With gender-based violence still a major barrier to women’s equality and empowerment, funders are starting to put more money toward prevention internationally.
The World Bank Group recently announced, in partnership with the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI), ten awards of up to $150,000 each to organizations who will prevent and respond to gender-based violence worldwide. World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, in announcing the grants, said another $3.5 million will also be invested in the cause of ending physical and sexual violence against women.
An estimated 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, a staggering statistic that speaks to the pervasiveness of the problem. “Gender-based violence thrives on secrecy and indifference with devastating consequences,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said upon announcing the grants. “We cannot stand by while so many women suffer harm that’s completely preventable.”
In 2015, the World Bank Group created an agenda for gender equality, in concert with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which were centered around gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. The World Bank Group sees gender equality as closely tied to its own goals of ending extreme poverty.
The grants will go to organizations in a wide range of countries including Peru, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Pakistan. These grants were chosen from over 200 proposals to an open call made in July of 2016.
SVRI started making global grants to address gender-based violence in 2014, when it awarded $1 million to 9 projects in 7 countries. These grants are helping to identify effective programs and policies that will reduce gender-based violence and provide models for others to learn from.
SVRI uses a number of strategies to address gender-based violence including hosting an international Forum every two years, which helps to to advance and disseminate research on sexual and intimate partner violence globally.
Sexual Harassment Among Jordanian College Students: Pilot Testing a Promising Primary Prevention Intervention (Jordan, Middle East/ NorthAfrica) Team: Information and Research Center – King Hussein Foundation and Emory University
Gender Equity Model – Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment and Fighting Gender-Based Violence (Egypt, Middle East/North Africa) Team: The American University of Cairo
Gender-based Violence Prevention in the Amazon of Peru Project (Peru, Latin America) Team: University College London; and, DB Peru
Building the Evidence Base for ‘Safe Families’ – a Comprehensive Community-led model for Violence Prevention in Solomon Islands. (Solomon Islands, East Asia) Team: The Equality Institute; Oxfam Solomon Islands; Oxfam Australia
Combatting Sexual Violence in Kyrgyzstan through Innovative Education and Information Technology (Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia) Team: American University of Central Asia (AUCA)
Building Research Capacity and Data Use for Gender-Based Violence prevention and Response in Adolescents/Young Adults (Nigeria, Africa) Team: Together for Girls
Mapping for Policy (Pakistan, South Asia) Team: The Urban Institute and, Information Technology University Data Science Lab in Pakistan
Building the Evidence to Understand and Prevent Campus Sexual Assault in Swaziland (Swaziland, Africa) Team: University of Swaziland and The Regents of the University of California, San Diego
Development of Standard Measures to Support Gender-Based Cyber Violence (GBCV) Prevention (Uganda, Africa) Team: International Center for Research for Women
Piloting a Customizable, User-Designed Information and Communication Technology-based Approach to Reduce Intimate Partner Violence among Refugees (Dollo Ado refugee camps in Ethiopia, Africa) Team: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; and, Addis Ababa University School of Public Health
Ever wonder why progress for gender equity remains incremental, and constantly faces regression? Well, it might have something to do with our institutions being so entrenched in patriarchy that they aren’t able to effectively carry out a gender equality agenda.
That appears to be the argument of an open letter from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and 25 MENA Women Civil Society Organizations, sent to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The letter cites a of a growing lack of trust in the Security Council throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). To counter this lack of credibility and action, the group of women’s civil society NGO’s is proposing bold measures “to advance women’s rights and set the UN back on track as an Organization that works for the common interests of our shared humanity.”
The letter asserts that popular sentiment in the Middle East and North Africa “is one characterized by a lack of faith in the United Nations’ ability to implement its mandate in line with the principles of the Charter.” According to an article in In Depth News, this lack of credibility is due to “the Security Council has repeatedly been unwilling to responsibly discuss the situation in numerous countries of the region, including Syria and Palestine, let alone enforce its own resolutions.”
