Abundant data shows that the most effective way for philanthropists to advance women’s rights worldwide is to directly invest in the women’s movement. This means the provision of long-term, general operating support to women’s rights organizations that work collaboratively to transform social, legal, and political systems of patriarchal oppression.

However, while today’s philanthropists are increasingly quite vocal about achieving gender equality, many foundations have actually decreased their general operating support for these kinds of women’s rights organizations, preferring time-bound, project-specific funding aimed at “women’s empowerment.” The numbers are stark: According to a study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute and Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, women’s and girls’ groups received just 1.6 percent of US-based charitable giving by foundations and religious groups in 2016.

Funding for individual projects that “empower women” can actually be counterproductive, as project-based service delivery grants can leave activists without the time and resources to push for broader systemic change.

If we are serious about women’s rights, we must directly support the women’s organizations that are pushing forward legislation and policy that guarantees sexual and reproductive rights, codifies fair pay, ensures payment of alimony, and tackles domestic violence. We must support the women’s movement, not just “empowerment.”

Real empowerment begins when women come together and reflect on the social norms that keep them as second-class citizens, a political process grounded in acknowledgement of systemic subordination, and leading to the recognition that women have the power to act together for change. This process of consciousness-raising and mobilization happens within women’s movements the world over.

In fact, women’s movements are the key, and often the only, factor driving change on women’s rights.

Read the full article about investing in women's movements by Françoise Girard at Stanford Social Innovation Review.