I am currently an intern at Third Wave Foundation, and this is a continuation of my reflections after reading through 2010 end of year grant reports.
All of the groups funded by Third Wave are doing groundbreaking and inspirational things. But I was also struck by the kinds of challenges Third Wave’s grant partners are facing. To me, these challenges are significant because they represent the fact that grant partners are doing truly revolutionary, as opposed to popular, work. This lack of “popularity” also underscores the necessity of Third Wave’s support, since funding for many of these issues and approaches is hard to come by.
One challenge is public perception of issues related to sex and gender, as well as the way these issues are (or are not) represented in the media. St. James Infirmary tried to get their media campaign posted on billboards and was turned down by CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel because the use of the words “sex work” and “sex worker” was deemed “not family friendly.” Different Avenues also reports that they have to stay away from mentioning “sex work” when interacting with many funders. This also seems to be an issue with many of our groups fighting to bring comprehensive sexual education into schools. Conservative school boards have put up many barriers, leaving our grant partners frustrated.
Another challenge is navigating the changing fads in philanthropy. Because some issues are hot topics, it is easier for them to get funding. Meanwhile, other equally important issues get overlooked. For instance, many funders are more interested in boys in the system than in girls in the system. This means they don’t want to invest in groups like Different Avenues. Young Women’s Empowerment Project reports being approached by those who have caught onto the anti-trafficking fad and want to speak with “trafficked victims.” They have difficulty expressing how the trafficking framework does not feel relevant for most of the girls who are a part of YWEP. Rather, “Girls Do What They Have to Do to Survive,” according to the title of their report on the participatory action research they did with street youth in Chicago. Within the context of prison reform, Justice Now reports on the realignment movement in California and the push for “gender responsive prison reforms.” At first glance, these proposed changes may appear to be improvements. They are certainly getting plenty of support. But Justice Now explains how they are, in fact, a regression. They are fighting for substantial changes to make the prison system more humane and for a movement towards decarceration.
Third Wave grant partners tend to look at issues of reproductive health and justice as they affect and are relevant to under-served communities. It can be a challenge for them to appeal to funders working within a mainstream reproductive rights framework (which can seem focused on providing white women with access to abortions). This framework tends to ignore the ways in which gender, class, and racial privileges intersect. Choice USA, the Chicago Abortion Fund, SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, and New Voices Pittsburgh, are all fighting for a woman’s right to choose and for access to safe, empowering, and affordable reproductive healthcare. New Voices Pittsburgh organized Pennsylvanians to rally against Senate Bill 732, the Health Care Facilities Act, which would close almost all free-standing or non-hospital affiliated clinics in Pennsylvania. Despite their success as an organization, they report “resistance to our leadership as young women of color”(NVP 2010 report). These groups recognize that the reproductive rights of people of color are especially under attack. For example, over the past few year, anti-choice billboards around the country have been equating a black woman’s decision not to have a child with the genocide of black people. Recently, there have been similar billboards aimed at Latina women. SPARK, Chicago Abortion Fund, and local chapters of Choice USA (at University of Georgia and University of Missouri) have all mobilized against this assault on women of color.
Meanwhile, groups such as COLOR and Kalpulli Izkalli report that many of their constituents are very religious, and have views about abortions that differ from the views of many others fighting for reproductive health and justice. They face the challenge of understanding this fight in different ideological contexts. COLOR reports: “The conservative religious sentiment in the community drives people to ask how we manage to navigate the relationship between strong cultural religion and reproductive freedoms”(COLOR 2010 report). Kalpulli Izkalli has found it necessary to separate the polarizing issue of “abortion” from the broader issues of reproductive justice, such as reproductive healthcare access. Working from another angle, Young Women United is supporting young parents, recognizing their accomplishments and expertise, and fighting the stigmatization of teen parenting. All of these groups are negotiating what may seem from the outside to be ideological incompatibilities, and challenging the idea that reproductive justice means only “abortion.” They are working to forward reproductive health and justice in a way that makes sense within their communities, leaving constituents informed and empowered to make the decisions that feel right for them.
To me, the very fact that our grant partners are running up against these kinds of obstacles to their work is a sign that they are doing something right. It also reinforces my appreciation of Third Wave as a grantmaker. Third Wave seeks out those doing crucial work, even if it is “unpopular,” and especially when other sources of funding are hard to access.