Can Philanthropy Do More to Impact Gender Norms for Women and Girls?

It’s always interesting to drill down on a specific population, such as young Latina women, and consider the implications both for that community and for other marginalized communities.

A new report, Gender Norms: A Key to Improving Outcomes Among Young Latinas does just that. The report, prepared in partnership with Hispanics in Philanthropy and Frontline Solutions, takes on the issue specifically of Latina women and how gender norms put them at risk for lower life outcomes.

The paper begins by telling the story of how philanthropy has begun to approach gender in different ways, but still does not integrate gender awareness as broadly as it could.

From the paper:

Few social justice foundations today would seek to create portfolios that were race and class blind, and fewer still fund grantees that offered race- or class- blind programs, particularly in communities of color. That’s because they know that addressing underlying structures of oppression like race and class race and class makes efforts more effective.

Yet most funders still don’t consider gender an essential lens for their funding strategy, although — as international donors continue to prove — reconnecting race, class, and gender in a truly “intersectional” approach.

As funder Loren Harris (an early leader on gender and former director with the Ford and WK Kellogg Foundations) has pointed out, gender impacts every issue funders deal with; yet most funders and grantees overlook or ignore gender norms, or disconnect them from core concerns like race and class.

Now that is finally changing. A core of leading funders like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), California Endowment, Ford Foundation, and Heinz Endowments have moved forward important grants in this area. Leading funder networks like A Philanthropic Partnership for Black Communities (ABFE), Women’s Funding Network, and Women Moving Millions have all published papers placing gender norms at the center of racial, social, and economic justice work.

The paper speaks to three specific areas where gender norms have a negative impact on women and girls:

• Basic health, including health care seeking and depression and suicide;

• Reproductive and sexual health, teen pregnancy, and intimate partner violence; and

• Education, including school pushout policies, economic security, and STEM

It finishes with recommendations, including that funders convene a national conference on how gender norms impact Latina women and girls.  Other recommendations focus on funders supporting more empirical research on Latina women and how they are influenced by gender norms. Still others focus on training grantees about gender norms.

Recommendations also include impacting culture by creating social media campaigns to raise awareness about how gender norms influence problems like the high rate of suicide for Latina women. Finally, the recommendations call for more collaboration between stakeholders, particularly those with legal influence such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

This paper helpfully addresses Latina women in the context of the larger problem: that much of philanthropy lacks a gender lens, and this contributes to major gaps in effectiveness. It also gives practical and achievable recommendations for how to address the problems raised.

While problems intersect in different ways, the lessons of this paper could be applied to other marginalized women’s populations, including women of different race and class backgrounds. Now that data is more widely available, it is time for the dominant culture to recognize the damage of rigid gender norms. Armed with data, pressure from many different marginalized communities to address the ill effects of rigid gender norms, may aid the cause of improving civil society.

Final note: The paper is published by an organization called TrueChild, which is a fascinating place to visit in and of itself.  The mission of TrueChild is to “help donors, policy-makers and practitioners reconnect race, class and gender through “gender transformative” approaches that challenge rigid gender norms and inequities.”

Kiersten Marek

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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