Moving the dial on advancing gender equality and women’s rights in Europe is an ongoing challenge. For philanthropy, the key to making a lasting difference is two-fold: more funding for women and girls on the continent, and enhanced collaboration.
While no single organisation can achieve enough progress on its own, experience has proven that collective engagement enables donors to combine forces, leverage funding, raise awareness, build support, and help sustain the sector and the organisations working on gender in the region.
Gender inequality is often portrayed as a larger problem outside of Europe than within. But the situation is stark and worsening. Troubling statistics include the fact that women earn 16 per cent less than their male counterparts; the gap in pensions is nearly 40 per cent; only six per cent of large European companies are headed by women; and that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence. Recently, research by the European Institute for Gender Equality found out that in three out of four of the European countries, the demand for gender-based violence support services increased, stretching many civil society organisations to the breaking point.
Deep underfunding of gender equality initiatives is well documented and due to a variety of factors. Yet this paucity contrasts sharply with the ever-growing influence and effectiveness of grassroots women’s movements driving momentum on issues of gender equality across the globe.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought new attention to these challenges, although efforts to create synergy in the field are long-standing. Philanthropy-building organisations, such as the Gender Equality Network of Philea or the Ariadne Network, European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights, have been active in peer learning and other programming for many years. In addition, numerous dedicated women’s funds operate successfully across the continent and have engaged mainstream donors; many of these cooperate successfully within the Prospera Network.
Now a new fund, the Alliance for Gender Equality in Europe, has been created to support progress for gender equality and women’s rights, joining other successful initiatives to help bolster the field. Today, as representatives of Foundation CHANEL, the King Baudouin Foundation and the L’Oréal Fund for Women, we have created this initiative, for an initial period of three years. Hosted by the Network of European Foundations (NEF), the Alliance has just completed its first round of giving. Its ‘2021 Fund for Covid Solidarity’ and has allocated 13 grants of up to €50,000 to small, frontline organisations coming from 10 different countries across the European Union. In addition, a Network/Learning Platform is being developed to provide knowledge and dissemination between donors, women’s organisations, support networks and other stakeholders, including the general public and the media. It also aims to produce comprehensive research to influence policy initiatives.
This is the first such collaborative effort in Europe, entering uncharted territory, and could be a potential game-changer. The Alliance is seeking other partners, aiming to attract donors that are not currently giving in this historically under-funded field in Europe. In this time of fragile democracies, supporting gender equality and women’s rights in Europe is supporting democracy. The ultimate goal of the Alliance is enabling a just society for all.
Marion Schaefer is the Managing Director at Fondation CHANEL Europe. Sylviane Balustre is the Director of L’Oréal Funds for Women. And Caroline George is Senior Project Coordinator at King Baudouin Foundation.
They represent the Alliance for Gender Equality in Europe steering committee.