A Look Back at the History of Women and Money

A cartoon of cavewomen sitting around a rock table. The caption reads, "I just think if we control the money, we control everything."
Original Cartoon by Liza Donnelly

As published on LinkedIn as part of the SheMoney newsletter.

Next week, on March 8th, we will celebrate International Women’s Day. Since 2017, I have marked this occasion by publishing a list of the top reports that support gender lens investing, giving, and impact. In 2017, that list was 400 strong. By 2020, that list had grown to 650 reports, and in 2021, I published a list of an additional 100 reports. This year, I have another addendum of 50 more reports, along with a special bonus section featuring 15 reports related to Web 3.0, Digital Assets, Blockchain, and DeFi. Why? Because these areas truly are the new and very exciting frontier, and no one can be left behind! Altogether, that’s over 800 reports. What’s astonishing is that this list is nowhere near comprehensive. There are hundreds, if not thousands more that could easily be included.

Normally, I publish this list with a catchy headline that sings to the tune of “The Time is Now!” As in, here’s the data, now let’s use it to advance great positive change. This year, however, I’m feeling a little more along the lines of “Enough is Enough People!” I get especially sassy when talking about the lack of capital going to diverse fund managers and founders. That said, tradition is tradition, so please take a minute to scan the reports and see if you can leverage the data contained within them to support your work to advance gender equity and inclusion efforts.

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I also want to do something different this year in honor of Women’s History Month. I’d like to take this opportunity to take a quick look at the history of money. More specifically, I want to look at the history of women and money. This is SheMoney, after all.

Once upon a time, men created money…

Of course, it was actually a lot more complicated than that. For starters, humans got along just fine without money for tens of thousands of years. Instead, goods and services were bartered according to their perceived value. This system was eventually condensed down to a few items that were easily tradable, such as salt, spices, flint, tools, and animal pelts. These became the first known currencies of trade.

Money, in the modern sense, actually began approximately 5,000 years ago in Ancient Mesopotamia with the invention of the shekel. This is also when the first accounting systems were developed for keeping track of financial transactions. In 770 BCE, China created the first monetary coin, followed in 700 BCE by the first paper money. Things got really serious in 600 BCE when King Alyattes of Lydia (modern day Turkey) created the first historical mint to produce the first official currency in the world. Note that that’s King Alyattes. The history of money is indeed dominated by men.

So where are the women?

Just like the history of money, the history of women and money is just as complicated. In fact, the right for women to own, control, and dictate their own money and property is not as straightforward as a mere uphill battle to equality. Instead, this journey has been full of ups and downs.

For example, in Ancient Egypt, women had the same rights to money as men. They could buy and sell property in their own name, enter into contracts, and witness legal documents. However, due to social factors, women didn’t always exercise these rights, but they were there. And as the centuries rolled on, women’s rights regarding money swung back and forth like a pendulum. In Ancient Greece, women had few rights to their money, while in Ancient Rome they had many. But again, social conventions often prevented women from taking full advantage of whatever rights they did have.

A personal favourite woman in the history of women and money is Empress Theodora, wife of Emperor Justinian I. She is considered by some historians to have been the most powerful woman of the Byzantine Empire. Through her influence on her husband, women were granted expanded property and inheritance rights, forced prostitution and the killing of adulterous wives was banned, and women gained legal recourse to their own children. Was Theodora the first Financial Feminist? I think she just might be.

Now let’s take a big leap forward.

Remember that swinging pendulum? It took a hard curve backwards in the 12th century with the establishment of coverture in England. Under this new system, a husband and wife were considered to be one financial entity, and all financial autonomy was subsumed by the man. This meant that women were seen as the property of their husbands, and once this idea took hold, it would take centuries to undo.

In fact, it wasn’t until the 19th century that women began to regain their right to control their own money. The turning point was the passage of the historic Married Women’s Property Act in New York in 1848. Women were finally seen under the law as their own financial entities once more. In New York at least, but other states soon followed. As similar acts were enacted, women throughout North America could finally own property in their own name, inherit, and sign contracts. It was a good start in moving that pendulum forward.

