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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.

 

Angry Women

Part 1 of 3: Teasing out The Battleground

I’ve been reading a lot writing by Angry Black Women in Medium,Bitch, and Wear Your Voice and other online zines. I admire their work as channels for diverse voices.

The Articles: In addition to harangues about random acts of racist behavior directed their way, writers often argue a power collusion between white women and white men. From my experience, about as much of a collusion as between black women and black men. Women are the losers in those equations.

Female icon,jpgBlack women have a lot to be angry about. Pervasive inequities in health care, education, jobs and business, and violence in their families and lives. Lotta trauma — plus the daily subtle reminders that they are somehow “less than.”

A lot of education is due. Teaching – that will be heard — requires  courage, humility, and compassion.

Perennially angry people teach only anxiety. Anger is great kindling — necessary for triumph over inertia and indifference. But, over the long term, anger contributes little to behaving as a contributory human being, must less a woman rising.

Patriarchy honors no vagina. We women all are diminished in an infinite number of ways by codes that define our world. These patterns have prospered for millennia, literally on the backs of women. Women who’ve stifled their rage, produced babies, tried to civilize their young ones, lost children, ran complex households, suffered depression, dulled the pain with all manner of substances, and ambivalently adhered to ‘fashion’ in body and clothing. We dress to impress not men, but each other — one face of the ‘programmed’ competitiveness that women need to escape.

Women labor for less money, our health care providers can be dismissive, our safety and sanity is imperiled often by men with little control over their testosterone storms and their own feelings of inadequacy.

Our vaginas impart an essential, powerful commonality.

We’d be fools not to find ways to unite ourselves in fixing what’s broke, especially ourselves.

A Woman’s Place is in the Revolution

Reality checks

Global demonstrations marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 28th. Large protests in Latin America and Europe. Their focus: femicide.

women with hands across mouthApproximately 87,000 women and girls were murdered around the world in 2017, according to the United Nations, which says that violence against women and girls is one of the “most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today”  – and remains largely unreported because of impunity and stigma.  BBC

Sudan has repealed a law that allowed police to arrest women found dancing, wearing trousers, vending on the streets, or mixing with men who weren’t their relatives. Amnesty International praised the law’s repeal but also called on the transitional government to amend other restrictive laws, such as those governing so-called ‘morality’ including consensual sex, dress code, and other matters on the conduct of individuals in private spaces.”

Body politics

  • Alabama passed a law banning abortions at every stage of pregnancy even in the case of rape or incest – and criminalizing doctors if they perform the procedure with up to 99 years in prison.
  • Georgia passed a new law outlawing abortion after six weeks, during which time most women aren’t even aware of their pregnancy.
  • A law in Kentucky takes effect that punishes women for seeking an abortion. The law requires doctors to describe an ultrasound in detail and show fetal images before they can perform an abortion – even if the patient declines.

We need to be reminded of what our sisters are up against  – so we can help.

And there’s some good news:  Two remarkable talks by two visionary women:

Isabel Allende’s meditation on the need for Feminine energy in the management of the world.

Eve Ensler’s TEDWomen Talk     “Calling Men In”    A Masterful discourse about a way forward between men and women.

Taking Off

What’s important is not what is truly new but what’s about to take off.   That would be Women’s Centers.

WCI – Home of the Women’s Centers Movement – creates safe places with the connections and support all women need, especially the poorest. A Center is a ‘base camp’ where a woman can find her power and rise to her place of influence.  Our world need lots of base camps!

Seeking visionary allies:  Susan@WomensCentersIntl.org

Women’s Funding: Talk is Easy. Access – Not So Much

The funding landscape for women-oriented programs appears to be getting curiouser and curiouser.

I read lots of declarations about forming strategic partnerships, but find little understanding of the non-linear and often lengthy process of producing actual “outcomes” and “impact.” Development work in poor countries – and even in poor neighborhoods of rich countries – encounters a minefield of incompatible attitudes between intended beneficiaries and donors.  From the former: The internalized inferiority that is the sticky legacy of colonialism and slavery, the sense of entitlement related to welfare’ systems, and the destructive mindset of long-term poverty.  From the latter: A persistent delusion about the capacity for sustainable improvements when too little short-term money is brought to the table.

Where’s the Money?

Buttefly made of moneyWomen’s funding networks grow by gathering lots of moneyed individuals and organizations as members.  Try finding a way to access that money – or at least begin a discussion about it – and you’ll find that many network members pointedly note: “We do not accept uninvited proposals.”  It begs the question: “How does one get invited?” An online gallery where organizations could post information for interested funders would be a huge step forward in making critical connections.

