By Colleen Gregerson, VP, Corporate Partnerships & Philanthropy, PSI
Millions of people took to the streets in an estimated 60 countries around world last weekend to stand up for women’s rights. It was both an empowering and sobering moment: on the one hand it was an incredible show of civic action and demonstration of “what democracy looks like,” as chanted by the crowds. It was sobering in that “we still have to march for this stuff?” as many signs asked.
Yes, we do still have to march for this stuff. And we have to do a whole lot more than march.
Working in global health, I’ve seen firsthand the vast inequity women and girls face around the world, not just in health care, but also in education, employment, access to financing and the physical danger of just being female.
We know that investing in girls and women pays off: women spend 90 cents of every dollar on their families while men spend only 30 to 40 cents. Spending one dollar on contraceptives to avoid unintended pregnancy reduces the cost of pregnancy related care by nearly $1.50; and when 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases by an average of 3%.
So why is it that only 5% of international aid goes to support gender equality as a principal objective?
Women are significantly under represented in parliamentary and ministerial positions, the positions which decide how foreign aid is directed.
Women’s sexual health is often politicized resulting in low spending on comprehensive family planning and proven vaccines to reduce cervical cancer.
A lack of data about women’s work, their behaviors, and even their existence makes it difficult to design appropriate policies and programs and to evaluate progress.
These are but a few forces driving under investment in women and girls.
The likely trajectory of this already paltry funding in the current political environment is unclear at best. No specific policies on foreign assistance have come out of the new U.S. administration to date. However, the rhetoric of America First and an early executive order to reduce women’s access to reproductive health offered by foreign organizations, and perversely increase unsafe abortion putting millions of women’s lives at risk, point to likely reductions in assistance directed to women and girls.
That’s not progress.
Are you OK with this?
Does this support the equitable society and world we all aspire to live in? If you are like me, the answer is no.
And, it’s often easy to feel helpless. What can one person do?
It turns out, much more than you may think.
You might be surprised to learn that we all actually sit on the largest pot of funding available to support women and girls. This pot of funding dwarfs what any government gives on an annual basis. We the people direct how it is used and for what purpose. What is this magical pot of funding?
It is our own wallets.
It is our own money that we already give to charity. In the U.S. alone, individuals gave $373 billion to charitable causes in 2015. That compares to $31 billion in foreign assistance from the U.S. Government in the same year. Imagine a movement where we shifted those resources even modestly to support a more equitable world where girls and women had the same opportunities and access as men and boys?
Some of us already have.
Maverick Collective is empowering individual philanthropists to give boldly to innovation pilots aimed at solving some of the most difficult challenges women and girls face, like teen pregnancy and gender based violence. The initiative has leveraged more than $63 million in funding for girls and women’s programs and elevated an inspired group of vocal advocates for women and girls.
After the election in November, donations to Planned Parenthood spiked, with more than 300,000 donations in the six weeks after the election, 40 times its usual rate. The message was powerful: we will not allow Planned Parenthood to fold regardless of political wrangling.
It’s clear, we need our voices heard and we need to act. So, here are five things you can do right now:
- Look at the donations you made in 2016. You are going to need to do this for your taxes soon in any case. How did they stack up against your own personal principles around ensuring gender equality?
- Set a giving goal for 2017 that includes a proportion dedicated to women and girls’ programs. I’ve set mine at 50% because that aligns with my principles of equity. What’s right for you?
- Challenge yourself to give big, whatever that means for you and your wallet. This is the time when individuals are going to make the difference.
- Share this post (using the tools above) and use the hashtag #givebig4girls.
- Give to PSI, and empower women in the developing world to lead healthy lives and plan the families they desire.
Banner photo credit: Trevor Snapp