Changing the story for Hamilton’s women and girls

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we are re-posting this editorial which originally appeared in The Hamilton Spectator. 

On National Philanthropy Day in 2012, the Hamilton Community Foundation launched a new initiative called Women 4 Change. Founded by a group of ten local women, Women 4 Change’s mission is “inspiring and enabling women of Hamilton to become leaders in philanthropy, improving the lives of women and girls in our community through collective giving.” It has been inspiring to listen to the voices around the table as this initiative has taken shape. The women vary in age, life experience, and the part of our city they call home, but they all share an aspiration, passion and compelling sense of urgency to see improved opportunities and outcomes for girls and women in Hamilton.

Anecdotal and formal data underscore the important and timely nature of this initiative.  In a research paper commissioned by Women 4 Change, Dr. Sarah Wayland provides an overview of the context of women and girls in our community.  She notes that while they comprise just over half of the population of Hamilton, the unique challenges they face often go unnoticed and unaddressed.  Dr. Wayland summarized key pieces of local research that define female experiences and issues throughout the life cycle as well as issues that cross all stages.  Particular findings jump from the pages of this report, including the fact that while girls tend to do better academically than boys, they experience significantly more stress.  Risk-taking behaviours during their youth affect them far more negatively  (e.g. resulting in pregnancy, single parenthood) and, regardless of circumstance, they are ultimately out-earned by men in the labour market and are less represented in positions of leadership across all sectors.  Women also are negatively affected by the outcomes of poverty across all stages of the life cycle, with older women twice as likely to be living in poverty as older men.

So how does philanthropy answer this?  And why now? 

A scan of recent media as well as research reflects that while women have historically been volunteers and active members of their communities, there is a new emergence of female philanthropy that is unprecedented in North America.  In her research on women and philanthropy, Tricia Tomson, from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, traces the historic roots and trends in this area.  As others, she notes the dramatic recent changes in women’s personal wealth.  No longer is their philanthropy tied to the wealth of their husbands or fathers, but rather it is a product of women’s shifting economic position, education and social roles and in turn, a changed way of thinking about money and influence.

Today, women across North America are taking greater control over their philanthropy and seeking ways to give and influence change that are in line with their own values, perspectives and priorities.  While there is debate about gender differences in philanthropy, most researchers describe the patterns of women’s giving as different from men’s and characterized by what has been described as “the Six C’s:  create, change, connect, commit, collaborate, and celebrate”.  It is precisely these qualities that lead to philanthropy that is strategic, engaging and transformative.

Each contributor to Women 4 Change has a personal reason for engaging in an initiative to improve the lives of women and girls in Hamilton.  Together they will develop a deeper understanding of what lies behind the situation they observe and the data they read.  Together they will explore new and innovative ways to change this story and become a force through their collective giving, and even more importantly, through their community roles and influence, for creating positive change.  As one of the founders stated, “Women 4 Change will grow and we will build the capacity for other girls to stand here forty years hence to say ‘the women who built this special fund change my life for good, forever. “

Working in the field of philanthropy, one is inspired daily by those we meet – women and men of all ages and stages who share a desire to enhance the quality of life for all citizens.  On National Philanthropy Day, and every day, our community benefits from their impact.  Each deserves our gratitude and respect.

Sheree Meredith is Vice-President of Philanthropic Services at Hamilton Community Foundation. To learn more about Women 4 Change visit or call (905) 523-5600.