Chicago women-led organizations uplift women year-round

By Anna Busalacchi, Staff Reporter

Sedona Steffens

For women’s organizations and women-owned businesses, Women’s History Month is every month.

So, the Chronicle has compiled a list of four Chicago organizations and businesses owned and run by women to encourage and support year-round.

Chicago Foundation for Women

The Chicago Foundation for Women was created by four women in 1985, a time when only 1.6% of organized philanthropy went toward women and girls. Women were blocked from economic, social and other significant opportunities—especially women of color.

“This is our 36th year [and] all of those things are still true,” said Felicia Davis, president and CEO of the Chicago Foundation for Women. “There’s been a lot of progress but still, the challenges continue.”

The foundation aims to achieve gender equity for all, including trans and non-binary individuals. The foundation raises money and offers grants to organizations that provide services and opportunities to women, girls and trans and non-binary people.

Davis said the foundation lives and breathes Women’s History Month every day. In the past month, the organization has had various conversations on: the impact COVID-19 has had on women, ensuring safety for women and girls in Chicago and the “adultification” of Black girls, which is a false stereotype that young children are fully developed adults and is often based on race.

“The trailblazers who’ve come before us, it’s important to honor them, as well as the women who today are breaking glass ceilings,” Davis said. “I call them concrete barriers because glass kind of breaks easily but concrete needs to be chipped away at for a long time.”

The foundation offers many free virtual events for the public to attend each month and is accepting donations.

For more information, visit the Chicago Foundation for Women website.

Bon Femmes

Bon Femmes, an online art and beauty shop based in Chicago, was founded by Columbia alum Omotola Akinbiyi. It was created with the mission to promote women in the arts, an idea that stemmed from a realization that many people are unaware of many talented female artists.

Akinbiyi was frustrated that women in the arts are not paid as much as men, and also are are not showcased in museums as often as men.

“It’s not like the work isn’t out there or doesn’t exist,” Akinbiyi said. “It’s again that issue of [women] not being represented in all the places that we should be, so I want to just bring all these women artist’s name forward as much as I can.”

Akinbiyi conducts spotlight interviews with the artists she promotes asking them questions like “what inspires you?,” and “what is the most challenging part of being a woman in the art world?”

Bon Femmes began as a blog and Instagram account and in 2019 it evolved into what it is today. The shop is now a collection of art for sale made by women and will be hosting an in-person pop-up shop soon.

View the Bon Femmes website to shop for affordable art prints, apparel, home accents, stationary, accessories and beauty products made by women.

The National Association of Women Business Owners Chicago 

The National Association of Women Business Owners Chicago chapter is one of almost 60 chapters across the U.S.

Founded in 1975, the national association was born from a group of female entrepreneurs who were not being taken seriously by men in business and gathered together around a kitchen table with a drive for change. Three years later, NAWBO spread to Chicago.

“We have to remain non-partisan … but it is really important that we work with the politicians and show up in those spaces and help women be able to know how to do that so that they can make their voices heard,” said Melissa Lagowski, executive director at NAWBO Chicago.

The group holds monthly meetings to collaborate and share resources and is starting an initiative for younger women and students striving to own a business.

“Many of the stories within NAWBO Chicago are about women who have been surrounded by naysayers and people who told them they couldn’t do it, and I think it’s so important to realize if you can believe it, you can achieve it,” Lagowski said. “And that starts with believing in yourself.”

For more information visit NAWBO’s website.

Sarah’s Circle

Sarah’s Circle was founded in 1979 by three female friends volunteering in the Uptown neighborhood who noticed the lack of services specifically for homeless women.

Since the pandemic began, the organization has maintained its efforts and has seen an increase in the need for its services. Sarah’s Circle operates in Uptown and recently opened a new interim housing facility in December that allows clients to stay overnight for up to three months. 

Dakota Chisholm, a volunteer relations associate at Sarah’s Circle’s, said the organization’s ultimate mission is to end homelessness and see more affordable housing.

“A bunch of factors can compound and lead someone to experience homelessness,” Chisholm said. “It’s not a choice for people to be homeless, and anybody at any moment could experience it.” 

Sarah’s Circle specifically serves single adult women experiencing homelessness and provides a safe community space for them.

Sarah’s Circle is not allowing volunteers on-site due to COVID-19, but volunteers can help from home by dropping off meals, sack lunches or having food prepared and delivered to 4838 N. Sheridan Road. The organization also accepts prepared toiletry kits on its registry

To get involved with Sarah’s Circle, visit their website.