(Liveblog) Realigning Powerful Systems by Valuing Health and Equity

On Tuesday, January 26th, the Philanthropy Women team gathered with representatives from The Jane Club, Women in Global Health (WGH), PSI, and Maverick Collective for a discussion on the ways radical philanthropy, operating alongside women-led movements, can lead to systemic change, particularly in health care services and employment, for women and girls around the world.

The Jane Club hosted a live discussion on women’s access to healthcare, as well as what feminist funders can do to advance gender equity in funding and global health. (Image Credit: Jane Club)

Editor-in-Chief Kiersten Marek moderated a discussion between Rena Greifinger of PSI/Maverick Collective and Sarah Hillware of WGH. Hosted by The Jane Club, a network of female-identifying persons and nonbinary and male allies, the event focused on ways to create more equitable healthcare systems by transforming the philanthropic system toward justice.

Dori Howard represented the Executive Leadership Team for the Jane Club, and introduced the day’s moderator, Kiersten Marek. Kiersten introduced the speakers, Rena Greifinger and Sarah Hillware.

What Do You Love About Giving?

The conversation opened with a question pitched to the audience: “What do you love about making gifts?”

Ali A. described gift giving as, “The opportunity to spark joy in someone.”

“Gift giving is my love language!” said Taylor D. “The amount is not important but [it’s the] thought and time that demonstrates listening and care.”

“Giving helps you realize all that you have,” said Becky M.

Rena Greifinger, Kiersten Marek, Sarah Hillware, and representatives from Jane Club and PSI speak on equity in women’s healthcare and funding. (Image Credit: Jane Club)

Gender and Health are Inextricably Linked

Next, Kiersten turned the conversation over to Sarah Hillware, asking about the role of women’s organizations and feminist movements in health systems.

“Women give so much back to their communities,” said Sarah. “We as women give 80% back to our communities globally. In the health workforce in particular, women represent 70% of the workforce, but are underpaid drastically.”

Sarah made the point that women healthcare professionals often work without job security, recognition, or even physical safety. “Knowing that 70% of the health workforce is made up of women, we also have a huge disparity in health leadership.” Only about 25% of health leadership is made up of women.

“With this huge divide, who is making the decisions about health systems? And are those people in the position to actually make informed decisions?” Sarah asked. “Without gender equity in health, the answer is no.”

“Gender equity in health means everything,” she finished. “Gender equity is equity. That’s my answer.”

Where Will The Next 10 Years Take Us in Terms of Gender Equality and Health Care?

“I’m going to paint the picture of the utopia we would want to see,” said Hillware, giving the example of healthcare systems that truly support the people they are meant to support.

She gave the example of children’s vaccinations in India: Many mothers could not get their children vaccinated because the clinics were only open during the mothers’ work hours. As soon as the clinics shifted their hours, the vaccination rates skyrocketed.

“If we don’t reach gender parity, then we’ll have the opposite: A health system that doesn’t work for everyone,” said Sarah. “And that’s largely what we have right now.”

“Ten years from now, I really hope that the ways people are investing in gender equality are really investing in systems change,” added Rena. “We need to be working at the roots of society and the roots of gender so that we’re no longer trying to put a Band-aid on these problems.”

Inequities in Feminist Philanthropy

The conversation turned to inequities in feminist philanthropy. Kiersten asked Rena Greifinger about what we need from donors and the donor sector to achieve gender equality and long-term systems change for women and girls.

“We are not here to change women, we’re here to change the system,” said Rena. “For too long, we’ve been trying to force women into a male-dominated and male-structured system. What we need to do is change the system so that it allows women to break through the barriers they’re up against. And that’s going to take multiple revolutions.”

Rena also differentiated between “Big-S Systems” and “little-s systems” (for example, the healthcare “System” versus an individual household’s “system”), and pointed out the ways women’s roles in both of these styles of systems create barriers to healthcare and equity.

“What feminist movements and organizations can do is help us put that intersectional lens on every movement,” she said. “It’s not just about ensuring than any woman can be equal to a man, but that ALL women can be equal to men. It needs to take into consideration every factor of a woman’s identity.”

What Do We Need From Donors?

“In order to change the system for women and girls, we also have to start to interrogate the system of philanthropy, and understand that wealth is built inequitably, particularly here in the US,” said Rena. “The more we can unpack that, the better we can start to interrogate how to use philanthropy to serve equality.”

Rena pointed out the disparities in the US tax system, the less than 2.5% of wealth donated from the US’s “ultra-wealthy,” and the amount of funding that sits in charitable “buckets” without actually reaching the organizations and people who need it most.

“There’s a lot of work we need to do to move money to where it’s needed, and also start to interrogate some of the contradictions in philanthropy,” Rena explained.

She also stressed the importance of trust-based giving, including women and girls in decision-making, and “relinquishing control” over funding in order to create more collaborative giving.

“There is this whole ‘bucket’ of funding that’s not going to women-led movements and organizations,” Sarah added. “We often conflate funding for girls and women with funding for women’s organizations.”

She gave the example of donating to the Women’s March versus funding healthcare systems for working women in India.

“They’re the ones driving this systems change, but they’re not the ones that are actually funded,” Sarah explained. “When we’re looking at what needs to change in terms of gender equality and philanthropy, we’re really talking about what we value.”

How Can We Make Funding More Equitable?

In the final segment of the afternoon, Kiersten asked Sarah about the barriers that exist in equitable funding landscapes, and how diverse women’s leadership is critical to addressing these barriers.

Sarah Hillware speaks on barriers to equity in healthcare and women’s philanthropy. (Image Credit: Jane Club/Sarah Hillware)

Sarah stressed the importance of putting pressure on “people in decision-making roles,” to ensure philanthropic dollars go where they are most needed. She also discussed voting and being educated about global issues, not just voting in Presidential elections, and guaranteeing funding goes to women’s organizations by communicating directly with our Congresswomen.

“They’ve been saying this for years,” Kiersten said of the miniscule percentage of funding dollars going to women and girls’ organizations. “This is the time to be the squeaky wheel about this — we don’t just need more resources, but need to be able to put the resources we have right now to the task. If that’s not happening, that’s got to be our number one priority.”

“We are one of the organizations that takes hundreds of millions of dollars in bilateral funding every year,” Rena added about PSI, the parent organization to the Maverick Collective. “In our own journey, we’ve explored the role that is important and more equitable for us to play in the road toward equity and gender justice.”

“We should not always be the actor in the system delivering programs and services,” she explained. “Our key role is facilitating the programs on the ground, and giving support to community-led organizations and community leaders. We need to use our superpowers to boost them up.”

“There are a privileged few getting the resources to do the work,” Rena finished. “It’s high time we balance the power to make sure that the people who really do get the work done are getting those resources.”

COVID-19 and Gender Equity Strategy

Kiersten asked Sarah about the impact of COVID-19 on philanthropy’s role in reaching women and girls. “Is there more that donors need to do to make their impact for women and girls?”

“There are several vaccines, and most of them have gone to high-income countries,” Sarah said. “And once the vaccines do finally reach low-income settings, who is going to be distributing those vaccines?”

The women distributing vaccines may face harassment, may not have proper PPE, and likely won’t be paid anywhere near enough to “ensure an equitable COVID-19 recovery.”

“We need to look at who is on the front lines and put them on the decision-making side,” Sarah said. She encouraged funders to look at the decision-makers in the organizations they support, and make sure their funding is going to the people actually making change on the ground.

Rena jumped in to stress the importance of continuing ongoing public health work — such as women’s access to birth control, HIV treatments, and other sexual healthcare services — and not letting that fall to the wayside during COVID-19. She described “leapfrogs” in digital and community healthcare as a result of COVID, such as home injections for birth control or self-testing for HIV, limiting the need for women to go to crowded clinics for similar services.

“I hope these programs will remain even after the pandemic,” she said.

Storytelling as a Driver of Systems Change

Kiersten turned the conversation over to Sarah and Rena, asking how women and donors can integrate philanthropy into their daily lives in order to advance the narrative of systems change.

“Storytelling, overall, is such an incredible medium for helping people understand things like systems change,” said Rena. She pointed out that storytelling is a great way to reduce jargon to something that is “real” and understandable by the average woman. “The system around a woman can really support her, or bring her down. The more that we can use the powers of stories and the powers of media to ask hard questions, the more we can uncover what it’s going to take in order for each of the levers in these Big-S Systems to work together and leverage change.”

“Keep asking questions, keep embracing the hard and uncomfortable conversations about what it’s going to take to move the needle and move society toward justice,” she said. “Don’t be ashamed of it, be incredibly proud of who you are and the position you’re in to inspire change.”

Rena also echoed the importance of communities of women “who bring that deep curiosity and a shared value around making lasting change in the world.”

Sarah shared the WGH COVID 50/50 campaign, based on Operation 50/50. “In stories about the pandemic, most of the people quoted or invited to give interviews were men,” said Sarah. “We crowdsourced a list of women working in health to say, ‘These are the women you should be talking to.'”

“That’s power in storytelling,” she explained. “Because all of a sudden, you’re getting diverse perspectives — and there’s power in perspectives.”

The afternoon closed with a Q&A segment with The Jane Club’s audience and a round of thank-you’s from attendees and speakers alike.

To learn more about The Jane Club, visit their website at www.janeclub.com.


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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist. A Maryland transplant by way of Florida, DC, Ireland, Philadelphia, and -- most recently -- Salt Lake City, she has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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