Teen Girls are Leading the Way. How Can Philanthropy Support Them?

Greta Thunberg, teen activist from Sweden, has helped amplify climate change movements with her advocacy. (Photo Credit: Greta Thunberg on Twitter)

Teen girls are becoming movers and shakers across the globe in areas like gun violence, environmental activism, and gender equality, as well as advocacy for inclusiveness and systems change of all kinds.

And rather than simply accepting the hands they’ve been dealt, teen girls and young women are taking the lead to change their lives and the lives of those around them. A Swedish teen activist, Greta Thunberg, has recently made waves and garnered well-deserved media attention for her work around climate change. She has protested outside of the Swedish parliament and has spoken about the need to protect the environment for future generations at Davos and the United Nations. Thunberg has also inspired others her age, mobilizing school-based climate change protests in Sweden and worldwide. She was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and stands to be the youngest recipient since Malala Yousafzai if she wins.

Yousafzai is an iconic tour de force when it comes to girls’ right to education, beginning her activism as a young girl in Pakistan by speaking out about girls’ access to 12 years of quality schooling. After an attack by a masked shooter, Yousafzai moved to the UK, where she launched the Malala Fund–partnering with community-based organizations to promote access to education–and is now attending the University of Oxford.

We should take these growing efforts as a good sign. Recognizing a problem is the first step to resolving it, and many young adult girls today are more adept than ever at recognizing underlying systemic problems. Donors’ efforts, in turn, are ramping up to support girls in their efforts to improve their lives, and to bolster adults’ efforts to empower, liberate, and educate girls and young women. Philanthropists who want to provide aid to girls in particular have a number of options, many of them poised to help marginalized girls become leaders in their own right.

The Girls First Fund, for example, partners with community-based grassroots organizations in an effort to end child marriage across the globe. Child marriage disrupts girls’ potential for education and freedom of choice, and increases their likelihood of experiencing sexual and physical violence. Girls First Fund donors include the Ford Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and others. Grants are focused for now in the Dominican Republic, Nepal, Niger, Uganda, India, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Global Fund for Women, meanwhile, boasts an Adolescent Girls Fund (which partners with organizations like the Ms. Foundation and FRIDA- Young Feminist Fund), focused on girl-led leadership efforts in areas that can increase young women’s potential for the future. Grantmaking for this fund is primarily focused on the issues that often affect girls ages 10-19: boosting access to education, ending sexual assault, and ending early/child marriage.

The NoVo Foundation, too, is a major champion for girls in the U.S. and around the world, especially those who are marginalized in multiple ways. In the U.S., the Foundation’s work for adolescent girls focuses on eradicating poverty and lessening the effects of trauma on girls on color, particularly focusing on mental health, preventing sexual assault and treating its effects, and improving access to health care and quality education. In the Global South, the NoVo Foundation focuses on providing grants to community organizations that serve girls who live in deep rural areas, experience domestic servitude or sexual violence, are involved in migration, or have survived political crises, war, and/or natural disasters. So far, the Foundation has funded efforts to help over half a million adolescent girls with $120 million of grants across 80 countries. With many recent efforts to end sex trafficking of girls and young women, and current fundraising initiatives for vulnerable girls, the NoVo Foundation is an ideal choice for donors who want to get involved in philanthropy that directly benefits girls.

Finally, the Girl Scouts of the USA is another organization focused on promoting leadership for girls–unique in its focus on girls from young childhood to young adulthood. While the Girl Scouts have traditionally relied on internal funding from membership fees, they are now focusing more on philanthropy, particularly as more feminists are getting involved in fundraising as the last few decades’ efforts to promote female leadership are reaping benefits.

Testing Rape Kits: How Feminist Philanthropy Can Help

End the Backlog, a project of the Joyful Heart Foundation, tracks local, state, and national efforts to test rape kits. (Image Credit: End the Backlog)

A massive backlog of untested rape kits has long plagued the criminal justice system and undermined efforts to foreground sexual assault as a major problem worthy of serious investigation. Sexual assault survivors and activists have estimated that around 250,000 rape kits remain untested.

Crucially, addressing the backlog isn’t just a matter of garnering convictions and getting sexual assault perpetrators off the streets though that’s certainly part of it. It’s also about justice for survivors, putting issues that disproportionately affect women at the fore, and achieving some degree of increased safety for women and girls. And feminist philanthropy efforts have a direct role to play in achieving all of these goals.

