Status quo is failing women and girls – it’s time to think bigger
New Equality Fund brings together grant-making, gender-lens investing and philanthropy under one tent
By Jessica Houssian and Jess Tomlin
We had much to celebrate this past International Women’s Day, including the hard-fought changes to advance women’s equality that have come before us. But to build the world we want to live in, one where equality isn’t just an idea, but a reality, we must be honest about what we still have yet to achieve.
Women, girls and non-binary people remain underrepresented, and in the worst cases, silenced in the corridors of power. They are missing from decision-making, problem-solving and influence across multiple industries and throughout the world.
Yes, we need more women in leadership positions. But adding women alone is not enough. We must also alter the structures and relationships that exclude women from power. It means tackling the root causes of inequality. It means systems change.
The past few years have been a roller coaster ride for women’s rights everywhere. Regressive legislation has rolled back rights, and with armed conflict, economic insecurity and climate impact come disproportionally high levels of violence against women.
Yet women and girls have been pushing back.
We’ve seen the power of the #metoo and #TimesUp movements. Indigenous girls — from Canada to Ecuador — are leading the fight against climate change. Women around the world are protesting and organizing for a more equal world.
We’re not surprised.
Those who are closest to problems such as climate change, reproductive justice and violence are also the best positioned to develop meaningful, long-term solutions. Women have led the way on building peace after conflict, changing abortion laws, ending child marriage and electing women representatives to governments, to name only a few.
Indeed, women-led organizations and feminist movements have catalyzed some of the most important changes of our time. Only one per cent of funding for gender equality goes to these organizations. Yet these organizations are often doing the most innovative, changemaking work around the world, on shoestring budgets.
It’s time we gave them the resources to do it.
We came together to create the Equality Fund by asking the questions: What does an equal world actually feel like? And what do we need to do to get there?
Funding, it turns out, is a critical component. Shifting power means shifting resources into the hands of those doing the work for equality on the ground.
It’s true — you can’t buy equality, but you also can’t underestimate the power of money to create a more equal world. It’s not just how we spend and donate money, but also how, and where, we invest it.
What does this look like in real terms?
It looks like funding a curriculum to train women in war-torn areas to run for political office. It looks like providing seed funding for women-owned start-ups. It means funding advocacy strategies that will influence policy change to make girls and women safe or ensure access to opportunities.
In 2019, a unique moment arrived in Canada, a groundswell of support and demand for change. The Government of Canada issued the call for the Partnership for Gender Equality. We found a broad coalition of activists, philanthropists, bankers and investors and developed an ambitious plan: get funding into the hands of women-led organizations — and do it for as long as it’s needed.
The Equality Fund was born.
The Equality Fund is a collaboration that brings together grant-making, gender-lens investing and philanthropy under one big tent. Laser-focused on infusing new dollars and new donors into a chronically underfunded movement, the Equality Fund is a big bet on the future of funding for women’s rights globally.
In June 2019, the Canadian government invested $300M in the Equality Fund to build this innovative model that fundamentally shifts notions of power and money, ensuring that dollars as they are invested and as they are spent, will benefit women.
We cannot wait for the changes women and girls need. We see great hope in new funding models that will support brave leaders around the globe to make real, meaningful and long-lasting change.
At its core, feminism is about creating a just world for everyone. In the next decade and beyond, we are ready to use funding as a tool to make the world work for women.
Jess Tomlin and Jessica Houssian are Co-CEOs of the Equality Fund. Jess Tomlin was formerly CEO of The MATCH International Women’s Fund and has led an effort to resource women’s organizations around the world. Formerly the Executive Director of Women Moving Millions, Jessica Houssian has worked for women’s equality for her entire career focused on philanthropy.
Photo: OLM STAFF