From the article:
Besides, trust in the UN has been lost because of the actions of some UN agencies, funds and programmes in the region and "because of the lack of action on the part of some UN envoys and mediators in the region to implement Security Council resolutions and other provisions of international law which call for the meaningful inclusion of women in their delegations and negotiating parties. Indeed, some envoys have publicly questioned the relevance of CEDAW in the region."
CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, is an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly. Described as an international bill of rights for women, it was instituted on September 3, 1981 and has been ratified by 189 states.
The open letter notes that women are playing an important role in bringing about positive change in the MENA region, often at considerable personal risk to themselves and their family. Thus, following a 10-year campaign by women’s organizations in Yemen, the Yemeni National Dialogue fixed the age of consent to marriage at 18 years for both sexes in the draft constitution.
In Morocco they drafted legislation to combat people trafficking, working in alliance with parliamentary blocs to ensure the draft was considered and approved. From Libya through to Iraq, women have provided essential medical, legal, psychosocial and financial support to victims of war and conflict – often without prior experience of rights-based community activism, says the letter. "Despite these gains however, women in the region continue to face grave threats."
The set of measures Women Civil Society Organisations urge Guterres to consider are:
1. Include the candidate’s track record in advancing women’s rights as a central criteria in making senior appointments, including envoys, mediators and representatives, as well as the head of the departments of Political Affairs and Peacekeeping Operations. Such appointments should also be gender- balanced and culturally diverse.
2. Ensure that senior staff, including envoys and mediators to conflict countries in the MENA region, as well as representatives and heads of the departments of Political Affairs and Peacekeeping Operations, comply with international law. In particular, Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and its associated resolutions, and CEDAW, including through robustly advocating with negotiating parties to meaningfully include women in their delegations, including through quotas, and to integrate women’s experiences, rights and perspectives through the work of the delegations.
3. Ensure sustained, high level gender expertise to the UN Secretary General including through an ongoing Senior Gender Advisor to the Executive Office of the Secretary General with core support and a high level of influence, in order to ensure that women’s rights and gender issues are integrated across all analysis, planning, policies and activities.
4. Strongly encourage the Security Council to integrate women’s rights and gender throughout its work, including by reporting on the 2015 Global Study on Women, Peace and Security in thematic and country-level work both in and outside of New York.
5. Ensure reliable, accessible, and flexible UN funding to women’s organizations and efforts in support of women’s rights at the grassroots level is prioritised and increased by advocating for other multilateral and bilateral donors to increase their support; encouraging substantial increase in development assistance allocated to women-led civil society for gender equality (CRS code 15170); calling for strengthening of civil society-inclusive UN funds (such as the Global Acceleration Instrument, Peacebuilding Fund WPS Initiative); developing strategies to enhance participation of women led civil society in donor conferences, and; calling for the lifting of restrictions on the work of women’s organisations and human rights defenders due to domestic ‘counter-terrorism measures’, in Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Lebanon especially.
6. Take concrete actions to address the shrinking civil society space in the MENA region as well as the systematic targeting of women human rights defenders.
7. Ensure that UN Women works collaboratively with and in support of women’s grassroots associations, including by adequately investing in gender and peace budgets of UN Women, UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA), Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and other entities; providing training and support and; ensuring monitoring and accountability mechanisms to evaluate such initiatives that enable women to contribute to cycles of learning and improvement for peace.
8. Condemn the proliferation of explosives, small firearms and light weapons in the region, which have immediate and long-lasting effects that include the destruction of civilian infrastructure and increased gender based violence.
9. Strengthen UN support for fragile and conflict affected states to realise the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 5 and 16 on gender equality and peace. This should include: addressing gender equality and peace data gaps including on arms transfers, which directly impact gender based violence (SDG 16.4); taking action to increase the number of UN funds that include civil society in the leadership and financial allocation of the funds (such as with the Global Acceleration Instrument); building mechanisms with international financial institutions to strengthen women’s meaningful inclusion, and evaluating and improving the impact on women’s human rights in conflict settings of IFIs in post-conflict reconstruction.
10. Establish a women’s civil society board to regularly advise him and his team on issues relating to the advancement of women’s rights. This board should be comprised of representatives of women’s organizations, including youth movements, from across the globe as well as New York-based organizations.
