We need to pull every lever for gender justice
In March, on International Women’s Day, President Biden issued an executive order to establish the Gender Policy Council and create our country’s first-ever national gender strategy “as a matter of human rights, justice, and fairness.” The council’s recommendations for legislative and policy changes, both domestically and internationally, are expected to land on his desk any day now.
The aim of a coordinated strategy is to advance gender equity through a wide range of topics, including economic security, health, education, foreign policy, climate change and gender-based violence, among others. If it seems like a wide web, that’s because every policy issue must be approached with gender and intersectional lens for it to be truly transformative. Gender equity must be integrated with our efforts to advance racial equity, since women of color face even greater systemic hurdles. It also needs to include equality for transgender women and girls, gender-nonconforming people and LGBTQ+ people because it needs to focus on people who experience multiple forms of discrimination and bias. In our move forward, we want to go far, we want to go fast — and this time, we won’t leave anyone behind.
Gender equity at the policy level must also recognize that seemingly different policy priorities are all interconnected. For example, a girl’s education of course affects her future economic security. Restrictions on access to health care, including sexual and reproductive health care, undermine a woman’s ability to take care of her family and to advance in the workplace. Not acting on the climate crisis impacts women and girls around the world, who make up 80 percent of those displaced by climate change.
In addition to bold, intersectional policies, another lever we must pull in the fight to advance gender equity is government and private donor investments in women’s funds — community foundations created with the goal of accelerating progress for all by investing in the leadership of women and girls, especially Black, Latina, Native American and other women and girls of color. Women’s funds move money faster than traditional funds, and they often fund at the margins, reaching nascent movement organizations. During the pandemic, new groups that were organized primarily by women of color took action across the country to address unprecedented needs such as affordable housing, food insecurity, child care, and protecting the democratic process —powered by grants from women’s funds. These local women’s philanthropy groups are also based in the communities they serve, which builds trust, relationships and a deep understanding of their needs.
Policy changes that are created, tested and validated locally by women’s funds can lay the groundwork for national policy transformation. In Arizona, for example, working mothers earning low-income pay could access federally funded child care vouchers. Yet if the mothers enrolled in college classes or vocational training, it didn’t count as “working,” causing them to lose their vouchers for child care, basically blocking any upward mobility. The Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona, a women’s fund led by Dr. Amalia Luxardo and a member organization of the Women’s Funding Network, stepped in and worked with legislators to amend the state’s use of funds to allow women to qualify for the child care vouchers by working or attending school or vocational training. The new policy is better for women, but it’s also better for families and for our economy. This change in how federal funds are used in one state is a perfect case study of the ways women’s funds can lay the groundwork for tested national policies.
Everyone understands that policies on abortion or equal pay affect women. But the truth is, even policies that don’t seem on the surface to be “about women” have a tremendous impact on women’s livelihood, health, safety, happiness and freedom. With Biden following the Gender Policy Council’s recommendations and with support from women’s funds, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make true change and create a future where everyone can thrive.
Elizabeth Barajas-Román is the president and CEO of the Women’s Funding Network, the world’s largest philanthropy for gender equity.