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.
“These extraordinarily demanding times call for increased responsiveness, investment, and collaboration from philanthropy,” said Ana Oliveira, The New York Women’s Foundation’s President and CEO, upon announcing a record $11 million in grants for 2018 to 175 community organizations. “Our 2018 grantmaking expresses the Foundation’s increased response to the needs of historically underinvested communities most impacted by poverty and violence.”
The New York Women’s Foundation (The Foundation) has been at the forefront of gender equality philanthropy for several decades. From 2017 to 2018, grantmaking from the foundation increased by $3 million, breaking its previous record of $8 million, a 27% increase in just one year. If the New York Women’s Foundation continues giving at this rate, in another five years, its giving could reach over $25 million per year.
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.
Micro-loans, in which poor people are provided small loans so that they can jump-start or grow an enterprise, are often associated with least developed countries, but, according to a new study, this model has proved highly effective when applied to poor American women over the last decade.
The Grameen Bank model was pioneered in Bangladesh during the 1970s and 80s, and aimed to reduce poverty through the provision of loans, financial training, and peer support to those unable to access traditional credit mechanisms. It turned out a that small amount of funds enabling the purchase of such basics as tools, seeds, and livestock enabled many to lift themselves out of the most desperate kinds of poverty.
Do major league sports leaders have a responsibility to model respect for women in everything they do? This question is fresh on the minds of many due to Robert Kraft, philanthropist and owner of the New England Patriots, being charged with two counts of soliciting a prostitute in Florida, where he was allegedly engaging in sex acts with women at Orchids of Asia Salon.
Through his philanthropy, Robert Kraft has funded initiatives specifically aimed at ending sexual exploitation of women and girls. USA Today reports that Kraft gave $100,000 in 2015 to My Life, My Choice, a Boston-based organization that works on ending child sex trafficking. Some might ask how the same man can be both perpetrating sexual exploitation and funding initiatives to end it.
I am always keeping an eye out for instances of feminism breaking through to mainstream culture. So when Netflix decided to make its biggest payment ever of $10 million to buy the rights to Knock Down the House, I was eager to learn about how this film came about. How did this relatively new film team suddenly find itself poised to reach Netflix’s estimated 148 million subscribers?
Knock Down the House follows four progressive women who made it into the U.S. Congress in the 2018 elections, inviting viewers to witness the progression of their historic journeys into politics. Just weeks ago, it won Best Documentary Film for 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival.
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.
This week, Rachel’s Network launched the Catalyst Award as a new way to build women’s leadership in environmental work. The awards will recognize as many as five women of color who are making a significant impact on environmental issues in communities across the United States.
Each award winner will receive $10,000 as well as networking and mentorship support throughout the year.
Rachel’s Network works at the intersection of gender equality and environmentalism, providing $1.7 million in collective funding grants since its founding aimed at addressing both climate change and women’s rights. Rachel’s Network received the Bridge Builders Award for Network and Collaborative Giving Leadership from Philanthropy Women in January of 2019 for its exceptional work in growing gender equality movements intersectionally with environmental work.
This award is particularly noteworthy for its integration of both race and gender issues in addressing diversity in environmental work. In addition, the award creators are widening the lens on what it means to make an impact on environmental work by inviting women from the arts, agriculture, law, journalism, education, and faith communities to apply for the awards.
“We want this award to be the connective tissue between the wide landscape of existing fellowships for emerging leaders of color and executive leadership,” said Fern Shepard, President of Rachel’s Network, in a press release announcing the new awards. “We hope our investment catalyzes not only individual women’s career trajectories, but the environmental movement as a whole in becoming more representative and just.”
Starting with a joke about who would be the word hog between the couple, Stephen Colbert recently interviewed Bill and Melinda Gates. The couple talked about their philanthropy in the context of larger political issues such as growing inequality, and shared some of their “surprises” — the theme of their annual letter this year.
Colbert remarked that Bill Gates used to be the richest man in the world, but has now fallen into the number two spot for the world’s most wealthy person. “Well, we’re trying to give it away faster,” said Bill.
“There’s a lot of talk that billionaires shouldn’t exist,” said Colbert, suggesting that too much money accumulating at the top is a failure of capitalism.
“We might be biased,” said Bill with a chuckle. “I think you can make the tax system take a much higher proportion from people with wealth.”
“70%?” asked Colbert.
Bill Gates talked about how tax rates on the rich should be higher, but, “I think that if you go so far as to say that there is a total upper limit,” that could be problematic for the economy. Colbert then asked what the Gateses have observed as they travel the world and visit other countries with higher tax rates on the wealthy. “How is that going for them?” asked Colbert.
“Not necessarily that well,” said Melinda Gates. “There’ll be many times we’re in France, and you’ll hear, ‘Gosh, we wish we could have a Bill Gates. We wish we could have such a vibrant tech sector,'” but Melinda Gates cautioned that some tax systems dampen growth. In France, Melinda Gates said, “the tax system has been done there in such a way that it doesn’t actually stimulate good growth. So we believe in a tax system that does tax the wealthy more than low income people, for sure,” said Melinda.
“More than presently is being taxed?” asked Colbert.
“Yes,” Melinda said.
“We’ve been lobbying in favor of increasing the estate tax,” Bill broke in, and then went on about how the estate tax used to be higher and could be made higher again to garner more taxes from the rich.
“We do believe that to whom much is given, much is expected,” added Melinda Gates.
Here, Melinda Gates began connecting the narrative to women, and how women’s control of money can be catalytic to global change. Melinda Gates sees philanthropy’s support of women’s empowerment as just the beginning, saying “Philanthropy can never make up for taxes, but it is that catalytic edge,” where experimenting and model-testing can be done before government gets involved to bring health or education initiatives to full scale.
Melinda Gates then talked about one of her big surprises for 2019:
“That cell phone has so much power in the hands of a poor woman. […] When she has a digital bank account — they’re not welcomed at the bank, they don’t have the money to get on the bus to get there, and if they do, they might get robbed — but when she can save one or two dollars a day on her cell phone, she spends it on behalf of her family, on the health and education of her kids, and she also starts to see herself differently, she sees herself as a working woman, and she’ll tell you, her husband sees her differently, if she’s in India, her mother-in-law sees her differently. Her older son sees her differently when she buys him a bike. So it’s not the only tool, but it’s one of the tools that will help empower women.”
There is a lot packed into that short message, but it helps elucidate how Melinda Gates sees the role of women in the global economy, and where she is focusing for hope — on financial empowerment, and on women using technology to come out of isolation and into community, so they are no longer controlled by repressive gender norms.
On the question of whether billionaires like Howard Schultz should run for President, Bill Gates spoke for the couple and said that, “We work with politicians but neither of us will choose to run for office.” Colbert then presented the couple with honorary t-shirts saying: GATES 2020: Not an Option.
All of this mainstream media discussion of women’s empowerment is good news for feminist philanthropy. As more progressive women donors get in front of the cameras, they are feeding a healthy trend of growing awareness about the value of women’s leadership.
A new learning institute for women of color will be created out of the former estate of Madam C.J. Walker, as the New Voices Foundation announced last week that it will purchase the site and repurpose it for women of color entrepreneurship.
Madam C. J. Walker was the founder of a hair care empire and a noted philanthropists of the early twentieth century, and is considered the first African-American woman to become a self-made millionaire. A daughter of a slave who once worked as a laundress for less than a dollar a day, Madam C. J. Walker became a civil society champion for organizations like the YMCA, the Tuskegee Institute, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Madam C.J. Walker’s estate, located in Irving, New York, about 30 miles from New York City, was sold to the New Voices Foundation for an undisclosed amount. The nonprofit foundation is part of the New Voices Fund, which seeks to invest $100 million in women of color entrepreneurship.
Great-great-granddaughter to Walker, A’Lelia Bundles, said in a statement: “No one at the time believed that a Black woman could afford such a place. So, I can think of no better way to celebrate Villa Lewaro’s 100th anniversary than the vision of the New Voices Foundation and the Dennis family for this historic treasure as a place to inspire today’s entrepreneurs, tomorrow’s leaders and our entire community.”
The Dennis Family, including Liberian-born entrepreneur Richelieu Dennis, facilitated the recent acquisition, and will spearhead the effort to revitalize and repurpose the property. Dennis is also the founder of New Voices Foundation. In 2013, the Dennis family acquired the Madam C.J. Walker brand with the intention of continuing her legacy of “creating a space of empowerment for Blacks,” according to a press release announcing the acquisition.
“We are excited to announce that the vision for future use of the property is as a learning institute, or think tank, to foster entrepreneurship for present and future generations,” Dennis said, in the statement.
“This includes utilizing Villa Lewaro as both a physical and virtual destination where women of color entrepreneurs will come for curriculum-based learning and other resources aimed at helping them build, grow and expand their businesses. When people think of entrepreneurship services for women of color, we want them to think of the New Voices Foundation and Villa Lewaro.”
Walker’s 28,000 square foot property was designed and completed in 1918 by the first licensed Black architect in New York state, Vertner Tandy. Walker was known for hosting large social gatherings at her home with Harlem Renaissance figures such as Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, and Langston Hughes.
Entrepreneurship support as a way to grow gender equality is a relatively new and growing approach in feminist philanthropy, and focuses on women becoming empowered to own and run their own enterprises. Efforts such as this one from the New Voices Foundation will provided needed physical space and educational bandwidth for women-owned businesses, particularly those started by women of color. Other partners in the project include Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Madam Walker Family Archives, and Historic New England.