Carnegie Endowment Identifies How to Increase Women in U.S. Politics

A recent report from the Carnegie Endowment helps identify specific approaches to accelerate women’s representation in American politics. (Image courtesy of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

While there has been a recent rise in the number of women running for offices across the United States, the journey towards gender equality in politics is not moving fast enough. Statistics shown in a recent paper written by Saskia Brechenmacher, an associate fellow in Carnegie’s Democracy and Rule of Law Program, prove that gender equality in politics is still far from reach, yet many European countries have come significantly closer to this goal. Brechenmacher’s paper provides research about the efforts of such countries and identified moves the United States can make to reach gender equality sooner.

As of right now, women make up 19.3% of the House of Representatives and 21% of the Senate. In several Western European countries, women make up over 30% of their respective parliaments. Lack of equality in any government system leads to a structure that does not reflect its population’s makeup, diminishes the voices of women, and weakens the quality of democracy. In the article, Brechenmacher clarifies that this imbalance is less affected by voter bias and more affected by the small number of female candidates. Female candidates tend to be voted into offices just as often as men, yet they are less likely to run because of four major issues.

Four Issues That Need Addressing to Get Women Representing America

Issue #1: Change America’s single-member voting system. This limits the number of candidates a party can support and shrinks the window for women to enter the political playing field. European countries have adapted systems which allow parties to nominate several candidates, bring a much wider range of people to the ballot. While it is not likely the United States would adopt this same system, 11 U.S. cities use a Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) system instead. This structure allows voters to select several nominees and rank their choices. For candidates, this system encourages a civil approach to campaigning over huge spending. Because of this, it makes it easier for women and minorities to get their name on the ballot, likely not having the same access to funding and connections as men.

Issue #2: Establish gender quotas like European countries have done. These can either be mandatory by law or established within political parties, the latter being more common in Europe. With gender quotas, European parties have established percentages of their nominees and recruits to be female, thus integrating women from the lowest levels. In the United States and Europe, proposed gender quotas have received huge pushback, but unlike the U.S., Europeans have successfully implemented several at the local and government levels. This has been accomplished by female-led campaigns, the contagion effect, self-image of parties and party elites, publicizing research promoting such quotas, and making allies. In the United States, recruitment and training of female candidates have taken the place of quotas as an effort to combat this issue. The Republican party has established Right Women, Right Now to recruit and train women for state offices and the Republican Congressional Committee launched a short-lived program GROW to shine a light on women running for house seats. The Democratic party has seen significantly more success with this, however, through EMILY’s List, Women Lead, and the Women’s Senate Network. However, the numbers do not compare to those of European parties. Other options suggested by the Carnegie report are to set numerical targets for parties to recruit women, systematically recruit and support female candidates, address misconceptions about biases held against women running for office, and prioritize internal equality within parties.

Issue #3: Deal with the problems of publicly funded elections in the United States. Often, U.S. elections require huge sums of money to get noticed, giving the advantage to wealthy candidates with a recognizable name and connections. Because women have been left out of the world of politics, they immediately face a disadvantage when fundraising and advertising. European countries have taken this into account, making reductions on campaign spending. Some countries have made percentages of government funding to parties based on the parties support for and recruitment of female candidates. EMILY’s List and the Women’s Campaign Fund have made it easier for women to receive funding, but more steps could be taken. Financial incentives for support of female candidates, specific funding for open-seat races, and overall shifts in public financing could further level the playing field for women running for office.

Issue #4: Address the Gender Issues in U.S. political institutions. European countries suffer from these internal barriers as well, but activists have continued to make moves toward equality. Internal gender equality plans, placement of women in leadership positions, improvements on childcare and parental leave rules, family-friendly working hours, and internal support structures have vastly improved the experience of women in office in Europe. In the United States, the Carnegie report by Breckenmacher suggests we should work toward improving data collection, setting internal gender benchmarks, improving childcare and parental leave rules, and combating sexual harassment. With these changes, the everyday experience of female political figures will be vastly improved. Getting these issues addressed will keep the conversation on gender equality going on the local and congressional levels.

While European countries have made greater strides than the United States, their movement toward gender equality has plateaued as well. Internal barriers and biases are still huge issues that are the most difficult to uproot.  Keeping the conversation alive is the most important aspect of our battle. It will allow for incremental change to continue and will break down stigmas and misconceptions about the power of women today.

Read the full paper by Saskia Brechenmacher here. 


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Cheers for the Winners. Now Help Us Meet More Women Candidates

Cheers for the Winners. Now Help Us Meet More Women Candidates

Stacey Abrams, House Minority Leader in the Georgia Legislature, successfully bested her primary opponent, and is headed for the mid-term Gubernatorial elections in November. (Image Credit: Kerri Battles, Creative Commons license 2.0)

These are exciting times we live in, as record numbers of women run for political office all over the country. And, of course, there have already been some fabulous victories in the last few weeks including, but not limited to Stacey Abrams and Jacky Rosen  (from this former temple president to another, brava!)

But those candidates are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other interesting women running in important races that don’t get as much press. For instance, Deidre DeJear is running for Secretary of State in Iowa and Veronica Escobar running for Congress in Texas. These are amazing women running in tough places for important positions.

We thought it would be fun to give you a chance to get to know these under-the-radar women candidates from now until the election. These won’t be the people you’ll read about on the front pages of the New York Times, but they are really smart and committed and courageous and we think they deserve our attention and support.

You can easily find their formal biographies and positions on issues on their websites. What we want to do is allow you to get to know them personally, more like what it might feel like to meet them at a cocktail party rather than a website. Here’s our idea: we will ask under-the-radar candidates a set of questions that will help us get to know her better. Candidates: please keep your answers to under 240 characters so that we can share these answers widely on Twitter and other social media.

A few questions to get us started:

  • If you could pass one law today, what would it be?
  • What or who helps you keep going through the criticism and attacks inherent in a political campaign?
  • If you could have dinner with one famous woman (dead or alive) who would it be?
  • What’s the first line of your epitaph?
  • Chocolate or wine?
  • What is one of your favorite charities, and why?

But these are just our questions. What do you want to know about these candidates? Please let us know in the comments below. And if there are women you think we should highlight, please let us know that also!


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WFN Launches New Resource and Community Hub for Women Entrepreneurs

As of this past Monday, the Women’s Funding Network (WFN) has launched its newest initiative:, a free website for women entrepreneurs to build their network and their business. With this new space for women, WFN hopes to provide a community for women-owned businesses of all stripes to come together and support each other. acts as a business-oriented social networking site with a feminist approach. It provides access to a community of women-owned business that members can add as contacts, instantly building women into communities to help one another. Another section of the website is dedicated to resources and tools for business owners. These resources range from marketing to certification to self-care, and allow members to receive assistance based on the stage of their business. Furthermore, the site provides links to free and low-cost online courses in a variety of fields. These courses, along with the business stories of female entrepreneurs, emphasize the importance of learning and keeping an open mind as a business owner and a feminist. The site also includes information on funding a business, providing various links and sources of information.

Wercspace will act not only as a tool, but as a community for female entrepreneurs. Female-owned businesses often fall under the radar or fail to receive enough support to get off the ground. With this new initiative, WFN is bringing women together from across the globe, regardless of the stage of their business, their available funding, or their background in business. This will allow for women-owned businesses to grow together and build strong partnerships on one platform.

I decided to start my own Wercspace account, being an artists and film editor who wants to start making new contacts in the professional world. I can attest that the process of setting up a profile was easy, and there are resources that I am looking forward to checking out further, including the courses section, which shares educational content like Feminist Business School and Project Entrepreneur.


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Women at Cannes Stress Urgency of Gender Gap in Film

At the final press conference of the Features jury, Ava DuVernay thanks Cate Blanchett for her remarkable leadership of their panel.

“Compton to Cannes. Dreamy!” tweeted Ava DuVernay to her two million followers once she arrived May 8th in Cannes, the globe’s most prestigious film festival. The directors of A Wrinkle in Time, Selma, and Thirteenth joined four other women on the jury of the feature competition, forming the majority of the body that selects the Palme d’Or winner, the festival’s most coveted prize. Just days earlier, Michelle Obama was on stage in Los Angeles – a short distance from Compton – at the United State of Women Summit. Tracee Ellis Ross, star of the TV series Blackish, sat across from the beloved former First Lady, leading her in a womanist conversation. The greatest portion of their 40 minute talk centered on a pointed question the actress asked: “Are girls today dreaming differently than we did?”

‘Dreaming’ and ‘Dreamy’ are not exactly equivalents, but they both flourish in a realm that more women are venturing into and in which women are taking charge. Dreams, framing ideas into visual constructs, are core in filmmaking. Many, many women are making films, excellent films, putting their dreams onto film. They just are not reaching key spotlights within the established boys’ clubs.

Until audiences see women’s visions crafted into vast, powerful imagery in film and media, the cacophony of women’s calls for full social, and cultural, parity will go unheeded. Without women and men, girls and boys being able to see the possibilities, hope and dreams from women’s imaginations – as well as women’s rightful place in historical drama – there cannot be equity in the workplace, the political arena, or bodily integrity.

The magic and mundanity of women’s visions are essential, and impact all other things. This awareness – while expressed in one of the very first feminist demands in 1967 at the National Conference for New Politics (Freedom for Women, Giardina) – has simmered on back burners among feminist media activists and advocates for decades. Only now has it finally percolated before the larger, general public, thanks, in large part, to the #MeToo movement.  Now the #TimesUp movement is taking things further by joining film stars with women from all industries, calling both for economic justice along with ending sexual harassment.

The Cannes Film Festival has been especially recalcitrant – as 5050X202, a French advocacy collective and Women & Hollywood, the U.S. based publication started by Melissa Silverstein, among many, have repeatedly pointed out. #Cannes2018, however has responded with some positive strides. Festival director, Thierry Fremaux, for many years has claimed that,“films are chosen on merit and that he opposes the idea of pro-women quotas and ‘positive discrimination.'” However, Jessica Chastian, a juror in the 2017 main competition, has had his ear, and may have finally gotten the message through. “She made me understand the importance of the female gaze,” Fremaux  said in March. He credits the U.S. actress with opening his eyes to creating equity in the selection process. Cate Blanchett, the Australian actress, a signator of the #TimesUp Letter of Solidarity (as is DuVernay), is president of the Feature Films jury. She oversees this key jury of four women, including DuVernay, and four men. The Un-Certain Regard jury is also comprised of a majority of women.

That over fifty percent of women are involved on the juries does not rectify the persistent problem that women’s work is not more often selected by festival staff and committees to be included in the ten day festival. Only three women-directed films are among the 21 films in this year’s feature competition for the festival’s most prestigious award. Jane Campion still (as #Cannes2018 has now closed) remains the sole woman to win the Palme d’Or in 1993 – that is twenty-five years ago – for The Piano. Agnes Varda, the mother of New Wave Cinema, received an honorary Palme d’Or in 2015.

