Applying a gender and racial lens to funding COVID-19 response

This blog post first appeared in Philanthropy Ohio’s blog on April 27, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the way of life for most people. As many of us adjust to the new demands of life, women, are confronting the greatest impacts and setbacks. History has repeatedly shown us gender and race powerfully influence experience during a crisis. Women make up nearly two-thirds of part-time workers and are overrepresented in low-wage work. It’s women who are on the frontlines of fighting COVID-19 as health workers and caregivers. And, it’s women of color who disproportionately face additional economic insecurity as a result of this crisis because too many are already working in low-paying jobs, facing a higher risk of job loss and have limited access to benefits such as paid leave and flexible work.

The philanthropic community has moved swiftly to fund immediate response and employed best practices in helping funded organizations adapt to meet the needs of their communities. Applying a gender and racial lens to the COVID-19 response is critical. Recent reporting demonstrates the implications of the pandemic on gender inequality; that the coronavirus is hitting communities of color harder; and how structural inequities will be perpetuated if we don’t consider how our efforts truly support relief and recovery.

At The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, we’ve spent the last 20 years honing the application of a gender and racial lens to grantmaking, research, advocacy and programming. It’s at the core of what we do and guided us to invest 47 times the national rate in grants serving women of color this year. Amid the current crisis, this slate of grant partners has quickly mobilized to distribute aid and resources efficiently and effectively to support the most vulnerable populations.

The commitment to understanding the intersection of gender and race and how it influences opportunity informed our most recent research on the gender and racial wealth gap. This research shows how wealth is the driver of economic security and what it will take to lift women, particularly women of color, out of economic fragility and cycles of poverty, while also safeguarding them from impacts of crisis. Nationally, when compared to single men, single women own 40 cents to the dollar, but for single black women, it drops sharply to only 2 cents owned to the dollar. When assessed in a time of global crisis, women, and particularly women of color – who make up the majority of the most economically affected groups – are the ones who will take the longest to recover because they don’t have the financial security net and/or benefits – like paid leave, child care, access to health care – to sustain them.

Our philanthropic strategies and funding priorities to address the short- and long-term COVID-19 response must ensure that gender and race remain a central focus. Without this support, women, particularly women of color, once again stand to disappear from the conversation, in decision-making, and in the allocation of funds and resources.

As we come together to support our communities and create a resilient society in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some ways we encourage funders to apply a gender and racial lens:

  • Ask whether women, especially women of color, are at decision-making tables informing solutions and identifying needs.
  • Ensure that women, especially women of color, are involved in all levels of planning response strategies.
  • Look at the leadership and staff of the organizations you are funding to see if there is diverse representation.
  • Ask how organizations are connecting with and listening to the people they serve.
  • Ensure the populations you intend to support and serve are included in, or a part of reviewing, the solutions proposed.
  • Ensure that relationships are built with on-the-ground partners who reflect the population you intend to serve.
  • Examine whether women and/or communities of color are being affected differently or disproportionately before making any funding decisions.
  • In addition to applying a gender and racial lens, we also know that a trust-based funding approach is best to support on-the-ground partners and amplify relief efforts. At The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, we’ve been able to provide immediate support to our grant partners in this way by regularly checking in on grant partners to see if there is anything they need personally or professionally; removing mid-year reporting requirements; offering flexible funding; and providing opportunities for virtual engagement. Through these provisions, we have empowered those serving women, girls and families to meet their immediate needs while maintaining focus on long-term goals.

As funders, we have an opportunity to not only help our communities through this crisis, but also make them stronger for the future.

A note on language: It is important to recognize the different experiences that women, and especially women of color, face due to social, cultural and structural policies that have historically created inequality and inequity. Women are not a monolith, nor are women of color. The term “women of color” refers to women who are at the intersection of gender, race and ethnicity. This includes, but is not limited to African American, Latina, Native American and Asian American women. The term “women” includes European immigrants, cisgender and transgender women. Unfortunately, given often limited disaggregated data for various racial and ethnic groups, we use “women of color” here to refer to the women who are often marginalized in our community.

Sarah Pariser & Urvi Patel
The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio