When it comes to the most urgent challenges humanity faces today—from climate change to digital safety to economic inequality—effective solutions must include women and gender-diverse leaders across all areas of society. The numbers don’t lie: There are tremendous advantages to doing so, and equally large costs to bear if we don’t.

Let’s look at Sweden, an international leader in employment gender parity. Research shows that if the rest of the world’s nations increased their female employment rates to match Sweden’s, the global GDP would rise by 12% annually, up $6 trillion. But unfortunately, we don’t yet live in that world; financial inequality runs distressingly deep around the globe. Women still earn an average 23% less than men, which translates to a global loss of $160.2 trillion in human capital wealth annually. That’s a staggering amount of money not reaching workers, not supporting individuals and families, and not being put back into the economy. When we’re still over 100 years away from closing the global gender gap, and 140 years from women having equal representation in leadership positions in the workplace, it’s an incalculable loss.

Just as we cannot uplift any society or nation without acknowledging how deep financial inequality runs, we cannot hope to solve the issues plaguing our world without considering the specific ways these problems affect women—aka half the world’s population. Any strategy that considers an issue as a monolith, without evaluating its interconnected circumstances, is doomed to fail.

Fortunately, women and gender-diverse leaders are rising around the world, joining together to uplift each other and create real change. Through their collective efforts, these movements are shaping more just economic and democratic systems, but much more is needed. Delivering gender justice, and creating an environment where it can be achieved, takes all of us. One can make every economic or practical case for gender justice, but a society must be structured and stable enough to support it—and in this tumultuous era, as women experience different forms of oppression and violence, this remains a pressing challenge.

“Delivering gender justice, and creating an environment where it can be achieved, takes all of us.”

At the Ford Foundation, we believe that gender equality is the unfinished business of the 21st century, and that everyone wins when social justice leaders emphasize the needs and experiences of women and gender-diverse people. We also believe that, as a global community, we all suffer when their needs are not met. That’s why we are focusing on gender-conscious solutions in our work and considering the ramifications of gender injustice in our grantmaking. And we are also working with mindfulness of how race, gender, disability, and geography can create systems of compounded marginalization for people.

In every sector we support, from civic engagement and government to technology justice and disability rights to a just future for workers, we are incorporating strategies to end gender inequality—instead of addressing gender inequality as an afterthought. In this cross-programmatic strategy, we take our cues from many of our exceptional grantee partners and their enduring commitment to elevating the leadership of women and people of color across sectors, centering diverse gender perspectives, and more.

This approach is especially effective when institutions support women and gender-diverse leaders from the Global South. Dejusticia—a Colombian social justice research, policy, and advocacy organization—works to establish international rubrics for what constitutes effective democracy, bringing an urgently needed perspective and avoiding the status quo of Global North-led activism for the southern hemisphere. The group has reaped many benefits from restructuring its senior leadership team to integrate broader, more diverse perspectives at their top levels. This meant assessing how their expectations of educational backgrounds and professional experience could be widened to bring in more gender-diverse candidates, as well as introducing new human resources practices to facilitate the participation of women in their workforce.

These efforts paid off quickly: With this new leadership, Dejusticia was able to bring fresh gender and racial justice perspectives to their research on the impact of drug policies and incarceration in Latin America. They also expanded their policy guides for decision makers on issues with specific effects on women, including care work and climate change.

Image of a woman in glasses and a white shirt smiling.
Rukka Sombolinggi, secretary general, Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN) and co-chair of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities (GATC), speaks during the high-level event for Nature & People: From Ambition to Action.
Craig Barritt / Stringer | Getty

Another such pioneer in our network is Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN), a coalition that advocates for land protections and sovereignty for over 2,000 Indigenous communities across Indonesia—more than 17 million people across 21 regional chapters. Recently, AMAN launched an ambitious leadership transition to elevate women leaders, and it was a complex process: It required adjustments of their bylaws and other organizational changes. 

The results were profound: Rukka Sombolinggi, an Indigenous Toraja, was elected AMAN’s president, marking the first time that an Indigenous woman has led this powerful and far-reaching organization. AMAN now has new might to foreground the specific needs of women and children across all of their operations, resulting in a new educational campaign that tackles discrimination against Indigenous women and girls and a fund that works to fight human rights violations toward women and girls defending their land and territories. They have also created a new women’s division that has received its own operational funding, including from Ford.