11. The Secretary-General should report yearly to the General Assembly on progress made on (i) the integration of women’s rights and gender issues across the three pillars of the Organization, human rights, peace and security and development and (i) his commitment to reach gender parity across the Secretariat, and Agencies, Funds and Programmes.
“Today, there are more than 40 million smartphones in Iran and a million more are added every month,” said Firuzeh Mahmoudi, executive director of United for Iran (U4I). Today, Mahmoudi announced that he and his organization are planning to make those smartphones into powerful tools of self-agency for marginalized women. “Given all of these regressive efforts by Iran’s rulers to limit the rights of women, they still fail to understand that technology and social media apps will continue to expand the boundaries of what is socially acceptable in Iranian society. This is why Toranj has the potential to be such a vital tool for Iranian women.”
Today, United for Iran, a Bay-Area NGO working to promote civil liberties and civil society in Iran, and NetFreedom Pioneers, a nonprofit committed to expanding information accessibility, announced the launch of Toranj, an app to increase safety for domestic violence survivors and help them access legal and health services.
United4Iran (U4I) is a nonprofit organization started in 2009. With a mission to improve human rights and support Iran’s human rights movement, U4I is “the only Iran-focused global network with an explicit focus on human rights.”
The vision of U4I is all about inclusiveness and creating a “vibrant, open, and globally minded civil society.”
Toranj is an app that helps women in domestic violence situations access help safely and discreetly. The user can share her geographic location through GPS at the push of a button, giving her a way to access help if she is in danger. The app also includes referrals and contacts in the legal and mental health sectors, and provides educational material about victim’s legal rights.
“In Iran, as in many parts of the world, domestic violence and other acts of abuse against women are too common. A 2003 study found 66% of married women in Iran subjected to some kind of violence. 50% of Iranian women silently experience domestic abuse yet fewer than 35% report to law enforcement,” said Firuzeh Mahmoudi, executive director of United for Iran, in a press release about the launch.
Developed by NetFreedom Pioneers, Toranj is the third app to come out of the United for Iran’s app incubation project, the IranCubator.
“Where social, cultural and legal barriers already make gender equality a struggle for women, user-friendly technologies are vital to provide support to at-risk individuals and raise awareness about their rights,” added Simin Kargar, Program Manager, at NetFreedom Pioneers.
It’s great to see a human rights organization taking on this vital role of infusing technological tools into the culture in Iran that can help keep women safe. Gender equality movements appear to be growing across the nonprofit sector, and it’s an important new step when organizations that are not generally focused on gender take an explicit strategy targeted around expanding human rights and community safety for women.
Editor’s Note: This piece is co-authored by Emily Nielsen Jones and Nickey Mais-Nesbeth
Emily: The circle is one of those timeless symbols—one that appears in nature, in mathematics, and in art of all kinds—that says something wise and true about the world. It is also a unique symbol, we think, for what philanthropy is all about.
Philanthropy on one level is about giving money away. Often if can feel sort of linear and transactional from a top-down grid: people with social capital at the top doling out largesse and using fancy sounding words about “scale” and “strategy” in an attempt to help the needy. But today, a powerful movement is on the rise in philanthropy to leave the pyramid of noblesse oblige in the last century and become more democratic. This new concept is about empowering a community to make change from within. To me, it feels very circular and connective, like the processes of change you see in nature.
In nature, circles emanate from an invisible source at the center which creates a spiral motion. This spiral creates a pattern of expansion and contraction, as you see in seashells, tornadoes, and in galaxies and throughout the micro and macro designs of our world.
So too, every community has within it the seeds of its own growth and empowerment–which are what this new approach to philanthropy/development seeks to unleash. This shift has even penetrated large NGOs that deliver aid around the world. Alongside or within their regular programming, organizations like World Vision and Opportunity International now center much of their work around small groups of people, often women, gathering in small collectives where they save money to loan to a different member each month, and also support each other in the ups and downs of life (e.g. a wedding or a funeral or death in the family).
I feel grateful to be a part of this shift happening in philanthropy and global development, which some call “community-driven” or “integral” development. Whatever you call it, it feels circular to me and is rooted in the belief that real change happens from an invisible center within communities themselves but that this can and should be supported and catalyzed from outside.
