On St. Patrick’s Day, Women Moving Millions led a lively discussion as part of its 2021 #GenerationEquality Series. Entitled “Building a Blueprint for a Gender Equal World,” the virtual event featured Latanya Mapp Frett (Global Fund for Women), Michelle Milford Morse (UN Foundation), and Kavita Ramdas (Open Society Foundations).
Executive Director Sarah Haacke Byrd began the day’s event with a moment of silence for the Asian-American community in Atlanta, where violent attacks in local spas have recently taken place. She also shared context for the day’s conversation, following the 25th anniversary of the Beijing agreement for gender equality. New legislation is due to be created and ratified within the United Nations, all designed to gather the world’s powers to advance gender equality.
Moderator Michelle Milford Morse of the UN Foundation shared her excitement to be leading the conversation for the day. “The UN Foundation is delighted to collaborate with Women Moving Millions on this critical conversation surrounding the journey to Generation Equality,” she said.
In 1995, thought leaders around the globe met to create the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, at the time considered one of the most forward-thinking women’s rights and gender equality initiative ever drafted. Developed during the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, the Platform for Action was designed as “a visionary agenda for the empowerment of women and girls, everywhere.” 189 governments committed to making strides in 12 areas of critical concern, but despite the slow progress we have seen over the last 25 years, not a single committed country can accurately claim it has achieved true gender equality. #Beijing25 and the #GenerationEquality campaign, led by UN Women, seeks to make this mission a reality 25 years after the original agreement.
COVID-19: Rolling Back #GenerationEquality
Morse began the conversation by asking about the impacts of COVID-19, the backward progress the campaign has forced upon #GenerationEquality.
Ramdas spoke to viewing the pandemic as an opportunity as well as a challenge. Where national leaders described the effort against COVID-19 as a “war campaign,” Ramdas made the argument that the US is uniquely over-equipped for an actual violent conflict, but drastically underprepared for the care needed to combat COVID-19.
She defined “care” as the micro-economy made up of first responders, caregivers, childcare centers, women’s healthcare, and social programs that support women and girls. The lack of attention to these industries during COVID-19 has direct ties to the economic downfall of many women due to the pandemic.
“The pandemic has opened up a possibility for us to think about what it might look like if we really had feminist futures and care in the economy,” she said.
Global Fund for Women: “Show Up for Women and Girls”
Frett expanded on this by addressing the Global Fund for Women’s efforts to “show up” for women and girls during the pandemic. “Much of what we do and how we give to women and girls is very defined and directed,” she said. “The flexibility in how you fund is so important. Change happens when you trust your partners.”
For example, Frett described the Global Fund for Women’s communications efforts as soon as stay-at-home orders came into effect. Rather than insisting their grantees and supported partners continue with their original campaigns, the Fund advised their partners to redistribute funds to “take care of the current crisis.”
Safety and community became critical early in the pandemic — access to healthcare, social community systems, and support networks all needed immediate funding, and the Global Fund for Women stepped up to fill that gap.
“So much of this ability to show up and respond is what I want to get at,” Frett said. “We all need to start trusting what we know for sure: The mother in us, the daughter, the aunt, the sister, is going to show up. And we need to be able to support that in a way that is useful, rather than dictating what we think our partners should do.”
Women and Girls Are the Primary Caregivers of the Planet, Social Movements
Ramdas described the ways supporting feminist movements are more than just offering programs for female empowerment. The care economy — housekeepers, childcare, medical care, etc. — is typically made up of female workers, but women and girls also lead the way in taking care of the planet.
“Women are at the forefront of climate justice movements, social justice movements,” she said. She gave examples of the marches in Sudan, Myanmar, and Australia, surrounding climate change and violence against women, as well as the legal rights of minorities.
“It’s not useful for us to separate out an understanding around feminist movements and assume that these movements are just about ‘three issues that women care about,'” she said. “They are about the issues that ALL of us care about.”
Collective Actors and Movement-Led Approaches to #GenerationEquality
Responding to Ramdas, Frett described the rapidly changing movements in response to political changes around the world. “Broad-based social movements are effective mechanisms,” she said. “They create the largest transformation.”
Giving examples of the Black Lives Matter movement and South America’s Green Wave, Frett noted that “the people on the ground who are demanding change at the moment” are the real drivers of social and political change.
“Without support, that fire and those movement moments can dissipate very quickly,” she said. “We need to be there to support that work and lift up those voices that otherwise go unheard.”
“The real crux of this, for me,” Frett said, “is building this movement-led work into a more central place so that we understand how we need to hold ourselves accountable to social issues around the world, and not just going back and forth on political issues that we’ve been discussing forever.”
The Unique and Dire Capacity Needs of Grassroots Organizations
Ramdas expressed a frustration at the general trend in philanthropy: Most organizations agree and claim that funding women’s organizations and movements is the solution to the future, but “when you follow the money,” women and girls’ organizations are still receiving less than 7% of global philanthropic funding.
“This language of saying that women and girls are so important, but not actually delivering on the money — I don’t want that anymore,” said Ramdas. “I don’t want to be a token. I just want to see the money.”
She compared this to corporations claiming “Black Lives Matter” but not making any actual contributions to Black-led organizations.
On the flip side of the coin, Ramdas praised MacKenzie Scott’s efforts to support the Black Lives Matter movement and women and girls’ organizations. In Ramdas’s view, it doesn’t take enormous foundations with multi-faceted campaigns, but individual donations from high net worth individuals actually injecting funds into these critical women’s organizations.
“Damn it, they deserve more money,” Ramdas said.
“How are we going to support women and girls if we can’t fund the work that they do?” Frett asked. “My hope with #GenerationEquality is that we start holding ourselves accountable.”
The event closed with a Q&A with the audience as well as closing remarks from Sarah Haacke Byrd and S. Mona Sinha.
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