Skip to main content

Bringing Equality into Focus – Applying the Gender Lens to Philanthropy

Sex Discrimination

Bringing Equality into Focus –
Applying the Gender Lens to Philanthropy

Elizabeth Broderick
Sex Discrimination Commissioner
Australian Human Rights Commission

Australian Women Donors Network –
Gender-Wise Philanthropy:
Strengthening Society by Investing in Women and Girls
Ashurst, Level 26, 181 William Street, Melbourne

Monday, 8 April 2013.

I also wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

It’s fantastic to be here this morning, and to be speaking with such an engaged and committed audience – people who not only understand the change that philanthropic giving can effect, but who know that thoughtful and targeted programs can make a difference to whole communities.

It’s wonderful, too, to have been invited here by the Australian Women Donors Network – an organisation that has advocated persuasively for gender-wise practice within the philanthropic sector, and which has taken this latest step of directing strategic and very practical attention to its benefits and possibilities.

Before we explore the topic of gender-wise philanthropy, however, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there are two sides of the coin when talking about women and giving. As this audience well knows, women have a long - if under acknowledged - history as generous donors, as well as recipients, of philanthropic funds.

In fact, recent studies have found that, since women’s economic status and independence has increased, women are more likely to give - and likely to give more - than their male counterparts in equivalent income brackets.[1] Interestingly, women are also likely to give in different ways – regular donations over a long period of time, rather than one transactional donation, for example; and to seek involvement in the organisation they support.[2]

Many are part of organisations that specifically support other women to bring about equality and positive change. This is, in itself, the subject of extensive consideration and a topic for a speech another day.
What fascinates me, however, is the fact that – despite the fantastic work of these organisations – investing in women and girls has, until relatively recently, been regarded as peripheral in the wider philanthropic sector.

In fact, as recently as 2011, only 12% of Australian philanthropic funding was going to specific programs which invest in women.[3] Instead, and as Eve Mahlab notes in the publication we launch today, most funding goes to ‘gender neutral’ causes, such as youth, homelessness or sport, with the majority of donors assuming that gender neutral funding reaches both sexes equally.

Logically, however, this is unlikely to be the case, given the disadvantaged position from which many women start. In Australia alone, for example, it is widely known that one in three women experiences physical violence and almost one in five sexual violence over their lifetimes; while women are two and half times more likely to live in poverty in their old age than men; and still earn just 83 cents in the male dollar, a disparity that, disappointingly, has widened over the last four years.

We know that violence and economic insecurity put those who experience them well behind the starting line in terms of accessing opportunity. It is not surprising, then, when research confirms that funding of mainstream programs – particularly those that do not consider gender differences – generally do not reach women to the same extent as they reach men.[4]

This means that ‘gender neutral’ does not always result in equality of outcomes. In fact, it can often mask the role that gender can play for women and men alike – perpetuating stereotypes, such as the assumption that men are breadwinners and women are carers, assumptions that can limit both sexes.

It is only by making gender a central consideration in the development and implementation of policy that we can hope to discard these limitations. By ‘gender’, of course, I do not only mean women and men, but also the roles ascribed to and treatment experienced by both sexes as a result of the constructions of gender in our society.

This means that we must always take gender into account when developing and implementing projects – looking at how they affect women and men, whether they apply or perpetuate gender stereotypes, and whether they entrench any gender inequalities.

Put simply, then, constructions of gender can play a role in the effectiveness or success not only of public policy, but also of philanthropic giving. What is being increasingly acknowledged, however, is the fact that, while women and girls may miss out disproportionately in gender neutral funding, specific investment in women and girls – in programs that increase their physical safety and wellbeing, their education, or economic status – can benefit whole communities.

Certainly, the US Government has made this recognition overt, with President Obama recently signing a memorandum that commits to expanding US Government initiatives to empower women and girls.
In doing so the President observed that, “promoting gender equality and advancing the status of all women and girls around the world remains one of the greatest unmet challenges of our time, and one that is vital to achieving our overall foreign policy objectives.”[5]

This commitment reflects a growing understanding that, as the Women’s Funding Network reminds us:

Through gender equality women can not only live full and productive lives, they can also improve the lives of their children, their families, and the society they are part of”.[6]

If we needed more specifics, the booklet we launch today notes that, when women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90% of it into their families, compared with only 30-40% for a man.[7] That strikes me as a pretty powerful incentive on its own. We also know that the increase in female employment in the developed world has contributed more to global GDP growth than new technology in China and India;[8] while, analysis indicates that closing our gender pay gap would increase Australia’s GDP by 11%[9] - surely a national imperative if the myriad other reasons were considered insufficient.

