Category Archives: WCI

Untethered

Strange to wake up in nearly complete disconnect from people, habits, my usual work.  I had forgotten what it’s like to feel rested. I’m lonely but, to a large extent, cannot bear the company of others. The reset process is terrifying that way. Becoming untethered, bumping about to find the new and right tie-downs to anchor a rebooted vision.

I had high hopes that 2018 would be less ass-whoopin’ than 2017.  It has, so far, just extended the ‘proving ground’ of my life.

The recent months of turbulence of my daughter’s life – the loss her beloved dog, a move to a new home – certainly roiled my soul.  My husband spent a month seriously ill with pneumonia and a month recovering. Concurrently, the loss of Oakland Women’s Center.  Four years of work – good and productive efforts – could not survive what the brilliant singer Jessica La Rel referred to in an intro to her song All We Could Do (I paraphrase here):  a scary unwillingness of people to step up to work that needs doing and is bigger than just them.

No pressure.  No diamonds.

Scarlet-Ibis2
Scarlet Ibis, symbol of transformation

One thing I’m sure of:  a Women’s Center has the most enthusiastic uptake where women have no reliable backstop or support: military conflict zones, slums, and refugee camps.  Parts of most major cities are ‘war zones’ for the disenfranchised, but city governments tend to lack incentive to rally/deliver support for the community-restoring power of women.  Baraka Women’s Center in Nairobi has made good headway over the past five years, but could be so much stronger with reliable funding.

I believe that women generally are unaware of – or incredibly soft-spoken about – their egregiously compromised ‘position’ in the world.  Witness enduring pay inequity, inferior health care delivery – especially mental health services, and pervasive violence against females of all ages – to name just of few of the fixable injustices of millennia–old, swallowed-whole patriarchal values.

I have enduring faith in the efficacy of the Women’s Center Model to help build restorative power bases for women.

I need more and stronger allies to help refine and expand and fund Women’s Centers.

RSVP.

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. Susan@WomenCentersIntl.org

Where I Work

You can’t find a mailbox to save a life within a mile of my office in West Oakland.  Liquor stores, purveying basic food groups, fried chicken, and junk-for-consumption at exorbitant prices, occupy a corner about every four to six blocks.  Similarly, churches, mainly of the Baptist persuasion but including some esoterica, loom on major streets or sit tucked discretely within a former residence or storefront.

The end of the month, eviction time, brings a new tide of worn, cheap furniture and household flotsam to the curbs.  Taggers industriously deface the architecture of the area, along with any signs or furniture they happen upon.  Hardly a storefront or wall is spared the lurid, outsized scrawls, some reminiscent of lettering. Murals, however, usually don’t get graffitied, as if painting that requires more than a few reckless, angry minutes deserves dispensation.

The potholed streets, a patchwork of attempts at asphalt first aid, provide challenge courses for defensive driving. City parks sprout grass and weeds knee-high before Parks and Rec can be prodded into half-assed mowing.  Drivers of speeding vehicles, as well as pedestrians hobbling along heaved sidewalks, routinely toss food wrappers and other trash in their wake.

A once-thriving Black community, West Oakland suffered successive refashioning by earthquake and transit infrastructure. It feels like a place that could be vibrant, but has been left to wallow glumly in lost aspirations.

Every day at Oakland Women’s CenterBW Oakland street, deep in West Oakland, I discover a new variation of the damage that poverty and discrimination have wrought on women. Childhood abuse, usually a multi-generational legacy, homelessness, inferior education, domestic violence, single motherhood, custody battles, self-medication with any drug that can be had, and monumental anger behind a façade of getting by, often with an overlay of faith in God.  I do not doubt the palliative benefits of religious faith, but I prefer to trust the goddess in the woman.

I am one of the few White women at a Center that attracts primarily Black women. I devote myself daily to understanding their painful – and sometimes joyous – realities. I help them find what they need. Often I ponder the ‘legitimacy’ of a White woman helping Black women. Given the egregious nature of their burdens, it seems necessary for willing assistants of any color to step forward. I am willing.

March – then move your money where the power can grow

The Women’s March in Oakland was one fabulous event:  at least 60,000  – and up to 100,000  – people of all ages and ethnicities turned out to send the message: we will do what it takes to defend and advance women’s rights.  At least 1.1 million marched in California alone, and worldwide, about 5 million.

crowd-nasty-signThe economics of demonstrations are sobering.  One five-hour event can cost upward of $200,000.  Consider the hundreds of Marches on Jan 21st, and we’re talking millions of dollars to take to the streets for one day.

How do we translate that action into the nitty-gritty work?  By supporting organizations whose daily effort is to build the power of women.

Oakland Women’s Center in West Oakland, CA opened in May 2015.  165 women, mostly low-income, are now registered members.  They bring to the Center the full spectrum of issues born of poverty:  homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse, domestic abuse, trauma from dysfunctional families, lack of education, and chronic health problems. We work with each of them them to find solutions, a path forward to the lives they want.

Four to six new members register each month. The Center needs to expand service capacity. Yet, we have few assured sources of funds even to sustain the current level of operation – and not for lack of effort

It’s the eternal conundrum of non-profits in general, and women’s organizations in particular.

Can we look to the rising womanist tide to sustain the work? That’s our best-case scenario. Building a bigger network of contributors is our challenge. Who’s out there to help?

Onward…

Remediation

The massively unmet needs of poor women, particularly black women, have fueled my thinking since I began working in Africa two decades ago. In my hometown, Oakland CA, I see as little progress stanching the pain.

Over the last eighteen months, I’ve grown more intimate with the realities of the sisters’ piled-on issues. Obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, breast cancer, addiction, abuse (historic and current), custody battles, low-wage quicksand jobs – because finishing high school never happened.

owc-logo-colorHealing the accumulated trauma requires a lot of courage. And support.

Every woman’s gotta pitch in to bring up every other woman.

Then we actually can reshape a vibrant future around what women are uniquely capable of doing. We are so much more than we’ve learned to be.