WVL 2.0 Blog Series: How Women’s Funds Support Gender Equality and Durable Change

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Gesiye Souza-Okpofabri

WVL 2.0 Blog Series

Introduction: How Women’s Funds Support Gender Equality and Durable Change

In a time of intense global instability and conflict, the critical role of women’s rights organizations is coming into sharp focus. With deep ties to their communities, women’s rights organizations promote lasting peace, shift policies, norms and beliefs to advance gender equality, and create more just and sustainable societies for everyone. They are a force for lasting change in an era that desperately needs them.

The world has been paying attention. In 2017, for example, the Government of Canada launched the $150 million Women’s Voice and Leadership (WVL) program, a flagship initiative of its Feminist International Assistance Policy to provide direct funding for gender equality. The purpose of WVL is to improve the sustainability and capacity of women’s rights organizations while boosting the effectiveness of women’s rights networks and alliances to affect policy, legal, and social change. The program’s initial phase, running from 2018-2023, includes 30 bilateral projects in 28 countries, in addition to three regional projects in the Caribbean, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. 

The results so far? A series of breakthrough achievements, with Global Affairs Canada (GAC) finding that, “In 2022 alone, local women’s rights organizations successfully influenced over 100 policies, laws and frameworks.” Learn more.
With that success came exciting news: GAC announced the expansion and renewal of Women’s Voice and Leadership program (WVL 2.0), with planning now underway that will shape its historic next chapter.

The critical question of how

With the why behind supporting women’s organizations so firmly recognized, this moment also brings the opportunity to explore an equally critical question: how to support them. As women’s rights organizations deepen their vital work in local communities all across the globe, how can we ensure that resources – especially from large and ambitious programs like WVL and many others—actually reach them effectively on the ground? 

It’s about implementation, and far from a narrow technical discussion, it is a high-stakes question that will directly shape whether women’s rights organizations receive the support and trust needed for sustainable change – especially in a time of overlapping crises.

Fortunately, there is a promising answer: women’s funds. Across the globe, and as implementers of landmark programs like WVL, women’s funds are demonstrating a strategic feminist edge when it comes to resourcing women’s rights and LBTQI+ organizations

Women’s funds play a critical role in bringing about gender equality. Their strategic advantage lies in their connections to and roots in the movements they support. These include groups that are significantly under-resourced, such as LGBTQI people, sex workers, and Indigenous communities. Women’s funds also bring an intersectional lens to support communities who are particularly marginalized, and whose lived experience, knowledge, and expertise is central to gender justice work. And because women’s funds have deep connections to and long-standing relationships with feminist organizations at the local and regional level, they are directly accountable to the feminist movements. 

Along the way, women’s funds are demonstrating what it looks like to translate feminist values into concrete funding practices. With a feminist approach to risk, for example, women’s funds are not afraid to invest in nascent and emerging organizations doing some of the most innovative work. Too often in the global development space, grassroots organizations without a long history of funding are deemed too risky to support, creating a perpetual cycle of underfunding among some of the most impactful organizations with the deepest local relationships. Women’s funds show us that a better way is possible.

Four women’s funds (along with many other organizations) served as implementers in WVL’s first chapter: Ukrainian Women’s Fund, Equality Fund, African Women’s Development Fund and Women Fund Tanzania Trust. The results of their work stand as an important model for others. 

But what does it all look like on the ground? 

A series on women’s funds in action

In this new series, we will answer this question by spotlighting the work of two women’s funds along with an emerging organization that received transformative support from them. Their stories hold powerful implications not only for the next phase of WVL, but for all efforts to resource women’s rights organizations in a critical time. 

Over the course of this three-part series, we will draw from fascinating interviews and compelling video to uncover stories of change from these three high-impact organizations on the very frontlines of change.

Part 1: Women Fund Tanzania Trust
As a co-implementer of WVL Tanzania, the Women Fund Tanzania Trust has a deep track record of resourcing change. Its participatory approach is rooted in trust and deep ties to movements and communities they serve.

Part 2: Intersect Antigua  
As a grantee partner of WVL-Caribbean (which is administered by Equality Fund and Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice), Intersect Antigua is living proof of what becomes possible when women’s funds trust deeply in an emerging organization with an unapologetic vision of equality for all.

Part 3: Ukrainian Women’s Fund
An implementer of WVL Ukraine, the Ukrainian Women’s Fund has met unimaginable crisis and conflict with incredible resolve, strategy, and impact. It shows how the community relationships held by women’s funds are fundamental to crisis response and building the conditions for lasting peace.

Sharing the story of women’s funds with the world

We invite you to join us in sharing the remarkable impact of women’s funds all across the globe. Do you have a story to tell about women’s funds? We’d love to hear it! Share your story and feedback on our social media channels below or contact us at [email protected].

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