As a result of this knowledge, large donors are investing in women and girls at a very direct level. For example, the Nike Foundation’s Grassroots Girls Initiative has partnered with the Global Fund for Women and a group called Feminist Approach to Technology to provide a free, six month computer course for young women in Delhi, India. Though India has a worldwide reputation for expertise in IT, only 21% of workers in this field are female. The Global Fund for Women cites the experience of a young woman who, discouraged from further education by her family’s traditional values, used this program not only to move on to employment and further education, but to inspire other women in her community to do the same.[10]

Meanwhile, closer to home, I have personally seen the value of philanthropic funding for women’s projects that no one else would fund because it was deemed too risky. I saw this in the work being done by two amazing Aboriginal women, June Oscar and Emily Carter in Fitzroy Crossing. They needed funding to do a film to raise awareness of the impact fetal alcohol spectrum disorders were having in their community, and there community and the need to address it through alcohol restrictions and other measures. They managed to get some initial seed funding of $90,000 for their first short film – Yajillara. This initial funding was provided by a philanthropist, who fundamentally believed in supporting these two Aboriginal women to address this issue in their community. What was so powerful, is how, June and Emily were able to then leverage this seed funding to ultimately raise further philanthropic and government funds of over $4.5 million, for the Marulu: the Lililwan project in which they have partnered with health and other experts to progress the strategy in the areas of:

  • diagnosis and prevention of FASD
  • support for parents and carers of children with FASD
  • advocacy and awareness-raising about FASD.

They also created a second film, called Tristan’s story, which I recommend to all of you.

How excited I was to read the forward to the FASD Inquiry that was tabled in the House of Representatives today and to see the impact that Tristan's film has had. Here's an excerpt from the Forward:

"Time and again during the inquiry, the Committee heard about the devastation that can be caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. Foster carers spoke about children in their care and the enormous challenges they face. Paediatricians spoke about the lack of awareness and lack of diagnostic resources for FASD. Indigenous community leaders spoke about communities and culture in crisis due to FASD. Women spoke about the conflicting health messages given and the desperate need for clear advice from health professionals.

Amidst all these voices, the most moving was that of Tristan, a young man affected by FASD. Tristan says:

“I wish I can be a policeman just when I grow up ... Nah ... I just want to be normal first. I just want to be normal.

We owe it to Tristan, and to every child and every woman and every family in Australia, to bring to light the risk of FASD. We cannot keep hidden the devastating harms being caused by prenatal alcohol exposure.

To hear the Australian Government say that they owe it to Tristan to bring the issue of FASD to light was wonderful.
Ultimately have been able to inject a whole range of health and other services to address the issue into their community. None, of which would have happened, had not a philanthropist believed in these women and the issues they were dealing with.[11]

What we glean from just this small sample is that investing in women and girls means investing not in passive recipients, but in active agents of change. It means investing in a better world - and in recognition that women want better standards of living and opportunity not only for themselves, but for those around them.

Being gender-wise, then, is not just about including a previously overlooked sector of the population. It is not about casting our eyes briefly to the sidelines before returning to the main game; it is not about tokenism; nor about favouring one group over another.

As Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, it is obviously my task to apply a gender perspective to every area of public life. For the purposes of today, however, applying the gender lens is about enabling the philanthropic sector to see the full picture. It’s about acknowledging that a traditional gaze has not always captured the whole story in its frame and adjusting our focus so that those forms of disadvantage – and those sources of opportunity - that were formerly out of view are brought into stark relief.

In other words, being gender-wise in decisions we make about donations or policy development enables us to see where they may have been missing their mark and ensure that, instead, we capture their full advantage. It enables us, if we want to be purely calculated about it, to get the best bang for our philanthropic buck.

