Elemental

COVID and the Uprisings have put us on notice that we longer have time to piss around with the same brutality and ineptitude that have characterized much of our nation-making. 

Women need to inhabit all key leadership roles In the movements that arise at this time.  We want to crowd out the possibility of a planetary train wreck that men in power would greedily host. Now is the most stunning opportunity in most of our lifetimes to remove the barriers between us and to spread around the capital controlled by too few.

What makes women so much better suited to tending the human herd?

Our blood attachment with our children means we viscerally prefer not to see them killed, maimed, starved, or shot it.

We can get a lot done with just a look.

We are trained from a very early age to take care of people not us.  Then we learn to take care of us too.

We’re quick to read subtext, value nuance, and engage in soul-lifting conversations with those who share our dot in the universe.

The depression thing that has undercut so many of us will lighten or dispel as we gain traction being in charge and being valued, including by ourselves. Are you in for the long haul?

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.

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