In honor of Mother’s Day that we recently celebrated here in the USA, I want to reflect on the power of women and girls of color. At the Imago Dei Fund we care deeply about supporting women and girls of color to have agency and decision-making control over their lives. Our starting point in this work is the assumption that women and girls of color have power (they do not need to “be empowered”) and that this power can be supported and grown in ways that help women and girls of color live the lives they want for themselves, their families and their communities. We have the privilege of walking alongside a number of organizations and communities that center the needs of women and girls of color in this way.
Centering the agency of women and girls of color in our work as a funding partner means we partner with organizations that do the following:
- Assume that women and girls of color live complex, dynamic, nuanced lives that are intersectional in a multitude of ways and do not shy away from centering women holistically,
- Ask women and girls of color what they want and need,
- Trust in women and girls of color being the best qualified people to know what they want and need and therefore believe them when they say what they want and need, and
- Leverage the power inherent in women and girls of color and do what is necessary to support them to attain what they want and need.
While the above may seem obvious to those of you already centering women and girls of color in your work, I continue to hear folks in the spaces I am in center themselves and what they think women and girls of color want and need, rather than centering the women and girls of color they claim they want to “help.” They often say things like “we need to empower women and girls” or “we need to include women and girls.” The assumptions in statements like this are the antithesis of what it means to center women and girls of color. In addition, the “of color” is often omitted, ignoring the racialized experience of women and girls of color and avoiding the intersectional nature of the work that needs to be supported.
Oftentimes I hear “we want to remove barriers to access and equity for women and girls.” To be clear, it is critically important that barriers to access for women be removed and that organizations, including philanthropic organizations, center gender equity in their efforts. That said, when you center women and girls of color in your thinking and approach it is easier to see what those barriers are from the point of view of a woman or a girl of color. And once the barriers are removed, women and girls of color can then engage as they want, when they want, and on terms that work for them.
I am excited to share that the Imago Dei Fund recently invested in three remarkable organizations that fully center women and girls of color. They are remarkable for a few reasons.
- They all center Black women and girls and women and girls of color unapologetically and respectfully.
- They hold themselves accountable to the women and girls of color they partner with and engage them as leaders in the work.
- They are focused on advancing the well-being of women and girls of color (different from “helping”).
- They are all putting the decision-making power into the hands of women and girls of color when it comes to the distribution of resources. Women and girls of color are making the decisions about where the money goes, to whom and for what – rather than the organization or donor/funder making that decision.
The Black Girl Freedom Fund, the Children’s Rights Innovation Fund, and the Boston Women’s Fund are all deeply committed to centering the lives of women and girls of color, advancing their well-being, and ensuring racial and gender equity and justice for them and their communities. IDF is proud and humbled to walk with and learn from these organizations.
Our colleagues in philanthropy need to step up when it comes to centering and supporting women and girls of color. There is a lot of talk about what needs to be done, but very little action being taken. According to the Pocket Change report put out by the Ms. Foundation:
Of the $356 million from foundations available for women and girls of color (WGOC) in 20171, less than $15 million, about 4.2%, was specified as benefitting Black women and girls. The median size of grants benefitting Black women and girls was $18,000 compared to a median of $35,000 for all foundation grants reported to Candid in 2017.
If philanthropy actually wants to respond to the cries for racial and social justice in this country and have a real and sustainable impact on issues such as health care, education, poverty alleviation, civic engagement, it needs to de-center itself more and center women and girls of color – they have the power and wisdom to make the world a better place for all of us. We just need to get out of the way.