By Melanie R. Bridgeforth
Gender equity is not inevitable.
Achieving this bold and audacious vision requires not only evolution, but revolution. While reflecting on women’s achievements throughout history this month, I am reminded of one thing for certain: no cavalry is coming to save us. We are our own saviors. And we always have been.
Where women lead, change follows. And throughout history, women have always led. Lest we forget, it is women of color who have been at the helm of nearly every power-building movement our nation has ever seen—from voting rights to civil rights to fair wages—driving us toward a more perfect union. It was women who were the backbone of the economy during times of war. It was women who shaped and constructed public policy and legal protections that advanced women’s rights to where we are today.
It was women who birthed, and now sustain, a new brand of place-based philanthropy that embraces strategies, policies, and targeted investments that are explicit on gender to achieve a just society that benefits all.
As the leader of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, I could not be prouder to be an integral part of a growing community of more than 120 women’s foundations spanning 14 countries. Our Women’s Funding Network is fueling social change through both philanthropy and activism.
As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, this movement matters more today than ever.
While hope is on the horizon, the COVID-19 pandemic has already ravaged hundreds of thousands of lives and families—as well as our economy—with women bearing the overwhelming brunt of these effects. So much so that economists refer to the current recession as a “she-cession.”
As of January 2021, 56% of unemployment claims in Alabama were made by women and some 275,000 women left the workforce, compared with 71,000 men. More than one-third of parents, mostly women, have yet to return to the workforce, largely because of child care needs. Since the pandemic took hold, more than two million women have dropped out of the workforce.
Without action that explicitly addresses gender equity, we face a new type of economic crisis. Decades of gains for women could be erased.
But there is good news. Solutions come from those who are most impacted by the problem. And women are here to co-create solutions that drive our entire state forward.
This Women’s History Month is yet another opportunity to renew our commitment to gender equity as we rebuild our economy so that women—and all genders—across our state and country are stronger than before.
Take a moment to imagine what that future looks like. More women advocating and shaping law and policy that center the needs and assets of women. More women in board rooms and C-suites bringing their unique skills and perspectives. Because of expanded access to health care, paid leave, and quality child care, more women earning a living wage and creating a brighter future for themselves and their families. When women’s economic growth is optimized, the result is stronger families, stronger communities, and a better Alabama for all.
This is the future we envision at The Women’s Fund: a society where power and possibility are not limited by gender, race, or place. This month, we recommit to change that is transformational, not transactional—to dismantling and redesigning public systems. Anything less is merely a band-aid.
Join us. Lend your voice to causes that unapologetically center the unique needs and opportunities for women. Target a portion or all of your giving to causes that elevate women and girls. Giving to public women’s foundations catalyzes our vision for the future. It is a simple yet impactful way to maximize the impact of your support for programs and initiatives specifically for women. Doing so is necessary. Nationally, only 1.6% of charitable investments fund women’s and girls’ organizations. Vocally sharing your giving strategy is equally as important to building a movement.
Until the wage gap is closed, until child care is seen as critical of an infrastructure as a road or a bridge, and until women carry the same power and influence as they carry the burden, we fight for change. Our power is in our diversity. Together, we are clearing the path for women.
Melanie R. Bridgeforth is President & CEO, The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham