Introducing our new program name: Gender Equity and Governance

Women participate in the TOSTAN Community Empowerment Program in Senegal. (Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment)

Today we are launching a new program name, “Gender Equity and Governance,” to replace “Global Development and Population.” The new name does not signal any dramatic shifts in what fields we support. However, it is more than just an aesthetic change.

For several years, we have increasingly focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion in our culture, operations, and grantmaking. The importance of this work became more apparent over the past year marked by overdue reckonings about racial, gender, and global inequities. In partnership with our partners and peer funders, our program has been discussing ways systemic racism affects our work—from the historical origins of the development sector to the ways that philanthropies and other donors operate in the world.

We are interrogating how to mitigate the power imbalances embedded in our relationships by striving to build more equitable partnerships. We know that how we fund is just as important as who we fund. The Hewlett Foundation’s guiding principles embrace a long-term and flexible approach to grantmaking that promotes humility, mutual accountability, and transparency. We remain committed to doing so, and to accelerating efforts to shift power, decision-making, and resources closer to the communities we seek to serve.

In this context, changing our program name is important both substantively and symbolically. We believe that combating systemic inequities requires us to adjust not just the way we fund, but also the way we communicate.

Leaving “Global Development” and “Population” behind

The “Global Development and Population Program” name resulted from the merger of two older programs: the Population Program, one of the foundation’s original programs from the 1970’s and the Global Development Program from the early 2000s. But those words are out of sync with our foundation’s values and grantmaking.

“Global development” smacks of colonialism and implies that some countries are developed and “better,” others are under-developed and “worse,” and there is a linear and universal path to “developing.” In fact, some “rich” countries can be dangerous places to live for women, people of color or LGBTQ communities, while some countries with less wealth may guarantee universal basic freedoms, be safe, or provide high quality universal health care. Meanwhile, “population” cannot escape association with its mid-20th century roots in discriminatory demographic control, coercive family planning practices, racist eugenics and (mostly male) leaders trying to tell women what to do with their bodies and families.

Among the Hewlett Foundation’s oldest, strongest, and most enduring priorities has been to ensure the health and well-being of women and children. Our attention has been focused on expanding access to family planning and safe abortion services, so women in the U.S., Africa, Asia, and Latin America could decide and have greater control over the number of children they bore—benefitting not only the women themselves, but their families, their communities, and their countries. That commitment remains as strong as ever, but our vision and grantmaking have evolved. The foundation has been shifting to center our reproductive health grantmaking on sexual and reproductive rights over the past few decades, and more recently on gender equity and social justice.

Enter “Gender Equity and Governance”

Finding a name that both captures the program’s work and is reasonably concise proved challenging, as our grantmaking is broad: expanding women’s reproductive and economic choices in the U.S. and parts of Africa; supporting global, regional, and national efforts to foster transparency, accountability, and public participation; and improving policymaking through the effective use of evidence. We solicited and considered a wide range of views, internally and externally, in looking for a name that reflects our programmatic work along with the foundation’s long-term commitments and values.

Our discussions finally landed on “Gender Equity and Governance” which puts front and center our goals and the heart of our grantmaking. Nearly all of our program’s strategies aim to advance gender equity—addressing the historical and intersectional discrimination that women and girls face—and strengthen practices that promote responsive and accountable governance as the path to fostering inclusive societies where all people thrive.

Leading with gender equity is both responsive to what we have been learning from our partners and the communities we seek to serve, and reflective of our ongoing commitment to improving the lives of women. While there has been an emphasis on women’s reproductive health and rights for decades, in recent years our approach has expanded to include women’s economic empowerment. Gender equity has now become a cross-cutting theme in the program’s grantmaking, as we increasingly focus on government responsiveness and accountability to women’s voices, needs, and aspirations.

Government action is critical to address the multiple dimensions of inequity, including social, economic, and political and its intersections with gender, race, and other dimensions of social identity. Promoting robust and inclusive governance practices—increased transparency, accountability, public participation, and the use of evidence—is vital to improving policy choices, delivery of essential services, and responsiveness to all people’s needs. As such, improved governance and government effectiveness are critical to the success of all the program’s strategies.

In recognizing that we are not working across all aspects of gender, we debated internally and sought counsel externally on whether we should use “women” or “gender” in our program name. We decided to move forward with “gender” even though our grantmaking falls short of addressing all forms of gender discrimination and oppression. We stayed with “gender” because it describes our aspirations to exist in a world where funders, governments, and societies enable people of all gender identities to lead lives of dignity and fulfillment. This aligns with other foundation programs and strategies that cannot possibly work across the entire waterfront of the program names. Due to our limited resources, and a need to focus in order to contribute to impact, we are not working on all aspects of education; nor are we investing in everything related to the environment; nor all aspects of governance.

Our program is about to launch three new strategies over the coming months. As is standard practice at Hewlett, every five years or so we take stock of our work, look externally to see how the field and the world have changed, and identify new opportunities that may have emerged. By mid-summer, we’ll be launching our new International Reproductive Health strategy. The Women’s Economic Empowerment and the Transparency, Participation, and Accountability strategies will be released in the fall.

In the final analysis, what matters most is what we do, how we do it, and how we learn and adjust. This is constantly evolving work, and we will continue to learn from partners, inevitably make mistakes, and share. Just changing our name does not mean we have fully grappled with, much less solved, the ways in which historical patterns of acting and funding—patterns in which we are also complicit—have embedded and perpetuated racist and sexist systems. But language also matters, and the name change is meant to signal and convey the values we have come to embrace. The new “Gender Equity and Governance” framing will show up in all of this work, better reflecting not just Hewlett’s values, but also the strategies that our grantees have helped evolve and inform, our partnerships over the years, and our aspirations for the world we want to build together.

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