The Women's Foundation of California | Celebrating 40 Years of Feminism and Activism

Celebrating 40 Years of Feminism and Activism

by Surina Khan

By Surina Khan, CEO of the Women’s Foundation

California is home to some of the most diverse women in the nation. We have strong, vibrant communities led by women of different races, ethnicities, gender identities, abilities, and religions. Our diversity is one of my favorite things about California and fuels the energy we need to sustain this critical movement. 

For the past 40 years, the Women’s Foundation of California has had the honor of supporting women, girls, trans and gender nonconforming people to use their power to make our state a national leader in gender equity. 

We have come so far and have so much to celebrate as we end 2019. It’s important to reflect on our successes and achievements and champion those who dedicate their lives to fighting for gender justice. 

But as we look to 2020, it’s clear that our work is far from done. According to the 2019 Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California, women as a group in California continue to make only 89% of what men make or .89 cents to every dollar earned by men. California is an economic powerhouse, home to Silicon Valley and Hollywood, the undisputed capitals of technology and entertainment respectively. Yet, only 24% of people working in the STEM computer/math industries are women. Only seven women have directed the top 100 films in Hollywood. And only 4% of CEOs in California are women. 

Movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have laid bare the gender-based discrimination in our homes, schools, and workplaces that allow these inequalities to fester and encouraged us to do better. Yet, the pace of change across the globe and at home has been slow. At this sluggish pace, it would take 108 years to close the gender gap across politics, work, health and education, and 202 years to close the workplace gender gap. 

We don’t have the luxury of waiting around for centuries to achieve gender justice and end gender-based oppression. That’s why the Women’s Foundation of California has been catalyzing change by raising the voices of young women and girls of color. We started with changing state laws through our Women’s Policy Institute. For the last 15 years, our leadership and public policy training program has trained over 500 transgender and cisgender women, non-binary and genderqueer people, and transgender men and helped them pass 40 far-reaching laws, including one that made California the first state to require public universities to provide abortion pills. 

But we’ve seen that changing the way that our society thinks and treats women requires more than just changes to policy. We also need to change our culture and how we talk about gender to ensure that people actually follow those laws and change the behaviors and cultural systems that are holding women back. Sexual assault is against the law, but as we’ve seen from the overwhelming response to the  #MeToo movement, it doesn’t stop it from happening.

As a result, the Women’s Foundation of California, in partnership with prominent national funders, launched The Culture Change Fund this summer. This $10 million fund’s goal is to redefine the world that we live in and empower women to create new truths that will help make our culture more inclusive and ensure that it more accurately reflects our diversity. 

This is nothing new in our society. From Aesop’s fables to parables, we’ve been using stories to educate and shift culture throughout all of human history. That’s why we need more stories like Roma, the Netflix film about an indigenous domestic worker in Mexico, POSE, a show about the African-American, Latino LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming ballroom culture scene in New York City in the 1980s, and Unbelievable, which looks unflinchingly at how victims of sexual violence are treated by the criminal justice system. We need more stories about women like me: a proud immigrant, lesbian, women of color from a Pakistani Muslim family, whose voices have historically been shut out or erased in the mainstream. The Culture Change Fund will identify these stories and voices and elevate them into the mainstream. A truly inclusive society where we can all safely live, work, and pray won’t be possible without it. 

At the Foundation, we close 2019 grateful for another year of progress and growth that builds upon our 40 year track record of fighting for gender justice. Together, we are planning, strategizing and working together to ensure that the next 40 years are equally impactful. We hope you join us. 

Surina Khan is the CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California.


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