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5 takeaways on why gender equity matters across issue areas 

  • June 27, 2024
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A report from The Bridgespan Group, Illuminating Impact: Why Gender Matters for Funders in Any Issue Area, warns that funders risk “leaving impact on the table” by not applying a gender equity lens broadly. In 2021 and 2022, only 16% of gifts of at least $25 million named gender as an explicit component. 

Across many issue areas, women—defined in this report as “women, girls, and gender-expansive people”—still experience inequitable outcomes, especially those who also face discrimination for their race, caste, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation, etc. Ensuring impact in any area requires examining if, how, and why outcomes vary by gender; exploring solutions that work for women; addressing root causes; and acknowledging women’s “lived experiences, leadership, and genius,” the authors write. 

The report offers hypothetical scenarios and real-life examples illustrating the need to apply an intersectional gender equity lens to all philanthropic work, then outlines recommended practices: 

Women are disproportionately affected across issue areas

Why would prioritizing gender maximize impact in every funding area? Women are disproportionately affected in areas including health care, sustainable agriculture, forced displacement, economic development, literacy, democracy, and mass incarceration While efforts that ignore gender will be limited in effectiveness, those that address gender likely will have ripple effects into other areas. 

For example, women spend 25% more time in poor health over their lifetimes than men. By focusing on women, health funders can improve not only women’s lives but also their workforce participation, enabling them to lift their families out of poverty. 

In the area of agriculture, women produce 60% to 80% of food crops in low-income countries. Funders looking to increase the use of drought-resistant seeds—and associated economic benefits—need to target women growers. 

A gender equity lens helps identify those most affected 

Not only are women broadly affected across issue areas, they’re often deeply disadvantaged—especially those who face intersectional discrimination. By applying a gender equity lens, funders can identify the greatest inequities. Improving conditions for those who face multiple intersectional barriers will have a lasting impact—not only on women but on society.  

For example, Black women in the United States earn 67 cents for every $1 white men earn. Closing this wage gap could reduce poverty, advance equity, and increase GDP by up to 2.1%

Women with lived experience find innovative solutions 

In communities, as leaders, and on the front lines of social change, women have brought creativity and relational skills to developing solutions. Given their lived experience, they’re well positioned to dismantle the barriers they face. 

For example, Latinos face language and racial bias when accessing the U.S. health care system. Latinas Contra Cancer has built a cadre of Spanish-language health advocates who are helping Latinas with cancer access care and improving health care for the community more broadly. 

A gender equity lens preempts approaches that deepen inequities

When funders don’t conduct a thorough gender analysis, even programs meant to help women can exacerbate inequities.  

A program in Liberia aimed to compensate community health workers—typically unpaid roles dominated by women—but when it became a paid profession with educational requirements, many women were shut out. With the help of a gender analysis, partners are redesigning the program to support women’s recruitment and retention. 

As another example, if the funder doesn’t consider that women are often excluded from clinical trials and that drug efficacy and treatment recommendations are based largely on men, women will continue to be misdiagnosed and undertreated, and health disparities will widen. 

Five ways to elevate gender considerations in grantmaking and beyond

The report outlines five steps funders can take to better incorporate a gender equity lens into their work: 

Understand your starting point on gender. Are you “gender unintentional,” perpetuating gender inequities; “gender responsive,” mitigating symptoms without shifting the norms and policies that create disparities; or “gender transformative,” catalyzing lasting change?  

Analyze gender in your issue area. Examine disaggregated data to identify opportunities and anticipate unintended consequences. Are there disparities in outcomes for women by race, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation—and due to what laws, policies, norms, and decision-making structures? 

Design a portfolio that addresses gender in your issue area. Fund women-led organizations and collaboratives focused on gender equity. Fund basic needs, norms change, narrative shifts, policy change, and data and knowledge sharing.  

Invest in women’s leadership. Women nonprofit leaders—especially women of color—often face bias and lack of support. Fund peer networking opportunities, sabbaticals, and wellness supports and urge boards to support their women leaders. 

Evolve your organization to support your gender aspirations. These practices require demonstrating leadership commitment, supporting internal women leaders, ensuring that measurement and evaluation practices track data disaggregated by gender and other identities, and providing long-term unrestricted funding. 

This piece is part of a regular feature where Candid insights shares key takeaways from a new research report to encourage a more data-driven approach to the sector’s work. Leave a comment to recommend a report for an upcoming feature. 

Photo credit: GCShutter via Getty Images


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