A new $1 million fund to combat sexual harassment and assault

The New York Women’s Foundation threw its weight behind the #MeToo effort against sexual harassment and assault by announcing the creation of a $1 million fund to support the movement and its allies, they announced at a recent fundraiser.

Photo of New York Women's Foundation Celebrating  Women  honoree and  #MeToo  Movement  Founder  and  Leader  Tarana  Burke  with  actress  and  New York State Gubernatorial  Candidate  Cynthia  Nixon.

Photo of New York Women's Foundation Celebrating Women honoree and #MeToo Movement Founder and Leader Tarana Burke with actress and New York State Gubernatorial Candidate Cynthia Nixon. Getty

The New York Women’s Foundation threw its weight behind the #MeToo effort against sexual harassment and assault by announcing the creation of a $1 million fund to support the movement and its allies, they announced at a recent fundraiser.

President and CEO Ana Oliveira made the announcement during remarks at the foundation’s 31st annual Celebrating Women Breakfast on May 10, by acknowledging the #MeToo movement’s 12-year history.

“We’re a little late coming to this, and we want to say that,” Oliveira said. “But better late than never, don’t you think?”

The Me Too Fund will be co-chaired by NYWF and Tarana Burke, the founder and leader of the #MeToo movement. NYWF seeded the fund with $1 million and is working to attract other investors.

“The reason why you know me is because I am committed to ending sexual violence, and I am committed to finding resources,” Burke said during her remarks as she was honored by the foundation.

She talked about how she funded the work out of her back pocket in the early years when “$5,000 might as well have been $500,000.” She also listed the names of celebrities such as Michelle Williams, Salma Hayek, Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino who have expressed a commitment to the fund – and suggested that announcements of additional support would be forthcoming.

“This fund will be the first step.” Burke said.

Along with Burke and all of the foundation’s grantee partners, this year’s breakfast honored Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, executive director of The African American Policy Forum and the woman who coined the terms "intersectionality" and "critical race theory." The New York Community Trust, one of the nation’s first and largest community foundations, was also honored along with its president, Lorie Slutsky.

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Honorees spoke of their accomplishments – achieved despite the gender inequality they faced.

Slutsky recalled how she was told she would never lead the New York Community Trust because the position required “someone who looks good in a tuxedo.”

Firefighter Eniola Brown – who received support from United Women Firefighters, one of NYWF’s grantees – told how her fellow firefighter candidates waited for her to be the first to fail during the various physical challenges they were subjected to.

Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, rallied the nearly 2,000 women in attendance, among them New York state gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, to join her campaign for One Fair Wage which  is fighting to require the restaurant industry to pay employees regular minimum wage. This would help bring financial stability to women in the restaurant industry who are working at what is often their first job.

Too often they feel forced to remain silent when patrons behave inappropriately and employers ask that they do things like show their breasts, Jayaraman said, because they must safeguard the tips they earn to support their families.

Crenshaw reminded the audience what happened in the 1990s when Anita Hill accused then-supreme court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual misconduct and noted that her cause initially drew little support because, “Black women’s histories of sexual abuse have never been framed as a symbol of racial injustice, nor has it been framed as a touchstone for solidarity.”

But the theme of solidarity, and the interconnected nature – or intersectionality – of the struggle against economic, racial and gender inequality was apparent throughout the May 10 event. And each speaker’s comments carried extra poignancy in the wake of the litany of men, from Harvey Weinstein, to Bill Cosby, to Eric Schneiderman, felled after allegations of abusing women - allegations only recently given levels of legitimacy often blanketly denied in earlier times.

“This year’s breakfast was especially inspiring,” said attendee Amanda McEnery, director of development and communications with Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement. “It really felt as though the various fights for equality and justice for women … are truly starting to coalesce. And it’s that collective power that’s going to affect real systemic change.”

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