empowering women

Invest in women: a 2023 call to action

In Short

Here are four ways more funders can embrace opportunities to ensure that women can fully contribute their talents and leadership to building a stronger Jewish community and society for us all. 

Last Sunday would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Instead of marking a milestone in protecting and advancing women’s health, safety and rights, we find ourselves in a moment of deep uncertainty, asking: Where do we go from here? 

More than six months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe — and, for the first time in U.S. history, stripped a fundamental right that had been in place for more than half a century — millions of women find themselves without access to basic reproductive healthcare and choices. The court’s decision came on the heels of a devastating pandemic in which women already faced declining workforce participation, increased unpaid caregiving burdens and rising domestic violence rates. 

The collision of these dramatic shifts in the march toward true gender equality is already taking and will continue to take a heavy toll on our families, communities, economy and democracy. Research has consistently shown that communities are healthier, governments are more effective and businesses are more profitable when women have a seat at the table and our voices and rights are respected equally.

Philanthropy has a key role to play in addressing the challenges women face right now. Many people working on the front lines of these critical issues have been preparing for this reality for a long time. They need and deserve our support. But the shocking fact remains that only 2% of U.S. charitable dollars go to organizations focused on supporting women and girls. 

Here are four ways more funders can embrace opportunities to ensure that women can fully contribute their talents and leadership to building a stronger Jewish community and society for us all. 

  1. Partner with organizations working to ensure women are safe in their personal and professional relationships.

Nationwide, one in four women experiences domestic abuse in their lifetimes — including Jewish women. Many women also face harassment and discrimination at work, including in Jewish institutions and communal spaces. Through Jewish Women International’s National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence in the Jewish Community, we can help survivors rebuild their lives through greater access to economic assistance, housing options, lawyers who specialize in trauma and Jewish customs and support from clergy and Jewish organizations. Organizations like SRE Network and Sacred Spaces are putting forth communal standards, resources and trainings to help organizations create safe, respectful and equitable environments. And nationally, organizations like Futures Without Violence are working to transform social norms and help younger generations form healthy attitudes toward women and relationships.

  1. Join the urgent effort to protect reproductive rights. 

We know that Judaism not only permits abortion, but requires it when the life of the pregnant person is at risk. And yet, laws in this country dictating what women and their doctors can and cannot do reflect an  interpretation of religious ethics that are not our own. Even before Roe was overturned, a Pew study showed that 83% of Jews said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, which ranked as one of the highest issues upon which Jews agree. A recent study shows that among employees ages 18 to 34, 47 percent of women and 44 percent of men believe they will not have the career they planned and hoped for because politicians are controlling their personal reproductive decisions. As Jews, we have a responsibility to speak up and protect our religious beliefs and reproductive rights and access. Fortunately, Jewish organizations like the National Council of Jewish Women are already playing an instrumental role in leading the Jewish community in advocating for reproductive freedom and rights. Nationally, Resources for Abortion Delivery has organized a nationwide abortion access fund, and the Collaborative for Gender and Reproductive Equity is bringing funders together to amplify our impact on reproductive access. 

  1. Invest in women’s leadership and power within Jewish institutions and beyond.

Even as women are contributing their time and talent to Jewish organizations, they continue to fight for leadership roles and fair representation where decisions are made. A recent Leading Edge study confirmed that CEOs at Jewish nonprofits are not representative of our community. While the gender gap is improving, it is widest among organizations with the highest budgets. Of Jewish organizations with budgets of $10 million or more, two-thirds are led by men. In addition to Leading Edge, organizations like elluminate are working to ensure we tap into our community’s full range of talent and address opportunities and challenges facing women and girls. 

  1. Support the groundwork for women’s economic security. 

Women represent the majority of low-wage U.S. workers, holding jobs with few benefits and little to no workplace protections. This is especially true in essential service fields such as care work, where women — most of whom are women of color — are rarely afforded the rights, protections and pay available in other sectors. Moreover, mothers and primary caregivers continue to face unrelenting headwinds in finding affordable childcare and maintaining their commitments as employees and parents. And of women who survived domestic violence, 73% report financial insecurity as the reason for staying with their abuser. Many organizations, from JWI to The CARE Fund to National Women’s Law Center are working to build financial skills, remove barriers to women’s advancement in the labor force and create an infrastructure that supports women’s ability to build their own economic power, benefiting families and our economy. 

Important work to secure women’s rights and well-being is underway, and these are just a sampling of the organizations leading the way. But the Dobbs ruling and COVID-19 pandemic reflect tectonic shifts in an area already receiving too few resources and too little attention. Too many obstacles stand in the way of women’s pursuit to shape their own lives and contribute their many talents to our shared future as a Jewish community and as a society.

We cannot wait for the next tectonic shift to act. History has long called upon the Jewish people to take our righteous indignation and manifest it into progress. Now is one of those times — and the stakes could not be higher.

Our investments in women are essential investments in our families, communities, economy and democracy. It is my hope that every funder can find our place in these efforts to address the urgent disparities today and ensure that everyone in our Jewish communities and our country can thrive for generations to come. 

Lisa Eisen is co-president of Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, which works in the United States and Israel to achieve more just and inclusive societies. Eisen leads Schusterman’s gender and reproductive equity grantmaking and Jewish community grantmaking portfolios.