With the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg this past month, I’ve been reflecting on the courageous and audacious contributions of women in leadership who have selflessly endured sexism, racism, and threats of violence in the pursuit of equality. A brilliant feminist icon and unyielding guardian of our democracy, RBG was a warrior for equal rights, and the choices, aspirations, and opportunities that we enjoy today exist because she fought boldly and valiantly to ensure that future generations were granted equal protection under the law.
Many of us are asking ourselves, ‘how can the rights of so many rest on the shoulders of so few? Is this further evidence of the structural fragility of our democracy and the weakness of the movement for equality? In an already uncertain time, what does the future hold?’ RBG knew that the responsibility for carrying her legacy forward would fall on the next generation of leaders. That these leaders would need to pick up where she left off to progress the values of justice and freedom to which she dedicated her life.
The path forward is not one clear of obstacles. In recent years, voting rights, reproductive choice, LGBTQIA+ rights, climate protections, and health care have all been under threat. These movements, and the leaders steering them, are ready to take the baton. They possess the expertise, talent, and vision to make fundamental changes and usher in a new era of reform. Yet, this next generation of leaders are chronically under-financed. As a result, they are forced to scale-back their timelines, ambitions, and often put their well-being at risk for the causes they sacrifice everything for.
Astonishingly, less than 1.6 percent of philanthropic dollars in the United States go to organizations working to improve the lives of women and girls, a mere 0.5% of foundation funds is directed to women and girls of color. Historically, discrimination has been codified in law. RBG’s work changed that. Today’s funding deficit is a modern de facto version of discrimination that must be rectified.
Funded correctly, we can accelerate gender equality in this country. The women’s rights movement continues to gather strength, dedicating itself to the work of equality with renewed focus, energy, and drive. Since 2016, we’ve marched to demand equality. We’ve taken this fight from the streets to social media, the courts, the election booth, and corporate boardrooms. We’ve battled against corporate misogyny and invested in political candidates to increase representation and expand power. By sharing testimonies of survival from violence, we’ve shone a light on a crisis of abuse that is both hidden from view and ubiquitous. And, most recently, we marched to protest the stolen life of Breonna Taylor. We are ready.
This is why Women Moving Millions launched the Give Bold, Get Equal Campaign to mobilize a minimum of $100 million to drive resources to the leaders who are on the front lines of progress. Gender equality cannot be achieved in this country until the funding reflects the disproportionate burden women and girls face. While the challenges and barriers to change are formidable, they are in no way insurmountable.
Proper funding for leaders can ensure equal rights, equal pay, and equal power. They can act to address the structural and cultural impediments to realizing equality that continues to affect the lives of millions of women and girls. Philanthropists, along with the largest foundations in this country, must ask: ‘why do we continue to underfinance the fight for gender equality? By extension, does our inaction embolden the patriarchy that keeps inequality so firmly entrenched?’
RBG imbued a spirit of hope and possibility that one day there would be no more “closed doors” to knock upon, no ceilings to prevent our ascent. She served as protector of civil liberties and women’s rights at a time when the institutions and structures around us are indeed failing. She gave us so much and held far too much on our behalf for far too long. She persisted because she knew the stakes have never been higher.
As we look to the future, we can honor RBG by investing in those leaders who share her unique brand of boldness, determination, and innovation. Today’s philanthropists must rise to the challenge that she placed before us. We must now give bold to get equal.
We invite you to join us.
With hope and possibility,
Sarah Haacke Byrd
Women Moving Millions