IWD 2014: Women’s rights groups still asking: Where's the money?

Friday, 7 March 2014 15:02 GMT

A woman walks past the word "CASH" on a street sign in Tokyo on August 29, 2013. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

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On the one hand there is a growing interest in women and girls because it is the ‘right thing to do’, coupled with prevailing trends like investing in women and girls as ‘smart economics’. But an AWID survey shows only 0.3% of women’s organizations received funding from corporate donors directly.


The theme of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2014 is “Equality for Women is Progress for All.” As we celebrate IWD on March 8th, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) highlights the role that funding for women's rights plays in advancing equality for women.   A host of campaigns and initiatives—including from corporate sector actors that had not previously been seen as “development” players—are dedicated to supporting women and girls andrecognizing gender equality as a cornerstone to eradicate poverty. So why are women’s organizations only receiving a fraction of the budgets of many international NGOs?

AWID has published a new three-part compendium on funding for women’s rights, which provides an in-depth analysis of the current funding trends and actors impacting women’s rights organizing.

This cutting-edge research began with AWID’s first FundHer report in 2006Where is the Money for Women’s Rights?  In 2007, AWID published the second FundHer Report: Financial Sustainability of Women’s Movements Around the World.  Continuing the theme of ‘Where is the money?,’ AWID’s newest research further uncovers a complex panorama of actors and resources for women and girls, including the relatively ‘new kids on the block’ – the corporate sector. In doing so, it has also revealed some disappointing inconsistencies.

On the one hand there is a growing interest in women and girls because it is the ‘right thing to do’, coupled with prevailing trends like investing in women and girls as ‘smart economics’.  On the other hand, women’s rights organizations in reality are still left questioning:  Where is the Money for Women’s Rights? AWID’s 2013 report, Watering the Leaves, Starving the Roots, shows that the combined income of 740 women’s organizations for that year total a mere USD 106 million, a fraction of the budgets of many international NGOs.

Year after year, AWID’s research finds that lack of financial resilience and access to resources continues to threaten the sustainability of women’s organizations, which are primarily reliant on project support rather than on long term flexible funding. AWID’s latest survey found that 48% of respondents have never received core funding, and 52% have never received multi-year funding.  An important new finding that also emerged is the increasing reliance among many women’s organizations on self-generated resources, from income-generating activities, membership fees, or other sources.

The Private Sector – curious, but tentative…

Diverse private sector actors are increasingly investing in existing agendas, and also setting the tone for new agendas for women and girls in development. The Clinton Global Initiative, and others, have developed as spaces for convergence and agenda-setting between newer actors in development financing and more traditional funders, to strategize and carve out solutions to large-scale development problems.

The United Nations (UN) has also been taking steps to formalize the private sector’s role in development cooperation and financing. Most recently this has been seen by “key business players involved in various processes surrounding the post-2015 consultations, including the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (HLP), the Global Compact, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) and the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development.”[i]

Despite all the interest, however, an AWID survey shows only 0.3% of women’s organizations received funding from corporate donors directly. So what, in fact, are these initiatives supporting?

In collaboration with Mama Cash, AWID undertook expanded research, profiled in New Actors, New Money, New Conversations: A Mapping of Recent Initiatives for Women and Girls. This mapping illuminates key characteristics of 170 different partnership initiatives focused on women and girls, with 143 of them collectively committing USD 14.6 billion to initiatives related to women and girls around the world. Twent- seven percent of the 170 initiatives supporting women and girls engaged women’s organizations as partners, but only 9% directly funded them, signaling that relationships between women’s rights organizations and these new actors need to evolve.

The results defy simplistic categorizations, and bring forth new opportunities and challenges.  In approaching this landscape, however, it is important to explore the nuances, to find potential allies and assess real opportunities for influencing these actors in ways that are consistent with women’s rights agendas.

Why does support for women’s organizations matter - isn’t it enough to support women’s empowerment through other kinds of organizations?

Women Moving Mountains, AWID’s survey of the aggregate impact of the women’s organizations that received support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ historic MDG3 Fund of €82 million, responds to this question by demonstrating the enormous reach and transformative changes that are possible when women’s organizations receive significant, strategic resources.  

Including results from 35 out of the 45 grantees, the report demonstrates the impressive achievements that these grantees were able to achieve in 164 countries in 15 regions of the world. Among the many achievements, nearly 225 million people were reached with a new awareness of women’s rights, including strong messages about the roots of gender-based violence, and that advancing gender equality and women’s right to safety and security is everyone’s responsibility; 105,000 women’s organizations built their capacity and were equipped with new tools. Further, at least 38 local governments and 45 national governments were influenced to re-assess, strengthen and improve their gender equality policies, programs and outcomes.

The MDG3 Fund experience holds lessons for other funders in terms of effective, quality approaches to creating change for gender equality and social justice, as well as lessons for women’s organizations in the power of collectively “making our case” for sustainable long-term funding.

With these three reports AWID hopes to open a space for concrete responses to the funding landscape by engaging with funders (including new actors) in strategic ways whilst raising awareness of and advocating for an engagement based on the historic role and value of women’s rights movements in collective action and mobilization for women’s rights and gender equality. 

As we celebrate and advocate the IWD 2014 theme “Equality for Women is Progress for All”, we should remember to also underscore the vital role that funding plays in this mantra.

--Lydia Alpizar Duran is Executive Director of AWID.

Research assistance by Angelika Arutyunova and Julia Miller

[i] Pingeot, Lou. “Corporate influence in the Post 2015 process.” January 2014 http://www.globalpolicy.org/images/pdfs/GPFEurope/Corporate_influence_in_the_Post-2015_process_web.pdf