Running the Gauntlet of Funding for Women

The domain of funding for “women’s issues” has long troubled me.  Statistics vary concerning the percentage of money earmarked for women’s programs; the numbers are always in low single digits. A tragedy, given the often repeated truth that women are society’s best game-changers.

Women’s funds like to point out how they are collaborating with other women’s funds, amassing capital.  Yet we are told little about how exactly that capital translates into specific activities that help women, especially those most affected by poverty and conflict.

Those funds that do publish RFPs usually require lengthy complex applications that would discourage all but experienced grant writers in large organizations, a bias that eliminates a whole tier of important small local organizations.

We petitioners for funding always must frame the ‘problem’, consigning women to deficit status rather than framing their assets, as the brilliant Trabian Shorters speaks of it. We’re asked to stigmatize women (underserved, marginalized, low-income, etc. ) rather than focus on equipping them to navigate and change systemic barriers to their power.  Until philanthropists, foundations, and government agencies define their giving in terms of fostering aspirations rather than solving problems, they will be stuck in the ‘savior’ mode, with little lasting impact on real lives.

Businesswoman Lucy N, a member of Baraka Women’s Center, Nairobi

We petitioners for funds must have evidence-based solutions, backed up with data that UN Women says is hard to come by. They reckon that as much as 60% of gender data is missing / never gathered by governments or other international actors, especially as relates to violence against women and women’s mental health. For the foreseeable future, those two concerns have to be integral to any initiative helping women build better lives.

We petitioners for funds must continually address a favorite buzz word of the humanitarian/development communities: sustainability. It’s easy to promote this capital-based concept when you yourself have plenty of capital to work with. The bias favors long-established wealthy INGOs, over locally based community organizations with limited access to capital. One-off project funding will almost never produce lasting results. If we want sustainability, we have to insure that adequate capital finds a new home in smaller organizations that can build – and be – community assets.

The pandemic and the movement for racial justice have ushered in a swell of possibilities, not unlike the Renaissance  (which followed the Black Plague). We have a unique opportunity to alter the dynamics of grant-giving.  As Angela Bruce-Raeburn points out in her astute Devex Op-Ed: “Aid organizations consistently spout rhetoric about “working themselves out of a job,” and yet many of them have worked in some countries for over 50 years.  Is that not failure?” 

Women-led grassroots organizations are the way we transform the options and the power of all women.  That is the raison d’etre of Women’s Centers The Movement welcomes collaborators.

Public and Private Reparations

Many more of us than ever before are beginning to imagine ways out of the dismal swamp of racism in our cultures –  in the US and around the world.

Cruelty no one could deny shoved us out of complacency. ‘The Spark’ had to be brutal and captured on video.

Most of us white folks have been uneasily blind and guiltily defensive about the centuries of punishments meted out to blacks in America.  Some of us will find redemption in activism for racial justice, each committing to action that fits, with ‘No Whining’ please.

Reparations seem an especially significant action.  A vast debt is long overdue. America has denied generations of black families access to the capital through enslavement and discrimination. All our systems were designed and aligned for that to happen. Changing the hard-wiring requires a lot of small and large efforts over a long period of time.

I began my private effort at reparations with this ever-growing understanding:   

Women of color, especially those living in poverty, need access to resources to heal from the traumas of their lives. It takes a long as it takes.

The healing process point to long-deferred dreams and the skills needed to achieve them.

Deploying those skills makes women the best change agents a community is likely to have.

I’ve leveraged my white privilege to deliver those resources in spaces women have found safe and welcoming. Those places are Women’s Centers.

Women’s Centers took wing when I understood how this approach could serve refugee women, women displaced from their homes by wars, and ultimately all women systematically denied basic human rights.

Capital to meet the needs of even a small portion of this vast population of women has been notably  difficult to access.  I get it that (R)Evolutionary ideas can take awhile to catch the tow-rope of capital commitments, but it’s time now to hurry up the slope.

Meanwhile, our societal reparations plan deserves sorting out with all possible dispatch. As was dramatically illuminated with COVID, our federal government finds money when circumstances are dire.  A massive 400-year-old debt certainly qualifies.

The effort to prepare a reparations package cannot take years, certainly not the more than fifty years that the Equal Rights Amendment has languished without ratification. The struggle for black lives to matter  – socially, economically, politically, educationally, in health care, banking, the art, the trades – is bound up with the struggle for women’s lives to matter. Those changes will be just a wrenching and breathtaking and compelling.

No question that the best ideas and energy should catch momentum now.  It took centuries to construct the evil empire; it will take day after day of healing and safety and breakthroughs for all of us find our way home to each other.

Momma had no clue there’d be days like this

We don’t know if the virus is slowly killing us or if we’re gaining traction subduing it.

Some of us are doing the prudent thing:  laying low.  The less prudent are engaged in a sort of Russian roulette with a lethally unknowable adversary.  The President is taking  a potentially dangerous medication; perhaps he will manage to off himself through sheer stupidity.

In the absence of sane national leadership, it’s tricky to know what to think.

Resilience has it limits.  The Earth is demonstrating hers – the virus demonstrating ours.

Entrenched food supply lines are being compromised. People get crazy when they’re hungry. For those of us who live in cities where unequal access to resources has long divided people, the possibility of riots rears its head.

The poorest bear – early and often – the blunt force of a crisis.  Anger and desperation make ravenous bedfellows in times of societal deterioration. Our worst impulses rise up.

We’ve been such colossally wretched stewards of our planet,  redemption may take a while. The time required to adopt intelligent ways to inhabit the earth may shove us a lot closer to extinction than anyone could imagine.  There’s a sinister impatience in that calculation.

