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.

Women below the poverty level.png

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.

Liget…And Howl We Do It

Here’s  a new concept in human emotion:  liget.

The term comes from a story on Invisibilia (NPR) about a couple who visited a remote tribe in the Philippines. “Liget” is the tribe’s word for a kind of distress combining rage and sadness.

Liget may well express the emotions women often feel and seldom understand or discuss.  It’s that galling sense of having little value, of putting up with a lot of shit from society in general, most men in particular, and other women on occasions of betrayal.

Liget is the word I needed for Howl We Do It, my nascent campaign to develop unity in protesting and changing the inequities and violence directed against women.

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Here’s how the pros do it

If you want to keep informed on the Howl We Do It movement, please email me at


Title X – Looming evisceration of women’s body rights

Title X, enacted in1970, is the only federal program specifically dedicated to supporting the delivery of family planning care.

Administered by the HHS Office of Population Affairs (OPA), and funded at $260 million for Fiscal Year 2019, the program serves over 4 million low-income, uninsured, and underserved clients.

Nearly 4,000 clinics nationwide received Title X funding in 2016, including specialized family planning clinics such as Planned Parenthood centers, community health centers, state health departments, as well as school-based, faith-based, and other nonprofit organizations.

The Trump Administration has issued new proposed regulations for the federal Title X family planning program that would make significant changes to the program and to the types of providers that qualify for funding. These proposed regulations would:

  • Block the availability of federal funds to family planning providers like Planned Parenthood that also o er abortion services;
  • Curtail counseling and referrals to abortion services by Title X funded providers;
  • Eliminate current requirements that Title X sites o er a broad range of medically approved family planning methods and non-directive pregnancy options counseling that includes information about prenatal care/delivery, adoption, and abortion; and
  • Direct new funds to faith-based and other organizations that promote fertility awareness and abstinence as methods of family planning.
  • Sites that do not o er abortion services may still qualify for Title X funds, but may decide not to participate because of concerns about clinical standards of care, medical liability, and burdensome administrative requirements.

Screen Shot 2018-07-05 at 5.16.31 PMIf fully implemented, the proposed changes to Title X would shrink the network of participating providers and have major repercussions for low-income women across the country that rely on them for their family planning care.

Find more details at

Women’s Issues – Show Us the Money

“Women’s issues” are not a priority. This is the subtext of polite rejection letters from foundations and philanthropists – when they bother to respond.  My experience is not unique.

The Women’s Philanthropic Institute found that between 2000 and 2014, 1,226 gifts worth $6.22 billion were directed specifically to Women’s and Girls’ Issues (W&GI). The figure represents just 1.6 percent of all gifts included in the data.  From another perspective, women’s funds and foundations have estimated that only 5- 7% of all foundation giving is directed specifically to W&GI.  in most data, W&GI are not even a category.

This range of giving – between 1.6% and 7% of all charitable giving – is indeed a sad commentary on the disconnect between donors and the needs of women and girls.

In the five years since I founded Women’s Centers International, I’ve written over 100 proposals for funding for support of WCI’s two Centers, as well as for further expansion of the Center network. Admittedly, the early stuff was less than tight; I thrashed around looking for the right words to distill what is a wildly urgent mission:  provide key resources to women trapped on the margins – at or below poverty level. The range of soul-damaging needs among them is breathtaking Theirs are twisted, overlaid wounds – with all the vulnerabilities – of homelessness or inadequate housing, poor heath, lack of education, egregious abuse (often in childhood), rape, and/or domestic violence.

I see women desperate for safe, personal help. I see women who can heal from a LOT of damage.homelessness011515-600x450

Here’s an analogy:

To fish, water is environment, invisible even when toxic.

For over two millennia women’s ‘less-than’ status has been our global psychological environment – largely invisible, even when discussed. But the facts don’t go away.

Women with 'please stop' on hand     Women are the targets of epidemic levels of violence  – with no apparent brake in sight.

Access to competent health services for women declines precipitously with income. Most conditions are preventable with more culturally responsive, woman-informed providers. Health risks are highest among women of color, generally also least able to afford the best care.

Almost two-thirds of all illiterate adults globally are women. (At Oakland Center, about 24% of the members have made it only as far as high school.)

Women still earn about 79% of men in similar jobs. That disparity widens for women of color who, if the trend continues, will not see pay equity for over 200 years.

Women are so resilient it’s killing us.

Here, the analogy between fish and human environments ends. A fish out of water dies. A woman rising out of her second-class status is a force to be reckoned with.

How do we improve the environment so this can happen? We nurture strong, self-possessed women who work together and support each other.

Women’s Centers International creates environments that enable this ‘rising up.” Ultimately, a critical mass of women imbued with the power self-worth and sisterhood transforms communities to reflect women’s priorities.

Listen to one week of news about the unremitting horrors that men’s brutality and greed inflict on women and children, and you’ll grasp how urgent this mission is.

Now we women have to stand up and tell men: “Take a seat, we’ve got this.  Time for you to move aside and let women drive the ship until we set things right.”  Even a slightly conscious male would have to admit men really have messed up the planet. Women are inherently better at urgent tasks at hand: healing and restoring a damaged humanity. We have to re-balance gender privilege, and we’ve got no time to waste.

Back to raising money to do the job.

Foundations generally are slow to make decisions about grants.  Six to eight months is not uncommon. Few are emphatically women-oriented, and those that claim to be seem slow to embrace innovative services to women on the scale that’s required.

I’m looking for people who will act decisively and give big.  Probably you are women.

Women are more consistent and generous in their giving than men. Surveys show we often find motivation for generosity in our personal experiences (like rape, abuse, harassment, inequitable pay). We believe funding woman-focused initiatives leads to progress for society.  Women Moving Millions co-chair Jacqueline Zehner puts a finer point on it: women donors hold the key to unlocking the potential of women and girl around the world.

The San Francisco Bay Area, where I live and work, is one of the wealthiest urban areas in the U.S.  It ranks 45th in charitable giving among major U.S. Cities. My fundraising struggles unfortunately bear this out.

Black and white groups siting

I want to engage with women, individually or in groups, willing to refute the lack of social commitment that ranking represents.  Not to bolster ‘local pride’ – but to engage in generating sea change in the lives of women.

It surely deserves serious money.  Let’s talk.