What We Are Reading: May 2022

Kruthika NS (@theworkplacedoodler)

Written by: María Wong

This month, we’re reading thought-provoking reports published by the Global Resilience Fund, Purposeful (which houses and facilitates the former), and Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds. Together, these reports stress the importance of funders using their spheres of influence to advocate for increased, flexible, and better funding for holistic work that serves to build power. They also remind us that collective care and feminist work are political and must remain so if we are truly to shift power and achieve real, lasting, transformative change.

Kruthika NS (@theworkplacedoodler)

Resilient Revolution: Sustaining Our Feminist Movements Through Collective Self Care (Global Resilience Fund, April 2022) emphasizes that burnout, although unfortunately romanticized and heralded as commitment to a cause, is a real and serious risk. This report examines what it means to make a radical, political stand for preservation and sustainability, and how feminist activists can move beyond survival. Self care and community care are inextricably linked because we cannot care and fight for our communities without caring for ourselves, which is why rooting our feminist activist work in collective care is political resistance. As Audre Lorde famously wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” 

And now, two years into a global pandemic with multiple and intersecting crises (such as the shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls, climate change, and food insecurity), Resilient Revolution argues that self and collective care is more important than ever. The past two years have exhausted activists and has resulted in a decline of mental health and wellbeing and an increase in suicide rates, especially among refugee, migrant, Indigenous and Black LBGTI, and Roma populations. 

While conversations on self and community care are increasingly happening in feminist spaces, this report reminds us that these same spaces are often inaccessible to the most marginalized communities who experience multiple barries to accessing care. Moreover, among activists, acknowledging care and trauma can be seen as a sign of weakness and activists can be under enormous pressure to demonstrate strength and resilience. This report urges activists to make collective care an urgent priority and includes a resources section linking to a number of resources on collective care, including stress management, burnout prevention, and self and community care guides. 

Lastly, the report makes recommendations to funders: 

  • Make funds for care accessible and flexible;
  • Actively promote collective care like they would any other essential program;
  • Advocate for increased funding for collective care; and 
  • Listen to communities and support their identified needs. 

Building Girls’ Power: Perspectives on theory and practice in working with adolescent girls (Purposeful, 2021) uses case studies, social theory, and practice-based tools to examine some of the theoretical tensions in girls’ work and ways that girls’ work is currently being funded, and offers insights and lessons learned from a girls’ power-building project in East Africa. The authors emphasize that this is not a toolkit or a roadmap to a power-building program; the work is too complex and contextually specific. However, the report will be of interest to anyone working with girls, funding girls’ programs, or interested in feminist discussions of power. 

The report demonstrates that there is a gap when it comes to girls’ programming. Although there are  different and sometimes competing spaces where girls are included –  including child protection, violence against women and girls, women’s rights, humanitarian aid, and development –  there is currently no field or theory centring girls and their unique needs: “At best, girls are being supported through formal institutions that were never really designed for girls or with girls” (pg 4). 

Mainstream development work offers simplistic narratives about girls and places them into one of two categories: either as vulnerable children needing protection or “as superstar potential leaders who can pull themselves and their communities out of poverty if given the right doses of information and empowerment” (pg 5). Neither of these categories fully comprehend the complexities of girls’ lives within compounding systems and structures of oppression. While many girls’ empowerment programs do exist, empowerment has become sanitized, depoliticized, and individualized. They run the risk of perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes and they also fail to question power or seek to shift it. 

Little information is available regarding funding for girls power-building programming but the report cites the well-known statistics published by the World Bank and AWID that demonstrate how little bilateral and philanthropic funding reaches women and girls in general. However, the report also affirms that the quality of funding is equally concerning and that how grantees are selected, what activities are funded, what is measured, what counts as success, are equally important. Yet, limited data and misconceptions and misunderstandings about girls leads to missed opportunities. Another major issue with funding for girls’ programming  is that despite being holistic in nature, girls’ work is often forced to be done through siloed and restricted funding. 

Key learnings from this report include: 

  • We have to listen to girls and their needs; 
  • Girls need to be involved in the designing, leading, and implementation of girls’ programming; 
  • Solidarity and collective power are key principles in working with girls for transformative change; 
  • Intergenerational mentorship is essential to girls’ power-building; 
  • Funders need to be flexible and responsive – and fund girls across sectors. 

Kruthika NS (@theworkplacedoodler)

Responding to Feminist Movements During COVID-19: Key learnings, reflections, and recommendations from the Asia and Pacific chapter of the Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds (Prospera, April 2022) offers insight into the learnings and experiences of eight women’s funds during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It offers recommendations for women’s funds and other funders and demonstrates the unique position women’s funds are in during times of crisis. Women’s funds in particular are able to mobilize quickly and collectively in order to respond to rapidly evolving crises and reach communities most in need. This includes communities and groups without access to mainstream sources of funding and grassroots organizations closest to the issues. 

  • Long-term support is critical for effective COVID-19 response and recovery.
  • Women’s funds need to broaden their funding base to raise unrestricted funding so that grantee partners are better able to respond to their community-identified needs. 
  • Also noted in Resilient Revolution above, psychosocial support and mental health care and wellbeing is crucial to the work and should be a funding focus area –  alongside core operational costs, livelihood and food security, health care, capacity strengthening, and movement building. 

Recommendations for women’s funds include: 

  • Prioritize collective and self care;
  • Build strong solidarity networks with one another;
  • Analyze, reflect, listen deeply to partners – and use these learnings to develop strategies as women’s funds;
  • During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, keep a line of sight on other issues impacting communities; and 
  • Negotiate with donors and advocate for transformative funding approaches. 

Lastly, the report urges funders to: 

  • Fund women, trans, and marginalized groups through unrestricted funding;
  • Fund grantee capacity development and institutional strengthening of women’s funds;
  • Continue to support women’s funds beyond COVID-19;
  • Adopt a more rights-based approach to funding; and
  • Continue to fund for humanitarian and emergency assistance, but balance this with a continued focus on funding for gender equality and women’s rights. 

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