October 2018: Last month I celebrated my fourth anniversary as CEO of this incredible institution. This milestone is particularly exciting as my fifth year as CEO will coincide with the Foundation’s 40th anniversary in 2019.
When we were founded in 1979, our San Francisco-based founders broke new ground by creating one of the first foundations in the country led by and for women and girls. Women were beginning to take control of their personal finances, and critical feminist movement work was overlooked and underfunded by donors and foundations. Their response? We won’t wait; we’ll do it ourselves! Our founders, including Marya Grambs, Roma Guy, Debbie Lee, Ruth McGuire, and Tracy Gary imagined a new “feminist philanthropy” that would put movement leaders in charge of funding decisions and redistribute resources to transform our own communities.
In 1984, with support from our San Francisco Founders, the Los Angeles Women’s Foundation was founded by a group of women that included Belinda Smith Walker, Jai Lee Wong, Laurie Owyang, Pat Ettienne, Elizabeth Bremner, Brenda Funches and many others who had a similar vision: to fund programs for women and girls in the greater Los Angeles area. In 2003, after decades of working collaboratively, the two merged under the leadership of one of our former CEOs, Patti Chang, to become the Women’s Foundation of California, a statewide foundation that would carry on the vision of our southern and northern California founders. Their vision is as true today as it was in 1979 and 1984.
Our movements have achieved powerful gains since 1979. Yet, alongside those gains, the deep, intersecting currents of gender injustice persist. According to the California Women’s Well-being Index in California Latina women earn just 43 cents on the dollar compared to cis, white men. Nearly a quarter of all women experience delayed medical care, a number that jumps to nearly one-third of Pacific Islander women. All women (cisgender women and especially transgender women), particularly those from communities of color, continue to earn less, experience discrimination and gender-based violence, struggle to find adequate health care, and are underrepresented in positions of public and private sector leadership.
As has been made blatantly clear since the 2016 election (and continues to be illuminated through this week’s attack on transgender communities), the systems we live and work in, and the cultures that shape our experience, are dominated by heteronormative, transphobic, white supremacist, patriarchal norms. With four decades of movement building behind us, the Women’s Foundation of California is prepared to continue pursuing the vision of our founders and advance gender justice for the next 40 years.
The unique role of women’s funds is more important than ever. We recognize that today’s political, economic, and social climate presents critical challenges and unprecedented opportunities. We are committed to the same core motivations of our founders: to increase resources to strengthen the movement; to train community leaders to change the systems of power; and to strengthen the connective fabric for allies and co-conspirators across issues, sectors, and generations who will create a stronger and more just California by coming together.