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International Women’s Day 2023

6 Mar 2023

As a life-long feminist, International Women’s Day is an opportunity for our Trustee Jenny Stephens to reflect on women’s political, economic and social achievements, and presents a salutary reminder to keep renewing efforts to attack inequalities experienced by so many women throughout the world.

How important are women to philanthropy?

Well, women are important to everything! And an increasing number of women in decision-making positions and in control of their own giving means more choice in the way philanthropic funds can be expended for positive impact for women and girls.

But I think an equally critical question is ‘how can contemporary philanthropy do better in targeting gender inequality?’ At the very least, applying a gender-lens to all our thinking around investing and granting has to be standard practice. We need to keep asking ourselves ‘how will our philanthropic work positively impact women and girls?’ 

Can you share a women’s empowerment story that has inspired you?

While there are many stories about ways in which philanthropic giving has made a positive difference to the lives of women and girls, one certainly made its mark on me many years ago and influenced the trajectory for my thinking about possibilities and impact. It centred around the Grameen Bank microfinancing community development model in Bangladesh, implemented in the 1970s. It was transformative for many village women at a time when possibilities were scarce for their lives to be empowered and self-directed out of poverty. The inspiration for me at the time was seeing this example as a way of thinking creatively and challenging established norms when approaching problems to solve. Over the years since I have tried, not always successfully of course, to bring this type of thinking to my life and work.

Are things changing quickly enough?

No. And for women and girls this is particularly the case. As I get older I am becoming even more impatient with the slowness of social change and discouraged that some of the battles that I had thought were won years ago are again having to be tackled. But in my work life I draw energy - and optimism - from the more sophisticated body of knowledge that is framing progressive philanthropy and reshaping contemporary thinking about creative and donor-centred ways to address wicked structural and gendered issues. More broadly, making a practice of reviewing social and political dogma to see who is benefiting and who is not requires our constant vigilance.