So much of what I worry about with corporate philanthropy is just how much it is used to grease the pill, so to speak, of the public swallowing all the damage that corporations do in the world. Corporate philanthropy asks us to believe, for example, that Nike cares about gender equality, even as much of its subjugation of labor in developing countries puts added pressure on women as both workers and providers, with very little given in wages in return.
Such is the subject of Kathryn Moeller’s book, The Gender Effect: Capitalism, Feminism, and the Corporate Politics of Development, which makes the case that even feminism can be co-opted by corporations and turned into a tool for shifting more of society’s burdens onto women and girls without addressing the structural factors that produce poverty.
The book makes a convincing argument that many corporations are not coming at gender equality in their philanthropy with a genuine interest in changing the circumstances for women. It also shows how much corporations continue to apply pressure to women’s lives, sometimes by demanding that they don’t have children so that they can put work first on their life agenda, or convincing women to take loans and enter into small business, even though they lack the supports and the know-how to ensure that the business has the best chance of success.
I would recommend that anyone interested in women’s empowerment read Moeller’s book, to recognize that the agenda for women’s equality can be seriously skewed by corporate interests.
While we continue to highlight and encourage corporate giving for women and girls here at Philanthropy Women, Moeller’s book helped me develop a more critical eye for where the corporate pressure for profits might be bleeding into the corporate do-goodism.
Similarly, in a recent issue of the New Yorker, Moeller has an essay called The Ghost Statistic that Haunts Women’s Empowerment. With this essay, Moeller brings much of her argument from the book into a more succinct narrative. She questions how one particular statistic came to be: the statistic that says that when women have control of money, they give 90% of it to their children and community. According to the essay, the reliability of this statistic is non-existent, which begs the question of how much we need to do in order for the data on women to become more detailed, validated, and replicated, in order to prove its value.
But Moeller also makes another valuable point. Even if the statistic is true, is that necessarily the recipe for a robust global economy? If women tend to give much of what they have away, how will they accumulate the capital necessary to sustain and grow business ventures? And will they end up in situations where they are simply the conduit for money that goes into the hands of more powerful and controlling entities in their families and communities?
Moeller’s book is provocative and in league with other sharp critiques of philanthropy circulating these days including Anand Giridharadas’ Winners Take All and Edgar Villanueva’s Decolonizing Wealth. It’s a must-read for feminist philanthropists who want to take an approach to their work that will truly transform lives and avoids replicating, or further empowering, subjugating corporate systems.