Civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) especially those within the women’s movement whom have for many years fought for gender equality, fear that their work will come to a halt with the struggling global economic climate and donor funds drying up. The funding issue has dominated several sessions on financing women’s rights at the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59) currently underway at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
Many civil society groups discussed the shifting of donor interests, and a greater focus on funding the support of individual women and girls, rather than large civil society organisations. NGOs that have not yet closed shop are only just surviving. Funding is so tight that even routine operations and programmes are difficult to carry out. This unfortunate reality is tempering the renewed energy of women’s organisations, who are pushing for a stronger Beijing+20 and post-2015 development agenda.
Many of the women organisations and donors who support gender programmes have raised the red flag. “It is really disturbing that big organisations formed after the 1985 Women’s Conference in Nairobi and after the Beijing Conference are dying because of lack of funding,” said Dr Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO of Global Fund for Women.
Although most are pointing to the global economic slump, many also fear that donor fatigue might be creeping in. Some donors are complaining that they have not seen significant results after many years of investing in women rights. This not only highlights the major challenges women’s rights organisations face within a patriarchal society, but also points to organisations failing to effectively capture and communicate the impact of their work.
Without accurate monitoring and evaluation donors are left to makes conclude that organisations are not performing and failing to meet agreed. However, a 2013 report on the impact of Millennium Development Goal 3 on gender equality funding, conducted by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), showed donor financing for women’s rights produces positive results. The report suggests that perhaps the way in which impact is packaged and communicated skews the positive results.
“It would be tragic for donors to turn their back on us now…They have invested heavily in this cause and we have also invested our time, energy and knowledge in these processes,” said a participant from Ghana.
Other participants at the CSW sessions complained that in the past five years women’s organisations have been receiving less and less funding for their activities, and the situation seems to be deteriorating. The future for many of the organisations is really worrying. Furthermore, the current CSW59 Beijing+20 review declaration is apparently silent on the commitment on increasing funding for gender equality.
“The question is how do donors expect us to operate when there are no resources to pay the staff who implement the projects?” asked Christine Ochieng, Executive Director, FIDA-Kenya.
Another major concern is that donors are less inclined to administer multi-year funding for women’s rights issues. Most are now funding one-year, project-based activities, without allocating enough funds for institutional development and sustainability. In addition, donors are fund organisations with their own agendas in mind, demanding strict prescriptions and mandates that might not work within local contexts.
Despite the difficulties, fellow organisations urged one another to act smart and respond strategically to new funding requirements and initiatives. “Women’s organisations need to think differently from their current approach to funding. They need to do more joint fund raising as a way of getting resources from the donors,” advised Dr Kanyoro sitting on one of the panels.
Angelika Arutyunova, Programme Manager at AWID agreed by saying that there are new financing initiatives for women and girls, and organisations need to understand how to engage them.
According to AWID’s study, New Actors, New Money, New Conversations, there was a total of US$ 14.6 billion in commitments focused on women and girls made by 170 global corporates that the research mapped.
Most of this money is being channelled to women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship (35%); women’s leadership and empowerment (25%), education for women and girls (21%); and health for women and girls (18%). The least financing by private sector initiatives is on peace and conflict (5%); human rights (6%); and food and nutrition (6%).
“This configuration in terms of area of interest by initiatives started by the corporate sector is something we need to interrogate seriously in our funding plans,” said Arutyunova.
AWID also provided recommendations to help gender organisations better strategise for seeking and maintaining donor funding, some of which were, determining criteria and opportunities for critical engagement; effectively communicating what counts when it comes to impact; and ensuring they meet accountability mechanisms for critical learning and improvement of projects.
This article is part of the Gender Links News Service