These thoughts do not feel like maudlin speculation, but rather a necessary investigation of trigger events for self-preservation strategies. 

I live my days feeling unstuck in time, not a bad outcome for one who’s lived life on schedule.

I work at home, have done so as often as possible in my careers because I cannot tolerate, temperamentally or ecologically, commuting.

I’ve managed to get comfortable with virtual meetings.

Finally, we all get to see ourselves as others do – that’s the new part. Informative and sobering.

All of my plants are blooming spectacularly this year.  All my neighbor’s plants are blooming spectacularly. The Lake Merritt Gardens are awash in brilliant flowers, Monarch butterflies, inquisitive squirrels, and singing birds.

Is this fecund outburst the result of less vehicle pollution, or ‘good enough’  rains in the land of an expanding  megadrought, or generous sunlight in an untroubled sky?  A consolation prize for all the darkness of COVID?  A small indicator of benefits if we as a species revise our reckless ways with Her ecosystems? 

We weren’t prepared for any of this. Not in any meaningful ways. We’re left to consider worst case scenarios, while inveterately hoping for good outcomes.  Caution and the clarity of preparedness might have saved us falling this far. We consider a new kind of future, agitated but not despairing.

Free-fall through The Portal

Stagger Me

Like many who’ve been sequestered at home –  four weeks for Californians – I’ve  been staggered by the scope of this crisis, and dragged myself into uber-anxious foraging for information.

Venturing out for a walk or bike ride, I give wide berth to those without masks, wondering if they will remain in denial until they are infected, and will never know (care?) how many they’ve infected.

A Dutch study determined that the ‘slipstream’ of potential virus-bearing droplets from people walking, running, or biking is frighteningly longer than the six-feet social-distancing guideline when standing in place. Sobering stuff – how much we share without realizing it.

Little Bright Spots

Makeup has become irrelevant for many women. We’ll find out if we like our hair longer. We’re practicing better hygiene habits and getting proficient with Zoom.

The State of California is finding a way to house its urban refugees (aka unhoused aka homeless) by buying up hotels to house them – at least in the short term – finally embracing the only intelligent way to end homelessness – by housing people.

Perhaps we’re finding we don’t need to keep so many people in overcrowded prisons.

Corporations are opening their wallets – at least in their public promotions –­ to bring basic resources to communities in need. (Why was this hard to manage in the past, when the poor were left to their own devices?)

The Mafia in Sicily is providing free food to residents.

Animals are touring their own zoos, and wild creatures are showing up in neighborhoods with no traffic.106452921-1584669021476gettyimages-1207535203

Humans Behaving Badly

No way around the fact that this will be a long epidemic and we will lose a lot of people.

Such crises, also bring out the worst  behavior.  Snarky politicians surface to foist their small-minded agendas on citizens, no matter who suffers. For example:

A federal appeals court just ruled that Texas may enforce a near-total statewide abortion ban for as long as the coronavirus pandemic lasts.  They won’t have to suffer what women do when they live an unwanted pregnancy though to the end

Cities are recording substantial increases in domestic violence, as dysfunctional families are forced to be together. Many feminists are calling this the shadow pandemic. And where is the money to support outreach and women’s shelters?

And, this being America, gun sales are setting records.

I harbor a gloating wish that 3M will be stuck with the millions of masks they could not deliver before we shifted to DIY with t-shirts and cloth napkins and bandanas.

The Portal

Arundhati Roy suggests this pandemic is a portal between one world and the next – a shaky new bridge between our past and our future.

Our social and economic systems are being altered forever, and some of them deserve to die. Like commuting habits that pollute the air we breathe;  like using more clean water than we can reasonable expect to have access to in the future; like tolerating vast unhealthy food production and distribution systems – and that’s just scratching the surface of our collective aggressions on the planet.

Why would we want to drag those messes forward?

Rather, we can set down these burdensome ways, marshal our ingenuity, and rebuild a more balanced world, a place we finally will defend from our own worst impulses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evolution in the Time of Contagion

I could not imagine a more ruthless way to reset the human condition – on every level – than a pandemic.   We’re in collective shock at the refashioning of our way of life. We’ve had to adapt to new protocols for touching, congregating, cleaning, debt payment, shopping, helping, isolation.

Nature has sent us all to our rooms (literally) to ruminate about what we have done – or not done –  for our world. All of us together have a unique opportunity to re-think EVERYTHING. To EVOLVE.relax_w

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) notes improvements in air quality in China and Italy, because so few vehicles are on the road and in the skies. The pattern may repeat in the wake of country lockdowns. But, the WMO emphasizes, these improvements do not get us off the hook for committed action on climate change.

The Secretary General of UN called for a global cease fire, a halt to nine major wars, seventeen minor wars, and nineteen “skirmishes” that afflict millions of people.  Could we help peace hold indefinitely, even when supply lines become stable again? Could the weapons economy be redirected into the health of our children and planning for future pandemics?

Will we learn to follow intelligent rules for civic behavior in crisis situations, knowing that each of us has a responsibility to all of us.

Can we think again and deeply about reining in our consumer ways, not gobbling up resources but spreading our wealth to those that suffer intractable poverty?

Will corporations extend their current crisis-inspired largesse to ongoing funding that solves pressing problems in their communities?

Will communities of faith shelter and serve the homeless where governments have not – until everyone has a home?

Can we empty prisons with a better solutions?

The pandemic is the most dramatic  ‘pause’ we have ever confronted. Will we use the time to make hard-learned lessons stick? Will we inject new energy into tattered dreams of a peaceful prosperous future for everyone?

Many of us now have the time to re-imagine our world as a place inhabited with grace, intelligence, and compassion.

That ought to become a new definition of heroism.