The answer lies, in part, in how funders fund. Feminist movements are key drivers of transformative and lasting change; the case for why they need more and better funding has been increasingly heard. Now, the way in which funding moves needs to change.
Take a look at the news and you will see compelling stories of women’s rights activism everywhere. (Queer) Black women started Me Too and the Black Lives Matter movement; across Latin America, Ni Una Mas challenges gender based violence; Indigenous women have been at the forefront of protecting the environment; and around the world, activism by young women has made the climate crisis irrefutable. Just recently, feminists have taken to the streets and forced the Polish government to hold its plans to ban almost all abortions and protested police brutality in Nigeria.
As the above makes clear, feminists around the world are fighting for a more just and joyous world for all. This has not gone unnoticed. Now, twenty-five years after the Beijing Platform for Action, autonomous feminist organising is increasingly acknowledged as a driver of transformative and lasting change. Resources supporting those movements should be as rich, significant, and transformative as feminist organsing itself. Yes, we’re seeing increased commitments signalling that funders are looking for ways to support movements directly. Now, an important step is to change how this money moves.
A clear paradox in today’s funding ecosystem continues to be the stark gap between funders’ commitments and funding that actually reaches feminist movements. OECD GENDERNET’s latest data shows a record USD 48.7 billion in gender-focused aid for 2017-18; nonetheless, funding committed to organisations working on gender equality was again less than 1 per cent: just USD $198 million. To put this into perspective, at least USD 280 million over the course of several years has been mobilised by conservative actors to support groups opposing so-called ‘gender ideology’ and working to undermine women’s and LGBTIQ rights. It is very likely this latter amount is just the tip of the iceberg.
Another paradox is that the largest gender equality funders – donor governments and multilateral organisations in particular – employ the least accessible funding models, which prevent funding from actually reaching feminist movements. Women’s funds, a small number of private foundations, and movements’ own autonomous resourcing fill this gap. Mama Cash, for instance, received nearly 5,500 requests for funding from feminist groups between 2016-2018. However, we were able to fund just 3 per cent of eligible applications.
The good news is that sound experience exists and better practice is possible if we build on what already works. AWID and Mama Cash’s new report, in the context of our Count Me In! partnership catalogues nine funding programmes that have managed to fund feminist movements directly. The report, “Moving More Money to the Drivers of Change. How bilateral and multilateral funders can resource feminist movements”, draws out enabling practices – ‘building blocks’ – to shift how money moves. We show that funders CAN increase their direct funding to movements they have committed to reach when: they leverage their political commitments to start new funding programmes or review the ones already in place; make their eligibility criteria and funding mechanisms fit for purpose to fund organisations that have greatest impact on women’s rights; and embrace participatory governance models.
For example, the Leading from the South Fund was set up by the Netherlands to directly reach a continuum of feminist organisations in the Global South; in recognition of the work it takes to do this well, fund management was outsourced to four women’s funds with deep knowledge of feminist movements. To move its Feminist International Assistance Policy from words into action, Canada intentionally sought new ways of resourcing movements, including through its CAD 300 million contribution to the Equality Fund. The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women reviewed its ways of working and decided to introduce a new ‘small funding window’ that allowed smaller and historically under-resourced organisations to apply for funding so they did not have to be in unequal competition with larger organisations that received this funding to date.
As we move towards the next year’s global moment of Generation Equality Forum to accelerate implementation of women’s rights commitments, and given brutal economic and social inequality exacerbated by COVID-19, how funding moves has to change. It is time we all move beyond circling constraints and embrace funding mechanisms that centre women, girls, and gender non-conforming, trans and intersex people; the very people that – despite significant risk and resistance – are reimagining and building towards a gender equal and just world.
Esther Lever is Senior Programme Office for Influencing at Mama Cash
Kasia Staszewska is Resourcing Feminist Movements Interim Manager at Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)