Things picked up once again in the 1960s, when laws were passed that prohibited wage discrimination between men and women, expanded employee benefits for women, and made it illegal to specify a gender on a job posting. In 1974, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed, followed by the Lily Ledbetter Act in 2009. We have come a long way, but the road to equality is far from over.

In fact, in looking towards the future, it is very clear just how much is at stake. With the rise of mobile payment systems, cryptocurrencies, blockchain technologies, and decentralized finance more generally, it is clear that the landscape is changing, and changing rapidly. I just returned from Rwanda last week, and mobile payment systems are indeed common place. We are in the early innings of all of this, and I am of the belief that it will all be revolutionary. My concern? That the technologies that are being built to democratize finance may end up benefitting only a relatively small demographic; namely, tech savvy men. My motto? #nowomanleftbehind

March may be Women’s History Month, but this year I want to look forward and celebrate our future. A future that is hopefully leading us to a world where our financial systems not only serve everyone, but offer more balanced access to wealth creation as well. I recently heard someone say, “It is expensive to be poor”. Indeed it is, and it should not be at a time when we have the tools and human capital to create a world where everyone can flourish.


100 MORE Reports for IWD2021

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on March 8th, 2021.

Every March 8th I have a tradition. In celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD), I release my latest list of the top reports that support gender focused giving, investment, and action. More specifically, research that sheds light on gender inequities, with the hope of advancing the rights and well-being of women and girls. The first list was released in 2017, but I had been collecting this research for almost two decades by that point. Over the years, the list had grown to 400 reports, and I felt it was high time to share this information broadly. By March 8th, 2018, that list had grown to 500 reports, and a tradition was born. My hope was then and is now that these lists would be a resource for anyone and everyone. I am not at all convinced that data drives change, but I do believe that evidence and data can direct resources, mainly financial resources, towards issues, people, organizations, and strategies for change.

For IWD 2020, I published my latest list of 650 reports, and I declared the project to be finished. To be clear, I wasn’t finished with the data, but I was done with the obsessive aggregation of it. It was just too much. It felt like every single day another report would come through my inbox, and the responsibility that I felt to do something with them was getting overwhelming. That said, we, myself and Laura, kept track anyways. Old habits die hard I suppose.

In just a few short weeks that followed IWD 2020, COVID-19 brought the world to a halt and our global infrastructure to its knees. The pandemic exposed the cracks in our “systems” in ways that no one could have imagined last March 8th, and as we approach the one year anniversary of quarantines, lockdowns, and shelter in place orders, one thing is abundantly clear. COVID-19 has been absolutely devastating for far too many people, and disproportionately, far too many women, particularly women of color.

It is not surprising that many of the reports that have been published in this past year focus on these disproportionate and challenging outcomes. In fact, we had to add an entirely new section to correctly categorize them. If you have been tracking headlines, you already know about the rise of violence against women throughout the world in the wake of COVID-19. Other reports reveal the cataclysmic setbacks to women’s economic stability and employment participation. Some experts predict it will be decades before women recover financially from the events of the past year.

So here we are again with a new list; 100 reports that have come to our attention since our last release. In this document, you will find the source of the report, a brief description, and a link for further reading. This list serves as a complement to the list of 650 reports that was released a year ago.

So yes, I am continuing with my International Women’s Day tradition, and this year it is bittersweet. After years of feeling like some progress has been made, this past year has created some very big setbacks. So while I continue to declare that finance is the new frontier of feminism, which was my theme for 2020, I do so this year with an even bigger call to action. As we begin to feel safe stepping outside and returning to somewhat more normal times, let us be sure to look more intentionally for those whose lives have been deeply impacted and try to do more. Furthermore, as we start to rebuild, we need to be asking the hard questions around who is getting the resources to do that rebuilding, and whether that distribution is just and equitable.

Saying “Happy” International Women’s Day does not feel right this year, so instead I invite you to take a look at the 100 reports aggregated for you, scan the descriptions, and pick one to really look at. Really read it and let it sink it. No women or girl wants to be reduced down to a statistic, and yet that is what so often happens with these reports. The time, effort, and money that went into producing every single one of them comes with a hope that someone, somewhere, will read it and do something to help. I am hoping that you might be that someone.

For me, it was hard to pick just one report to feature for this article, but the one below was written by a person and organization that has many reports on our best of list.

