OPINION: Women in charity can create a more equitable world

by Sarah Haacke Byrd | Women Moving Millions
Monday, 9 August 2021 17:00 GMT

Women distribute food to a student during a distribution organised by French charity food distribution association during the coronavirus disease pandemic in France, February 16, 2021. Picture taken February 16, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

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The philanthropic sector continues to underfinance racial equity and gender justice movements, with less than 1% of foundation dollars in the United States going to women of color

Sarah Haacke Byrd is the Executive Director of Women Moving Millions

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the systemic inequalities women face every day in countries worldwide, threatening their safety, health, and economic opportunities. The data is sobering.

While women held 39% of the world’s jobs before the pandemic struck, they represent 54% of its losses, making women’s jobs almost twice as insecure as men’s. Alongside this rising economic uncertainty, women are shouldering the increased burden of caregiving responsibilities, forcing women out of the workforce in record-breaking numbers. These reversals are estimated to cost women $800 billion in earnings.

Compounded by the fact that women were already disproportionately affected by low wages, discrimination, and exploitation, we are living through the biggest crisis for women in our collective memory.

The pandemic and racial justice uprising of this past year has ushered in a moment of profound and painful reckoning with the institutions and structures that are especially failing women of color.

Despite more than $50 billion in commitments from the corporate sector, the philanthropic sector continues to underfinance racial equity and gender justice movements, with less than 1% of foundation dollars in the United States going to women of color. The status quo is no longer acceptable. We can and must do better. It’s here that women’s philanthropy can make an impact.

Women currently control $72 trillion of wealth, the greatest amount in history. This unprecedented affluence presents an unprecedented opportunity.

We are seeing women philanthropists step up to lead in big and bold ways, harnessing the potential of this new power. They are strategically challenging the longstanding power structures that have led to chronic systemic oppression, exploitation, and marginalization, which have left women so vulnerable to the economic shock caused by the pandemic.

While the headlines capture the extraordinary contributions of philanthropists like Melinda French Gates, MacKenzie Scott, and Laurene Powell Jobs, a growing number of women philanthropists and feminist grant-makers are quietly changing the landscape out of the media spotlight, driving today’s conversation around how philanthropy needs to build a new vision for how funds are distributed and to whom.

In a break from tradition, women are modeling a new approach to philanthropy – one rooted in learning, listening, humility, and trust. They recognize the complex and intersecting factors that marginalized communities face, the need to be more proximate to these communities and grassroots leadership, and the importance of breaking silos to work across issues and movements.

Women understand that shifting power is not enough. Investing in building the power of historically marginalized communities is what is needed for real transformation to take root.

The path to delivering on the promise of a more inclusive and equitable world faces many obstacles with voting rights, reproductive choice, LGBTQ rights, and climate protections under threat. The movements for racial and gender justice, and the leaders steering them, are in the best position to prevent this backsliding.

By making long-term, transformative investments in movement-building strategies, infrastructure, and leadership, these leaders can build the necessary capacity to confront the structural and cultural impediments to realizing equality.

They can ensure the communities they represent have a seat at decision-making tables where policies and priorities are set and hold public institutions and corporate offenders accountable. Importantly, proper funding will mean no more scaled-back timelines, placing ambitions on hold, or asking leaders to put their well-being at risk for the causes they sacrifice everything for.

Building a just world will depend on our ability to rectify this lack of funding. Women philanthropists have a historic opportunity to reimagine philanthropy and to redistribute resources to those in the best position to drive the agenda for change forward. As Women Moving Millions’ co-founder, Swanee Hunt noted, “When serious women support serious issues with serious money, that’s serious change.”

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