It’s an election like no other, with record numbers of women running for office at the local, state, and national levels, and women everywhere becoming activist voters who want to see themselves represented in government. We are finally beginning to see more reflective democracy in action as women make it onto the ballot.
It’s a great time to be publishing about women’s philanthropy, as more women take on funding nonprofits that are supporting gender equality, not only in the U.S. but also globally. So far this year we’ve seen significant growth in new organizations committing to addressing gender-based violence and education for girls worldwide, including Girls, Inc, the Obama Foundation, and the #MeToo Fund headed by Tarana Burke.
A new trend in women’s philanthropy: rage giving. According to a new study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, giving by women to progressive causes after the election of Donald Trump took off like never before. In fact, the study shows that women’s giving to progressive causes outstripped men’s by six-fold.
These findings add significantly to the growing evidence that women are using their financial power to drive political change. More from WPI:
It felt great to fall asleep last night to the sound of rain, and even better to wake up this morning to the news that many women RI progressives prevailed in the primary elections. Nearest and dearest to me is the win for Lammis J. Vargas for Ward One City Council in Cranston. Beyond that, Moira Jayne Walsh, Marcia Ranglin-Vassell and Bridget Valverde all prevailed, despite not being nominated by the Democratic party here in Rhode Island, which tends to be heavily pro-life and pro-gun.
One of the wonderful things about publishing on feminist philanthropy is getting to meet the folks on the ground in feminism, the people who are growing the movements that need to happen to make our communities more safe, secure, and inclusive.
I’m happy to share an interview I recently did with The Woman Project, a new 501(c)4 organization that started in South County, Rhode Island, and is looking to build the statewide movement to protect reproductive freedom. The Woman Project currently has the General Assembly in its crosshairs and is pushing to pass a bill that would codify protection of Roe V. Wade into state law.
In the wake of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, reproductive freedom appears to be more threatened than ever. So what’s a pro-choice advocate to do?
One thing that some feminist activists are doing is incorporating their art into their activism. And in Rhode Island, the smallest state in the nation, these art-activists are pushing hard for the state to codify abortion rights so that the service will remain in place in the state even if the federal courts overturn Roe v. Wade.
These art-activists call themselves The Woman Project (TWP), and starting in 2017 as a nonprofit 501(c)4 organization, they are angling to make sure that women’s rights are protected at the state level, starting with access to reproductive services.
The manifesto for TWP begins by appreciating art and creativity, and recognizes the necessity of both inclusion, justice, and environmental work in building a better world. The groups is also doing a bang-up job of collaborating with other activists networks in the state to make sure that the issue of reproductive freedom is on the table legislatively in the upcoming session. The group is working one of the most important tenets of feminist philanthropy — networking — to bring together groups including Planned Parenthood, Emerge RI, Adoption Inequality RI, the Unitarian Universalist Community in RI, Indivisible RI, the Cranston Action Network, the Women’s March Huddles, and RI NOW.
Rhode Island as the Testing Ground for Protecting Reproductive Freedom State by State
Rhode Island is an interesting state. Born on the principle of religious freedom, it continues to be known for its tolerance and open-mindedness. At the same time, the General Assembly is largely populated by Catholic men, who still adhere to the pro-life tenets of their religion and appear to be particularly influenced by the state’s Bishop, an outspoken (some might say even bullying) religious leader who considers LGBTQ people to be immoral and abortion to be a sin.
At the same time, much has been said about Rhode Island’s capacity to serve as a kind of “laboratory state.” With its small-scale legislation and population (1.06 million), Rhode Island is a place where it is possible to test out new theories and approaches to problems. Currently, the state is being hailed for its groundbreaking strategy for treating opioid addiction.
The same kind of breakthrough might be discovered by using Rhode Island to test out strategies for defending reproductive rights. Rhode Island could serve as a kind of “beta” for passing state legislation that protects reproductive services and, if successful (and it’s still a big if) this model could be scaled up and used in larger states.
This is where The Woman Project (TWP) comes into the equation. Along with advocating for women’s rights, TWP builds on Rhode Island’s reputation as an artsy state in the approach it uses to take activism to the streets. Currently, TWP is adding signers to a petition that will be published in The Providence Journal on September 30th, which will implore legislators to pass the Reproductive Healthcare Act introduced last year. The letter already has a significant number of signers and is still taking more up until September 14th.
