Nearly two years ago, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies launched our Gender and Reproductive Equity portfolio to leverage the strengths and power of women to tackle the extensive barriers women face today. By working in deep collaboration with our partners, we seek to build an equitable world in which women, transgender and gender-nonconforming people, particularly Black women and women of color, have greater political and economic power and leadership, as well as access to reproductive health knowledge and care, to greater political and economic power and leadership, and to safety in all aspects of their lives.
COVID-19 surfaced a new wave of challenges to gender equality, and women, especially low-income women of color, immigrant women and women struggling to make ends meet are facing the brunt of the impact of this pandemic. Women have lost more jobs, taken on more caregiving responsibilities and served as the majority of essential workers. For Black, Indigenous and other women of color, the economic effects of the pandemic have been catastrophic.
But gender and racial inequities existed long before COVID-19—the pandemic has only further exposed and exacerbated them. The reality is, we need women’s leadership now more than ever. We need to invest in the ideas, strengths, talent and resilience of women. To achieve gender equality, we must have women in leadership positions who look out for our interests, who put families of all kinds and communities first and who bring a gender lens to bear on various issues.
As our Chair, Stacy Schusterman, said: “Gender equality will strengthen both the economic and social fabric of the U.S. Only when all women are able to realize their full potential, including Black, Indigenous and other women of color, will our country thrive.”
While the challenges are great, so are the opportunities. That is why we joined Pivotal Ventures—Melinda Gates’ investment and incubation company—and MacKenzie Scott last August with a $10M investment in the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge. Together, we committed a groundbreaking $40M to support bold solutions to advance gender equality in the United States. The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge is the first competition centered on gender equality with an award of this magnitude.
When the call was put out for applications, we were not sure how many organizations would respond. But the robust participation far exceeded our expectations; we received over 550 applicants with extensive plans to accelerate the progress of women from all backgrounds over the next ten years.
From these applications, the competition’s judges sought to identify the most promising efforts to do just that, and today, on International Women’s Day, the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge announced 10 projects that will move on to the final stage of the competition.
The 10 finalists selected reflect a wide range of women-led solutions addressing critical issues, from advocating for caregiving infrastructure, to increasing pathways for the next generation of women to advance in key sectors like technology, public office and media, to supporting the rights of Black women in the South, to advancing economic empowerment for Indigenous women and survivors of intimate violence.
Winners will be announced this summer. You can view the full set of 10 finalists here.
This is not only a momentous stage in the competition, but we hope a defining milestone for gender equality in the United States. These finalists will lead us on the path to expanding women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030, forging innovative, women-led solutions that enable more women—particularly Black, Indigenous and other women of color—to be in positions that make decisions, control resources and shape policies and perspectives in their homes, workplaces and communities.
We couldn’t be more excited to celebrate this extraordinary group of problem-solvers and change-makers, especially on a day that honors the incredible achievements of women worldwide.
When we joined the Challenge in August, we marked the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. While white women gained suffrage, it was another 40 to 50 years before barriers for Black and Indigenous women were removed, allowing all women the right to participate in our democracy. And yet, somehow, we are still fighting to dismantle the structural barriers to equal rights, for autonomy over our bodies, for political power and for economic opportunity.
We cannot—and we will not—wait another 100 or 150 years for our basic rights. And we certainly will not wait 208 years to close the gender gap in this country. Because equality can’t wait. And with these finalists in the driver’s seat, we know we won’t have to.
Lisa Eisen is Co-President of Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.
Brook Kelly-Green is the Senior Director of Gender and Reproductive Equity Grantmaking at Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies