We move together, in community.
Last week, our team had the privilege of attending Women Deliver, one of the largest multi-sectoral convenings to advance gender equality worldwide. The event enables inclusive and co-created spaces that foster solidarity for sustainable solutions on gender equality. This year’s theme was Sexual Health and Reproductive Health (SRHR), although the conversations reached beyond to more broadly discuss funding and supporting feminist movements and solutions, solidarity in feminist work, and urgent themes such as the growing anti-gender movement.
At Women Deliver four years ago, the Equality Fund was officially launched alongside an incredible community of feminist partners and allies. This event has a special place in our origin story and we were eager to be in Kigali, in feminist community, with many of our partners. It was significant for this event to be hosted in Africa. Doing so increased accessibility to the event for many activists and organizations in the region, resulting in more diverse, feminist perspectives being shared. From day one, we heard critical messages for those working towards and supporting feminist change. After a week of feminist dialogue, collaboration, and gathering, we were energized from learning and hearing from a dynamic ecosystem of feminist activists, funders, visionaries, and other actors. As we reflect on our experiences, we’re excited to share the top 5 messages we heard at Women Deliver 2023.
“Women’s funds: Trust them, find them, work with them”– Françoise Moudouthe, CEO of AWDF.
One theme rang true throughout Women Deliver– we must trust feminist organizations, funds, and movements to drive feminist change. For example, local and regional funds know best how and where to allocate and disburse resources to local grassroots organizations who are on the ground, doing the work, and leading the charge on pressing social and political issues. As shared by Françoise Moudouthe, CEO of our partner AWDF, “Context matters and feminist funders understand that.” Another key piece is to decentralize funds to ensure better access and equity, since small(er) organizations might not know about larger funders. This is why regional and national funds play an important role.
Fund grassroots organizations.
Women’s rights and feminist organizations are at the forefront of the fight for gender equality and SRHR, but they are under-resourced. And, of the small amount of funding from funders that goes to feminist work, less than 0.4% goes to African and Black feminist organizing, according to Pontso Mafethe of AWDF. Local NGOs and activists drive feminist change at the ground level. By providing core, flexible funding directly to grassroots organizations,
Rouzeh Eghtessadi of SAfAIDS Regional.
You’re building resilience in us
In a session by the Feminist Humanitarian Network, the case was made for resourcing locally, highlighting the capabilities and resources grassroots organizations have, such as local social networks, local language, knowledge of local issues, lived experiences, and the ability to respond in a timely manner.
Care is a critical piece to funding and supporting feminist movements.
Feminist movements should be able to prioritize care, and funders need to fund it. “Movements are burned out, they’re tired,” said Tsitsi Midzi, of Urgent Action Fund–Africa. They need rest and collective care, yet, funders don’t often provide funding for that.
Françoise Moudouthe of AWDF
Feminist funding, in contrast, should centre not just the doing of feminist movements, but the well-being of them as well.
Funding should include holistic accompaniment and we can start normalizing this by thinking about care as an integral part of how movements and organizations run. As Pontso Mafethe of AWDF posed, “Why don’t we see care as a core institutional function?”
The anti-gender movement is growing and collaboration is key to counter it.
During our co-hosted session with the International Women’s Development Agency on “Funding Feminist Movements,” the big topic was the growing anti-rights and anti-gender movements. The anti-gender movement is well organized, well funded, and has a clear idea of their goals to suppress human rights, promote discriminatory and exclusionary laws, and increase hate, harassment and violence against women and LGBTQI+ groups. It is imperative that feminist movements create common narratives to counter anti-rights positioning. Feminist movements can sometimes operate in silos. We need to find better ways to collaborate with each other to develop a clearer, more unified vision to respond to and resist anti-gender groups. And, we need core, unrestricted funding to do it.
We need to decolonize “risk.”
Decolonizing risk means first interrogating what risk traditionally means within our existing systems of power, and questioning who gets to define that risk. Usually, when we talk about risk, it’s a discussion about the risks that funders take. Yet, funders need to examine how their power structures create risk for partners, by re-examining what risk means and providing unrestricted funding to organizations and feminist funds. Furthermore, feminist funding shouldn’t shy away from risky or controversial issues, but instead support organizations to address issues at the ground level.
During the conference, we attended a panel by the Feminist Humanitarian Network with grassroots community organizations to examine risk from a fundee perspective. A few takeaways:
- There is risk in who gives the organization money: “Money is power and where there is power, there is control and silencing the voices of those on the side of those receiving.”
- There is risk in restricted funding: “It is a risk for me to give people what they don’t need.”
- There is risk in funder concerns with overhead costs: “Are you paying my staff enough money to do the work that they need to do?”
- There is risk in how organizations must often access funding: “Registering an organization in an authoritarian country can put staff and volunteers in danger.”
These were just five of many powerful ideas and calls to action we heard at Women Deliver over the course of the week. From feminist community and collaboration, solution-building, to being alongside many of our partners, this was a pivotal experience for the Equality Fund team. We will continue to reflect on these discussions, nurture these relationships, and share our learnings with the global EF community widely.