Written by Melinda Wells, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships
In every corner of the world, women, girls, and trans people are full of power. The power to create. The power to reveal and reinvent. The power to grow, nourish, and heal. We know that they are leading the charge on solutions to our most urgent social and political problems, and yet historically, received pennies on the dollar from private philanthropy and government giving.
April’s edition of What We Are Reading features publications demonstrating the critical role of women, young feminist and girl-led organizations in crises. Deeply impacted themselves, these organizations are nonetheless stepping up to respond to the needs and protect those at most risk. Despite this, when it comes to funding, women and girl-led organizations are still being left behind. It is frustrating that with all we know about their important contributions, this is still the case. However, it’s spring in the Northern Hemisphere– a time for hope. Our reading list this month includes a report on the importance of funding local organizations, and women-led organizations in particular, to better address their intersectional needs, and a report offering a window into the lives of Ukrainian girls and young activists who are both acutely affected by war, and playing a front-line role in responding to its impacts. We end with an update from Prospera, the vibrant global network of Women’s Funds. This community is growing and flourishing, committed to resource justice, and well poised to scale up resourcing to women and girls in all their diversity.
At the Equality Fund, we often hear from external stakeholders that they are aware of the specific and intersectional needs of women, girls, and non-binary people in crisis situations. Many recognize the importance of funding local organizations, and women-led organizations in particular, to better address these needs. In Why Wait? How the Humanitarian System Can Better Fund Women-Led and Women’s Rights Organizations the International Rescue Committee looks at the global gap between rhetoric and reality. Their report focuses on three contexts: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ukraine, to explore “pervasive, systemic barriers” to actually moving funding to Women’s Rights Organizations (WROs) and Women Led Organizations (WLOs) in humanitarian contexts.
The WROs and WLOs interviewed identified eligibility criteria for applying for the humanitarian Country Based Pooled Fund (CBPF) as a major barrier. They share experiences of funding thresholds that are too high, onerous requirements for organizational policies and procedures to qualify, local language barriers, and being sidelined due to a lack of previous humanitarian experience. The result: what little funding does manage to reach these organizations is usually via subcontracting relationships with International Non Governmental Organizations (INGO).
WROs and WLOs are not engaged in the decision-making bodies that oversee CBPF distribution, excluding them from the spaces where real decision-making power is held. While the overall participation of national NGOs in CBPF advisory boards has increased somewhat in the past several years, in the three countries examined, WROs and WLOs participation remains very limited.
Humanitarian actors could benefit much more from local knowledge and already existing coordination mechanisms. For example, the Ukrainian Women’s Fund (UWF) regularly engages local WROs/WLOs, facilitates information sharing, and profiles their work. However, when UWF organized a consultation with international actors, participation was very low.
The report offers examples of funders who have found ways to overcome the barriers and models for what is possible. The report concludes with a call for a feminist lens to humanitarian reform that prioritizes funding, partnership and leadership for WROs/WLOs. Such an approach “moves beyond a limited agenda for localisation that instrumentalises the expertise and reach of national and sub-national organizations for programme delivery, to a transformative agenda that meets WROs/WLOs where they are and champions equitable partnership models”.
Released at the one-year mark of the invasion of Ukraine, Girls and Young Feminist Activists at the Forefront Against Russia’s Imperialist War in Ukraine is a report by the Global Resilience Fund, a rapid response fund for girls and young feminists in crisis situations. It offers a window into the lives of Ukrainian activists who are both deeply impacted by war, and playing a front-line role in responding to its impacts: “Girls and young feminist activists, especially disability rights activists, LGBTQIA+ activists, migrants, and others living at the intersections of marginalised identities, are experiencing both the war and the complexities of displacement in very real ways.”
Girls and young feminists in Ukraine are supporting groups that international humanitarian actors are not reaching, yet they remain under-resourced. The report highlights the kinds of support that they need to carry out their important work. Promising practices are highlighted, including a group of women’s and feminist funds who actively work to reduce the burden on the front line responders by mobilizing resources on their behalf and coordinating amongst themselves to share information and build strategies.
The report calls for sustained, flexible funding for girl and young feminist-led response efforts. It also stresses the importance of deeper collaboration, dialogue, and accountability between funders and activists. While focusing on the specific needs and challenges in Ukraine and its surrounding countries, there is also a call for solidarity across crises: “injustices and inequality contribute to war and crises, and are part of larger systems of imperialism, expansionism and militarisation across the world. Yet, most crises are systematically overlooked or erased. At this very moment, there are brutal wars, occupations, and conflicts happening in Ethiopia, Chad, Somalia, Western Sahara, Occupied Palestine, Yemen, Myanmar, Afghanistan and in so many other places across the world”.
The report concludes with a vision for a political, feminist peace that moves beyond the cessation of active violence to include the recovery of civic and political space, accountability and reparations. The voices in this report are clear and powerful. They deserve to be heard and resourced in a manner commensurate with the critical importance of their work.
Yearbook: Prospera 2022 Yearbook
Prospera is the International Network of Women’s and Feminist Funds. Its 44 members are united in our focus to pursue resource justice through grantmaking and support to feminist movements. Between 2016-2020 Prospera members collectively mobilized USD 659M. They made almost 16,000 grants, redistributing resources to feminist organizations in 172 countries across the global South and East. The 2022 Prospera yearbook offers a snapshot of this diverse network, sharing highlights from the past year of each of the members. Many women’s and feminist funds have experienced amazing growth both in the resources that they are mobilizing and the reach of their grantee partners. It’s an inspiring story of collective impact– one that offers a clear opportunity to donors who want to live into their commitment to funding women and girls in the global South.