On Saturday, May 12, 82 women – actresses, producers, directors, make-up artists, scriptwriters and other feminist media advocates – stood in a series of rows before the red carpet steps. In protest, the women represented the 82 women filmmakers who have made it into competition over the 71 year history of Cannes Film Festival. This is a mere 5% of the 1688 male-directed works. After marching en masse up the steps, Cate Blanchett, in English, then Agnes Varda, in French, read from their prepared statement.

“Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of the industry says otherwise,” Blanchett and Varda declared. The protest, organized by the French based 5050×20202 [here’s the US 5050×20202], was done just in advance of the screening of Eva Husson’s Girls of the Sun. This feature, about Kurdish women fighters, was the first of only three women’s films to screen in the Features Competition of twenty-one total films.

The failure of the Cannes Festival to be more equitable is a policy issue. That Fremaux on many occasions emphasizes “merit-based” as the barrier for women reflects the failure to recognize male bias, with a false nod to ‘professionalism’ and a thorough lack of understanding about how the entire structure of filmmaking  — from funding to distribution — discriminates against women. LA Times reviewer, Justin Chang, too, disputes Fremaux’s premise, “All sorts of factors and favors come into play when programming a festival, and I’ve long suspected that if the process were strictly merit-based, we would routinely see more female filmmakers in competition.”

Before she could even get into the Cannes competition, Eva Husson, for her feature about the Kurdish women warriors taking on the Islamic State, needed to raise 4 million euros. She had immense difficulty. Twice as much could be raised for a war picture by a male director, she stated in an interview.

Take for instance the MEDIA Programme — a major public fund that supports European films, a division of Creative Europe established by the European Union. 84% of their awards went to male directors, with the men getting 86% of the monetary awards. Lecturer in Film Studies at University of Southampton, Huw Jones, documents this appalling data in an April article for The Conversation. He analyzed 1,473 films funded through a distribution process that promotes films across Europe.

The European Women’s Audiovisual Network – EWA – has been hammering at this problem for a number of years. In August 2015, as a major step, they worked with various stakeholders to create the Sarajevo Declaration. In a recent email to Philanthropy Women, their Project Manager Cecilia Johnson-Ferguson outlined the study they conducted in 2016 about public funding provided to projects led by women directors in Europe. Jones’ analysis is based on this study, she underscored.

“We are continuing to shepherd our recommendations through the EU process,” Johnson-Ferguson reported. Their contribution to the MEDIA Programme can be found here. Overall EWA seeks “an integration of gender equality among the priorities of the next Media Sub-Programme.” They conclude their request: “The imbalanced presence of women in the European audiovisual sector should be urgently addressed at the European Union level through concrete action.”

In the US, little is being done to ensure that women receive a fair share of the public funding for filmmaking. Two structural challenges hinder this. First there is no national, unified organization quite like the EWA leading the charge to both analyze the current public funding picture regarding women films – or other art forms for that matter – and then armed with such data taking the lead to correct the situation. Second, the agency structure in the US – in comparison to Europe where most countries have cultural ministers, even ministers of women’s issues – is a hodge-podge of different agencies with different interests and constituencies. So, it is hard to lasso them collectively into any unified effort. Last, an agency like the National Endowment for the Arts, which in this author’s opinion could best lead the collection of data across federal agencies, is so politically hand-tied to have the smallest of mandates. Its current Congressional Authorization would never allow such a study or correction. How sad. How discriminatory.

Women in the US have a lot of work yet to do to achieve equity in the film business. The most significant steps are policy issues. Maybe all the women this year running for political office is a sign of change that will impact this problem. With more women in office in 2019, perhaps they will enlarge America’s cultural mandate and the funding for cultural activities.

Women are not moving fast enough to significantly change the public funding picture, not in Europe nor in America. The directors of three important sectors of Cannes, however, did sign a pledge to: 1) create a more transparent selection process; 2) keep records of key filmmaker’s and key crew’s gender in submissions; and 3) to work toward parity on the executive board. One small step for womankind. This is not policy, but a promise.

The French minister of culture, Françoise Nyssen, one of the 82 women in the red carpet protest, announced after the action that she would work to assist women filmmakers to raise funds. She was following the lead of the Swedish Film Institute, headed by Anna Serner, “the first public film financing body to achieve parity in its allocation of funds”. Viva La France! Viva La Sweden!

Post Script:  We can all play a role on an individual basis to fund women filmmakers. Here is a feature narrative that deserve support, large or small. 39 1/2, now in post-production, is Kara Herold’s first feature. Filled with comic irony and high drama, it splendidly mixes live action with lyric animation. She’s just half way through raising $30,000. Your support can assist in making her dream a reality.


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Thought Leaders Discuss Origins of American Feminism, Parallels to Third Wave


Thought Leaders Discuss Origins of American Feminism, Parallels to Third Wave

Rebecca Walker, Author, Activist, and one of the founders of Third Wave Feminism.

A rare and significant conversation took place recently at Union Theological Seminary, as two thought leaders in feminism — Helen LaKelly Hunt and Rebecca Walker — came together to talk about ways that feminism can heal internally and forge healthier relationships, in order to achieve the shared goal of a more just and tolerant world.

The program began with introductions from Serene Jones, President of Union Seminary, and Ana Oliveira, President and CEO of the New York Women’s Foundation.

Then came Rebecca Walker. “I am honored to share this stage with the visionary philanthropist, scholar and activist Helen LaKelly Hunt, in the shadows and on the shoulders of all those who have passed through these halls,” began Walker in her opening comments.

As I sat in the church-like hall listening, I found the cadence of Walker’s voice almost hypnotic, and distinctly descendant of the poetry of her mother, Alice Walker.

