International Philanthropy

Foundations that do international grantmaking have a history of acknowledging gender differences. For decades, they have recognized that women and men have different workforce participation (both types of employment and pay rates), different levels of responsibility for raising children and different roles in building stronger communities. Thus, until recently, international funders would not dream of making grants without thinking about the impact of gender differences in the area they are funding. Somehow, in the United States, that clarity of vision never took hold, or at least got blurred. We want to think that we are beyond gender differences in this country, so foundations try to ignore them, to the detriment of effective philanthropy. Funders in this country could learn a lot by looking at the history of international giving for women’s issues.

Unfortunately—with some significant exceptions like the Gates Foundation—recent research like the Association for Women’s Rights in Development’s report, Where Is the Money for Women’s Rights?, documents that international funding trends toward “gender mainstreaming” have begun to mimic universal funding in the United States. Instead of U.S. foundations learning from the international funders’ more sophisticated frameworks for analyzing gender differences, international funders are “declaring victory” in the gender wars instead of looking deeper at the erosion of women’s rights around the world. As Effective Philanthropy argues, so-called “gender-blind” mainstreaming or universal funding strategies run the risk of women’s needs, concerns, and rights being rendered invisible unless funders do the serious work to name Norm.