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

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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.

Evidence Pileup

I felt slammed by an article this week.   It radicalized – even further – my belief that too many women in the US are laboring under the illusion that we don’t need to fight for basic rights.

The article, An Epidemic of Disbelief by Barbara Bradley Hagerty in the August 2019 issue of The Atlantic, opens with a riveting description of this discovery: in a broken-down warehouse in Detroit,  more than 11,000 rape kits that had not been sent for testing. Their dates extended back thirty years. Each one bore evidence of the most horrific event in a woman’s life. Image rape kit

A scandal it was, this breathtakingly negligent warehousing – but not an isolated case.  Estimates are that more than 200,000 untested rape kits now languish in police evidence lockers in cities throughout US.

In many rape cases, police don’t even begin investigating; a prevalent belief is that most women lie about being raped. One detective stated: “Out of ten cases, eight are false reports.”

Most prosecutors won’t take a case to court without a “righteous victim” – a woman who didn’t know the assailant, fought back, had a clean record, hadn’t been drinking, and didn’t offer sex for money or drugs. Essentially, the victim on trial.  If prosecutors predict a jury won’t convict, they won’t prosecute.

This ‘blame the victim” mindset in the criminal  justice system allows women to be raped with impunity. Journalist Bradley Hagerty captured it succinctly:  “Rape is by far the easiest violent crime to get away with.”

After six millennia, the only right women share worldwide is the right to vote.

In this country, as in many,  we’re still up against The Big Three Wrongs that try to “keep women in their place.”

We are paid less that men.

Our reproductive decisions are legislated by governments.

We are physically not safe; we will likely see no justice if we, or someone we know, is raped. And rape is epidemic in our world. Statistics forcable-rape-rate-in-the-us-by-state-2017

These ugly truths tend to invite depression,  a  predictable malaise too common among women, along with real fear of stepping beyond the restrictive definitions of ’woman’ so well embedded and defended in our culture.

In many countries,  women are in pervasive jeopardy, suffering transgression that even our broken systems might find actionable.  Women walking eight hours a day to collect water. Young girls married off to old men.  Clitorises removed. Wife-beating an accepted practice. And, diabolically, so much more pain-inflicting behavior.

The warriors among us have to come up with solutions.

Nine years ago, an amazing Darfuri woman revealed my warrior purpose to me, I have been immersed in thinking about how Women’s Centers work and grow and change.  I know, from creating four Women’s Centers, that women find what they need there.

Think:  base camps for the movement of advancing women’s lives.

Think:  safe places where women learn new skills, changing their life trajectory.

Think:  women experiencing the support of a sisterhood, learning that the petty stuff undercuts the enormous strength women find in unity.

That’s what Women’s Centers do. They equip women to become strong and resourceful – as they must be to build a better life. And their transformation ripples through the community.

I have witnessed the joyful engagement of the women at Baraka Center.  I know they come, sometimes a great distance, because they find acceptance and wisdom and support.

Meanwhile, to my utter bafflement, I have yet to convince enough monied allies of the urgent utility of Women’s Centers.  We’ve paid big dues; it’s time for big movement.

Women of means – even small means – must  step up for the sisters in dire situations – refugee camps and slums. There you find the women whose unique gifts can and will transform our world.

Women’s Centers are the most elemental way to advance the power of women. We need all the help we can get.

 

 

 

Why the World Needs Women’s Centers

In nearly 6000 years of recorded human history, women have made progress in equal rights only in the last 200 years.  In America, most of it in the last 60. Here’s a short tour of firsts.

Medicine:  Though Elizabeth Blackwell applied for admission to every medical college in Philadelphia and New York City,  all twenty nine schools rejected her.  In January, 1849, at the age of 28, she received her medical degree, at the top of her class.

 Voting:  The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, passed by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, granted women the right to vote.  Just 100 years ago! It’s the only right shared by women globally.

Military:  The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 grants women permanent status in the Regular and Reserve forces of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps as well as in the newly created Air Force.  Seventy-one years later – June 2019 –  the first woman assumed command of an infantry division of the US army.

Contraception:  In 1960, the pill was approved for use as a contraceptive. Even so, the pill was illegal in some states and could be prescribed only to married women for purposes of family planning. Those opposed said oral contraceptives were immoral, promoted prostitution, and were tantamount to abortion. It wasn’t until several years later that birth control was approved for use by all women, regardless of marital status.

Civil Rights: The 1964 Civil Rights Act:  an amendment made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender as well as race.

Sports:  1972  When Title IX was passed there were fewer than 32,000 women competing in intercollegiate athletics. Today more than 110,000 women participate in college sports; the number of female athletes in high school has increased from about 300,000 to 2.13 million.

Juries: It wasn’t until 1974 that women could serve on juries in all 50 states

Credit:  A 1974 law allowed women to have credit in their own name rather than through their husbands or fathers.

ERA – The Equal Rights Amendment

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“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

The constitutional amendment has been fought for since 1923. In 1971, it was approved by the US House of Representatives; five months later by the US Senate, thus submitting the ERA to the state legislatures for ratification.

Three-quarters of the States – 38 – are needed to ratify it.  The ERA fell three states short by its 1982 deadline, and the deadline has been extended twice.  Ratification is now one state short.  The holdouts are NV, AZ, MO, and ALL the southern states, the same ones legislating against abortion and access to birth control.

We have a herstory of solitary struggles, big movements, legal and legislative wrangling, and witchy undercutting by women who imagine they have privilege.

Why is HALF the population still disenfranchised from equal pay, control of reproductive capacity, and freedom from harassment and violence –  in 21st century?

All of us – women and men – have to fight this battle together.  After millennia, how many more decades will it take to get it right?

Every day we help women rise up, no matter the laws that keep them “in their place.” Support the work of WCI!

Unrealized Assets

When Oakland Women’s Center closed in April 2018, I’d been staggered that my Board (at the time) proved unwilling to fundraising, and that no one among the hundreds of women we served evidenced any inclination to step into managing the Center.  Either funding or a committed manager would have enable OWC to continue its important work.  Lacking both, no way forward was possible.

WCI found a new space from which to focus on invigorating Baraka Women’s Center in Kenya. However, not a week passes without at least a couple of calls from women in desperate circumstances seeking assistance. I continue to field those calls and to provide referrals. It’s not the same as having the Center’s full resources at my disposal, but it is better than leaving these women flailing about for a port in the storm.

The nature of the calls remains consistent: help with housing crises, custody issues, domestic violence, lack of income.  If anyone imagines that lives of most women have advanced over the last few centuries, you are sorely out of touch.

Funders – even the women-oriented ones nesting in their alliances with other women’s funds – seem unaware that nothing exceeds the urgency of lifting up women, particularly those living in poverty.  Too many regard the poor – when they think of them at all – as a collection of dreary needs rather than as unappreciated assets. The potential languishing in the 700+million women scraping out subsistence lives thrills and haunts me. I believe that each of them, given the right access to resources, could alter the path of humanity. Not necessarily individually, but as a united community.

So I move along, deep into the process of writing the Women’s Center How-To Guide. With luck, I will find the right combination of words to galvanize the right combination of do-ers with socially conscious money to invest.