Walker offered gratitude to the many liberation theologies developed by scholars at Union Theological Seminary, which have “at their core, a connection to that energy that is larger than ourselves, that transcends race, class, and even religion — the energy that resides in spirit.”

“There is safety to be found here at Union, and I am grateful for it. If we are to come together — black, brown and white, rich and poor, cis and transgender, parent and child, believers and non, Americans and all of our siblings from other nations, we will need safe spaces in which to do it. Not just sanctuary cities, but sanctuary buildings, sanctuary meadows, sanctuary schools, sanctuary markets, and sanctuary workplaces. We must start here and work outward, we must make a sanctuary planet, one building, one street, one home at a time.”

Walker went on to talk about the importance of meeting at Union, “this space of mystery and the divine,” in order to “feel wounds that stymie our efforts.”

Helen LaKelly Hunt spoke next, taking the audience back in time to the 1830’s, a time when a “courageous band of women” came together and fought for abolition of slavery.  “They rose up at a time when women had no legal, social, political rights,” Hunt began. “They stepped out and moved into their political power,” said Hunt, as they challenged the institution of slavery.

Who were these abolitionist feminists, these women who stepped up to own their power as human rights defenders? They were both black and white, from different strata of social class, and from different areas of the growing American geography, and they even had some members from England.

As Hunt tells the history, in 1833, William Lloyd Garrison founded an abolitionist society. It was mainly composed of couples who came together to find ways to convince the new American government to dismantle slavery. The women were part of the group from the beginning. They coordinated meetings and attended them, prepared food, took the minutes, and helped write the mission statement. Then came the meeting when mission statement was to be signed asa formal document, and all members of the society were invited to sign. “But when the women got to the desk, they wouldn’t let them sign,” said Hunt.

So the women formed their own group, and not long after, sister groups started to emerge all over the country. In 1833, there were 7 groups. The next year, there were 17. In 1836 there were 42 groups of women meeting to bring an end to slavery, and in 1837, there were 140 of these groups.

It was a popular, but, as the woman would find out, dangerous cause. It was also a cause that women took on who were particularly religious. Their faith in God was the major catalyst for their urge to speak out against slavery.

Hunt described the way in which these anti-slavery women activists were rebuffed by the culture. “The government said, ‘Sorry, you can’t speak in public.’ So they went to their church and their church said, ‘Sorry. Women shouldn’t be speaking in public.’ These women said, ‘The government? Church? God’s telling me to speak out. I’ve got to speak out!'”

Many of these women felt compelled by their religious devotion to become public agitators. They violated the law to get their point across.

The Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women was held May 9 to 12. Women representing 140 different groups across the country came together in New York at a little church on Houston Street. Some came by stage coach, some by steam boat. “Some of them came unescorted. That was huge,” said Hunt, as women were generally not allowed to travel without the accompaniment of a man.

“Such a convention the world has never saw,” wrote one of the attendees in her diary. It was the first national convention of U.S. women. It was the first interracial meeting of any size at that time in American history. Seneca Falls, eleven years later, would be all white women.

But these women were ahead of their time. They spoke of the need to change both social custom and religious ideas in order for women to gain stature in the public sphere. Angelina Grimké prepared one of the key resolutions for the 1837 convention. “The time has come for women to move into that sphere which providence has assigned her, and no longer remain satisfied in the circumscribed limits with which corrupt custom and perverted application of Scripture have encircled her.”

Pennsylvania Hall burning on the night of May 17, 1838. (Image source: Wikipedia public domain)

Yes, it was time to rise up and demand equality, but events following the 1838 convention sent a chilling message to these women: be silent, or risk your lives with continued activism. An angry mob encircled Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia, the newly-erected building  where the women were meeting, and harassed the convention-goers. On the third evening of the convention, after the women had exited the building, the mob set fire to Pennsylvania Hall, and although police and firefighters responded to the scene, they were not able to keep the mob from engulfing the building in flames. The message seemed clear: anyone involved with such work would be risking their lives.

Thankfully, many women were willing to risk their lives to continue this work. Grimké wrote about her conviction to the cause on the day after the mob set fire to the building where the women had met in Pennsylvania Hall.  “If persecution is the means which God has ordained for the emancipation of the slave, then I can say: let it come. For it is my conviction that this is a cause worth dying for.”

In our next installment, Rebecca Walker rejoins the conversation to talk about similarities between the early abolitionist feminists and Third Wave feminism of the 1990’s. The conversation closes with both leaders discussing how the next wave of feminism needs to build on a relational culture that values inclusiveness and diversity.


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Big Prize Focused on Educating Girls, Women’s Rights, and Climate

The Roddenberry Prize is looking for applications that will work at the intersection of girls’ education, women’s rights, and climate issues related to creating a plant-rich diet and reducing food waste.

Good news for gender equality philanthropy:  another large prize is taking on gender issues this year. The 2018 Roddenberry Prize will go to four organizations ($250,000 each) that have realizable plans to address problems at the intersection of girls’ education, women’s rights, and climate change.

Not familiar with the Roddenberry Prize? It was launched in the fall of 2016 at the Smithsonian, in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek, and in 2017, the first prizes were awarded. The Roddenberry Prize is sponsored by The Roddenberry Foundation, which was founded in 2010 with a mission to support “remarkable people and organizations who can disrupt existing dynamics, challenge old patterns of thought, and discover new ways to help us move towards a better future.” You can learn more about the Roddenberry Foundation here.

What’s particularly appealing about the Roddenberry Prize from a feminist philanthropy perspective is its focus on relationships — on the interconnectedness of problems. This year’s awards will focus on the interconnectedness of food waste, plant-rich diets, girls’ education, and women’s rights. These are four of the top ranked issues identified by Project Drawdown’s in its solutions research on global warming.

