For a just recovery, philanthropy must invest in a feminist future

By Andrea Dicks, President, Community Foundations of Canada

At the Community Foundations of Canada (CFC), we are relentlessly pursuing a future where everyone belongs. We believe in a bright future, a future that is just and sustainable, a future that goes beyond the status quo. The year 2020 has taken this vision and underscored its tremendous importance, relevance and challenge. Our communities, our countries and our world are in a state of a deep crisis of intersecting issues: deepening health and wealth inequalities, racism, and climate change.

As the final weeks of 2020 come to life, there are many entry points for reflection on this year and ways to look forward. Where we begin today, is with how the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated gender inequality—in Canada and around the world.

Through our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), gender equality has been an important focus of CFC’s work over the last two years. In 2019, CFC became one of the founding partners of the Equality Fund, a groundbreaking collaboration that will deliver new momentum for women’s movements in Canada and around the world. As a founding partner, CFC joined a diversity of others including women’s funds, community foundations, venture capital, a network of the largest global foundations, and others, to scale global impact.

Throughout 2020, this focus on gender equality has become more relevant as communities around the world have been responding to unprecedented local and global challenges—challenges that disproportionately affect women, girls, Two-Spirit people and gender-diverse people. For example, isolation and confinement at home have contributed to a spike in domestic violence, job losses have disproportionately affected women, and women’s domestic burden has increased. These, and many other challenges, reflect intersectionalities: they compound and reinforce systems of power and inequality related to race, gender-orientation, socio-economic situation, physical ability, and age, among many other factors.

Recently, CFC released three national Vital Signs reports on gender equality. Each report corresponds to a theme from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Power, Peace and Planet. These Vital Signs reports reflect the integration of the economic, social and environmental elements that are key to sustainable development, analysed through the lens of intersectional gender equality. 

Why Power?

Power is complex. There are many types of power at play in our world. For example, the ability to make decisions about our lives, the opportunity to change public policy, and how we pass on cultural traditions to the next generation and build resilient communities. The data is consistent on one point: power is gendered. Women, girls, Two-Spirit people and gender-diverse people have less access to power than men and boys. In the Power report, we pay particular attention to economic and political power in our communities. 

Why Peace?

Violence against women, girls, Two-Spirit people and gender-diverse people in the world’s single-largest human rights violation. While Canada is frequently considered to be one of the safest, most conflict-free nations in the world, this does not mean we are immune to gender-based violence. Far from it. Statistics point to some alarming trends. As the Canadian Women’s Foundation reports, one woman is killed by her intimate partner every six days. Sexual assault is the only violent crime that is not declining. But gender-based violence is far more than domestic violence and sexual assault, from the small but insidious daily acts of public harassment, to deeply entrenched systemic oppression. In the Peace report, we do a deep dive on gender-based violence and look at related issues that impact the experience of safety and freedom for women, girls, Two-Spirit people and gender-diverse people. 

Why Planet?

Gender equality and environmental well-being are inextricably linked. The way we have been living on the planet has had negative consequences on the land, air, water and climate— and similarly negative consequences for women, girls, Two-Spirit and gender-diverse people. They are also holders of important knowledge and leadership, which can support sustainable land use and community development. The United Nations’ three pillars of sustainable development—economic, social and environmental—show how we cannot separate human concerns and activities from our natural environment. A healthy environment is vital to ensuring sustainable and healthy societies, economies and communities. We use the word “exploitation” to describe both natural resources being taken for granted and acts of violence against the innocent. This is no coincidence—pillaging and extraction are symptoms of patriarchy. In the Planet report, we explore how the insights and knowledge of women, girls, Two-Spirit people and gender-diverse people are what the world needs right now to help solve our most pressing problems, including climate change and its effects.

In our work towards a just recovery and a future grounded in gender equality, CFC and our network are focused on supporting ambitious, local projects that advance gender equality while also being honest about our own need for change. Beginning in 2019 and continuing for five years, we are not only funding local projects, but we are also examining our own institutional and investment practices and policies, and considering ways that we can bring an intersectional gender lens to our governance, initiatives, operations and investment decisions. 

As one example, earlier this year, as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, CFC along with our partners at the Equality Fund and Canadian Women’s Foundation created a set of common principles for a feminist approach to funding. This evergreen document outlines our early thinking around how we will strive to live out our values. These principles express some of what we already do and areas we want to improve. They are not exhaustive, given that we are learning as we lean into our ambitions as feminist funders. They are values and strong ideas we aspire to live up to. We will continue to refine these principles and add practical examples to illustrate and enliven our approach and journeys.

Our responsibility to invest in a feminist future

The philanthropic sector has long prided itself as a partner to communities and as a catalyst for finding solutions that address the needs of the most marginalised citizens—yet we know there is much more that we can do. At CFC, we believe philanthropy has a role and responsibility to support and intervene in a just recovery. To have the greatest impact with philanthropy, we know that investing in women is not just the right thing to do, it is the strategic choice. 

We often talk, write and dream about a feminist future. Our vision of a feminist future is of a world where all women, girls, Two-Spirit people and gender-diverse people have equal access to justice, opportunities, resources and decision-making. One where people have body autonomy and self-determination and can live a life free from violence. A global community that benefits when those most impacted by oppression are lifted. A decolonised future, a future where power is shared and where identity does not dictate life outcomes. We have a vision of the future where all identities are celebrated and are a source of joy and solidarity. In the context of the pandemic, we need a clear vision of a just recovery and a path to get there, leaving no one behind.  

By Andrea Dicks, President, Community Foundations of Canada



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