What We Are Reading: January 2022

January 14, 2022

We’re starting 2022 off recommending three new reports on women’s/feminist organizations in conflict and crisis. COVID-19, conflict, and the anti-gender movement all have a profound impact on how feminist activists operate and organize. These reports provide concrete insights, analysis and recommendations.

“VOICE and many other feminist organizations and activists in the humanitarian sector have been reporting the same needs, the same violence, and the same marginalization of women and girls for decades. We know that they experience specific, predictable consequences and rights violations whenever a disaster strikes, and yet their needs go mostly unrecognized, unfunded, and ignored.”

This report brings together a survey of over 200 organizations around the world (84% describing themselves as led by women), analysis of previous epidemics, feminist perspectives, and commitments by the international humanitarian system.  The result is a strong critique of the humanitarian aid sector, its failure to engage and fund women- and girl-led organizations and meet their needs.

Vitally important given the growing international attention to issues of care, the survey asked respondents to look at their own lives, the roles they play in communities, and how their organizations are faring during the COVID-19 pandemic. The resulting picture is one of women and girls and their organizations being stretched, excluded, and under-funded.

The report explores three interconnected themes: social expectations and norms, access to resources and assets, and giving and receiving care. It examines how social expectations translate into women and girls shouldering the bulk of unpaid and unrecognized care work. Survey respondents described a parallel between their individual lives and their experiences running organizations, namely that they would work without pay and provide care to others before themselves and their staff.

The report documents the funding challenges experienced by organizations. While some funders took steps in the early stages of the pandemic to reduce the burden on grantees, overall the majority of organizations participating in the survey reported that they have not received any additional funding to support their COVID-19 response. They also reported having grants reduced or canceled. This mirrors a survey done by the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund in early 2021 of their grantees. Eight-four percent of respondents felt that their organization’s existence was at risk due to lack of funding.

The report wraps up with calls for the humanitarian sector to fulfill commitments to localization (including channeling more funding and power into the hands of local actors, particularly women and girl-led organizations), address gender-based violence, ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services, and strengthen gender/power analyses.

“It has not only been threats, but there have also been killings. The number of women killed has increased… It is so sad.”   – Rosa Emilia Salamanca, Colombia

This new report from Kvinna Till Kvinna analyzes survey responses from over 300 women’s rights activists and female journalists from 74 countries. It’s an important overview of the dangers, threats, and challenges facing women human rights defenders (WHRDs) around the world.  It brings home the ongoing violence and even the ‘normalisation’ of this violence in the everyday lives of feminist activists: “Living and working with threats and harassment has increasingly become something that is ‘part of the ordinary workday.”

The report looks at what types of activism spark this brutal response.  Speaking out on corruption, LGBTIQ+ rights (especially trans rights), discriminatory traditional values (including working to eliminate female genital mutilation), gender-based violence, the anti-gender movement, militarism, and climate/land issues put women in danger.  In many cases even using the word ‘gender’ provokes threats and resistance. The report convincingly argues: “questioning power relations triggers hatred.”

The report details the range of threats, both online and in-person. Smear campaigns, harassment, and stalking are all widespread. Alarmingly, threats of physical violence and death are reported by over 20% of those surveyed. Sometimes this violence and harassment is anonymous. Other times, community leaders, religious authorities, government actors, paramilitary groups, and family members are the identifiable perpetrators.

Throughout the report there are profiles of activists that bring the analysis and statistics to life. We hear the voices of activists from Colombia to Syria to Serbia and more.  Their determination, vision and strength shine through, along with their deep concerns and fatigue.

The report ends with a series of recommendations for funders, governments, and international bodies.  Funding (and the right kind of funding: flexible, longer-term, inclusive of care strategies, etc.) and recognition are key.  The report calls for the international community to support, listen to, and fund these brave activists.

ReportFund Us Like You Want Us To Win: Feminist Solutions for More Impactful Financing for Peacebuilding. Background Paper for the High-Level Meeting on Financing for Peacebuilding. Kvinna Till Kvinna, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), Women’s International League for Peace and Free (WILPF), Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAD), MADRE (2021)

There is growing awareness of the scarce resources flowing to feminist organizations in general and to women’s organizations building peace in particular.  Numerous organizations, including the Equality Fund, are part of the global efforts to increase both the quantity and quality of resources flowing to feminist and gender justice organizations.

This report is an important contribution to these discussions.  It complements the more general feminist resourcing papers, including those produced by the Association for Women’s Rights in International Development (AWID). Its focus on women peacebuilders brings to light their specific concerns 

Produced by six key global organizations that advocate for and support women peacebuilders, the paper explores six opportunities for structural change in financing for peacebuilding (with recommendations provided for each point):

  • Increase global funding for peacebuilding:  While military budgets rise, the share of international assistance invested in peacebuilding is declining (from 19.7% in 2009 to 11.4% in 2018). The report echoes calls by the United Nations Secretary-General to “reverse the upward trajectory in global military spending” and shift the focus to locally-led peacebuilding solutions that address the root causes of conflict and build lasting peace.

  • Directly support local women peacebuilders: The report is critical of many of the existing funding mechanisms where money flows through multiple organizations, so only a small percentage of the original grant amount reaches women peacebuilders. When this is not possible, funds should flow to organizations that are best positioned to reach frontline peacebuilding organizations. 

  • Promote authentic donor-recipient partnerships based on trust: Echoing current discussions among women’s funds, the report recommends rethinking the “risks” involved in funding women peacebuilders and establishing trust-based relationships. The track record of local organizations more than justifies this recommendation.

  • Include women peacebuilders in decisionmaking about financing priorities:  Who drives funding priorities is important yet women’s organizations are strikingly absent from donor discussions on funding mechanisms. Participatory grantmaking offers lessons and insights.

  • Invest in longterm approaches to peacebuilding through flexible funding and locally-informed measurements of success: Recognizing that solutions are not possible in the short-term and building maximum flexibility into grant mechanisms are two key recommendations.

  • Dedicate funding for the protection needs of women peacebuilders: Building on the insights outlined in the Kvinna Till Kvinna report above and the current situation in Afghanistan, the report makes the case for increasing resources for the safety and security of women peacebuilders.

As global discussions advance on how to track Generation Equality Forum commitments, this report offers important insights and recommendations. As well, it is important that the Global Alliance for Sustainable Feminist Movements explicitly include attention to women peacebuilders in its feminist funding discussions.

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