Philanthropy’s opportunity to help curb violence

posted on: March 8, 2013

By Niki Jagpal

Yesterday, President Obama signed an extension of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The new version of the Act both extends and expands it: in addition to strengthening the criminal justice system’s response to crimes against women, it will also give law enforcement more tools to address human trafficking and sexual and domestic violence. Further, the bill now includes provisions that give homosexual victims of violence access to the same protections against violence and victims of violence on Native American tribal lands.

This bill is much needed to confront violence in our communities. For example, 22 million women in our country have been raped during their lifetime. Just over 18 percent of women survived attempts or completed rapes and close to 30 percent of these women comprise young women between the ages of 11 and 17.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported the highest number of murders attributable to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals in 2011. These statistics are staggering and suggest structural barriers that keep certain communities marginalized are not being appropriately addressed. The extension of VAWA provides people who experience violence with more protections but many of these community members do not report the crimes committed against them.

How can philanthropy help to address this abysmal situation? An analysis of giving to underserved communities finds very few grant dollars being reported for the explicit benefit of women and girls, ethnic and racial minorities and LGBT citizens. Two ways that grantmakers can help address the endemic problems with structural discrimination are by prioritizing underserved communities intentionally and funding social justice work heavily, including funds for advocacy and community organizing by or on behalf of these community members. And it is simple – employing more intentionality about who benefits and how from foundation funding as well as using a social justice lens can help grantmakers not only alleviate violence but see greater impact and benefits that all of us.

It is heartening to see VAWA finally get reauthorized, especially today as we mark International Women’s Day (IWD). But it is clear that much work remains to be done.

Philanthropy often seeks to solve complex social problems such as violence, which cannot be done in isolation. Working together with their grantees, funders have an opportunity to contribute to a more just and peaceful democracy. Perhaps grantmakers would help us realize one of this year’s IWD themes: “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”.

Niki Jagpal is research and policy director at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). She blogs frequently about philanthropy and social justice