To tackle “persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and men of color,” the Obama Administration initiated My Brother’s Keeper in February 2014 and greatly expanded it this past May in the form of a new nonprofit called My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. To date, the nonprofit has received $80 million in pledged commitments and is championed by celebrities such as NBA Champion Shaquille O’Neill and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Effective gender-specific programs benefit and elevate youth. Their strategies draw out children’s strengths and help them realize their full potential. When children have the knowledge and confidence required to succeed, they use their skills to better their communities and society at large. To effectively improve conditions for all youth we must, however, use targeted, tailored programs that combat the problems specific to each gender.
Girls face unique difficulties that are best addressed in a gender-oriented manner. For instance, girls are the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. juvenile justice system: female arrest rates are increasing while male rates have significantly decreased. Furthermore, black girls are suspended at six times the rate of white girls, and one out of five girls under the age of eighteen will experience childhood sexual abuse. Women and girls are also underrepresented in STEM, as just 12 and 26 percent of engineers and computing professionals are women, respectively.
Despite these statistics, only 7 percent of all funds granted in 2012 by the top 1,000 foundations in the U.S. were given to girls’ and women’s initiatives, according to The Foundation Center in New York, an organization that collects, analyzes and distributes information about philanthropy. Historically, foundation giving to girls’ and women’s initiatives has never risen above 7.5 percent. Funding for women and girls has grown at a faster rate than giving overall, reflecting a growing awareness of the need to invest in them to affect social change, according to The Foundation Center’s report, “Accelerating the Change for Women and Girls: The Role of Women’s Funds.” But that still accounts for a very small percentage of grant dollars and must increase.
Gender-specific programming for boys and girls, especially those of color, is critical to uplifting communities and setting our nation’s youth on a path to success. Girls Inc. applauds the Obama Administration for launching and expanding My Brother’s Keeper. When boys succeed, girls succeed, and when girls succeed, boys also succeed. Girls Inc. will continue to provide girls with holistic, comprehensive programming and experiences that ensure that they have the support and tools to break gender stereotypes and triumph.
Let’s move forward together to find ways to support all boys and girls to ensure that they, and their children, live in a better America than the one we currently inhabit. Elevating expectations and increasing supports for our children can help accomplish this goal, allow America’s youth to realize their potential, and guarantee that our boys and girls will become the productive, successful men and women of the future.
Victoria Waterman is the CEO of Girls Inc. of Worcester and serves as tri-chair of the Investing in Girls Alliance and as a member of the executive committee of YouthConnect. About 60 percent of Girls Inc. programs are funded through grants.