege, and we’ve got no time to waste.

Back to raising money to do the job.

Foundations generally are slow to make decisions about grants.  Six to eight months is not uncommon. Few are emphatically women-oriented, and those that claim to be seem slow to embrace innovative services to women on the scale that’s required.

I’m looking for people who will act decisively and give big.  Probably you are women.

Women are more consistent and generous in their giving than men. Surveys show we often find motivation for generosity in our personal experiences (like rape, abuse, harassment, inequitable pay). We believe funding woman-focused initiatives leads to progress for society.  Women Moving Millions co-chair Jacqueline Zehner puts a finer point on it: women donors hold the key to unlocking the potential of women and girl around the world.

The San Francisco Bay Area, where I live and work, is one of the wealthiest urban areas in the U.S.  It ranks 45th in charitable giving among major U.S. Cities. My fundraising struggles unfortunately bear this out.

Black and white groups siting

I want to engage with women, individually or in groups, willing to refute the lack of social commitment that ranking represents.  Not to bolster ‘local pride’ – but to engage in generating sea change in the lives of women.

It surely deserves serious money.  Let’s talk. Susan@WomenCentersIntl.org

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