When I first took over as the director of The Miriam Fund (formerly known as The Boston Jewish Community Women’s Fund) about three years ago, I must admit I was skeptical of the long-term impact our relatively modest grants could have on women and girls. I was confident that we made a meaningful impact in meeting more immediate needs, such as keeping women and girls safe from violence, teaching women of all ages important financial literacy skills, or providing a safe Jewish environment for young women to explore the difficult issues many face. But I doubted our ability to effect long lasting changes in behavior, attitudes or the law on behalf of women and girls.
I have learned a lot over the past three years, from our members, through our collaboration with colleagues around the country, and especially from our grantees. And while I now understand social change can take years to achieve, I am so proud of the impact our grants have had to help shift conversations, attitudes and governmental policies towards positive outcomes for women and girls. Here are some examples from our 2014-15 grantees.
- The Miriam Fund’s investment in young survivors of sexual assault in the greater Boston area has had national impact. Since 2008 (with a one year break), The Miriam Fund has granted nearly $100,000 to The Victim Rights Law Center. The VRLC leveraged our support to secure grants from other foundations, giving it the resources to deepen its expertise representing young sexual assault survivors. This work led to an invitation from the White House where the VRLC contributed to the national dialogue around campus sexual assault and gender based violence.
- The Miriam Fund has played a pivotal role in improving the status of local Jewish women who seek a get, or Jewish divorce, and putting Boston in the vanguard nationally. According to the Boston Agunah Task Force, Rabbinical Court divorce proceedings are changing in the U.S. and Israel in response to increasing demands for women’s voices to be heard. Boston is now at the forefront of these changes as one of only four Rabbinical Courts in the world to include a woman on the Bet Din team – which happened as a result of our lead gift in 2014. To date, Layah Lipsker, a member of the Agunah Task Force, has accompanied more than 20 women, giving them the strength to seek and secure a divorce from their husbands, allowing them to move on with their lives while avoiding, in some cases, what is tantamount to domestic abuse by a recalcitrant husband.
- The Miriam Fund has contributed to efforts to change governmental policy in Israel to address gender inequality. The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute’s Gender Index, a 3 year grantee of The Miriam Fund, highlights gaps in gender equality for Jewish and Arab women in Israel, and works to influence government officials, higher education institutions, civil society organizations, other decision makers and the public. Recently, the GI’s “team” presented their most recent findings to the Knesset Committee on Gender Equality. The key findings show that while women have made major strides and have greater access to higher education, the gaps between women and men – particularly in employment and pay – remain steady across most domains. Two key recommendations were made to the committee: the importance of applying a gender lens to data collection and policy reform, and modifying national accounting systems to include women’s “transparent” and unpaid work such as child-care, household work and volunteer work. The committee has not yet acted on these recommendations, but we are encouraged that the Gender Index has been recognized as a source of objective analysis and a voice to be heard in the debate.
- Also in Israel, The Miriam Fund has partnered with Isha L’Isha, Haifa’s Feminist Center, to fight against trafficking in women and prostitution. We underwrote the center’s work to educate policy makers about the plight of women who come to Israel as “mail-order brides.” Expecting a normal relationship, these women are often trapped in abusive relationships with no rights, family or a supportive network of friends to assist them. Isha L’Isha, with our support, seeks to promote laws and policies that support these women and other victims of trafficking and prostitution.
We’ve just finished another year of strategic grant making. I hope that you’ll join me and other members of the fund in learning how gender philanthropy can have a deep impact on the lives of women, girls and all members of society for our upcoming year, beginning in September. No experience necessary! Just a desire to do good work on behalf of others in our community.