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.

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.

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.