Your feedback welcome! A draft set of feminist funding calls for action

Making Waves was pleased to be part of the July 2020 Women’s Networking Zone session on funding for organisations led by women and girls working on HIV prevention and response.

In that session, participants agreed that it is totally unacceptable that only 0.5% of international aid for gender equality goes directly to Southern women’s organisations.

In response, Making Waves would like to share a draft set of calls for action on more sustainable feminist funding that supports women- and girl-led organisations working on HIV. We’d love to get your feedback on them.

Our call is based on our collective experience in HIV women’s networks of trying to access funding over the years. It draws heavily on fantastic work done by AWID on funding feminist movements, and the feminist funding principles of organisations such as AWDF, Mama Cash, Astrea Foundation, the Global Fund for Women, the Equality Fund, members of the Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds, among other feminist philanthropy thought leaders, which we have adapted in line with the experiences of organisations and networks of women and girls living with and affected by HIV that seek to respond in gender-transformative ways to the needs and priorities of their communities.

We call on funders to work with women and girls in their diversity living with and affected by HIV to adopt the following feminist funding principles:

  1. HIV funders should recognise that women and girl-led organisations are doing vital work on HIV, and feminist funders should recognise that women living with HIV play a key role in gender-transformative approaches and promoting feminist futures. HIV and feminist funders should fund at the intersection of women’s and girls’ rights, feminist futures and HIV movements. This includes funding for women’s programmatic and advocacy work, as well as for research on the issues most affecting their lives, for monitoring and evaluation of all they do, and of course for core funding.
  2. Provide core funding that is flexible and long-term to support work led by women and girls in all their diversity. Avoid providing project-only funding that does not recognise the work that goes into building and maintaining organisations. Recognise the limitations of short-term funding of ‘quick fixes’ based on consideration of value for money and ‘efficiency’. Transformative change requires funding for systemic approaches and long-term action.
  3. Fund movement-building, including cross-issue, regional and international feminist movement-building
  4. Fund organisations doing important work, even if they are not legally registered or formally constituted, or do not have their own bank account. Work with such organisations to think creatively about how to do this.
  5. Fund new organisations, without a requirement of years of existence.
  6. Recognise that when funders have a requirement that boards and governance structures be representative, this may feel like an expectation that community members will work for free (as Trustee positions are not paid roles). Women already do enough unpaid work.
  7. Pay advisory members a stipend and cover their data costs.
  8. Be accountable to communities of women and girls living with and affected by HIV – ensuring that women and girls co-determine with funders what this accountability should look like.
  9. Insist on sharing power with and meaningful involvement of women and girls living with and affected by HIV, both in the decision-making process around awarding funding, and in work to be carried out using the funds.
  10. Fund approaches that women and girls living with and affected by HIV design and prioritise, including arts-based approaches, self-care, research on their own priorities, and work that adopts measures identified by the women and girls to support their safety and well-being.
  11. Recognise that funders have much to learn from community-led organisations about effective, sustainable funding relationships.
  12. Go beyond grant-making, provide the kind of support that grantees request, and amplify the work of grantees.

Why are we sharing this call for feminist funding principles?

The challenge of funding is something women living with and affected by HIV have been talking about for a very long time. In 2004 ICW was talking about the challenges of the funding environment for a global network of women living with HIV. In 2011, networks of women and girls around the world signed a global call to action on funding.  In 2012 Alice Welbourn published an article in Open Democracy on the gender politics of funding for women human rights defenders and work on gender-based violence in the context of HIV, making the case that ‘Lack of funding for women’s rights is a form of gender-based violence which is so pervasive that it goes largely unnoticed’. And more recently, funding has continued to be the subject of much discussion among women living with HIV – some of which has been captured in a paper by women living with HIV, a blog, a session at the AIDS2020 women’s networking zone and an opinion piece. The challenge of funding is also closely related to the challenge of meaningful involvement. We know that having research published makes us more likely to get funding for further research. Yet as our abstract for the 2020 International AIDS Conference (IAC) ‘Less talking about us and more hearing from us’, shows, very few women living with HIV were presenters or co-authors of research at the IAC. Not only does this mean our priorities and lived realities aren’t being presented; it also means that our priorities go on not being funded or researched.