Women Enabled International, a nonprofit that works at the intersection of disability rights and women’s rights, benefitted from diversifying their leadership, too. The Washington, D.C.-based organization works internationally to center women with disabilities inside the disability rights movement, a group of people that has been historically overlooked within the larger advocacy community. The group has also sought its leadership from the Global South, which has been pivotal in expanding reproductive justice programs for women and gender-diverse people and connecting these programs with the disability rights movement. These initiatives favor a community-centric safety approach, which requires a local understanding of those communities.

Our grantees and partners also know that the best way to achieve economic equality is to trust the women and gender-diverse leaders who know how to foreground those essential perspectives. By now, it’s clear that the global pay gap directly impacts a country’s GDP and correlates to women’s independence and bodily autonomy. Being paid less prevents women from being full contributors of society. JASS, an international organization that trains women to lead feminist movements in the Global South, emphasizes gendered analysis in all their processes. This includes the research for their policy briefs, the creation and distribution of their educational and training materials for building power, releasing white papers that study feminist perspectives in coalition-building, and more.

Jayne Jalakasi referring to a white board while teaching a session.
Jayne Jalakasi at a JASS campaign strategy session for the Our Bodies, Our Lives movement in Malawi.

Numun Fund, the first dedicated grantmaking organization for feminist tech, amplifies feminist perspectives on how the internet should be designed and governed. The fund works across the Global South to ensure that women in technology have access to the same opportunities as men, that women from the Global South are centered in global technology dialogues, and that policies that increase access to technology and/or mitigate harms of technology center the needs of women. 

The Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) is a global labor and social organization led by women workers in the garment sector. The Alliance has used women-led strategies to set standards for working conditions of garment workers across global supply chains, culminating in the groundbreaking Dindigul Agreement to end gender-based violence and harassment on the shop floors producing for global fashion brands. AFWA’s historic cross-border living wage formulation for Asian garment workers is also the only women-centered formulation of its kind, and it unites gender and economic justice for decent worker wages in global supply chains.  

Demonstrators in Bangladesh rally in support of garment workers.
Bangladeshi garment workers and other labor organization activists take part in a rally to mark May Day, or International Workers’ Day, in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
NurPhoto / Getty

The Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA) is a network of rural women’s movements, assemblies, grassroots organizations, unions, and federations across 10 countries in the Southern Africa region. It works to convene rural women and ensure their representation in international discussions, including the United Nations’ COP conference. RWA coordinates events and meetings alongside major global events in which these women have been historically excluded.

RWA holds annual schools in African feminist strategy for rural women, farmers, and producers, both young and old. In these, speakers present theories and organizing tactics in ways that are relevant to their audiences, while also incorporating and respecting these women’s existing expertise. In doing so, RWA educates and supports new feminist leaders, ultimately working together with them to return to traditional agricultural and farming practices that will help end ecological destruction and reduce climate change.

At Ford, we know that the fight to end all forms of inequality cannot succeed if we don’t keep the rights of women and gender-diverse people at the center of our conversations. It’s why we’ve supported so many organizations with these communities at the heart of their work, and why we knew it was essential to broaden our focus and see gender as inseparable from the many other forms of inequality. This is an evolution of our long investing in gender equality, which began in 1965 under the framework of women’s rights, and informed our support of such pioneering organizations as Planned Parenthood and the Global Fund for Women before also expanding to support LGBTQ+ rights. Simultaneously, in our grantmaking, we’ve supported organizations focused on issues like education, economic empowerment, legal justice, and more—though in these areas, we didn’t always consider how these issues can dovetail with gender inequality.

At Ford, we know that the fight to end all forms of inequality cannot succeed if we don’t keep the rights of women and gender-diverse people at the center of our conversations. ”

Today, every program team at Ford is analyzing how power and gender dynamics affect their sectors, consulting leaders in communities who know these issues best, and making these lessons integral to their grantmaking strategies. We are establishing a set of metrics across the foundation to help us monitor our progress and the impact of our gender-focused work on the most affected communities. We’re working with partners to defend gender justice movements around the world, from protecting abortion rights to supporting gender-affirming healthcare for transgender people to ending gender-based violence

The work to achieve gender equality is ever-changing, and requires us to be nimble; it also requires us to acknowledge when our tactics need to change. As we look to the future, we are committed to uplifting leaders around the world who are ending gender-based inequality, keeping gender at the heart of all our programs and strategies, and scrutinizing where it connects with other forms of injustice. Together, we can create a world where everyone lives in dignity and safety and realizes their fullest potential.

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