Whatever happened to the Sisterhood?Charity Insight Contributor
Although women may be tempted to think of themselves as fully paid-up members of modern society, a seminar hosted by Cass Business School suggests otherwise, says Becky Nayler. A range of female speakers argue that gender inequality is still alive and kicking, including within philanthropy, and that something needs to be done about it.
"Feminism is a dirty word".
Or at least it is according to Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of the Women's Resource Centre, who was speaking at the Cass Business School's seminar on Female Futures of Philanthropy on Monday 13 June. "Feminism as used as a derogatory term these days," she said. "But we are losing the point completely. Feminism is about female solidarity, and every single woman gaining the equality she rightfully deserves."
Source: Women's Resource Centre
At this point, I was already squirming guiltily in my seat with recognition. I have a tendency to roll my eyes and cluck my tongue dismissively when the subject of "feminism" crops up. Surely the days of female subservience are over? Aren't females now fully emancipated and financially equal members of society?
Well, after sitting through four presentations covering topics from female charitable giving trends to the dearth of women's organisations currently operating in the UK, I came away feeling a little naive. It seems that women are still not the financial or social equals of men, much to my surprise. And, on the topic of philanthropy, the message was similarly clear: although women have good intentions and undeniable impact when it comes to charitable investment, it is still a largely male dominated field. These are inconsistencies that Vivienne Hayes and her fellow speakers are working hard to rectify; but they can't do it alone.
Cathy Pharoah, co- director of the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy Research at Cass Business School talked us through a collection of data on charitable giving trends. The results were conclusive: women are more like to give to charity, with all social groups included, while seven per cent of women give to more than five charities, compared to only five per cent of men However, although women are systematic givers, it is men that are more likely to steal the show with the size of their cash gifts.
Of the 50 HNWIs listed in the latest Sunday Times Rich List, only 11 were women, and Pharoah noted that the majority of these women were actually contributing money from either their father or their husbands' estate. Only one woman, the author JK Rowling, was investing money she had earned herself. So, as Pharoah concluded, although women wield significant influence in the UK Philanthropic World, they are predominately operating with male-earned cash.
Animal and religious-based charities receive the majority of female donations. Cue a despairing sigh from the next speaker, Gillian Egan. Egan has worked in the not-for-profit sector for over 20 years, and has recently turned her attentions to developing the UK's first woman's fund, Rosa. Rosa invests in grass roots projects for women and girls, an area of the sector that Egan was quick to label as "chronically underfunded".
"Almost every state in America has a woman's fund," Egan explained. "But Rosa is the first of its kind in England".
I was shocked by this, and, judging by the murmur of surprise that rippled through the room, I was not alone. And the shocks didn't stop there: women are seemingly oblivious to the more serious issues that face their sex in modern society. The focus groups of women aged 20-35 that Rosa quizzed in the early stages of its development cited weight gain and calorie counting as the most pressing issues confronting women today, disregarding completely topics such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), pay inequality, sexual and domestic violence, and the impending budget cuts that are set to have a disproportionate impact on women.
So why are women not more actively involved in donating to charities relevant to their gender? Vivienne Hayes suggested in may be too painful for women to turn attention to harrowing topics such as rape and domestic violence, especially if they have personal experience of them.
"There is a lot of evidence to suggest that people who have not properly dealt with trauma are unable to empathise with those going through a similar situation," Hayes explained. She also accused the media of actively concealing women's issues. "I see about three stories a week in the paper about women who have been murdered by their partners," Hayes said. "This is an issue that needs to be brought to the attention of everyone; but the newspapers merely report it. There are no follow-up articles, no assessment, no analysis."
All the speakers were united on one point; there needs to be a collective attitude change amongst women. Rather than dismissing "feminism" as an archaic concept, I agree with Vivienne that the term needs to be modernised and absolved of its negative connotations. Women need to turn their attentions, and their purses, to the charities working hard to raise awareness of female issues including self esteem, body image, pay-equality and domestic violence.
We've come a long way, it is true, and we should not disregard the progress we have made; but now is not the time to be complacent. In order to abolish gender inequality once and for all, some female solidarity is needed.