While  networks crow about teaming up to amass money for women’s and girls’ programs, less is said or done to help implementing partners access that growing wealth. Much could be accomplished by streamlining, perhaps standardizing, the application procedures. Response time – often four to eight months – or no response at all simply betrays any stated commitment to the importance of the work.

Corporations often have social responsibility departments or foundations; seldom do they have a clear line of communication to those in charge. Seeking connection involves running a gauntlet of product sales pitches.

Foundations each have specific focus areas. Most of the time, their funding is project-based rather than for operating support. Generally they limit or even disallow overhead costs in a budget, as if important work can be accomplished without office space, connectivity, or administrative support.

Which Women’s Movement?

In an excellent article “Philanthropy for the Women’s Movement, Not Just ‘Empowerment’” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Francoise Girard states: “ The philanthropic community’s preoccupation with impact and the short-term projects that deliver measurable outcomes can distract us from what really works. Abundant data shows that the most effective way for philanthropists to advance women’s rights worldwide is to directly invest in the women’s movement.”

I believe there are many and diverse Women’s Movements. My personal experience working with impoverished women through Women’s Center International, a Movement on the rise, argues that large groups of women surviving on the margins seldom are inclined to take to the streets in protest of patriarchal oppression. Their priority is to find the tools that will enable them to feed, shelter, and educate themselves and their children.

Ms. Girard further states:  “By investing in the individual, the burden remains on women to lift themselves and their children out of poverty, while leaving in place the systems of oppression that cause or contribute to this poverty in this first place.“

Indeed, each individual has to lift herself.  The traumas of poverty present a considerable burden that each woman can learn to unload as she acquires the tools to improve her life.  Providing those tools ultimately prepares her for activism – but only after the long journey to confidence and an ability to sustain herself. Advocacy movements need to be grounded in a solid connection with women working their way to self-empowerment. The goals are not mutually exclusive.

Ms. Girard also says: “[Philanthropic investment] means the provision of long-term, general operating support to women’s rights organizations that work collaboratively to transform social, legal, and political systems of patriarchal oppression.”

Amen to long-term, general operating support!  This must to be directed both to the grassroots organizations helping individuals lift themselves, and to those already equipped to fight for rights within the systems that oppress them.

Small organizations working at the community level are important elements of a vast women’s movement. They can achieve enormous progress. Their major limiting factor will always be money. To achieve durable results, funders have to be in for the long haul. They must work for a clearer understanding of how much is at stake – for both the individual woman and for the wider movements to achieve full human rights for all women. And they must respond with all the clarity and speed they require of their grantees. It’s business, and women’s lives hang in the balance.

Susan Burgess-Lent, Executive Director   www.WomensCentersIntl.org

Speaker and Author   www.SusanBurgessLent.com

Taking the Cutoff

dusty trail
On the track in North Darfur

The Donner Party’s fiasco in the Sierras grew from two bad decisions. One was to take an new untested ‘cutoff’ from the main trail. The other was getting a late start over forbidding mountains where an early and brutal winter awaited.  When asked about lessons learned, one surviving Donner party member offered: “Don’t take no cutoffs and hurry right along.”

Points taken. Nonetheless, I’ve traversed an uncharted cutoff and it’s proven worthy. I’m now in the process of hurrying right along – with a fierce will to be of service to women who need a hand up.

Despite a total reach of over 2,000 women since the Centers were opened, I seldom believe enough has been accomplished. Millions more women would benefit from a local Women’s Center. WCI has not been blessed – yet – with the financial resources to see just how national and global it can grow.

Donations to WCI tanked this year.  Baraka Center in Nairobi struggles to keep the doors open.   So, I’m creating two new revenue ssources to continue the work. The first is Speaking.  I’ve much to share, as I’ve enjoyed a career of ceaseless wonders working with women during way-off-the-beaten-path travels.  See my speaker info sheet HERE  https://wp.me/P28mxV-1e

The second is Consulting. Larger aid organizations finally may be realizing the importance, in their mix of aid, of a tested Model for a women’s center.  Over thirteen years of intensively studying and coordinating the operation four Women’s Centers, I’ve amassed a LOT of wisdom.  All of it has been complied in the Women’s Centers Guide. This and my strategic thinking skills I will happily share (for a fee).

The Women’s Center Model, birthed during Darfur’s darkest times, is especially effective where women are displaced and poverty endemic – including urban U.S. It’s how we advance women, a community’s best game changers, out of poverty.