New Research: This is what a feminist response to crisis looks like

What if the world understood crises through the lens of feminist leaders who respond to them every day?

This question guided us as we gathered more than 100 activists, government leaders, and feminist funders for a rich day of dialogues, prompted by our new research on feminist responses to crises. Set amid the busy backdrop of the 68th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the topic was especially timely.

Conflict. Gender-based violence. An erosion of democracy and a pushback on rights like bodily autonomy and anti-LGBTQI+ policy. “Polycrisis” echoed across CSW, speaking to the overlapping and compounding nature of crises around the world.

But this also provides a roadmap for hope. As crises intersect, so must we. At the Equality Fund, we know that the antidote to collective crisis is a collective response. It’s clear that meeting the compounded challenges of crises will take collaboration among people from very different spaces, who hold different levers for change. All clear and committed to a common goal.

But whose crises? How is “crisis” itself understood, defined, and prioritized, and by whom? How does a feminist lens disrupt the usual answers to these questions to reveal a more powerful, more political, and more transformative response?

The urgent answers to these urgent questions won’t come from us. They are found in the living wisdom and deep experience of feminist leaders, especially from groups that have been historically marginalized. And all too often, we know their knowledge and perspectives are missing from global dialogues and global crisis responses.

The research: Unfolding the tapestry of insights from across the Global South

In 2023, we commissioned fresh research on feminist responses to crisis to inform our approach to a new grantmaking stream focused on this specific work.

Unfolding the Tapestry: Weaving Themes and Strategies of Feminist Crisis Response focuses on crisis responses led by activists, organizations, and movements on the ground, working at the intersections of climate and environment, civic space, human rights, democracy, LGBTQI+ and women’s rights, and Indigenous Peoples. It is written by lead researcher Kenza Yousfi, with additional research from Madhura Chakraborty. Based on interviews with activists and feminist funds and a literature review, the research findings will be used to amplify the experiences and perspectives of feminist responders.

Anchored in the vivid lessons shared, the report clearly underscores that crises are structural, intersectional, and fundamentally political. Around the world, crises do not materialize in isolation, but are intricately woven into the fabric of structural vulnerabilities and exacerbating existing inequities. 

In turn, feminist responses to crises share key characteristics: they are intersectional, community centric, visionary and long-term, and care-centered.

This living tapestry of feminist crisis responses weaves together eight strategies: 

  • addressing holistic needs
  • responding rapidly
  • prioritizing inclusivity in relief and evacuation
  • creating safe spaces
  • mobilizing solidarity 
  • visioning alternative community hubs 
  • enabling research and community diagnosis.

Women’s rights organizations and feminist funds already play a complementary role in crisis and humanitarian spaces. Yet, they are often left out of humanitarian resourcing, being seen as implementers rather than leaders driving strategies and spearheading the response. There is a whole ecosystem of feminist crisis responders that supports communities forgotten or beyond the reach of government and traditional international organizations and aid agencies.

The report spotlights four ways government and institutional funders can collaborate with feminist responders and feminist funds:

  1. Increase dialogue and collaboration.
  2. Centre the experiences of feminist responders.
  3. Lift up existing practices and recommendations.
  4. Examine the persistent barriers that have long stood in the way of more funding for feminist responses to crisis.

In community: Activating dialogue on crisis

The wisdom and rich analysis so present in the research came to life as we gathered across three panel discussions at our CSW event to discuss the research findings. This fascinating dialogue reflected how the research resonated with and was validated by participants, while expanding upon the insights in our report, planting seeds for much more conversation ahead.

Here are some key takeaways:

Whose crises matter?

  • The political act of defining what constitutes a crisis has immense impacts. Beyond humanitarian emergencies and wars, crises must also be understood to encompass rights backsliding, economic upheaval, democratic regression, and other compounding intersectional injustices.
  • Critically, whose experiences are legitimized as “crisis” directly shapes funding prioritization and response mechanisms. Crisis frames must reflect the diversity of lived realities globally.
  • Immediate crisis response must be coupled with long-term investment, strengthening organizational resilience, and core visionary work to transform root structural drivers.
  • For funders, it is essential to holistically resource feminist movements without co-opting or controlling their self-determined agendas. Accountability to movements is key.

 What does feminist crisis response look like?

  • Core tenets include using an intersectional lens, paying particular attention to challenges faced by vulnerable or historically marginalized groups, adapting to the stated needs of local feminist movements, building organizational resilience through flexible core funding, and prioritizing safety.
  • Trust-based networks enable coordinated rapid action—and recognize long-standing relationships as vital infrastructure.
  • Mapping narratives, convening inclusive spaces, and co-creating context-specific programs and advocacy are key.
  • Preventing crises is critical and can be done through proactive community-building, challenging the usual ways of doing and thinking, and collaboration alongside immediate resource deployment. 

Looking ahead: weaving a bigger tapestry

A thread shared by participants through these discussions: bold strategies are needed to robustly support feminist crisis response and bridge humanitarian collaboration. Crises present not only risks but also opportunities to uplift the transformative visions and work of feminist movements.

As part of our commitment to support solutions, the Equality Fund will be launching a call for expressions of interest in June, through our grantmaking stream, “Prepare, Respond and Care”. Please stay tuned to our channels for more information. 

As feminist leaders, our work together is breathtaking in its diversity, power, and collective resolve. Through it all, we must find more ways to work across movements and collaborate across issues. Our tapestry is powerfully woven and we can grow it to strengthen the power of our response to crisis across the world.

Explore the Summary here

Consulter le résumé ici

Explore el resume aquí

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Read the full report in English here

Lire le rapport en français ici

Lea el informe en español aquí

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