What We Are Reading: September 2021

Article: Afghan Women’s Rights Activists Have Long Been Underfunded. This Must Change. By Pushkar Sharma & Tenzin Dolker from AWID on the Open Democracy site (September 2021)

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This article adds important elements to the global discussion on Afghanistan. Many western governments claim that the rights of women and girls is one of the reasons for their longstanding intervention in the country, yet an extremely small percentage of international assistance has actually gone to women’s organizations themselves.

As noted in the article:  “The key question is not what has been supported – but who. And the answer is a grim reality that the ongoing commentary about Afghanistan has largely ignored. The international community has long failed to directly support women leaders and rights activists – those on the frontlines of fighting for change. This is a monumental, shameful failure that can and must change now.”

Research from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) has been fundamental in raising awareness of how little international assistance and global philanthropy funding actually gets into the hands of women’s organizations. This article continues that trend, exploring the case of Afghanistan in recent years.

Using data from the OECD-DAC, the authors calculate that only 0.3% of the roughly $4.3bn spent by donors in 2019 (the most recent data available) went to organizations and projects that had gender equality as the primary objective.

The authors note the failure of the international community to support women’s organizations in other ways as well, primarily by failing to back their ongoing demand for representation in peace negotiations.

When the global community looks to answer ‘what went wrong in Afghanistan’, these lines of inquiry will yield useful insights.

Report: External Evaluation of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s 2015-2020 Women’s Economic Empowerment Strategy. 2021

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When done well, evaluations can provide insights and advance learning – for the organization involved and for others working on similar issues. That’s one reason it is admirable when an institution makes an evaluation public. We’re grateful to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for sharing their evaluation of their 2015-2020 Economic Empowerment Strategy.

There is much discussion around women’s economic empowerment strategies or WEE. Historically, economic institutions and analysis have failed to take women’s work, women’s participation in the labour force, and feminist critiques into account. The Hewlett Foundation aimed to contribute to this field through three lines of grantmaking: data (including how official statistics are defined and gathered), research (including building an evidence base that would be compelling to decision-makers), and advocacy (including building the capacity of advocates to use data and research to advance their WEE agendas). In many cases, the Foundation has funded innovative initiatives that attempt to shift how mainstream institutions both understand and work on issues related to WEE.

The report looks at progress in these three areas, noting that while progress was made, none of the 5-year outcomes were totally achieved. Recommendations for the Foundation going forward include setting a realistic, aspirational goal (along with a ‘living’ theory of change), continuing to focus on macro-level policy influencing, and looking to shift power (to researchers and institutions in the Global South, rather than primarily funding northern organizations).

The report is also interesting as it outlines how the evaluation process and methodology aimed to incorporate feminist evaluation principles, which they defined as:

  • Horizontal and inclusive leadership
  • Shared power
  • Transparent communications
  • Acknowledging our own biases
  • Deep listening
  • All voices matter.

The report offers valuable insights into the challenges of incorporating feminist insights in economic analysis and practices; how a philanthropic funder can advance an ambitious, complex and challenging strategy consistent with cutting-edge feminist grantmaking strategies; and innovative evaluation practices that generously share findings (both advances and shortfalls) with our broader community.

Report:  Women’s Humanitarian Voices: COVID-19 Through a Feminist Lens. The Feminist Humanitarian Network. (2021)

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There are many accounts and analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on women, especially racialized women & women often seen as being on the margins: declining labour force participation, increased unpaid care, increased levels of violence, declining access to decision-making, etc.  This report adds more texture to this picture by documenting the impact of the pandemic on women’s rights organizations in humanitarian contexts.

The Feminist Humanitarian Network investigated what is happening to women’s rights organizations in eight countries: Bangladesh, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Nepal, Nigeria, Palestine and South Africa. They asked about the impact of COVID-19 at the community level, how women’s rights organizations are responding to the pandemic, the challenges the humanitarian system presented to these organizations, and the feminist solutions developed by women’s rights organizations.  

The report looks at the impact of the pandemic and provides useful information on how women’s rights organizations responded to the pandemic. Just to name a few examples: They ensured ongoing access to GBV services during lockdowns, developing alternative methods to support women. They set up facilities to manufacture masks, both providing income to women and addressing community needs. They found support working with peer organizations and in alliances with other women’s organizations. 

As well, the report provides key insights into how women’s rights organizations are systematically marginalized by humanitarian systems and excluded from humanitarian responses. It notes examples of how their work is not being recognized and not always having access to information.

The final section of the report explores the challenge of funding for women’s rights organizations. The research confirmed what we’ve heard anecdotally: “Many WROs reported that they were not able to access funding to support their COVID-19 response activities.” Difficulties included not being able to fulfil the due diligence requirements of UN agencies and INGOs [international non-governmental organizations, shifting donor priorities, lack of donor flexibility, and competition among organizations for funding (including competition from INGOs who have better fund mobilization structures).

As the pandemic continues, it is increasingly clear that local solutions and local mobilization are needed to ensure effective responses. This research provides important insights into understanding how women’s rights organizations have mobilized, the solutions they’ve developed and the challenges they face as they attempt to interact with the humanitarian community.

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