Uniting to protect and empower women Is everyone's responsibility

Uniting to protect and empower women Is everyone's responsibility

Imagine cowering in fear from the person you once trusted more than any other. This is the reality for the one in three women globally who will be beaten, raped, or otherwise abused in their lifetimes. In the United States, domestic violence is one of the leading causes of death among women between the ages of 15 and 44, while an estimated 3.8 million people, most of them women and girls, are trafficked every year. 

At a time when gender equality has never been more important, turning a blind eye to violence against women is not an option. The systemic abuse of women, often at the intersection of color, class, and caste, is simply not acceptable. Unfortunately, the global COVID-19 pandemic has seen a surge of violence against women that has shelters in the United States, China, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Spain, India, the United Kingdom, Uganda, South Africa, and France reeling. Even more worrisome are areas of the world where hotlines are not ringing because women cannot get away to make the phone call that may save their lives or where services do not exist to help those most at risk.

In normal times, women are the ties that bind our communities together. But increased violence against them is fraying this social contract and threatening not only women's lives but community cohesiveness. At this critical moment, philanthropic leadership is essential to ensure that the safety and security of women, here in the U.S. and around the globe, are protected. 

Fourteen years ago, the NoVo Foundation stepped up to fill a gap in sustainable funding for organizations working to end violence against women, while at the same time modeling a new approach to women-focused philanthropy. Long before many of its peers followed suit, the foundation made flexible, multiyear gifts that were larger than most government grants and cleverly designed to unlock the promise of long-term change. In the years that followed, NoVo's leadership in the women's space had a huge impact in terms of breaking the silence around the scourge that is violence against women. It took a decade for the impact of that funding to become clear, but then countries such as Iraq and Sudan started to pass laws that criminalized domestic violence and practices like female genital mutilation. Justice had begun to raise its sleepy head. Indeed, inspired by the trust-based philanthropy modeled by the foundation, I made my first large commitment in this area. NoVo had changed the rules, and women around the world could not have been more grateful. 

Tragically, in May the foundation, in a letter posted on its website, announced that it had decided to scale back its extensive investment in organizations working to end violence against women. 

Women and women's organizations around the world were shocked and, a week later, are still reeling.

Historically, women and girls have largely been largely overlooked by donors, with only 1.6 percent of Americans' charitable giving directed their way. And the risk for women and girls will grow exponentially as women's unemployment hits double digits for the first time since the Great Recession and critical programs are dismantled due to lack of funds. 

At Women Moving Millions, we prioritize investment in women and girls because we know, and research has shown, that it is the most effective way to drive impact for everyone. We also recognize that we have a shared responsibility to ensure that communities which have borne the brunt of the pandemic have the resources they need to recover, and that the decisions we make today will impact what happens tomorrow — and for years to come. 

Trust-based investment in grassroots organizations led by women who are proximate to the issues rooted in gender discrimination is the only long-term, sustainable answer to centuries of patriarchy and white privilege. In the weeks and months ahead, philanthropy has an obligation to stay the course and even double down in support of women's groups at risk of losing their funding. 

Social change does not happen overnight. In this moment of uncertainty, opting out or scaling back is not an option. It is time for all of us to unite in shared purpose to protect women from violence and empower them as agents of change.

S. Mona Sinha is an advocate for gender equality in business and society and the board chair of Women Moving Millions, a community of women who look to fund "big and bold" ($1 million+) to create a gender-equal world. She is a member of the ERA Coalition, which seeks to include a constitutional amendment of equality on the basis of sex; is a trustee emerita of Smith College, where she served as vice chair of the board and led the Women for the World campaign; and serves on numerous educational and nonprofit boards.