Another interesting aspect of the Roddenberry Prize from a feminist perspective is its use of Peer-to-Peer Review. This process is aimed at helping you and your organization get quality personalized feedback, so that you can become stronger as a nonprofit.  How it works:  after all first-round applications are submitted and validated, “each organization will receive instructions to score approximately five other applications within their chosen category: (1) Food preparation, consumption, and waste; or (2) Education and rights of women and girls.”

Results from Peer-to-Peer Review will be used to score applications “using an algorithm that ensures a level playing field for everyone,” according to the Prize’s website.  From this process, up to 50 applicants will be invited to submit a Round Two application. Round two will then be whittled down to 30 applications that will be scored by Evaluation Panel judges.

Judges for this year’s Roddenberry Prize include Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women (Musimbi Kanyoro recently wrote a tribute to the legacy of Deborah Holmes, which we published here), Yasmeen Hassan, Global ED for Equality Now, Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and Alice Albright, CEO of the Global Partnership for Education.

Interested applicants can register here.

Who Won Last Year’s Roddenberry Prize?

Last year’s inaugural Roddenberry Prize winners were focused on the environment, health, finance, energy, and communication. The contest received over 600 applications, and gave out a $400,000 Grand Prize and four $150,000 Innovation Award prizes.  The Grand Prize winner last year was Opus12, developers of a method to convert industrial CO2 emissions into valuable chemicals and fuels. The Innovation Award winners were:

  • FarmDrive – a finance start-up working in Africa to help small farmers access credit.
  • FastOx – a “waste gasification system” that benefits marginalized communities in the developing world by converting trash into clean energy.
  • SmartStones – a “body language-based sensory tool” that helps non-verbal people, many with autism, to communicate.
  • Cancer Cell Map Initiative – an effort to find new therapies and diagnostic tools for cancer by mapping molecular networks.

Girls’ Education and Women’s Rights: What Exactly Does that Mean in Terms of the Roddenberry Prize’s Vision?

The Roddenberry Prize is aimed at enhancing the impact of more girls receiving a primary education around the world. Their website talks about  several key strategies to improve girls’ education including helping to make school affordable, helping girls address health barriers, ending child marriage, and helping girls learn life skills necessary for adulthood.   You can learn more about strategies that help girls access education on the Prize’s website.

In terms of women’s rights, the Roddenberry Prize is looking for projects that recognize that gender equality and climate change are intricately linked, both large and small ways. With women as the central link to community engagement, parenting, and the domestic realm, they are uniquely positioned to be the leaders of better environmental practices.

The Roddenberry Prize also emphasizes that women need to have reproductive care and access to family planning, education, and financial capital in order to navigate the global economy.  Learn more about key strategies that increase women’s rights on the Prize’s website.


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RBG: The Inspiring Story Behind the Feminist Icon

RBG opened on May 4 and has gotten rave reviews for its powerful depiction of one the most important feminists of our time. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.)

Long before she was a meme and pop culture icon, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a sober-minded jurist, a workaholic and a trail-blazing advocate for gender equality. None of that has changed, but in the last decade Ginsburg has become a celebrity whose image is plastered on t-shirts, mugs and all over the Internet. She’s celebrated as both a gritty feminist badass, and cute old lady.

It’s great that someone of Ginsburg’s intellectual heft and societal importance is famous; still, you worry that the image of the bespectacled RBG is overtaking the person. Part of RBG—which is directed and produced by Betsy West and Julie Cohen—explores the hagiography surrounding the diminutive justice: college students express awe at just glimpsing her, and we see Ginsburg sporting a “Super Diva” shirt while working out with her trainer (who, incidentally, has written a book titled The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong … and You Can Too!). The workout stuff is cute, and a testament to Ginsburg’s determination and discipline, but far more important, and interesting, is her work over nearly six decades as a lawyer, professor and judge.

Nominated by Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg was not the first woman named to the Supreme Court (Sandra Day O’Connor served from 1981-2006) but she has been the most passionate defender of women’s rights, including abortion rights. And while she is considered a liberal icon, it wasn’t always the case. When Ginsburg was appointed, she was in the middle of the pack ideologically, but the changing composition of the court has moved her relative position to the left. Moreover, RBG has proven more than willing to dissent from her conservative colleagues, particularly on gender issues. She is able to do this while maintaining a reputation for collegiality, which included a long-running friendship with the boisterous conservative justice Antonin Scalia, a fellow opera lover who died in 2016.

There are plenty of well-known figures who weigh-in on Ginsburg in the film, including Gloria Steinem, Bill Clinton, NPR’s Nina Totenberg and long-time Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, an arch conservative who nevertheless recommended Ginsburg to President Clinton in 1993 to fill the open Supreme Court seat. “It was the interview that did it,” says Clinton about his choice of Ginsburg from a long list of potential nominees for the position.

Ginsburg’s daughter and son, and a granddaughter, attest to the judge’s sharp mind, prodigious work ethic and serious demeanor. So do two of her childhood friends who confirm, as does nearly everyone interviewed, that Ginsburg is no fan of idle chit-chat or time wasting.

Gender was an obstacle throughout Ginsburg’s rise in the legal ranks. “Being a woman was an impediment,” she notes dryly about her time at Harvard Law School. Ginsburg was one of only nine women in a Harvard class of over 500, and the scrutiny was intense, although professors would not engage the women in the Socratic interrogation that men received because it was felt that females were too delicate for such treatment. Ginsburg also recounts that a dean called the female students together to ask them how they thought they could justify occupying seats that would otherwise have gone to men.

