Donors are ignoring Black women at the forefront of our most important social movements

 

Brandee M. Butler

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Angela Davis once said, ‘When Black women move, the whole structure of society moves with them.’

Throughout history, Black women have been at the center of struggles for change. In recent years, they have led some of the most influential and largest mobilisations, including #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, #EndSARs, and powerful responses to the climate crisis.

But despite their leadership, Black women’s contributions are often ignored and their initiatives remain poorly funded. If we are to successfully navigate the intersecting crises we face today—including rising authoritarianism, inequality, and climate change—donors must better support their vital leadership.

The erasure of Black women from social movements

When donors talk about trust-based philanthropy, it’s painfully clear who they do and do not trust.

According to research by the Black Feminist Fund, the first global women’s fund devoted to Black feminist agendas, funding for Black women, girls, and trans people amounts to less than 0.5 percent of overall global foundation giving. Fifty-nine percent of Black feminist organizations do not have access to resources for the next fiscal year and almost 60 percent have never received core funding. Eighty-one percent do not have enough money to meet their goals.

These funding disparities are part of a larger pathology of anti-Blackness and another form of the historical erasure of Black women activists from social movements.

In the United States, African American women like Ella J. Baker, Septima Clark, and Fannie Lou Hamer—who were central figures in the civil rights movement—remain little known in comparison to men like Dr. Martin Luther King. Similarly, in post-colonial liberation struggles, African women were often not credited for their pivotal roles. The remarkable stories of Bibi Titi Mohamed in Tanzania, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti in Nigeria, and Mabel Dove Danquah in Ghana are missing from our history books.

Despite some progress, Black women activists are still fighting to be seen and heard today.

Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate sparked a global conversation about the erasure of Black activists in 2020 when she alone was cropped out of a published photo taken at Davos with white activists including Greta Thunberg. And when the #MeToo movement against sexual violence went viral in 2017, Tarana Burke, the Black feminist activist who created the movement in 2006, initially went uncredited. Their shameful treatment is a potent reminder that Black women are sidelined even at the forefront of our progressive movements.

Black women are organising to save us all

Even with meager funding and little visibility, Black women are mobilising in response to today’s crises and making significant gains. Look, for example, at the biggest existential threat of our time: climate change.

In many communities, Black women are the primary stewards of natural resources. Yet they are mostly excluded from decision-making at all levels. A 2023 study of environmental grantmaking in the United States found that white-led organisations received more than 80 percent of grant dollars and male-led organisations received more than two-thirds.

Despite these disparities, Black women are practicing collective and ancestral wisdom and fighting powerful state and corporate actors to find solutions to save us all.

In Honduras, Garifuna activist Miriam Miranda leads OFRANEH, a social movement of Afro-Indigenous Garifuna communities fighting to protect their ancestral territory from commercial development projects and extractive industries. In 2015, after years of persistent work by OFRANEH, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued two landmark rulings finding Honduras responsible for violating the Garifuna’s collective ownership rights. The court-ordered reparations helped establish a powerful precedent for other Indigenous communities.

South African activist Nonhle Mbuthuma founded the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) to fight mining and mega-infrastructure projects and to promote sustainable development on the ancestral lands of the Amadiba community. The ACC has successfully fended off attempts to displace residents and mine titanium-rich dunes in their territory.

But such victories come at a high cost. Miranda and her team at OFRANEH have suffered police beatings, arrests, kidnapping, lawsuits, and other forms of persecution. Mbuthuma survived an assassination attempt and, in 2016, her colleague Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Radebe was murdered.

Miranda and Mbuthuma are just two examples of Black feminist leaders courageously leading another struggle for change in the face of great danger—this time to protect the planet. They deserve our recognition and support to ensure their endurance and safety until victory is won.

How allies can help

In a 2023 open letter from the Black Feminist Fund, powerful philanthropists, including Melinda Gates, Rihanna, and the Ford and MacArthur Foundations, joined a call to increase funding for Black women–led organisations. The letter emphasised the urgent need ‘to confront—and transform—philanthropy’s long and troubled history of failing to trust and fund the leadership of Black women and gender expansive people.’

As a funder with decades of experience resourcing activists and movements, here’s some initial steps that I believe allies should take to resource Black women leaders:

Trust and resource them

Donors who care about human rights and social justice should direct more flexible funding, at scale, for Black women–led organisations, especially for their protection from threats. Intermediary organisations that have access to grassroots networks and expertise in supporting frontline human rights defenders in sensitive contexts can play critical roles in moving resources in challenging contexts.

Center their leadership

Powerful donors should use their visible platforms to highlight, credit, and uplift the leadership and activism of Black women and to ensure they are included in conversations and covered in media.

Examine your own funding practices

As funders, we must look internally to assess how much of our funding is actually reaching Black feminist organising. There has been much talk of equity since the emergence of the Black Lives Matter, but funding levels for Black women–led organisations remain shamefully low.

One way to rectify this imbalance is to avoid funding silos or fragmentation that often exclude Black feminists. Black women are intersectional organisers, addressing multiple systems of oppression, and across movements and borders. Donors must adapt their strategies to better allow for intersectional and cross-border organising through flexible funding.

Brandee M. Butler (@mllebrandee) is Deputy CEO of the Fund for Global Human Rights and serves on the board of JASS (Just Associates).

 

Tagged in: Funding practice


Comments (0)

Anonymous

Black feminist deserves to be ignored! It's truly a plague in society. Feminism has destroyed many families and ostracized father's from their own homes. Black women are predatory and quite mischievous in their deeds, including those belonging to BLM and the very unattractive founder of MeToo. Black women have destroyed their own communities to empower that of whites and jews.


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