How Philanthropy Can Strengthen Families And Fuel Gender Equality at the Same Time

Can philanthropy align around supporting families, and in doing so, bolster gender equality?

I had an amazing discussion today with Helen LaKelly Hunt about how funders are aligning across the political spectrum to help strengthen families, and within this approach there is huge potential for gender equality agendas to be realized.

In the context of Helen’s work as both a relationship expert and a philanthropy expert, she sees clearly how philanthropy can do more to build relationship skills, and in doing so make progress for gender equality.  As she puts it, “teaching relational skills transforms the family and bring gender equality to the family.”

Right after talking to Helen, I happened upon this article from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) entitled “Families Can Drive Gender Equality, but Only if We Help Them Evolve.” AWID has been around for over 30 years and describes itself as “an international, feminist, membership organisation committed to achieving gender equality, sustainable development and women’s human rights.”

The article discusses the “deeply paradoxical” nature of family for women, as an environment that brings “love and life but also struggle, inequality and, far too often, violence.”

These are exactly the issues that Helen LaKelly Hunt’s new book synthesizes: How transforming relationships across culture, including within families, is key to moving away from rigid gender norms that reduce life outcomes for women and girls.

Stay tuned for an article I am working on that discusses the implications for philanthropy of Helen’s new book, And the Spirit Moved Them: The Lost History of America’s First Feminists. For now, here’s a snippet of the article by Shahrashoub Razavi on AWID:

In 2012, 47% of all women who were victims of homicide were killed by an intimate partner or family member, versus just 6% of men, according to the United Nations’ Global Study on Homicide.

Evidence also shows that family income and resources are not necessarily pooled or shared equally between partners, practices that can entrench domestic gender inequality. Men in both the developed and developing world are also more likely than women to use family income for personal spending and to have more leisure time.

How can we make families work better for women?

Gender-equal Families

International Day of Families is a good moment to reflect on this question and consider how families might change to become agents of gender equality and female empowerment.

In international law, the protection of the family is closely linked to the principle of equality and non-discrimination, meaning that all members of a family must enjoy the same liberties and rights regardless of gender or age.

As social realities change, perceptions of just what non-discrimination looks like have also evolved.

Today, many countries, including Brazil, Finland and Spain, recognise same-sex partnerships, while others offer legal protections for children born out of wedlock and for single-parent families. That would have been unthinkable just 50 years ago.

Such rapid shifts, though, can incite a backlash from people who fear that new familial structures threaten their personal beliefs, religious values or social norms.

To help families become more gender equal, it is important to be clear about what changes are required and what, concretely, these changes entail. Only doing this will allow policies seeking to empower women and girls really work.

Women Who Wait

Things are already trending in the right direction. Around the globe, women’s voice and agency within the family are growing. In many parts of the world, women are also postponing marriage, in part because they are attending school for longer and building a career.

In the Middle East and North Africa, regions where marriages have tended to be early and universal, women delayed marriage for between three and six years (depending on the country) between the 1980s and 2010s. By 2010, the mean marrying age for the region’s women ranged from 22 to 29 years and in nearly all countries it now surpasses the legal minimum age of marriage without parental consent.

Read the full article here.

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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