Giving together to address gender equality:

The power of collaborative philanthropy
A woman in a black hijab holds a white dandelion flower.
Photo by Behzad Soleimanian via Unsplash

(This post was originally published by the Bridgespan Group on March 8, 2023.)

The globe is heating up. Civil liberties are under siege. A deadly virus persists. Women’s rights are rolling back. More people are forcibly displaced now than at any time in the past three decades. These emergencies do not affect people equally. Occurring against the backdrop of multilayered and interconnected social inequalities, the crises are producing profoundly unequal outcomes by race, religion, nationality, class, caste, ability, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

Gender inequality, interwoven with other forms of inequality, is compounding injustices. Consider, for example, how rigid gender norms shape the impact of natural disasters, increasingly common given climate change. Men often share early warning and safety information to other men in public spaces, while women, because of public policies and social norms, tend to be in private spaces, caring for children or the elderly. Women are 14 times more likely to die during natural disasters and the majority of people displaced by climate-linked natural disasters are women.

Meanwhile, funding for efforts to stop or rollback gains that have benefited women and girls is on the rise. The Global Philanthropy Project estimates that, from 2008 to 2017, the aggregate revenue of US-based organizations associated with the anti-gender movement was $6.2 billion—including successful efforts to roll back sexual, reproductive, and children and young people’s rights, and the rights of migrant workers, Indigenous people, and others.

The good news is that social justice movements that prioritize gender equality provide us with a vision of transformational change.

In the past few years there has been important progress in gender equality across the globe: increased access to reproductive rights in Ireland and Argentina, health care and increased protections for domestic workers in Mexico, women-led movements securing land and intellectual property rights for Indigenous peoples, and a new focus on sexual harassment in the United States and other nations.

Philanthropy has a critical role to play

Philanthropy often works in siloes, prioritizing an “issue-first” lens that doesn’t make the appropriate connections across fields—yielding a chronic underinvestment in gender equality. But as threats to humanity mount—the climate crisis, the rise of authoritarianism, a global pandemic, extreme income inequality—funding girls’ and women’s collective efforts to solve these problems can offer the holistic and sustainable solutions required.

Today, there is growing momentum among donors to do more on gender equality

Several individual and institutional donors, led by groups like Women Moving Millions and commitments at the UN-hosted Generation Equality Forums, are increasing their support for gender equality work and for women-led efforts across the globe, including in the Global South. Despite limited philanthropic investment so far, gender equality-focused work still manages to be a vital force for social change. With bold partnership from philanthropy, its impact will be even more transformational.

Nidhi Sahni is a partner and head of Bridgespan's US Advisory Services.

Alison Powell is a partner and co-head of Bridgespan’s philanthropy practice.