My own philanthropic journey has been part of this shift from top-down “aid” to circular “empowerment” even before I had language to name it. About eight years ago, my husband and I decided the time was right to ramp up our philanthropy. We created the Imago Dei Fund by taking a less-traveled path — bucking the professional advice to pick one thing to “do” and build a legacy around. Instead, we followed our intuition and decided to look for movements already happening that seemed worthy of more support and investment.
In many ways, social movements are circular in nature – sometimes you can’t tell where they begin and end and they have a way of growing and expanding in a non-linear fashion beyond any one programmatic silo or sector. Early on, we jumped on the anti-trafficking train and began engaging globally in faraway places like Southeast Asia and Africa. Very quickly this movement drew us outward (yet inward at the same time) toward the “hidden-in-plain-sight” problem that lurks beneath human trafficking: the ancient subjugation of women and girls which is still idealized and encoded in many of our cultural and religious traditions.
As we supported and engaged with some faith-based organizations in our own evangelical pond, we felt the circular nature of social change acutely. We saw many great organizations working to rescue girls from brothels in faraway places, yet in their own pews and their own boards, they were still operating from a gender pyramid which marginalizes and devalues women and girls.
We need to not just support change as if we are on the outside of the process as donors, but rather to be part of this change ourselves: this is the wisdom of the circle.
After a few years, we felt the circle pulling us inward again and and nudging us to attend more to the world in our own backyard: Boston, MA. In the process, I had the great privilege of meeting Nickey Nesbeth. Though I had lived in Boston for over twenty years, I knew little about the rich cultural tapestry of our city, and Nickey has been something of a gateway for me to learn more about the local/global movements in my own city. Every connection one makes expands one’s circle, and Nickey has truly been a force of nature in helping me expand my understanding and connection to diverse women’s groups in Boston.
Nickey: When Emily and I met each other, we quickly bonded over our shared lament about the state of our world’s gender norms—which are still geared toward female submission, even in the 21st century. Despite these challenges, we marveled over how women have always found ways to progress through their own support circles.
These circles facilitated my grandmother’s emigration from Jamaica in 1968. She was co-sponsored by a group of women who helped pay for her passage abroad through their “Susu”— A 400-year-old Afro-Caribbean women’s micro-financing tradition. My grandmother, along with many other Afro-Caribbean women, immigrated to work as housekeepers for wealthy Americans. She later joined a circle of Caribbean immigrant women in Boston and once again, created a new women’s support circle and started their own Susu, to gather the funds needed to pay their children’s passages to America, reuniting their families against tough odds.
Using funds from her Susu, my grandmother later co-sponsored my passage to America, where I was able to complete high school, graduate from college, and build a career giving back to my community. As my grandmother did, I also found myself in various women’s giving circles, all geared towards one thing: lifting up women and girls.
In these circles, Emily and I found shared experiences as women of faith, seeking to create a more just world. A larger circle began forming around us, which has been expanding and building bridges across the challenging divides of race and ethnicity. It is a longer story than we can tell here, but my women’s network in Boston helped open doors for the Imago Dei Fund to get to know and support ethnic-based organizations that empower women and girls in our own communities.
Many women and girls in ethnic communities have the double burden of living with highly patriarchal gender norms and being immigrants, both of which create barriers to opportunity. However, these women and girls persist in their collective agency. They find ways to build new support circles and raise the financial capital they need to start businesses, sponsor relatives’ travel to America, and engage in charitable efforts in their homelands, thus carrying on our centuries-old system of collective impact.
Emily: In a recent conversation, we were talking about women’s giving circles — I am helping to start one here in Boston within the New England International Donor Network — which are a driving force within the larger women’s philanthropy movement. In giving circles, women across the economic continuum come together in living rooms and board rooms to connect, to learn, and to pool resources for greater impact in the world, often targeted toward empowering women and girls. As we were talking, Nickey paused and said, “Women in my culture have been doing this for centuries. It’s called a Susu.”
