Riki WilchinsGetting Gender Back in Giving

By: Riki Wilchins In: Global Philanthropy| My Giving Story| Philanthropy

14 Mar 2013

I recently received a call from a researcher on a new project. As I understood it, a prominent U.S. foundation had asked them to study how domestic donors deal with gender issues. They were to identify funders with a specific commitment to the gender lens in their funding priorities, and then document how these funders tracked the implementation of the gender analysis through grantmaking and programs.

It sounded like a fascinating project, but one on which I could not shed much light. The truth was, the funders I knew that had a strong, explicit focus on gender—whether that meant disparate impacts on women and families or challenging rigid norms of masculinity and femininity—were almost all international or at least international-facing.

Even a decade ago, Women & Philanthropy in “The Case for Better Philanthropy: The Future of Funding for Women and Girls” noted: “For the better part of the last three decades, international aid agencies have made a concerted effort to use gender in their grantmaking and loan strategies…based on numbers that tell them how effective their grants are.

Indeed, a lot of the energy for promoting the gender lens seems to be coming from or strongly linked to international donors. For instance, consider GrantCraft (which has a European and U.S. focus) and its guide, “Grantmaking with a Gender Lens.” or Mama Cash’s excellent new guide, “Funding for Inclusion: Women and Girls in the Equation.”

Sometimes the split seems very visible. For instance, I was excited to see that the 2013 International Conference on AIDS scheduled an evening panel discussion on gender norms and HIV. However, it turned out to consist of almost entirely international-facing players like PEPFAR, USAID, UNAIDS, Sonke Gender Justice (South Africa), and Promundo (Brazil).

Many of the U.S. program officers I know who are doing innovative grantmaking that engages a strong gender analysis are doing it outside of funding guidelines, often because of deep personal belief in an intersectional model that connects gender and race and class. They understand that when you look at the social determinants of health and wellness, especially in at-risk communities, gender norms and ideals must be part of the mix.

Yet as Loren Harris at Frontline Solutions has noted, foundation staff are often already challenged introducing evidence of racial inequities to justify grantmaking investments: When it comes to Black or Latino communities, promoting an intersectional analysis that simultaneously addresses race, sex, possibly low-income status, and gender may simply seem too daunting.

I suspect one reason international folks find it easier to address gender is that many of them fund in developing countries from a human rights model. It’s almost impossible to try to improve conditions in communities where a woman can’t own property, walk unescorted down the street, select her own husband, or expect to be his sole spouse unless you address cultural codes of masculinity and femininity along with age, race, socio-economic status, and so on. And the human rights model provides an excellent framework for doing just that.

However, things are starting to change. A group of forward-leaning donors are looking for ways to take what has been learned internationally and apply it to domestic philanthropy and reenergizing the gender framework.

As “The Case for Better Philanthropy” noted in 2004, some of these “funders are seeking to escape the restrictions of single-issue grant programs…that do not adequately address the complexity of how people actually live and the ways various forms of oppression intersect for people in marginalized communities.”

As the passion for less fragmented and more intersectional grantmaking grows, we may be beginning to see a deeper embrace of gender transformative philanthropy by domestic donors.

Riki Wilchins is executive director of TrueChild.

3 Responses to Getting Gender Back in Giving

Getting Gender Back in Giving | GuideStar Blog

April 5th, 2013 at 9:33 am

[...] transformative” approaches that challenge rigid gender norms and inequities. You can read the original post on the Council on Foundation’s RE:Philanthropy Blog. Riki [...]

Hamutal Gouri

May 27th, 2013 at 9:34 am

Thank you for this excellent post! I am the ED of a feminist fund in Israel ad we’d like to feature this blog on our website, which is currently under construction, and possibly translate some pieces of it into Hebrew. Do we have your permission to do that?

Riki Wilchins

May 28th, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Thank you for your interest - of course you have permission! We also host a lot of intellectual collateral on our website (truechild.org) which you might find useful. On a related note, we are exploring with JUF here in the States doing some specific work around Judaism, gender norms, and women and girls. I know they do a lot of work in Israel and would be glad to put you in touch if you wish.

Comment Form


Welcome to RE: Philanthropy! In this blog, guest and Council bloggers share ideas and insights on the most pressing issues in philanthropy. If you want to contribute, please contact webteam@cof.org.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Foundations.

Contributors

Frank Alvarez
Julia Boyer and Danny Murphy
Janelle Harris
Lisa Richter
Sarita Venkat
Nicole Robinson
Pamela Hawley
Michele Frix
Lisa Ranghelli
Jenny Chan
Juanita T James
Laura Meyer
Flozell Daniels Jr.
Heather Scott
Emily Jones Rushing
Robert S. Collier
Tim Walter
Pamela Flaherty
Denise Spencer
Hallie Preskill Mayur Patel and Charles Gasper
Niamani Mutima
Cecilia Garcia
Jan Jaffe
Bill Linder-Scholer
Rachael Gibson
Benna Wilde
Ruth Ann Norton
Linda Raybin
Novelette Peterkin
Rotary International
Barbara Chow
Erica Ekwurzel
Jim Harrell
Chris Pinney
Lyle Matthew Kan
David Etzwiler
Carmen Fields
Kim Embretson and Tom McSparron
Peter Berliner
Patricia Maguire
Steve Delfin
Liza Petra
Christine Reeves
Jailan Adly
Heeten Kalan
John Feather
Lara Kalwinski
Mukul Verma
Cheryl McKenna
Deborah Ellwood