As the Pandemic Pushes Women and Girls Further Behind, a Global Response to Gender Inequality Is Needed

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

As the Pandemic Pushes Women and Girls Further Behind, a Global Response to Gender Inequality Is Needed
By: Nicolette Naylor, International Program Director for Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice, Ford Foundation and María Fernanda Espinosa, Steering Committee Member, Generation Equality Forum. This article was originally published by The Chronicle of Philanthropy on May 5, 2021.

More than 25 years ago, world leaders met in Beijing and agreed to the most progressive blueprint yet for achieving gender equality. During that gathering, then-first lady Hillary Clinton famously declared, “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”

Unfortunately, too little has happened since then. Despite the commitments made in 1995 to take bold action on gender equality, not one country today can claim to have achieved that goal. By the best estimates, it won’t be reached globally for another 136 years.

The lesson is clear — commitments to gender equality mean little without the financial backing and accountability needed to make them happen.

At a time when women and girls risk losing rights and falling even further behind as a result of the pandemic, we need to redouble our efforts. This will require governments, global philanthropic leaders, business executives, activists, and others to join together in a sustained campaign to achieve gender equality. That is why last month we helped launch the Generation Equality Forum, a global effort to accelerate progress on gender equality, spearheaded by U.N. Women and the governments of Mexico and France.

The problem is urgent and worldwide. Women were hit hardest by the pandemic’s economic fallout, even as they have led social-change efforts on issues such as racial justice, voting rights, reproductive justice, and worker rights and have been at the forefront of community responses to Covid-19. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week, a quarter of women in the United States said they are worse off financially than before the pandemic shutdowns began in March 2020.

The problem is not a lack of resources. Global military spending reached a record $1.9 trillion in 2019 — 20,000 times higher than the amount of donor support to women’s rights organizations. Philanthropic support for women’s and girl’s organizations in the United States represents just 1.6 percent of overall giving, according to the Women & Girls Index 2020.

The Generation Equity Forum, which formally kicked off in Mexico City last month and will culminate in Paris on July 2, is addressing this funding imbalance. Unlike past efforts, it aims to ensure accountability by bringing those directly affected by gender inequality together with those who have the power and resources to address it. Activists and young people are working side by side in action coalitions with philanthropists, government and business leaders, and representatives from international organizations. Together, they are creating detailed agendas to drive progress in specific areas, such as gender-based violence, feminist action for climate change, and economic empowerment of women.

The forum’s action coalition on gender-based violence, for example, includes government leaders from countries such as Iceland and Kenya, youth activists from Guatemala, Ford Foundation representatives, and members of the European Lobby for Women — the largest umbrella organization of women’s associations in the European Union. Through this process, action coalition members come together to discuss the issue, set clear goals, and determine what resources are needed to meet those goals.

Their plans are bold, just as they were in Beijing 25 years ago. But this time they reflect the goals and needs of women’s rights organizations and movements fighting on the ground for gender equality rather than simply government, philanthropic, or business priorities.

So far, the forum has raised more than $125 million through commitments from philanthropists, governments, and businesses. This includes a pledge from Women Moving Millions — a global network of individual philanthropists — to raise $100 million to support the entire agenda put forth by the forum’s six action coalitions before gathering again in Paris in July.

Partnerships have also formed to tackle specific gender-equality goals. Mexico’s National Institute for Women launched an Alliance for Care Work effort with U.N. Women to address the care-giving burdens that restrict women’s economic opportunity, especially during the pandemic.

A partnership also came together between the Canadian government, the Ford Foundation, and the Equality Fund, which supports women’s rights around the world, to form a Global Alliance for Sustainable Feminist Movements. Backed by a $15 million pledge from the Ford Foundation to the Equality Fund, the Global Alliance will bring together philanthropists and feminist organizations on efforts to improve the quantity and quality of funding to women’s rights groups.

Model for Philanthropy

Beyond addressing a desperate need, this collaborative approach is a model for what philanthropy can look like in the future, with partnerships forged across different segments of society and private foundations and nonprofits work together with business and government leaders to unite around common goals — magnifying the impact of their work and dollars.

As the world becomes more polarized, solving enormous and challenging global issues like gender inequality will require collaborative approaches of this kind that can bridge divides and ensure real progress.

The Forum invites philanthropies, feminist groups, youth-led organizations, governments, and businesses to join us now. Those interested in taking part in an action coalition have until June 30 to apply to become “commitment makers.” Under that designation, they must commit to supporting action coalition agendas or blueprints for increasing women’s rights and fostering gender equality by 2026.

The blueprints call on foundations and other donors to increase the amount and accessibility of funding to feminist organizations, including investing more in movements and organizations led by girls and young feminists. They also urge flexible grant making and accountability for meeting funding targets, such as increasing international donations to address violence against women and girls by 50 percent in the next five years.

At a time when women and girls are disproportionately affected by the widening socioeconomic gaps and shifting funding priorities caused by the pandemic, we hope more donors will work with us to address some of the most intractable barriers to equality. If adopted and fully funded, the Forum’s action agendas can help us meet Hillary Clinton’s long-delayed goal — ensuring women and girls in every corner of our planet have the fundamental rights all humans deserve.

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