RBG faced other challenges as well, including the death of her mother after a lengthy illness when Ruth was 17. RBG did her undergraduate studies at Cornell, which is where she met her husband Marty. They both went to Harvard for law school, and when Ruth started (she was a year behind Marty) she was caring for their 14-month-old daughter. Ginsburg neatly compartmentalized law time and baby time, she says, but then Marty was diagnosed with cancer, and RBG helped him keep up with his studies while he received treatment. All the while, she was rearing their child, attending classes and serving on the law review.

Ginsburg’s husband survived the bout with cancer, and he proved key to her later success. “Meeting Marty was by far the most fortunate thing that happened to me,” says RBG. Martin Ginsburg, a tax lawyer who died in 2010, was gregarious and social, an ideal counterpart to his more reserved wife. Moreover, not only did he actively campaign for Ginsburg’s nomination to the Supreme Court in the early 1990s, he gave up a high-flying career in New York when his wife was named to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Carter in 1980. The family moved to D.C., and Marty took on much of the childrearing and cooking duties (there are several mentions of RBG’s culinary deficiencies throughout the film).

When RBG graduated from Columbia Law in 1959 (she’d transferred there after her husband took a job in New York when he graduated from Harvard), she had a hard time getting a job in a law firm, even though she’d been at the top of her class. The discrimination against women in the legal profession was not exactly subtle. She became a professor at Rutgers University, and soon learned that she was being paid less than her male colleagues, a situation she quickly moved to remedy.

RBG became a gender equality crusader in the 1970s, and in several cases that she took on, men were as much the victims of gender discrimination and stereotyping as were women. In 1973, she argued a case before the Supreme Court in which a female Air Force lieutenant was not given a housing allowance for her and her husband, even though male service members with wives were automatically granted such benefits. The policy was overturned. In a 1975 case, she represented a man whose wife had died shortly after childbirth. The widower was denied a survivor’s Social Security benefit, which he needed to be able to care for his son, even though in parallel cases women receive such a benefit when their spouse dies.

Once RBG got on the court, she continued to champion women and gender equity. She wrote the majority opinion in a 1996 case in which the Virginia Military Institute was ordered to end its males-only admissions policy.

Ginsburg says her mother gave her two pieces of advice: “Be a lady, and be independent.” By lady, Ginsburg says her mother meant that “One should not be consumed by useless emotions,” like anger. RBG seems to have taken this to heart. She’s certainly passionate about her work, but her career indicates that she is always thinking two or three steps ahead, not getting embroiled in controversies of the day, or recriminations against present or past antagonists. (The lone understandable exception was her misstep as a sitting justice in making disparaging comments about President Trump).

Ginsburg has more energy than most people one-third her age. Still, she is 85 and has survived two bouts of cancer. She dodges the question about whether she should have retired during Obama’s tenure so that a liberal, or at least centrist, judge could have replaced her, as opposed to a Trump nominee should she leave the bench before 2020. It’s hard to argue that someone as vigorous as Ginsburg should step aside before she’s ready, particularly after the outrageous stunt in which the Republicans refused to vote on Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in 2016 in the wake of Scalia’s death. It’s a tough one; let’s hope the judge keeps working out, eats right and tries to get a proper night’s rest so that she can outlast the current administration.

RBG was made by a team of women, including director-producers Julie Cohen and Betsy West, and executive producers Amy Entelis (Executive VP for Talent and Content Development at CNN Worldwide, which financed the film) and Courtney Sexton (CNN Films VP). Women also occupy the archival, associate and coordinating producer roles on RBG, as well as the composer, cinematographer, and editor slots.

In November, an unrelated feature film titled On the Basis of Sex will be released. Directed by veteran producer-director Mimi Leder, it will star Felicity Jones as Ginsburg.


Behind a Law Scholar’s Push for More Funding for Women and Girls of Color

Confidence is Key: Female Filmmakers Discuss How to Get Financing

New Infusion: $13 Million to Address Gender and Race Health Gaps

This Tech Foundation Funds Girl Up. More Tech Funders Please Follow Suit.

Girl Up is one of three organizations to receive $1.25 million in funding for the advancement of girls and women in tech.

As the tech industry continues to recognize its gender and race gaps, foundations are committing funds to address these gaps, particularly for girls. A recent example: an announcement by the TE Connectivity Foundation that it will grant $1.25 million to three nonprofit organizations this year: Girl Up, FIRST Global, and SMASH. The foundation’s mission is to bring innovation to engineering and technology by providing opportunities for women and minorities to learn and take part in such innovation.

TE Connectivity is a tech company specializing in the creation of various products for the technology world. With 78,000 employees worldwide, TE Connectivity has 13.1 billion in sales in 2017, and has over 7,000 engineers on staff. The company website describes their work as creating “a world that’s smarter, safer, greener, and more connected.”

Girl Up was chosen for this grant because of the organization’s mission to develop female leadership in STEM fields across the globe. Being an organization of the United Nations Foundation, they have sites and connections worldwide. These sites host GIRLHERO Solution Labs and STEM boot camps. Together, these programs teach STEM skills to girls to both grow their interest in the field and increase STEM job availability for women.

Girl Up also has corporate partners and and foundation support from Disney, BNY Mellon, Caterpillar Foundation, Oath (an advertising subsidiary of Verizon), and Special K Cereal.

There is definitely more room for corporate partnerships like TE Connectivity’s partnership with Girl Up. Imagine if every corporation took an interest in supporting collaborative efforts to address the race and gender gaps in tech — we could make so much more progress. Learn more about Girl Up partnerships here.

