Question: If funding to support boys and men of color is a priority, with some two dozen foundations involved, why are women and girls of color not an equal priority?
The fact is that few new philanthropic efforts are aimed specifically at improving the lives of girls and young women of color.
This is one of the reasons that The Chronicle of Social Change and Inside Philanthropy are convening a webinar about impact giving for women and girls of color in early November.
The idea for the webinar grew out of an interview I did with NoVo Foundation’s Executive Director Pamela Shifman about the new Grantmakers for Girls of Color partnership. Hearing her speak about the research and the needs for this population got me questioning, as a social worker and advocate for social equity, whether we should be doing more to pay attention to women and girls of color.
“There’s a myth out there that for girls and women of color, everything is fine,” said Shifman in our recent interview. Shifman assumed the role of executive director of NoVo in 2014 after six years as NoVo’s director of Initiatives for Girls and Women. “But everything is not fine. Here at NoVo, we recognize that there is a huge need to focus on support for girls of color. ”
Historically, the NoVo Foundation has always had a focus on adolescent girls, but until recently, that focus was directed toward work in the Global South.
Now, NoVo is also adding a new focus on young women and girls of color in the United States. As part of this focus, NoVo has helped created a partnership called Grantmakers for Girls of Color, to help bring awareness to the many issues of disadvantage that girls and young women in the U.S. face, including poverty, high rates of sexual abuse and domestic violence, and big gaps in educational and work opportunities. Other key stakeholders in the partnership are the Foundation for a Just Society, Ms. Foundation for Women, and the New York Women’s Foundation.
Research suggests that there are significant differences in funding to address inequity for women and girls of color, and that the problem is worse in particular areas of the country. Unequal Lives, a new study produced by the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative (SRBWI), found that in rural areas of Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama, the rate of unemployment for Black women was 23.6 percent, a number four times higher than the rate of unemployment, 5.9 percent, for white women in the same counties. The economic recession, and cutbacks in manufacturing jobs in the area, have hit Black women particularly hard.
Participants at A Long Walk Home event in Chicago. Photo credit: A Long Walk Home
Efforts in philanthropy to address disparities like this are few and far between. Unequal Lives reports that, “In 2012, just 5.4 percent of all foundation funding in the South went to programs focused on women and girls, and less than 1 percent to programs focused on Black women and girls.”
The SRBWI study has its limitations, such as “the severe gap in data and information available on Latino and Native American women, LGBTQ communities, women with disabilities, and women who are incarcerated in the rural South.” The study is by no means a comprehensive view of all the issues faced by women and girls of color, but what the study does depict with hard-hitting data is the bleak options and opportunities for Black girls and women in the Rural South.
The study raises major questions about the overall well-being and economic security of Black women, children and families in this area of the country, and shows that efforts to address this problem are insufficient. FYI for readers interested in learning more: Data from Unequal Lives will be presented in detail at our November 4th webinar.
Two of the four partners in the GrantMakers for Girls of Color partnership are behind this work. Unequal Lives was produced with support from the Foundation for a Just Society and was written by C. Nicole Mason, executive director of the Center for Research and Policy in the Public Interest at the New York Women’s Foundation.
Other foundation support for the study came from the Ford Foundation, Marguerite Casey Foundation, and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation.
Another study highlighted on the partnership’s website, Finishing Last: Girls of Color and School Sports Opportunities, documents how girls in heavily minority-populated schools have fewer opportunities to participate in sports than girls in heavily white schools, who also have fewer opportunities than their male counterparts.
Other studies highlight issues of sexual abuse and sexual violence against women and girls of color, forced and early marriage in African immigrant communities in New York City and unequal disciplinary treatment of girls of color in American public schools.
Between 2009 and 2014, the NoVo Foundation worked with the Ms. Foundation to establish a network of leaders and organizations focused on ending child sexual abuse and developing new ideas and resources around this challenge. That work led to the Just Beginnings Collaborative, an independent project funded by NoVo that focuses on social justice and child sexual abuse.
NoVo has also sponsored several other initiatives for women and girls, including A Long Walk Home in Chicago, which has done pioneering healing arts work to support women and girls recovering from sexual assault. This work has led to NoVo becoming a knowledge center for issues concerning young women and girls of color impacted by sexual trauma.
Another initiative NoVo has invested heavily in is Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn, New York. Its Sisters in Strength program, a paid community organizing internship for high school women of color, ages 16 to 19, helps young women develop skills as peer mentors and tutors to middle school students.
When it comes to addressing structural inequity, looking more closely at the research is key to discovering where gaps in equity lie, and finding ways to add support and access to opportunity. In the case of women and girls of color, foundations like NoVo are playing an important role by identifying the issues faced by young women and girls of color, and are urging more action