In many of Bogota’s supermarkets, when a woman pays for her shopping she is asked if she wants to donate ‘a few pesos to a cause’. There is usually not much variety in the causes. The usual question is ‘do you want to support poor or malnourished children?’ (there is never a cause that refers specifically to girls). But also, depending on the political climate in the country, there might be a need to reinforce the idea of ‘patriotic contributions’, in which case the question will be ‘do you want to support our wounded soldiers?’ or ‘do you want to support soldiers wounded by anti-personnel mines?’
I have an anthropological interest in the topic, so I have studied this phenomenon and I’ve found that around 90% of women say ‘yes’ and donate. I always say ‘no’, which earns me the disapproval of everybody else standing in the queue. I find it curious that there are women who believe it is not permissible to say ‘no’. The truth is that – beyond the catching opening sentence – none of these ‘donors’ know what will be effectively supported by their donation. It is a ‘very small’ donation but the accumulated volume of what supermarkets manage to donate to ‘social works’ is huge.
This example clearly illustrates a practice in which both the donor and the grantees are passive – typical of a traditional type of philanthropy that is not about social change and one that perpetuates images and concepts that, from a feminist perspective, are no longer acceptable.
At Fondo Lunaria Mujer we aspire to have active partners who support our fund with resources – a very important thing as our goal is to give money to grassroots women’s organizations – but we aim to have these partners share our political position on transformation and bringing about structural change in women’s lives.
We got this idea from a learning visit we paid to Fondo Alquimia (Chile), which changed the way in which we understand our allies and partners. In the past we had always understood that the typical donor to our fund would be a ‘rich woman’, with a little bit of social consciousness that would move her to donate ‘large amounts’ of money to us.
The reality is that we hardly ever meet that donor. In Colombia, when truly rich women want to donate, they create their own foundations – and also most of them are just not into women’s rights. Now we believe that for our fund to grow stronger in the future we need partners who support our work both politically and financially. The financial support might be much less than if we embraced the traditional ‘charity’ model, but we think that in the longer term it will be these supporters, multiplied by hundreds of women, that will achieve the transformations we dream about.
During our learning visit in Chile, we also learned that in order to engage others in our work, we should see ourselves as donors too – so now all of us, staff and Board, are contributing to the fund directly. What we want to achieve via our fundraising approach is that women ‘donate’ as a conscious act, and are aware that it can indeed be a way to be consistent with our political commitment. This is what we understand ‘feminist philanthropy’ to mean. As such, we say that our work to cultivate this type of donor is a way to build a ‘feminist philanthropy movement’.
We are only starting our work, but other women’s funds – in contexts as varied as Chile, Mexico, the USA, the Netherlands, Ghana, South Africa, Ukraine, Mongolia or Nepal – have already done this for years, so we know it is possible. We are excited about cultivating donors who are committed to and engaged in women’s rights activism. For instance, we welcome both their financial contributions and their participation in demonstrations, where they stand side-by-side with our grantees.
We are now getting ready for demonstrations to defend sexual and reproductive rights, as these are being attacked by high-level government officials who continue to place their individual religious beliefs above the human rights of others. We are grateful to have donors that are willing to respond to these human rights issues not only with their money, but with their voices too.
Elena Rey is executive director of Fondo Lunaria, a feminist organization mobilizing resources to support Colombian grassroots women’s groups so they can fully enjoy their autonomy, rights and citizenship, and take active part in building peace and social justice in the country. This article is part of a series posted by Mama Cash sharing the perspectives of the local and regional funds that are its grantee-partners.