Today's annual observance of World Poverty Day--marked by public gatherings around the globe and the signing by millions of a petition at the UN-affiliated website standagainstpoverty.org--comes at a time of global economic crisis. What is being
widely feared by many whose lives are normally comfortable is a daily reality for countless individuals and families.
Those of us who work in the area of economic justice know that not only does poverty have a female face, but the solution to poverty also has a female face. Although we fear the widening ramifications of the Wall Street crash in New York, we know first-hand that there are underutilized solutions to the problem of poverty, and that these solutions often involve the leadership of women.
The New York Women's Foundation® is part of the Women's Funding Network, a global alliance of 135 women's grant making organizations around the globe that have amassed a body of experience and articulated ideas that have proven effective in the fight against poverty. More than 20 years of experience in grant making have taught us that the problem of poverty is multifaceted. For example, in the case of women, there is a correlation between violence - community violence and intimate partner violence - and women's ability to achieve economic security. Our experience has also taught us that it is essential to work "close to the ground," directing funds to women-led grassroots organizations that create solutions authored within the communities affected by poverty. These solutions are uniquely tailored to the challenges they address, and they are more widely accepted by the communities involved because they are "home-grown."
A number of the strategies that have proven successful in New York hold promise for wider application. Here are a few of the lessons learned:
-Invest in higher education for women. The New York Women's Foundation supports the grantee partners working to eliminate barriers to education and civic participation for formerly incarcerated women and other disenfranchised women and their families. Some of the results have been reductions in re-incarceration and women have earned academic degrees, a critical factor in their ability to compete in the job market.
-Invest in training women for non-traditional occupations. The New York Women's Foundation supports projects that expand opportunities for women in the construction trades and other uniformed services in the city. These jobs enable women without a college degree to increase their earnings and attain economic security.
-Invest in women's financial literacy and management. The New York Women's Foundation supports financial literacy and justice initiatives that provide hands-on help and training to aid women in gaining control over their personal finances and help them avoid predatory lenders and other sources of financial harm. In 2007 alone, over 400 women in the City received financial literacy services from our grantee partners.
-Invest in supporting women's occupational leadership. The New York Women's Foundation fund programs that support and engage female workers in the restaurant and other service industries around issues involving their rights as workers. Women work on and author solutions to variety of workplace policies and practices such as misappropriated tips, unpaid overtime wages, sexual harassment and racial discrimination.
-Invest in new ways to define and measure poverty, so that real solutions can be tailored to the real problem. The New York Women's Foundation supports work that has proven crucial in the in defining what self-sufficiency is for New York City workers and has had significant influence on the debate over how the federal poverty rate is calculated. The State of New York ranks 40th in the nation for the number of women who live above the poverty level, but high living costs belie this ranking.
-Invest in community responses that lead to broad systematic change. The New York Women's Foundation's support grantee partners who advocate for better pay and working conditions for women in industries that are plagued by low wages, long hours, lack of health insurance, unpaid overtime and numerous other disadvantages.
Each of these strategies is an investment that is changing the lives of women throughout New York City. We know that women a woman thrives, her family thrives. By extension, communities and cities thrive. Our hope, as World Poverty Day is observed, is that funders--both public and private--will adopt and expand upon the lessons learned by women's funds around the world. Take the lessons learned, scale them up, and perhaps a future World Poverty Day could find us with something to celebrate.
Ana Oliveira is the CEO and President of The New York Women's Foundation as well as a Board member of the Women's Funding Network. Ruby Bright is the Chair of the Board of the Women's Funding Network.