Disrupting Fields: Addressing Power Dynamics in the Fields of Climate Finance and Gender Lens Investing. Criterion Institute. 2021.

“The research behind this paper examined power dynamics in the development of two fields, climate finance and gender lens investing. It provides a deeper analysis of the dynamics that have shaped the development of these fields and asks whether the fields have been disruptive enough. The thesis of this paper is that the awareness of power dynamics will lead to a more intentional design of field building efforts within gender lens investing and climate finance, thereby ensuring that these efforts are addressing and not needlessly calcifying and replicating existing dynamics and inequities in systems of finance.”

This paper was produced by the Criterion Institute, and more specifically by Joy Anderson. Joy is somewhat indescribable, but someone recently called her the oracle of finance, and I thought, Heck Yes! “Criterion is a nonprofit think tank that works with social change-makers to demystify finance and broaden their perspective on how to engage with and shift financial systems. They believe that you cannot innovate our way to a new future without addressing structural inequities in the design of any solution. And we can’t do this effectively without focusing on power: who has it, who doesn’t, and why. Our financial systems wield incredible power, yet they’re controlled by a relative few. Finance is also sustained by complex language and processes which stop those who would most benefit from understanding how they really work. We work to transform relationships of power so that more can imagine using finance as a tool for social change.” Again, HECK YES!

This paper demands your full attention, and my attempts to add additional context to what is written above have failed miserably. But the reason why I think this report is so important is that I believe our financial systems are not working for the vast majority of people. This report invites us to think about these systems as systems of power. And if we are advocates for positive change in the world, then this matters. Really matters. So thank you to Joy and all who contributed to this landmark paper.

500 Reasons to Support International Women’s Day

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on March 8th, 2018.

Every March 8th, the world celebrates International Women’s Day, a celebration first held in 1909 in New York, but which was formally declared an annual international celebration by the United Nations in 1975 during the International Women’s Year. Today, March 8th is officially a public holiday in numerous countries around the world, including Cambodia, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Nepal, Mongolia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and there are events scheduled to mark this occasion in nearly every country across the globe. International Women’s Day is both a celebration of the accomplishments of women worldwide, and a call to action for gender equality and world peace, and I hope you all join me today in celebrating the incredible women in your life.

Every year, the United Nations picks a theme for the celebrations, and this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Time is Now. I can’t think of a better mantra coming off of the year we’ve just had. Incredible strides have been made, yes, but we still have so much farther to go. Gender inequality is not yesterday’s business, it is today’s. The Time is Now. This past year was, for me, the year that moments became movements, and movements are about people moving together towards a better future.

So what makes people move, individually and collectively? Many things, including personal experiences, values, stories of others, and yes, data. Prior to my extensive work in philanthropy, I worked in the finance industry as a trader, and I relied on numbers, statistics, and data to inform my decisions and my actions. As I transitioned out of the financial sector and into the philanthropic space, I brought this mindset with me. Though I personally did not need evidence to prove what I know to be true; that a more gender balanced and inclusive world will be a better world for all, when I truly dug into the research, I learned the depth of the need, the depth of the inequities, the depth of the opportunities, and the depth of proven interventions in need of resources. A road-map for positive change is in the research. It is not hypothetical, it is real. So not only did I search out, collect, and aggregate research and studies, but I shared them. Last year, in honour of International’s Women’s Day 2017, I published the Top 400 Reports on Women and Girls. 

The response to this publication was fantastic, and over this past year it has been an invaluable resource on more occasions than I can count. However, it quickly became clear that 400 reports, as high a number as that may seem, did not nearly encompass the scope of the research available. I continued to collect and gather research, studies, and reports, and before I knew it, that list had grown to 500 reports across 20 different categories, including Arts, Entertainment, Film & Media, Impact Investing with a Gender Lens, Philanthropy, Violence Against Women & Trafficking, Entrepreneurship, and Political Representation. There’s even a section for Masculinity and Engaging Men in Gender Equality.

I cannot promise that this list will be updated and republished every March 8th to celebrate International Women’s Day, but I’m hoping it will, so please send me any missed or new reports for inclusion in future editions to @researchonwomen and #researchonWandG on twitter, or post the link below.

Happy International Women’s Day!