With 63 percent of Rhode Islanders supporting safe, legal abortion, organizations like TWP are providing a vital service by calling on our legislators to represent the majority of the voters. “We brought together a community of people who are moving forward with supporting access to reproductive health care for all Rhode Islanders a priority, who are in support of this legislation and [are] going to do everything to get it passed next year,” said Jocelyn Foye, an artist and one of the founding members of TWP.
I asked Foye about what unique challenges and opportunities Rhode Island presents to the movement for reproductive freedom. “Other states have passed somewhat similar legislation Delaware, Illinois, Oregon and Massachusetts,” said Foye. “So this really builds on that momentum. I think what is different about Rhode Island than these states is that we have Gender Assembly leadership that is right-to-life endorsed, we do not have a NARAL branch, and Emily’s list isn’t active here. Without some of the national forces at play in other states, we have to get creative to get our message out, to be heard and work towards change. That is what is cool about how small Rhode Island is.”
As local activists creating new social policy, The Woman Projects definitely means business. In 2017, the group convinced their own local town Council in South Kingstown to pass a resolution in support of the Reproductive Health Care Act. Now they are seeking support to go statewide. Foye described how, among other strategies, the group might be launching a series of videos to increase support for passage of the Reproductive Healthcare Act this fall.
In this election cycle, a record number of women are taking on powerful incumbents and systems that have stalled progressive policies in states across the country. Case in point: Alessandra Biaggi, who is running for New York State Senate in District 34 in Westchester and the Bronx. Biaggi is only thirty-two years old and is a former policy aide to Hillary Clinton. She is also a lawyer who served as counsel to Andrew Cuomo.
And after last week’s enormous primary upset of 28-year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over ten-term U.S. representative Joe Crowley, well, this moment is meeting Alessandra Biaggi. Courageously, she is taking on a sitting New York State Senator, Jeff Klein, who has led an obstructionist group called the Independent Democratic Conference, comprised of seven Democratic state senators who have caucused with the Republicans. Jeff Klein’s alliance with the Republicans has enabled the blockage of a slew of progressive legislation, including early voting and codifying reproductive health rights. Klein and the Independent Democratic Conference also blocked Andrea Stewart Cousins, a female state senator from Westchester and the Bronx, from becoming the majority leader of the Senate.
Alessandra Biaggi is progressive and smart and tough and made for exactly this moment in time.
We asked Biaggi a few questions to help you get to know her better.
Here are her answers:
What is one thing most people don’t now about you? I’m left handed.
If you could pass one law today, what would it be? The Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade in NYS…no, it’s not codified; yes, my opponent is the reason.
What or who helps you keep going through the criticism and attacks inherent in a political campaign? The mantra that nothing is life and death, but life and death.
If you could have dinner with one famous woman (dead or alive) who would it be? Hannah Arendt
What’s the first line of your epitaph? They said it was not possible.
Chocolate or wine? Chocolate. I stopped drinking alcohol after the 2016 election — for many reasons — one of which was that the waters we were about to charter, I believed, required a steady and clear mind to find the truth.
Tomorrow brings us another cool event for women’s history month. From 3 pm to 4 pm EST tomorrow, Prosperity Together will hold a Twitter chat to celebrate the collective impact of their funding.
Prosperity Together is the coalition of 32 women’s funds across 26 states and Washington D.C., which has invested $58 million since 2016 for grassroots organizations growing gender equality and economic security for women.
Philanthropy Women will be there tomorrow, to hear about how these women’s funds are pushing for social change, particularly by using participatory grantmaking strategies and paying extra attention to diversity and inclusion. Women’s funds are also doing some of the most groundbreaking work with supporting youth-led grantmaking and youth-led social movements, so it will be great to hear more about that, too, since we are living in the midst of the largest child-led social movement in America, the movement for gun safety.
It’s a busy week for me, as well as for a lot of other gender equality advocates. Some big names in gender equality are coming out for Valentine’s Day. Here’s a list of a few of the events going on to give voice and power to gender equality movements on February 14th.
