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Gender Norms: A Key to Maximizing the Return on Charitable Investment

The following is a cross-post by Riki Wilchins, executive director of TrueChild, an organization that helps donors, policy-makers and practitioners reconnect race, class and gender through "gender transformative" approaches that challenge rigid gender norms and inequities. You can read the original post on the Council on Foundation's RE:Philanthropy Blog.

As foundations continue to assess where they can maximize the social return on their charitable investments, many are looking at issues of gender norms and equity.

Riki Wilchins Riki Wilchins

While gender may impact every issue a funder addresses, often grantees and staff aren’t challenged to do innovative, intersectional work that connects race, class, and gender. For instance, differential treatment of men, women, and families is inextricably linked to many facets of civic engagement, from workplace fairness and immigration policy to welfare and prison reform.Yet many civic engagement and civil rights grantees navigate largely by race and class, with little understanding of why a gender analysis is so important, or why having a gender lens is more than just “a women’s issue.” On the other hand, in areas like reproductive health, partner violence, school bullying, and education achievement, decades of research show that challenging harmful masculine and feminine norms is crucial to improving life outcomes for at-risk youth.

As Dr. Hortensia Amaro—an expert in at-risk youth—first observed in 1995, the United States still tends to pursue better outcomes in reproductive health and partner violence “in a gender vacuum.” Few programs, policies, or funding priorities integrate a strong, specific focus on challenging rigid gender norms and inequities.

But today all that is slowly starting to change. Prominent agencies like PEPFAR, USAID, UNAIDs, and WHO—and leading nonprofits like CARE, EngenderHealth, Futures Without Violence, ICRW, Men Can Stop Rape, Planned Parenthood, and Population Council—have begun implementing “gender transformative” initiatives that challenge rigid gender norms and inequities, and found them effective. And a core of dedicated program officers, often working on different issues in entirely separate “silos,” are working quietly to do cutting-edge grantmaking that links gender with age, race, and class.

However, funders aren’t always gender experts themselves, and even those who want to do innovative grantmaking in this area may feel they lack the time, expertise, or proper tools to assist grantees. A new report, “Gender Transformative Philanthropy: A Key to Improving Program Outcome and Impact in At-Risk Communities,” is designed to help donors get a better understanding of the gender lens. Prepared with the input and guidance of more than a dozen program officers and donors, it covers basic language, concepts, and background, as well as the challenges ahead and specific suggestions for bringing gender to the center of grantmaking and funding priorities in the coming decade.

Riki Wilchins is executive director of TrueChild. Her work has been profiled in The New York Times and TIME Magazine selected her one of "100 Civic Innovators for
the 21st Century." The author of three books on gender theory, Riki has been published in anthologies like
Feminist Frontiers, Language Awareness, and The Encyclopedia of Identity and publications like The Village Voice and Social Text. She is proud of her courageous and smart 5-year-old daughter, Dylan.

Topics: Charitable Giving