The other two grantees for this year from TE Connectivity Foundation are First Global, organizers of a yearly international robotics challenge that reaches more than two billion youth with STEM education, and  SMASH, which seeks to reach underrepresented youth of color with STEM education and “access to resources and social capital,” helping them to launch successful careers in the technology sector.

Learn more about the TE Connectivity Foundation.


How Funny Girls is Growing Improv-Driven Leadership for Tweens

Built on Partnership: How This Power Couple Champions Gender Equality

Martha A. Taylor: On Accelerating Social Change for Women

New Infusion: $13 Million to Address Gender and Race Health Gaps


We Lost A Warrior: Deborah Holmes, Journalist and Social Justice Leader

Deborah Holmes, journalist, activist, and social justice leader.

It is with sad heart that I write about the loss of Deborah Holmes. I had the privilege of working with Deborah in March of this year as I prepared to write about the history of women’s funding for progressive change. Deborah was tremendously devoted to her work, and was a fantastic collaborator in creating the ideas for my recent posts published on Inside Philanthropy and The Chronicle of Social Change.


Deborah Holmes will be honored at a memorial on June 14th at 2 pm at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Several people have written about Deborah’s legacy since her loss on April 27, 2018. I thought of trying to provide excerpts, but each of the statements about Deborah seems to have its own integrity, so I am providing them in full below.

Cynthia Nimmo, President and CEO of Women’s Funding Network, wrote:

This evening I am writing to you, our many sisters throughout the network, to share the devastating news that Deborah Holmes passed away this morning, April 27.

Deborah learned two weeks ago that she had cancer.  She was prepared to fight it with the tenacity she brought to everything.  Despite her and her doctors’ best efforts, this final battle was lost.  I know this comes as a shock and our team joins you in our grief and disbelief.  Deborah was a very private person and had not wanted to share her news while she was on her healing journey.  Just a week ago we talked about her wishes to get back to work as soon as possible, however, things turned very quickly and now she is gone. 

I spent much of the past 3 days in the ICU with Deborah.  It is important to me that you know that Deborah was at peace and she made sure to write that down so we knew.  She liked her doctors and knew they were making every attempt to heal her.  She was a long-time member of Grace Cathedral and they sent a Reverend over within minutes of her arrival at the ICU to pray with her.  This morning we prayed with her to send her on her way home.

In true Deborah fashion, she wanted nothing to do with flowers or cards or people crying over her.  When we asked her what her wishes were for her service, she said a service wasn’t important to her but we could all have one if we wanted.  Deborah’s brother, Greg Holmes, will plan a service with Grace Cathedral to be held in May. Women’s Funding Network will be honoring her in every way we can think of to reflect the force for good that she was.

Deborah’s focus has always been on helping others, and to right the injustices women face – in particular women of color. We at Women’s Funding Network, will continue this work.  For us, Deborah was far more than a Chief Communications Officer.  She was my confidante, our big picture thinker, and a voice that ensured the intersection of race and gender was at the forefront at all times.  She brought such vibrancy to our office, always playing music, bringing in home-made treats, and yelling out loud at the bad news of the day.  As a CEO, it is a gift to work with such a leader.  I speak for our team when I say we learned so much from Deborah.  I respected her deeply and will miss her always.

Deborah Holmes was a member of the Global Press Board of Directors, which also issued a statement:

It is with great sadness that we share the news that Deborah Holmes, a member of the Global Press Board of Directors, passed away on Friday.

She was diagnosed with cancer just two weeks ago. This has been a shock to all of us who knew and loved Deborah.  As we mourn her passing, we are also gratefully acknowledging Deborah’s legacy — her powerful commitment to justice and equality.

A former investigative journalist, Deborah spent the last decade at the Global Fund for Women and Women’s Funding Network where she worked to advance justice and equality for women around the world.

I first met Deborah in 2012 and she instantly became an advocate for the women of Global Press and their journalism. Deborah was always sharing Global Press Journal stories with friends and colleagues, passionately insisting that our journalism could change the world. And as a member of the Global Press board she co-created a strategic communication sub-committee and worked to advance our work in countless ways.

To honor her legacy, Global Press Journal will debut an award for exceptional coverage of racial justice in Deborah’s name. We’ll share more details about the award in the coming months. In the meantime, we extend our deepest condolences to Deborah’s family, friends and colleagues.

Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO, Global Fund for Women, also issued this statement:

It is with extreme sadness that I write to inform you that our courageous sister and friend Deborah Holmes died this morning peacefully. Deborah had breast cancer some years ago and it came back with force. Despite medical effort and Deborah’s own bold and good fight, the battle was lost to cancer this morning April 27, 2018. I write knowing that this news will come as a shock to many of you – it was Deborah’s wish that she fight this battle privately until the end, with the fortitude and resilience that all of us knew her for.

I was with Deborah for many hours of her last journey in the past few days. She knew everything  about her illness and the medical interventions offered to her. She collaborated to make things better, but once she knew that the course of nature could not be reversed, she was at peace. She motioned me to give her the writing pad we used to communicate with each other and she wrote on it, “ I am at peace”.  She died in the presence of her only brother, Gregory Holmes, and his wife Maria Holmes.

At the time of her death, Deborah was Chief Communication and Engagement Officer at the Women’s Funding Network (WFN)  and the CEO of WFN gave her every possible support to the last minute.

Deborah worked for the Global Fund for Women from 2008 – 2017, just over eight years. In her time at the Global Fund for Women, she served as the VP of Communications (2008-2014) and as Chief of Staff (2014 -2017).

