California: A Tale of Two States

May 30, 2018
Written by Surina Khan, CEO Women’s Foundation of California

Earlier this month, California surpassed the United Kingdom to become the world’s 5th largest economy. And yet we have the highest poverty rates in the nation. In spite of powerful gains, women, especially trans women, and 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. Meanwhile, women’s rights and gender justice organizations continue to be chronically underfunded. In fact, only 4% of U.S. foundation support goes specifically to women and girls, and even less to gender justice which we define as the systemic fair treatment of people of all genders.

It was in this context that I had the opportunity to address a crowd of 6,000 people at the 2nd United State of Women Summit (USOW) where I called attention to the gross underfunding of gender justice. USOW was an inspiring Summit for those of us focused on gender justice who came together to motivate one another turning energy into action for change. I was excited and humbled to share the stage with amazing leaders including Alicia Garza, Ai-jen Poo, Dolores Huerta, Tarana Burke, Jane Fonda, Patrisse Cullors, Vanessa Daniel and many of our California partners. And I was thrilled that the National Philanthropic Collaborative of Young Women’s Initiatives was also featured on the main stage at the Summit. We were joined by our partner Women’s Foundations from New York, Minnesota, Western Massachusetts, Washington DC, Memphis, Birmingham and Dallas. Each of us brought trans and cisgender young women of color to attend the Summit and address the thousands of attendees to share our work centering young women of color in advancing gender, racial, and economic justice. For all these reasons, and so many more, USOW was energizing and invigorating. The biggest highlight for me was having the opportunity to meet former first lady Michelle Obama who was a special guest and closed the Summit in conversation with Tracee Ellis-Ross. The Summit was a visceral reminder of the power of women taking action together.

In addition to the amazing people who spoke on the main stage, there were many other incredible speakers who participated in panels during the Summit. We are thrilled to share that included in that list were 14 Women’s Policy Institute alums and staff members from grant partner organizations.

At this critical juncture in the United States where a resurgence of misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia is part of our daily reality, we have an opportunity to elevate issues that advance gender, racial and economic justice. And that is exactly what our team at the Women’s Foundation of California does day in and day out.

We left the Summit in LA and headed directly to Sacramento for our Women’s Policy Institute (WPI) State and Local retreats, our Philanthropy and Public Policy Institute and our annual Legislative Reception.

This year we are training 55 leaders through WPI-State and Local to be effective policy advocates on a range of issues. At the same time, we are taking the lead in the philanthropic sector to elevate the value of investing in local and state policy work aimed at advancing gender justice. Now in our second year, our Philanthropy and Public Policy Institute, Co-Chaired by Senator Holly J. Mitchell, welcomed nine participants from private, public and family philanthropies. Just like the WPI, the Philanthropy and Public Policy Institute is a hands-on experiential program focused on learning directly from policymakers and advocates while connecting with other funders who are committed to effective, policy-based grantmaking. Together, we all learned, shared models of success and celebrated the Institute at our largest-ever annual Legislative Reception where we honored Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, the We Said Enough Campaign and WPI alum, Mily Trevino-Sauceda who is the Vice President and Co-Founder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas. We dedicated this year’s reception to the memory of Nancy McFadden (1959-2018), Chief of Staff to Governor Jerry Brown and a former Board Member of the Women’s Foundation of California. It’s important in our work to celebrate the unwavering dedication of our partners so that we can be moved to do even more.

California truly is a tale of two states. A global economy and yet the highest rates of poverty in the nation. Unacceptable rates of gender-based discrimination and violence, and yet we are home to innovative feminist models for advancing gender, racial, and economic justice. California has strong political leadership, a strong network of social Justice leaders, a flagship program for training community leaders through our Women’s Policy Institute, and a strong culture of philanthropy of which we are central as one of the first women’s foundations in the country.

All of these elements will be key to our continued success. The time is now for concerted, coordinated, and collaborative action to advance gender justice. As funders, donors, advocates, policymakers, and corporate and community leaders we are called on to lead this state and country to a better place. All of us at the Women’s Foundation of California are ready and willing to do just that and we’re happy to have you on this journey with us, and ready to welcome your friends and family to our growing community.



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