New efforts from district attorney’s offices across the country to fund rape kit testing have resulted in a number of convictions of rapists and perpetrators of sexual assaults. As reported earlier in March in The New York Times, for example, Maisha Sudbeck, a Tucson woman whose rape evidence kit was ignored for over five years, found closure after a grant from the DA’s office in Manhattan funded investigators’ attempts to clear the backlog. Nathan Loebe, a serial rapist who had sexually assaulted Sudbeck and six other women, was convicted based on the DNA evidence in her kit. Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr. dedicated $38 million to clearing the backlog in 2015. Since then, 64 rapists across a number of states have been found and convicted, just like Loebe.

In fact, many of those convicted since the grant’s initiation have been found to be serial perpetrators of sexual assault. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy launched Enough SAID (Enough Sexual Assault In Detroit), a funding initiative to process thousands of rape kits (each of which cost just under $500 to test) after over 11,000 untested rape kits were discovered in a storage area at the Detroit Police Department five years ago.

Organizations like the Michigan Women’s Foundation (now rebranded as Michigan Women Forward) and a number of influential feminist donors have played a major role in testing those kits. The initiative has funded the testing of over 10,000 of those kits, resulting in the identification of over 800 serial rapists in a single county. Moreover, many of these sexual assault survivors are women of color–86 percent, in the case of the Wayne County kits that went untested. Efforts like Enough SAID and End The Backlog are addressing the issue of sexual assault head-on.

Despite these laudable efforts, the backlog remains, serving as a clear reminder of how issues that often affect women are often depoliticized, dismissed, or underfunded. Feminist donors and advocates have been instrumental in funding these initiatives, and continue to serve as leaders in the movement. Sarah Haacke Byrd, the Executive Director of Women Moving Millions, for example, is an expert in getting new legislation passed to test rape kits. At the time of her appointment, she had raised over $169 million to clear the backlog, and had been instrumental in the passage of over 35 laws across 26 states that help to prevent a similar backlog in the future. The rape kit backlog is one problem that feminist donors, activists, and philanthropists can contribute to in order to make an immediate difference on an urgent issue.

What can feminist philanthropists do to address the rape kit backlog in their states? For starters, check out the state-based news on End the Backlog, which helps to identify where and how states are making progress on this issue. Reaching out to your state-based organization working to end gender-based violence is another way to touch base and learn about how this issue is playing out in your community. Donors might also reach out to state-based women’s funds and foundations (check out the Women’s Funding Network for a list of the women’s funds in your area) to discuss ways to team up for advocacy around rape kit testing education and reform.

New Coalition Forms to End Gender-Based Violence at Work

A new coalition of 11 funding partners have come together to create new support for ending gender-based harassment and abuse in the workplace. (Image Credit: Safety and Dignity for Women)

Over the past few years, the #MeToo movement has brought to light the rampant issues of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence that plague many of our communities. Mainstream media has primarily focused on sexual violence and harassment in high-profile industries, such as entertainment, sports, journalism, higher education, and the corporate world.

But the populations most disproportionately affected by sexual violence and harassment are often the same ones that go underserved, both financially and by media coverage. These populations include women of color, trans and nonbinary women, women with disabilities and/or mental illnesses, immigrants and migrants, socioeconomically disadvantaged women, indigenous women, and incarcerated or formerly incarcerated women, among others. Many of these women work in industries where sexual violence is prevalent and often ignored, such as domestic work, restaurants, and hospitality. Workers in these industries often go without the labor protections that can serve as a partial buffer against sexual exploitation.

A new initiative among some of the largest and most influential philanthropic foundations in the U.S. aims to shift the #MeToo lens to many of these underserved populations. 11 partners have agreed to fund campaigns against sexual violence and harassment that are helmed primarily by women of color and members of other vulnerable populations. Participating foundations include the NoVo Foundation, CBS, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Kapor Center, the Open Society Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Conrad Hilton Foundation, and several others (including three anonymous donors).

The NoVo Foundation in particular is known for its consistent philanthropic focus on initiatives aimed at supporting and empowering women and girls. And although women in marginalized populations are often portrayed as “voiceless,” NoVo’s Executive Director Pamela Shifman told the Associated Press that they are in fact anything but. Emphasizing the fact that many of the funds will go towards campaigns led by affected women leaders themselves, Shifman said, “We’ve seen girls and women step up with such incredible bravery. This is about funders stepping up to say, ‘We hear you. We see you.'”

Rather than assuming marginalized women are voiceless, funders in this new team effort are hoping to amplify the voices of women leaders and survivors who are already working to secure a safer, brighter future for themselves and others. Freada Kapor Klein, Co-chair of the Kapor Center, agreed, saying: “What’s different about this fund is that it’s driven by believing in and supporting solutions that come from the lived experiences of the most marginalized women. Women of color face staggeringly disproportionate levels of bias and harassment that limit their access, opportunities and outcomes to full participation in their workplaces and society.” Inspired by organizing efforts through groups like the Restaurant Opportunities Center and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, this fund is survivor-led at its heart, rooted in the belief that systemic change can only come about when it’s headed by people working with and for their own communities.

The transnational funding efforts, which start with $20 million and are being housed at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, will focus not only on domestic laborers and other industries where women are frequently subjected to sexual harassment (such as the garment industry), but also on sexual abuse in institutions such as medical facilities, prisons, jails, and schools.

The fund names its five primary goals as: policy advocacy, narrative and culture change, organizing and civic engagement, leadership development, and convening and peer learning. Funding will go towards existing and burgeoning organizing efforts at every level, as well as efforts to effect public policy changes to provide more labor protections against sexual violence. The fund will also focus on launching a communications hub centered around eradicating sexual violence against marginalized women, supporting artmaking and educational projects alike in order to “change the narrative” about sexual harassment. Beginning in 2019, at least $5 million will be provided in grants each year to projects that align with the fund’s mission. The team of donors has made a five-year philanthropic commitment to start.

In a press release about the joint funding effort, National Women’s Law Center President Fatima Goss Graves emphasized the importance of ensuring a workplace free from sexual coercion or exploitation for laborers in every field. Of the initiative, she said, “Whether in a company with thousands of employees or in a workplace of one in someone’s home, women should be able to work with safety, equality, dignity, and fairness. To effect lasting change to end sexual violence, we need to build one movement, where advocates, policymakers, and philanthropists are following the lead of survivors, and this fund is a huge step toward making that a reality.”

Donors who are curious about the initiative or who want to get involved can find more information at The Collaborative Fund for Women’s Safety and Dignity.

Male Domination Prevails: Detailing Media’s Gender Imbalance

The Women’s Media Center 2019 report shows how men dominate media. (Image Credit: Women’s Media Center 2019 report)

Despite decades-long efforts from female journalists, broadcasters, writers, editors, and other media professionals, a gap persists in the representation and employment of women across all forms of media. The imbalance is even starker for female media professionals who are otherwise marginalized, like women of color, women with disabilities, and women who identify as part of the LGBTQ community.

The Women’s Media Center, a feminist organization that aims to close the gender and racial gaps in media with pointed research and training, recently released its annual flagship report on women’s media representation, including both the inequalities that haven’t been addressed and the progress that’s been made over the past year.

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What is Feminist Foreign Policy? How Can Donors Support More of It?

Sweden’s feminist foreign policy is helping to define key strategies for addressing gender equality worldwide.

In 2014, Sweden made waves by becoming the first country across the globe to adopt an explicitly feminist foreign policy. Drawing both controversy and acclaim, the foreign policy was the first of its kind to focus so pointedly on international gender equality across every level of government. Since Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven was confirmed to a second term on Jan. 18, 2019, activists have called for even more emphasis on continuing the successes of the feminist foreign policy.

But what exactly is a feminist foreign policy? In Sweden’s case, the policy focused on funding initiatives across the three “Rs” in which women tend to be underserved and neglected: resources, representation, and rights. Donors who are interested in promoting gender equality through their efforts and outreach can look to the Swedish model of feminist foreign policy to know where to begin.

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NoVo Invests $10M in Ending Sex Trafficking of Marginalized Women

NoVo Foundation is investing $10 million in helping marginalized women in sex trafficking seek new options in life. (Photo credit: NoVo Foundation)

Despite the prevalence of the sexual exploitation of women and girls, gender-based violence funding accounts for just 1.8% of all foundation giving. And even within that small percentage, the majority of funds go to domestic violence, with commercial sexual exploitation often remaining neglected.

To bridge that crucial gap, the NoVo Foundation recently announced a $10 million, 3-year funding commitment for U.S.-based programs. The funding will go to programs that are aimed at “opening exit ramps” and “closing on-ramps” to the commercial sex trade–or, as it’s often called, The Life.

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