Deborah was extremely loved and respected by Board, staff, and partners of Global Fund for Women. As VP of Communications, Deborah played a key role in developing and institutionalizing Global Fund for Women’s communications strategy. She positioned Global Fund for Women as a thought leader on women’s rights issues in major media, and she led creative and successful efforts for the 20th and 25th anniversary gala years. She acted as a liaison to the board during the CEO transition in 2009, was an integral part of the leadership team and in the founding of the Staff Council, as well as taking on responsibilities for Human Resources. During her tenure as Chief of Staff and also head of HR, Deborah led the revision of policies to ensure equity and justice in our internal systems.

As a co-leader, Deborah was invaluable: she was our biggest cheerleader and our toughest critic. Her strength was contagious. Nothing could stop Deborah on a mission. She pushed organizations and people to embrace change and think differently. She challenged and supported staff to do better and to see a better future. She cared deeply about justice issues between people and she was not diplomatic about calling out racial injustice in this country and elsewhere. She could not tolerate injustice.

Behind Deborah’s strength also lay deep compassion, thoughtfulness, and kindness. She always welcomed new employees, she baked bread and cakes for the whole staff, she was an ear of wisdom and advice whenever she was called upon. She was a tireless champion of those she managed, and deeply loved by the team she supervised.

As Kavita Ramdas, my predecessor as CEO who hired Deborah, has so movingly and aptly noted, Deborah was: “a small package exploding with warmth, generosity, intelligence, style, and a passionate commitment to fusing beauty with justice…she understood the power of story. The power of women’s voice. The power of lived experience. The power of rising from the ashes and telling others it was possible. And, still we rise.”

Deborah’s savvy and commitment to justice was coupled with flair and incredible personal style. The fun part of Deborah were her shoes. We all wanted Deborah’s chic style, including shoes that matched her attire!  She knew how to dress smart and travel light. Deborah never checked in luggage because she made good choices in what she selected and matched for travel.

Before coming to Global Fund for Women, Deborah was Senior Vice President of Fleishman Hillard and the Director of Public Relations & Marketing for the Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Missouri. An accomplished television news reporter and analyst for more than 30 years, Deborah worked for local and international news organizations and received numerous awards for investigative reporting and documentaries.

Throughout her life, Deborah was a passionate advocate for causes she cared about including racial and social justice and equity, political empowerment, and freedom of the press. She acted as Board President for Bridging the Gap and the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, and was the Chair of the Board of Wellesley Centers for Women. She also served on the boards of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Foundation, Bay Area Blacks in Philanthropy, Association of Black Fundraising Executives, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of HIV/AIDS, Wesport Ministry in Housing, Global Press Institute, and many others.

To celebrate Deborah’s life, at her family’s request, please make a donation to a cancer organization of your choice in Deborah’s memory.

We have lost a sister and her life illuminates values that unite and inspire us all. As we all come together to mourn Deborah’s passing, let us remember and celebrate her remarkable, bold, and passionate life.

On May 3, The Women’s Funding Network announced a Women of Color Internship Fund which will honor the legacy of Deborah Holmes. You may contribute to the Deborah Holmes Internship for young women of color fund here.

I invite members of the community to share your remembrances of Deborah Holmes in the comments below.

NY Women’s Foundation Launches #MeToo Fund with $1 Million Start

Tarana Burke, Founder and Leader of the ‘me too.’ movement and Ana Oliveira, President and CEO of The New York Women’s Foundation, at The Foundation’s 2018 Celebrating Women Breakfast on May 10. Photo Credit: Hannah Schillinger

As the global conversation on gender-based violence continues to gain momentum, the New York Women’s Foundation is stepping up to fund more of this unprecedented social change in the U.S. On May 10 at a breakfast celebrating women leaders, Foundation President and CEO announced the   launching of a fund in collaboration with Tarana Burke, Founder and Leader of the #MeToo Movement, which will continue the work of ending sexual violence.

With New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s resignation being the latest example of how the #MeToo movement is impacting society, the New York Women’s Foundation will help pick up the pace of this work’s impact with $1 million in seed funding, as well as ongoing efforts to build further philanthropic investment in the new fund.

“The #MeToo movement has given women hope that, finally change is within reach,” said Ana Oliveira, President and CEO of the New York Women’s Foundation. “Now we must support the movement in reaching its goals of justice and healing so that no woman is overlooked—especially cis and trans women of color and women living in poverty.” Oliveira described Tarana Burke as an “indomitable leader” who will assure the #MeToo movement’s continued impact.

Gender-based violence has been on the radar of the New York Women’s Foundation since its inception 31 years ago. The new #MeToo Fund will  be based in New York City and co-chaired by Tarana Burke and the Foundation.  The fund will dedicate its strategy to addressing sexual violence, particularly in underserved communities, with a particular emphasis on “the healing and leadership of survivors and promoting gender and racial justice.”

“We are thrilled to be partnering with The New York Women’s Foundation to create this Fund,” said Tarana Burke. “Our work started out as a grassroot community-based effort and grew into a global network of survivors and advocates working to interrupt sexual violence and ensure that survivors have access to the tools they need to sustain a healing process. This Fund will go a long way to not only support our ongoing work.”

The first grants are expected to be distributed in the fall of 2018.

The announcement of the new #MeToo Fund came at the Foundation’s  2018 Celebrating Women Breakfast, where Ms. Burke, Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, Founder of The African American Policy Forum, and The New York Community Trust and its president, Lorie A. Slutsky, were honored.


New York Women’s Foundation Announces Additional $4 Million in Grants for 2017

Behind a Law Scholar’s Push for More Funding for Women and Girls of Color

Women’s Funds Deploy $58.4 Million in Funding in Two Years