What We Are Reading: June 2023

Seeds in Our Pockets: How can funders nurture thriving social justice movements by and for people on the move, from Porticus (2023)

Written by Hilary Clauson, Senior Policy Advisor

Feminist movements have historically received pennies on the dollar from private philanthropy and government giving, especially in the Global South. And yet, women, girls, and trans people are leading the charge on solutions to our most urgent social and political problems. Despite strong evidence that funding movements works to achieve gender equality and social change, these movements remain poorly resourced, both in quantity and quality. In 2020-21, women’s rights organizations (WROs) received just USD $574M, or just 1% of total official bilateral development assistance for gender equality and women’s empowerment. This month’s What We’re Reading focuses on articles that present the case for funding rights organizations and movements, with a focus on WROs and feminist movements, migrant and refugee movements, and Black feminist movements. They offer clear recommendations to improve the quality of funding to help realize the significant promise that funding these movements brings.

Brief: Support to Women’s Rights Organizations and Feminist Movements, from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) (2023)

Sida’s ambition is to increase support for WROs and feminist movements. Its brief provides evidence for the relevance of such support and practical guidance on how to make it more effective. Sida summarizes evidence that “WROs and feminist movements have long been the ones imagining, formulating, and realizing what a gender equal world will look like.” Not only do WROs and feminist movements lead gender equality advances, but myriad other kinds of social change– like LGBTQI+ rights, racial justice, and addressing the climate crisis.

Unfortunately, as the brief points out, most funding doesn’t reach WROs and feminist movements, and even less in humanitarian response and for populations with intersecting identities (e.g. youth, LGBTQI+, women using drugs, women of colour, undocumented migrants and refugees). It contrasts this dearth of funding to the well-funded anti-gender movement. 

In light of this evidence, what does Sida propose? Participatory, flexible, core, long-term funding to WROs and feminist movements. The brief offers funders recommendations like: 

  • Invite WROs and feminist movement actors into the process of designing funding portfolios and grantmaking processes.
  • Look at how the funding ecosystem can offer choices for different types of organizing– in conflict settings, led by young feminists. 
  • Establish partnerships beyond funding, like knowledge-sharing and network-building. 
  • Support feminist and women’s funds, especially for reaching marginalized communities. 
  • See WROs and feminist movements as independent and self-defined actors, not service providers implementing other actors’ agendas. 

Though this is a somewhat common refrain from feminist civil society, it is encouraging to hear from an international assistance funder like Sida, complemented by its ambition to act.

Like the Sida brief, this Porticus report also explains its rationale for funding movements and provides a number of recommendations for its own future programming and that of other donors. It zeros in on a specific movement, one that advances the rights and well-being of migrant and refugee populations. Porticus argues that “structural, sustainable change is only possible when those most affected by injustices are able to transform their own lives and communities– with the right support and access to resources.” 

Informed by a 12-month pilot with 10 partner organizations led by people with lived experience of migration, the report outlined a number of recommendations, such as: 

  • In developing funding initiatives, start with landscape analysis, movement mapping, and insight from partners. 
  • Be flexible to different starting points and interventions, recognizing the complexity of working in conflict settings and with displaced populations.
  • Bring an intersectional lens; racism is a significant challenge for migrant and refugee-led organizations. 
  • Invest in activists’ care and well-being, especially in conflict and displacement contexts. Pay attention to burnout, mental health, and collective care. 
  • Recognize that developing and maintaining truly meaningful co-design and participation requires high levels of trust, enough time, the right tools, and changing funders’ internal processes and culture. 

While not explicitly feminist, the report draws on feminist principles like collective care. It also reminds funders that movements have different needs depending on whom they serve. With its focus on migrant and refugee populations, this report is a useful addition to the ‘resourcing movements’ literature.

Report: Where is the money for black feminist movements?, from the Black Feminist Fund (2023)

The Black Feminist Fund brings us a report, “a provocation, and a call to action.” It captures the state of funding for Black feminist movements, and the extent and impact of its under-resourcing. It includes an introduction from Black Feminist Fund co-founders Tynesha McHarris and Hakima Abbas, and chapters by five activists and Black women in philanthropy, including the Equality Fund’s own co-Vice President of Global Programs, Cynthia Eyakuze. From their own experience in philanthropy and deep research, they find Black feminist organizing is “overlooked, underfunded, and expected to transform systems with crumbs.” 

This comprehensive and much-needed report includes: 

  • An annotated bibliography of resources on funding at the intersection of racial and gender justice, by Timiebi Souza-Okpofabri.
  • A study of Black feminist movements’ perspectives, relationships and insights into funding, informed by a survey of nearly 400 Black feminist activists globally, by Awa Fall Diop. 
  • An examination of the data and literature produced by philanthropy itself, by Cynthia Eyakuze.
  • A critique of so-called feminist activism that ignores and obfuscates Black women’s, girls’, and trans people’s realities, and an alternative based on Black individuals own narratives and knowledge, by Maie Panaga Babker. 
  • An investigation of funding to the anti-gender movement, which is against Black feminist agendas like bodily autonomy, reproductive rights, just economies, peace, and ecological care and stewardship, by Yannia Sofía Garzón Valencia.

We hope this report succeeds in its aim to “rattle philanthropy.” It concludes by laying out the extremely high stakes: “Black feminism offers the solution to a world in crisis. Continuing to ignore, under value, overlook and under-resource Black feminist movements will cost us everything.”

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