Category Archives: About Women

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.

The Women’s March Disconnect

I’ve written extensively about the struggles of women living on the margins of our prosperous city, and the need for resources that help advance them. At some time in all women’s lives, the adjectives “vulnerable” and “marginalized” apply. Do we forget?

The messages streaming from the organizers of the Women’s March urge us to RSVP to a March, DONATE, and most recently are pushing to sell March merchandise ( t-shirts etc.).  An earlier email mentioned the formation of policy groups, but no one  responded to a query.

The Women’s March risks becoming a ’cause’ unto itself.

Consider the costs of dozens of Marches in major US cities. I can only guesstimate it’s in the double digit MILLIONS of dollars – much of it for police “protection.”

It’s the new nexus for donations to “Women’s Issues,” usually the least funded of all human services.

If a one-day event can induce an outpouring of so much money, but none of it is publicly earmarked to serve the most vulnerable women, then we have a serious failure to define purpose.

How can the March induce hundreds of thousands of women to gather and NOT enable them to do something more effective than carry signs?screen shot 2019-01-09 at 11.08.22 am

What’s needed now in Oakland – and probably most major cities:

Sufficient safe and comfortable space for all women who need shelter from domestic violence;

A safe place for women to discover and receive the help they need to finish high school, learn computers,  prepare for a job, get low-cost counseling, hang with other women, and learn to value their uniqueness. Too many women ravaged by poverty have a LOT of healing to do.

An initiative to educate EVERYONE our community about how to end violence against women;

A campaign to induce local major employers give public evidence of equal pay – or correct the inequalities.

That’s for starters.

When will the connection between March activism and effective community action begin?  Will the Marches disclose their finances, and will they opt to serve real needs?  It’s an open question that begs response.

Hurray for Our Signs?

Women’s Marches  happen in major cities and will happen again in January 2019 in Oakland. Each March is about a five-hour event for participants.

Each March represents thousands of unpaid hours for organizers and volunteers.The March in Oakland spends in excess of $100,000, the majority for police ‘protection.’ It seems that our guarantees of free speech and right to assemble should not be subject to such a shakedown.

WS Many signs

In Oakland,  about 100,000 thousand people turned out in 2017, and between 40,000 -50,000 in 2018. The call to resist the Trump Administration’s predations – rather than to empower at the local level – is a prominent theme. Not much about the Women’s March seems to appeal to women of color, those with the most to gain when gender parity is actually achieved.

What has improved for the women of Oakland because of the Marches? Social and broadcast media attention for a week or so.  Then everyone goes back (to borrow a phrase from James Baldwin) to their ‘sunlit prison.’

All women face enormous hurdles not only over control of their bodies and lives but ascension of our priorities – locally, nationally, and globally.  Our second-class status is profoundly embedded in our cultures. Therein lies the most formidable challenge – women’s embrace of their own worthiness and value.

What If … the Women’s March identified a goal for community action for 2019?  There are so many barriers afflicting,  women, let’s pick one as an example.

What If … the dollars invested in the March meant that Alameda County would get not the usual 6,000+ calls about domestic violence this year, but instead a 50% reduction – because women had been learning and practicing ways to heal and protect themselves. And abusers always faced consequences.

What would such an effort look like?  Surely it would involve an information campaign, close collaboration of agencies and community organizations to track statistics, and dedicated funding for the work of providers serving abused women.

What if donors put their cash not just behind one “show of force” event, but directed more dollars every month to direct services to women?

I offer this challenge with deepest concern for the future of women’s lives and influence. We have no time to applaud our signs.  We need efforts that actually advance the power of women.

Susan Burgess-Lent, Executive Director

Women’s Centers International

Advancing Women’s Power – Show Us the Money. 

A survey of 1,000 philanthropists revealed that many donors simply do not know of organizations that devote their efforts to women and girls. Some donors feel the issues facing women and girls are too complex and the remedies too hard to scale up – as if this is an informed assessment of the possibilities.  If we understand how many women live in poverty, we can see that as a measure of extreme need in virtually every area of women’s lives:  education, health, housing, livelihood, and protection from violence.

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Current national surveys on philanthropic giving do not consider “women’s and girl’s issues” (W&GI) aa a distinct giving category.  Instead, it gets bundled into pre-existing categories such as ‘human services’ –  which get about 12% of charitable dollars each year.

The Women’s Philanthropic Institute found that between 2000 and 2014, 1,226 gifts worth $6.22 billion were directed specifically to W&GI. The figure represents just 1.6 percent of all gifts included in the data.  At the same time, women’s funds and foundations have estimated that only 5 – 7% of all foundation giving is directed specifically to W&GI.

This range – between 1.6% and 7% – is indeed a troubling commentary on the disconnect between donors and the needs of women and girls. Women Moving Million co-chair Jacqueline Zehner believes women donors hold the key to unlocking the potential of women and girl around the world.  I am certain she is right.

My home, the San Francisco Bay area, one of the wealthiest urban areas in the U.S., ranks 45th in charitable giving. We improve this by learning about the work being done to empower the neediest women of our community, and putting serious money into it.

Women’s Centers International has a well tested Model for advancing the skills and power of marginalized women.  It’s an every-day effort to fund the implementation of that Model where it’s needed.  More committed women donors will make the effort exhilarating for all of us.