I have spent a lifetime trying to rid the world of violence against women, starting with the community I knew best – Chinatown, in my little corner of the country known as NYC. The women I met along the way– largely, but not exclusively, immigrants– had many hopes for their families (and sometimes for themselves), but way fewer options. They earned little in cash but a great deal more in resiliency as they navigated personal safety in and out of their homes, at work or school, and in public spaces – day in and day out.
Fast forward to two years ago, and particularly one year ago, where are we now? The lives of the six Asian American women cut short in Atlanta last March looked hauntingly familiar to the lives of immigrant Asian women 40 years ago. What has changed is that 40 years ago, no one batted an eye when Asian women were showing up in shelters and court systems fleeing violence at home or when they were sold into virtual bondage through a broken immigration system. Now, as a result of women’s organizing efforts over the past 40 years, we as a nation are finally recognizing that gender based violence in all its forms must end.
It’s not enough, but it’s a start. The violence kicked up during the pandemic against the Asian community, particularly against women, was not new, nor is it a temporary blip on the screen. Whether that violence is behind closed doors at home or on the streets, perpetrated by someone known or unknown, whether it just happened yesterday or years ago, whether it was one time or repeated, or whether they are targeted for being gender nonconforming – there are no “throw away” lives – our collective humanity is at stake.
When I started on this journey fresh out of college, there were no organizations to turn to within the community, and that is when I first learned about the philanthropic sector. I was thrilled to receive a very first grant of $750 (yes that is not a typo) from a small foundation called Astraea (now known as the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice). And that made all the difference.
Back then, there were few dollars focused on women, even fewer prioritizing issues of violence, and even fewer still that were going to organizations led by and for women of color. And while philanthropy is slowly awakening to racial equity and justice, gender is hardly ever a consideration in those calculated strategies.
I have seen firsthand the outsized impact that small grants can make in the lives of individual women, nonprofit organizations, communities, and movements. And they largely came from smaller foundations with ears closer to the ground. Imagine where we would be if those smaller investments were right sized, delivered into the hands of women of color most directly impacted and those who are targeted for gender nonconformity? That is the question that philanthropy must answer to reach the tomorrow free from violence.