Women can lead the way to recovery - Women's Foundation California

Chris Grumm, Judy Patrick, Kavita Ramdas

from the San Francisco Chronicle

March 9, 2009 – This year, National Women’s History Month falls during a time of enormous turbulence and fear. The global economic meltdown is drastically reshaping our financial landscape and altering the way we live.

Although the economy has dominated our consciousness, debates and airwaves for months, little attention is being paid to the fact that women are disproportionately bearing the brunt of this crisis. Equally ignored is the fact that women have the solutions to get us out of it.

Consider the facts:

In California

In the United States, the subprime mortgage crisis is taking a higher toll on women: 32 percent of women borrowers hold sub-prime mortgages, compared with 24 percent of men.

Worldwide, the poor, the majority of whom are women and children, are shouldering the burden as developing countries battle inflation, soaring prices for food and a slowdown in markets for exports.

Amidst this grim outlook, there is good news. President Obama’s signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is a strong first step, and the federal stimulus package will begin to stem the tide of cuts to social service programs in California

As labor secretary, Hilda Solis understands the issues that low-wage workers face, and the president’s budget prioritizes crucial areas like health care, education, the environment and reducing income disparities.

Yet as lawmakers and economists attempt to find a way to stop the downward spiral and rebuild the economy, investing in women and women-led solutions must be central to any plan.

Women are capable of forging lasting change, starting with their families, then transforming entire communities and beyond. We know that when women are economically secure, families are economically secure and, ultimately, so are communities and nations. That’s the perspective that drives the work of the Women’s Foundation of California, the Global Fund for Women and the more than 130 women’s funds from around the world that comprise the Women’s Funding Network.

Women’s funds invest in solutions created by and in partnership with women who are pushed to the margins. We see women as experts and solution-builders who can lead whole communities to security, not as victims or passive recipients.

We invest in women like Diana Spatz, a former welfare recipient and UC Berkeley graduate who founded LIFETIME in Alameda County, a grassroots organization that helps women earn college degrees while raising their families on public assistance.

We invest in organizations like Mujeres Constructoras, a women’s rights organization that, in the aftermath of devastating Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua, played a key role in rebuilding homes for single women and their families.

Women who dared to learn skills like carpentry, electrical wiring, and welding were able to make a difference in their community while gaining economic independence.

It’s clear that we must invest in the ingenuity and strength of women. We already know what some of the solutions are:

Give women equal pay for equal work—an act that would cut poverty in half. Women still make only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men—and for women of color, the numbers are even worse.

Put money in the hands of low-income people—food stamps return $1.73 into the economy for every dollar invested, more than any other measure.

Educate and train women to move into quality jobs created by the stimulus package, rebuilding our infrastructure and greening the economy.

Invest in education and health care now to ensure that we have the human capital to sustain a healthy economy.

Engage women directly in the policymaking process as advocates and elected officials.

These are a few measures that will help not just women and families—especially low-wage workers and low-income families—but all communities. Now more than ever, we must invest in women and their potential as agents of social and economic change.

Chris Grumm is president and CEO of the Women’s Funding Network, Judy Patrick is president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California, and Kavita Ramdas is president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women.

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