The best path to gender equality

Shalini Nataraj

Françoise Pissart’s article in the June issue of Alliance touches on some very important issues that are critical to achieving gender equity and a just, sustainable world for all. I welcome this opportunity to discuss why the Global Fund for Women, along with other women’s funds globally, strongly believes in the value of supporting and strengthening women-led and women-focused organizations.

We agree with Ms Pissart that women-led organizations do not focus only on ‘women and girls’. They are active in every sphere of society, and given the entrenched norms and even laws that actively discriminate against them, their participation at all levels is crucial. We also agree that boys and men need to be included in funding strategies. However, given the deeply rooted nature of women’s oppression and exclusion, we believe in a focused approach to building women’s potential to engage as equals, with funding to promote their leadership, skills and full participation in the economic, political and social spheres of their communities.

Research on why girls do better in girls-only educational settings refers to the phenomenon of ‘gender intensification’. When girls and boys are together, they act according to what cultural norms dictate is appropriate behaviour for girls and boys. As a result, putting boys and girls together often has the unintended consequence of intensifying gender roles rather than breaking them down. Global Fund grantmaking data demonstrates that supporting women-led organizations that focus on enabling women and girls to challenge stereotypes creates huge value and social capital for the entire community, including men and boys.

One of our grantees, Rifka Annisa in Indonesia, provides counselling for men who are perpetrators of domestic violence. They launched a Facebook-based support group for men who want to end domestic violence. Their model has been replicated by three other crisis centres in the region. As a result of advocacy by Global Fund grantee partners and others, 125 nations now have laws against domestic violence, up from just 45 in 2003, according to Breaking Through, an independent evaluation of our impact on gender equality in Asia and the Pacific.

With limited resources, tough choices have to be made. Global Fund strongly believes that the best path to gender equality is one that leads directly to women. Our rights-based approach seeks unapologetically to address unequal and discriminatory power dynamics. Likewise, funders who seek to achieve gender equity should build the capacity of women’s organizations, the women they work with, and their communities to challenge and address systemic injustices.

Shalini Nataraj
Director of Advocacy and Partnerships, Global Fund for Women

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