Tarana Burke Will Speak At Brown University: The recently rediscovered leader of the #Metoo movement, Tarana Burke, will be hosted by both RISD and Brown University for a discussion on February 14th. The title of the discussion is, #MeToo: What’s next in Healing and Activism, and the event is already sold out, but if you want to get on the waitlist, you can go here.
Eve Ensler, Author of Vagina Monologues Launches 20th Anniversary of V-Day: Activists worldwide have pledged to “Rise, Resist, and Unite” on February 14th for V-Day. “Probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade,” is how the New York Times once described The Vagina Monologues.
Now that “vagina” is a familiar word in the English lexicon, Eve Ensler’s work has continued to evolve worldwide. Each year on V-day, performances of the show take place all over the world, many serving as benefits for organizations and groups doing work to prevent gender-based violence. This year, in celebration of the 20th anniversary, activities include an anniversary benefit on February 14th at Manhattan Theater Club and V20: The Red Party at Carnegie Hall. Proceeds from these two events will benefit V-day’s global advocacy for gender equality and a safer world for women.
For the 20th anniversary, Ballantine Books is also releasing a new version of The Vagina Monologues featuringnew voices and an updated intro by EveEnsler, with new foreword by Jacqueline Woodson. In the past, V-Day campaigns have raised over a $100 million in funds for groups working to end violence and help survivors and their families.
This is our first year here at Philanthropy Women, and these our inaugural awards. They go to recipients who have demonstrated exceptional leadership in the field of gender equality philanthropy. These awards draw on the database of Philanthropy Women’s coverage, and are therefore inherently biased toward the people and movement activity we have written about so far. As our database grows each year, we will cover more ground, and have a wider field to cull from for the awards.
Bridge Builders Award for Network and Collaborative Giving Leadership
The need for coordinating funding efforts is stronger than ever, and certain leaders are doing much of the legwork to bring together different constituencies under the same tent. Donna Hall is one of those leaders. With her collaborations with others to create Emergent Fund, which was later joined by Democracy Alliance, Donna Hall has been networker extraordinaire for the purpose of bringing together donors who share a cause and purpose. For these reasons, we award her the Philanthropy Women Bridge Builders Award for Network and Collaborative Giving Leadership.
General Organa Award for Thought and Strategy Leadership
The Star Wars reference helps to conceptualize the longstanding nature of Helen LaKelly Hunt’s thought and strategy leadership in feminist philanthropy. Like high-ranking General Organa of the Resistance, Hunt has weathered decades of storms for gender equality philanthropy and has emerged time and again with more strength and courage. Her multifaceted powers are an inspiration to many not only in philanthropy but also in history and social science, as Hunt has made a strong case for revising feminist history in her book, And the Spirit Moved Them. She has also helped create many of the women’s foundations that are the heart of grassroots feminism today. Along with all this, Hunt, in collaboration husband Harville Hendrix, has developed an amazing model for therapy called Relationships First (I know because I use Relationships First skills in my own work as a therapist and experience the way feelings change from anger to curiosity with the model.) For these reasons, we award Helen LaKelly Hunt the Philanthropy Women General Organa Award for Thought and Strategy Leadership.
One World Award for Feminist Leadership in International Philanthropy
Emily Bove is at the helm of Women Thrive Alliance, and does amazing work to bring the agenda of global gender equality into public view. This past year, Bove showed us the way SDG’s need to be the focus in order to coordinate efforts in the fight for gender equality. Bove continues to be a frontline advocate in political spheres for more attention to women and girls. For these reasons, we award Emily Bove the Philanthropy Women One World Award for Feminist Leadership in International Philanthropy.
Influencing the Corporate Agenda Award for Feminist Philanthropy
Gloria Feldt, who tirelessly pushes the envelope for women’s leadership, also spearheaded a most excellent alliance this past year with Lyft, the up-and-coming taxi company giving Uber a run for its money. Feldt and her team at Take the Lead made Take the Lead Day, November 14, a Lyft discount day, and also got the rideshare service collaborating with local domestic violence shelters in Arizona to provide rides for survivors. Take the Lead Day had strong participation across the globe, with 217 cities and 26 countries around the world taking action for women’s leadership parity. Getting Lyft and others to sign on as sponsors was a great way to help corporations pay attention to gender equality. For these reasons, we award Gloria Feldt the Philanthropy Women Influencing the Corporate Agenda Award for Feminist Philanthropy.
Wonder Woman Award for Leadership in Women’s Funds
Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat started last year strong as her foundation led 100 Days of Action for Women and Girls. She finished up even stronger, launching Together We Lead, a women’s leadership initiative that brought in several corporate founding sponsors including Capital One, Deloitte, Nestle, Edelman, and Audi. Lockwood-Shabat is well-known in women’s philanthropy circles for developing and sustaining one of the strongest and most effective women’s funds in the country, with a particular focus on young women and girls of color. For these reasons, we award Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat the Philanthropy Women Wonder Woman Award for Leadership in Women’s Funds.
She Persisted Award for Feminist Foundation Leadership
Every time a new political calamity would occur this past year, I would wonder who would be out front with a strong statement and response from the feminist community. Time and again, the early and often responder was Teresa C. Younger and the Ms. Foundation for Women. Younger also had a hand in writing A Blueprint for Women’s Funds: On Using Finance as a Tool for Social Changewhich helps to identify a path for restructuring finance with further integration of capital with the agenda of gender equality. For these reasons, we award Teresa C. Younger the Philanthropy Women ‘She Persisted’ Award for Feminist Foundation leadership.
Famously Feminist Award for Celebrity Leadership on Gender Equality
Jessica Chastain narrated an important film that we covered this past year, I am Jane Doe, directed by Mary Mazzio, which has helped address sex trafficking of children in America, and expose how corporate and nonprofit interests cloak themselves in “freedom of speech” language as they fund the protectors of this lucrative life-destroying business. Chastain has since proven herself to be a powerful member of the coalition of Hollywood women coming forward for #Timesup, the follow-up to #Metoo, which demands accountability in the film industry for sexual harassment and abuse. For these reasons, we award Jessica Chastain the Philanthropy Women Famously Feminist Award for Celebrity Leadership on Gender Equality.
Rising Star Award for Emerging Leadership as an Organization
Starting and sustaining a new feminist organization in today’s regressive political climate is extra challenging, but good ideas and women just can’t be kept down. That’s what we see when we look at FRIDA, a new global feminist organization focused on social change. FRIDA is leading the way in grantmaking at the grassroots for media and attention to gender equality in places like Poland, Egypt, and Colombia. For these reasons, we award FRIDA the Philanthropy Women Rising Star Award for Emerging Leadership in Women’s Philanthropy.
Best Corporate Giving for Gender Equality
CREDO gives a large percentage of its corporate philanthropy dollars to gender equality, and Ray Morris, as CEO of CREDO, appears to be continuing the company’s 30-year commitment to gender equality funding. In fact, gender equality accounts for about 11.7% of CREDO’s funding for progressive causes. Imagine if every corporation gave 11.7% of their philanthropy dollars to gender equality. We would be able to accelerate the progress of gender equality movements and reach critical mass sooner. For these reasons, we award CREDO Mobile the Philanthropy Women Best Corporate Giving for Gender Equality award.
League of Their Own Award for Gender Equality Philanthropy
No awards list for gender equality philanthropy would be complete without acknowledging the significant role of the NoVo Foundation, which has devoted substantial funds to address the rights and freedoms of young women and girls of color. One of the larger grants that NoVo recently made was to the Young Women’s Freedom Center in California, to fight for girls involved in the juvenile justice system, who are some of the most vulnerable and marginalized young women in our communities. Co-founded by Peter and Jennifer Buffett, NoVo Foundation provides an excellent model for how couples can partner for gender equality philanthropy. For these reasons, we award NoVo Foundation the Philanthropy Women League of Their Own Award for Gender Equality Philanthropy.Read More
When I became interested in women’s philanthropy, one of the first questions I wanted to answer was about who started the funding of feminist-strategy giving. It was surprising and disheartening to learn that there were very few accounts of the history of women’s funding for women. So imagine my delight when I heard about the publication of Joan Marie Johnson’s book, Funding Feminism: Monied Women, Philanthropy, and the Women’s Movement, 1870-1967. Her work in creating this history performs the desperately-needed public service of raising the profile of historical women who paved the way for gender equality, and a world where feminist leadership would set higher standards for civil society.