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Philanthropy traditionally tackles systemic issues that affect large parts of the community. But without a specific focus on gender, philanthropy can inadvertently entrench the very issues it’s attempting to solve.

“Gender is a very big system and if philanthropy is about ‘systems change’, there aren’t many more systems that are as intractable or entrenched than gender,” says Julie Reilly OAM, the Chief Executive Officer of Australians Investing in Women (AIIW).

While women and girls make up 50.2% of the population and experience greater overall inequality and disadvantage, they only receive 12% of direct philanthropic funding.

“There is a broad assumption that Australia is quite an equal country given that we've had gender equality legislation in place since 1984 and that we're a progressive, secular country,” she says. “But in fact, we're ranked number 26 out of 149 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum, which looks at issues like employment, education, health, representation and leadership. I think that comes as a big surprise to people.”

The not-for-profit AIIW was co-founded in 2009 as the Australian Women Donors Network by philanthropists Eve Mahlab AO and Jill Reichstein OAM to address this entrenched gender inequity. In more recent years, it has created a suite of resources including a guide to gender-wise philanthropy and a gender-wise toolkit for grant makers aimed at ensuring that funding to ‘gender neutral’ causes reaches men and women equally.

“We are at a point now where it should not be viewed as aspirational best practice, but rather it is fundamental to use that gender lens. There are other lenses of course, but we argue that a gender lens is foundational to everyone.”

An AIIW 2023 survey of the AFR ‘Top 50’ corporate and philanthropic donors found that they are all now aware of the terms gender lens and gender-wise giving. However, more work needs to be done, given one-third of corporate organisations are applying a gender lens in their community investments but only one in eight can estimate how much funding is directed to women and girls.

How a gender lens is making a difference
A more intentional approach to tackling gender inequality has benefits for everyone. AIIW invested in research by Deloitte Access Economics which found that shifting entrenched gender norms could boost the Australian economy by $128 billion a year and add 461,000 additional full-time employees.

For philanthropists, applying a gender lens can immediately boost the impact of their funding.

For example, a Melbourne-based legal centre was funded to provide legal support to disadvantaged Australians but surprisingly found most of its clients were men. A review found the centre was CBD-based with limited opening hours which had inadvertently excluded many women who lived out of town and had childcare duties.

“Using a gender lens can uncover some very simple solutions,” says Ella Mitchell, Communications & Engagement Lead at AIIW, “providing a phone hotline meant that there was immediately greater equality in the client base.”

Medical research is another area of glaring gender imbalance at senior levels. A review by the respected Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research recognised access to childcare was a major barrier to women moving from postdoctoral scientist to senior roles.

The Dyson Bequest, managed by Equity Trustees, made a $1 million founding gift which helped build an on-site childcare centre to address the issue.
Julie says philanthropists are pushing the change by requiring organisations receiving funding to show how women will receive an equal benefit from their work and help break down systemic barriers.

“It's the power of the purse in a way.” This year’s United Nations International Women’s Day theme, ‘Count her in. Invest in Her.’, speaks to philanthropy government and business about the power of investing in women. Download AIIW’s Gender-wise™ resources here.

William Buckland Foundation, managed by Equity Trustees supported the development of the AIIW Genderwise Philanthropy Education Resources for Philanthropic Board and Executive Leaders in 2023.

AIIW is 100% powered by philanthropy. If you’re interested in funding research and data that drives change or learning more about gender-wise philanthropy, please contact Julie Reilly OAM, CEO Australians Investing In Women at