Certainly, it is not only women that understand the value of advancing other women and their children through philanthropy. As we will hear from Allan English, men have as much of a role to play in this acknowledgment and Allan will obviously tell us about his own experience in this regard.

For my own part, however, I have seen the benefits of engaging men in women’s advancement, and in broader questions of gender. The Male Champions of Change is a network I convened about three years ago of prominent male CEOs and Chairpersons from some of Australia’s most influential organisations.

Using their collective influence to progress equality at both an organisational and national level, the Male Champions have encouraged each other and a wider pool of male peers to apply the gender lens to their own organisations – recognising and celebrating the benefits that flow when diversity is embraced.

They have also published an open letter reflecting on their experience in increasing the representation of women in leadership in their own organisations. The practical value of this letter reminds me of the publication we launch today – it is one that not only promotes the benefits of applying the gender lens, but also gives direct and strategic guidance on how to do so.

Let me be clear at this point, of course - I do not see the MCCs as the only, or the most important, source of reform. As another string to our bow, however, the direct and very public involvement of men in this way gives other male leaders permission to follow.

In fact, the candour of the MCCs has helped bring the widespread benefits of diversity to the fore in the corporate sector. For example, they have recently called very openly for the setting of targets for women in corporate leadership. Many women have been upfront about the benefits of such measures for years, of course, but when men join them, frank conversations can be had about ways to see improvement occur.

I believe that, just as the Male Champions of Change have encouraged other men in the business sector to increase diversity in their organisations, so men involved in the philanthropic sector can encourage their male peers to be gender-wise.

There is a role for all of us, then, in applying the gender lens to philanthropy. There is a role for philanthropic women and men alike, a role for those who develop and implement the programs that they support. There is also a role for partnerships of the kind that can achieve change that we may not otherwise see.

For philanthropists have often been at the forefront of courageous reform – pushing the boundaries when others won’t.

When we think about the world in which we want our children to live, I am encouraged that there are people who are prepared to be direct about topics which others don’t feel comfortable acknowledging. I welcome this collaboration and look forward to hearing of its progress.

Equally, the Guide we launch today is a direct and very practical addition, not just to the philanthropic sector but to social policy in general. The step by step process of inquiry it contains is an invaluable device for anyone seeking to ensure that their programs or policies capture the full picture, and the full advantage in enabling change.

I congratulate the Australian Women Donors Network on its production and look forward to continuing to work with you and others in being gender-wise in all that we do. Together, we can build a stronger, more resilient Australia – one that has equality clearly in focus; one in which all are included in the frame.

[1] Women’s Philanthropy Institute, Women Give, 2010. Cited in Lisa Witter, ‘The Gender Gap in Philanthropy Revealed’, 28 October, 2010, The Huffington Post. Viewed 2 April 2013, at
[2] Martha Keates, ‘Not Your Mother’s Bake Sale’, Association of Fundraising Professionals website, posted 19 January 2010. Viewed 2 April 2013 at
[3] Australian Women Donor’s Network website, 2011 - Inaugural Research Findings. Viewed 3 April 2013 at
[4] Molly Mead Gender Matters – Funding Effective Programs for Women and Girls 2001 Tufts University, United States. Cited in Australian Women Donors Network, Gender-Wise Philanthropy: Strengthening Society by Investing in Women and Girls p 4.
[5] Global Fund for Women website, Where We Stand, Viewed 3 April 2013 at
[6] UNICEF’s 2007 State of the World’s Children report.
[7] Phil Berges, Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World 2007 New York. Cited in Australian Women Donors Network, Gender-Wise Philanthropy: Strengthening Society by Investing in Women and Girls, p 3.
[8] The Economist, ‘Women in the Workforce: The Importance of Sex’, 12 April 2006. Viewed 3 April 2013 at
[9] Goldman Sachs JB Were Australia’s Hidden Resource: The Economic Case for Increasing Female Participation 26 November 2009. Viewed 3 April 2013 at
[10]Global Fund for Women website, Success Stories. Viewed 3 April 2013 at
[11] Case Study # 6, Australian Women Donors Network, Gender-Wise Philanthropy: Strengthening Society by Investing in Women and Girls, p 11.

Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner