Do you want gender equality? So fund the real agents of change: feminist movements


The Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, produced one of the world’s most daring declarations on women’s rights to date. Equality in decision-making and the economy, as well as violence against women, were some of the critical issues it addressed. But progress in realizing these commitments has been shamefully slow.

Now, 26 years later, the UN Generation Equality Forum (GEF) aims to build on Beijing’s legacy. Co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, the GEF aspires to catalyze policy action and funding to make rhetoric a reality. The opening day of the Forum in Paris saw the announcement of $ 40 billion in new commitments to advance gender equality around the world. Such funding is absolutely necessary.

But these commitments will only be empty promises if they do not prioritize the direct funding of feminist movements. These groups are essential to both changing policies and changing norms, but they are chronically underfunded.

These groups fight day in and day out for fairer communities, economies and societies, and have always done so on very tight budgets. Few of these groups attend the Paris meeting – they are too focused on other priorities. But if they don’t feel the impact of the summit, then the GEF has failed.

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A flurry of new actors are joining the conversation in Paris. These include foundations that have not been strong proponents of gender equality in the past, donor collaborations launching first-time efforts to challenge gender norms, and private sector actors who were persuaded to participate.

However, newcomer women too often ignore the long-standing work and rich expertise of community feminist groups, including on how change occurs, as well as the issues and nuances of their contexts. There is no ‘quick’ or ‘cut and paste’ solution to the problem of gender inequality. Solutions are best led by those who are most deeply affected.

Chronic underfunding

Since 2002, our organization – Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) – has studied and analyzed the state of funding for women’s rights and feminist organizations. Our global investigation of more than 700 feminist groups found that their median income in 2010 was only $ 20,000 per year. Few have seen the needle move since. Half of the groups we surveyed had never received multi-year funding and 98% had not raised money for the following year. Still today, direct, long-term and flexible financing is the greatest demand from feminist organizations in terms of their resource needs.

It’s not that the money doesn’t exist. Billions of dollars are spent on gender equality through official development assistance, private philanthropy and corporate sector initiatives. Across all of these sources, our research consistently shows that only a small fraction of funding reaches feminist movements:

  • In 2013, as the trend to “invest in women” gained momentum among corporate foundations and private sector actors, AWID found that only 9% of the $ 14.6 billion in commitments to “women and girls” were made directly to feminist organizations.
  • In 2017, only 0.42% of total foundation grants were for women’s rights.
  • In 2018, feminist movements have received less than 1% of all gender-focused development assistance and only 0.6% has gone to civil society in southern countries. This percentage has been fairly constant for over a decade.

It proves what we have always known: that feminist movements run on less than a penny, that activism is precarious work, and that women’s rights and feminist organization are often supported by volunteers and advocacy. self-financing.

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