Philanthropy & Feminism: A Step Closer to Equity

Posted on November 16, 2018 | Jenell Rosa, Weissberg Foundation

John Hain/ Pixabay

After nearly a century of organizing and protesting for the right to vote, Women’s Suffrage was finally ratified in 1920. And just this November, almost 100 years later, more women than ever were elected to Congress. It is the determination and grit of women that have made these things possible. Though we have made great strides, the work is far from done. Women have the vision and knowledge to lead the changes on issues that will empower generations to come.

Earlier this fall, I joined more than 1,000 funders at Exponent Philanthropy’s 2018 National Conference in Philadelphia. During the three-day conference, I attended many sessions, but the one that really resonated with me was Integrating Feminism into Philanthropy. The session put forward the idea that philanthropy and feminism go hand-in-hand, and that any worthwhile movement has to have strong backing. And that’s where philanthropy steps in. The session speaker, Nicole Baran, executive director of The Peggy and Jack Baskin Foundation, led the discussion by noting some of the ways philanthropy can help propel feminism forward. Other topics discussed included how much more inclusive feminism should be and whether advancing feminism could be the pathway to a more equitable world.

Philanthropy’s Role in Advancing Feminism
Despite women’s inclusion in corporations, government, and the media, we are not afforded as many opportunities as our male counterparts, even those who may be less qualified. Numerous studies on leadership have shown women being consistently more transformational than their male counterparts. Women, often their families’ primary breadwinners, strive to better their lives, the lives of their family, and their communities. In her session, Nicole noted that funders can ensure opportunities are available to women by writing them into our RFP processes and grant guidelines. Nicole also stated that it’s not only important for feminism to be funded but for an equitable lens to be incorporated into an institution’s personnel policies (e.g. flexible work schedules, robust family leave). Both of these efforts are ways for funders to commit to the work and for grantee partners to be supported in it and held accountable to it.

We Shouldn’t Have Feminism without Inclusivity
During the session, an important tension discussed was the inadequate acknowledgement of the efforts women of color have played and continue to play in the feminist movement. Time and time again, women of color are overlooked or excluded—and made to feel excluded–from the feminist movement. We need to build bridges amongst women of the movement. If we hope to foster equity, it has to be by and for all women, not just some. Nicole also dispelled the myth that feminism is unfair to and not inclusive of men. Men are allies in the fight for gender equity and their male privilege should be challenged.

Feminism as a Pathway to a More Equitable World
Feminism, specifically intersectional feminism, could be an antidote to discrimination of all people. Kimberlé Crenshaw, Professor of Law at UCLA and Columbia Law School, and co-founder and executive director of the African American Policy Forum defines intersectionality as a framework designed to explore the dynamic between co-existing identities (e.g. woman, Black) and connected systems of oppression (e.g. patriarchy). Feminism is not only about woman’s empowerment, it’s also about uplifting anyone that finds themselves in the margins of society and not being given the same opportunities as everyone else.

In the words of Audre Lorde, from Sister Outsider, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” My hope is that more funders commit to integrating feminism into how they give, what they give, and to whom they give, thereby converting oppression into opportunity for all people, and above all women, worldwide.

Related: Check out the Weissberg Foundation’s Equitable Justice program to see how we fund, amplify, build capacity, and collaborate to advance organizations centering system-impacted women, girls, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals of color to be the leaders in justice reform.

Jenell Rosa is a program assistant at the Weissberg Foundation, where she provides programmatic, communications, and administrative support to advance the foundation’s mission. Jenell’s commitment to democratic values and social justice started at home with family discussions and education on issues of human rights; her work over the past few years has allowed her passion for equity to flourish. One of Jenell’s favorite quotes (and words to live by) is from Jon Bon Jovi, “nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate.” She believes passion is what fuels us to work for the change we believe is possible.

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