During 2020, we have seen moves by donors to promote feminist funding, and respond to the need for feminist funding and funding for women and girls affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some funders have established, or have plans for, new funds for gender equality (such as The Equality Fund’s Funding Feminist Futures, and the UN Trust Fund‘s call for applications from civil society organisations working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response and recovery to address and respond to the rise of violence against women and girls in the context of the current pandemic, which prioritises applications from women’s rights, women-led, and small women’s organisations). There has been talk of increasing funding flexibility, provision of core funding, and prioritising funding for women-led organisations. This is all most welcome, but in many cases still does not address the challenges many women, girls and gender-diverse people have in accessing funding and support for their work.

A search of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) ‘who can fund me’ database – which can be filtered by geographical area, thematic area, and legal registration requirements – shows that for work on HIV, there are very few funders in the database who do not require legal registration. Note that some of these accept applications by invitation only, not all are currently open, they have different thematic and geographical focuses and eligibility criteria vary – they are listed here to give a snapshot only.

  • 5 funders listed provide flexible funding for women’s rights, and do not require legal registration: Open Meadows Foundation, Peace Direct, The How To Fund, UNFPA, Urgent Action Fund Africa.
  • Another 5 funders listed provide project funding for women’s rights, and do not require legal registration: Aga Khan Development Network, Awesome without Borders, German Marshall Fund – Balkan Trust for Democracy, German Marshall Fund – Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, The Atlantic Philanthropies.
  • 7 funders listed fund work on HIV, but all require legal registration: African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF), Hivos, Levi Strauss Foundation, MAC Aids Fund, Positive Action for Children (ViiV), ViiV Healthcare Positive Action.

When donors require organisations to be registered before they fund them they ignore the fact that many women’s organisations are not formally registered because:

  • of the bureaucratic processes of registration that funnel their time away from vital support work.
  • gender and other power inequalities make registration difficult.
  • organisations run by key populations, including women and girls, may even be banned or face human rights violations if they try to register and may have to work in more covert ways.

Requiring organisations to have a bank account or a fiscal agent fails to recognise the challenges that:

  • fiscal agents may take 7% or more in administration fees, and may also want to oversee or direct the work carried out, meaning that the agenda of women and girls may be overridden and their priorities undermined.
  • bank accounts can take a long time to open, and in some settings women may be unable or need permission from men to do so.

Requiring organisations to be in operation for 3 to 5 years also ignores the fact that women-led efforts often coalesce around a crisis or urgent needs within their communities.

COVID-19 has dramatically highlighted the flexible, rapid responses led by women and girls in a crisis. Yet by requiring grantees to be registered and in existence for several years, funders undermine their sometimes stated claim to offer flexible funding to small women’s organisations.  

In countries where health systems are fragile and strained, women’s and girls’ organisations, groups, networks and activists, already vital to the SRHR response, are having to urgently act to how the new crisis is affecting SRH and HIV services in their communities. During the pandemic, government and NGO services have either scaled back staff or shifted their focus from SRH to COVID-19, leaving women and girls to fill the gap left by the withdrawal of these services. Women and girls are mobilising and organising to address a range of immediate, urgent and interconnected needs, such as delivering ARVs, other medicines and sanitary pads and providing food and money to women, girls and their families who have lost their source of income. Women are giving out personal protection equipment (PPE) and information about COVID-19, offering protection and support for women and girls experiencing violence, psychosocial support, and support for women and girls to access SRH services and information through different channels. All this is at risk to their own health and lives and often without recognition or support from donors.

Feminist funding recognises and supports the vital work women and adolescent girls and their organisations are doing in their communities and enables flexible, trust-based support for holistic responses to women and girls’ rights, transformation and movement building.

Our hopes for the future

We hope future funds that claim to strengthen feminist organisations from the South will be  truly flexible funds that provide operating costs and reach grassroots women-led organisations – whether they are registered or not and regardless of their years of existence.

We will collectively monitor funding calls and advocate for more feminist, flexible, trust-based funding for women- and girl-led organisations, including small, new, unregistered and community organisations.

We’d love to get your feedback on the feminist funding principles we propose!

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