A Susu is an informal means of collecting and saving money through a savings club or partnership, practiced throughout Africa and the Caribbean. [...] The concept of a susu is used throughout the world and has over 200 different names that vary from country to country.The name is from the Susu from the Twi language to mean 'plan'. The funds are generally gathered with a set amount contributed from family or friends each week. An estimated three quarters of Jamaican immigrants in New York participated in susus during the 1980s.
And so too, in many part of the world, women can be found gathering under a tree, in a storefront, in a board room, or in each other’s living rooms to support one another.
Women continue to come together in sisterhood, to give back to their communities, to start businesses and social ventures, often in highly patriarchal cultures. In these cultures, women are not seen as co-owners of wealth, and in many places still cannot open a bank account.
Philanthropy as a circle. Women in one corner of the world rising up and coming together in circles to support women in another part of the world who are also coming together. What goes around comes around, a virtuous, ever-enlarging spiritual circle coming together to uplift and empower daughters, sisters, and mothers.
Nickey: Here is a beautiful picture of the circular nature of the Susu: Through our relationship, I introduced Emily’s foundation to an Eritrean Women’s Group here in Boston. Women in this group are navigating the challenges of leaving their home and facing racial and gender discrimination, yet they are ever-mindful of the needs back home. In their circle, they have raised enough money to build two women’s centers back home.
The Women’s Training Center in Senafe, Eritrea is one of 6 built nationwide, which includes 13 rooms for computer training, weaving and other vocational activities. The center is a contribution of Eritrean women living abroad, using the Susu to fund the advancement of women in different cities across their native country.
Find some friends and start a Susu, or join one that is already going on. Connect hand and heart (and purses) to expand this ancient circle of love and solidarity. More than ever this circle needs all of us, in order to relieve the burden of gender inequality that falls so heavily on the shoulders of girls and women.
The message of the circle is that what goes around comes around. What we give we receive back in countless dividends, seen and unseen. We cannot “raise” or “empower” someone else from on high. My own empowerment and wellbeing is bound up in yours.
“When we raise Her, we raise ourselves.
When we raise ourselves, we raise Her.”
~ Asphodel P. Long
On a bright April Thursday morning in New York City, David Callahan and Emmett Carson took each other on in a “spirited debate” about the future of philanthropy. In particular, they differed in opinion about whether there are dangers to the lack of transparency and accountability for the new billionaire class.
Discussion time was given to some very rich (no pun intended) topics, including the influence of philanthropy on health care. Callahan discussed a section from his book that shows how right-wing billionaires have essentially used philanthropy to ensure that they win court battles, such as the court battle which allowed states to opt out of Obamacare. This is the kind of civic inequality that Callahan calls out in The Givers as a dangerous new way philanthropy can be used for political gain.
“Thousands of people died because of that court decision. And people are still dying. That’s the hard edge of political philanthropy today,” said Callahan. Callahan also referenced the rising size of right wing billionaire money arsenals to carry out civic agendas, such as the Koch brothers fortune, which has grown to over $80 billion, and the Waltons fortune, which is now estimated at $150 billion.
Carson opened with a more personal approach to discussing the topic. He referenced a changing dynamic in the donor-grantee relationship, where donors want to be partners with the organizations they fund, infusing their knowledge on a topic into the philanthropy strategy. He compared the old way of donors and grantees relating to his step-daughter having a health issue and being prescribed a remedy by the doctor and his wife being told, “Call me if she turns purple.” He suggested that today, people like his wife take a much more partnering approach to medicine, questioning the doctor and choosing which medication to accept. Similarly in philanthropy, Carson suggested, donors now expect to have more input into how problems are treated.
Callahan kept his focus on the real changes in trends for philanthropy, noting a recent shift in alumni giving where larger gifts to universities are rising while gifts from middle class alumni have dropped. Carson questioned whether this trend might be partially the result of middle class people see the very rich making the big donations, and figure that their alum school does not need their small donation.
Carson again took a personal approach to discussing the issue and differentiated how he makes his own alumnus donations to maximize impact. As both a graduate of Princeton University and Morehouse College, Carson said he gives a minimal donation to Princeton and the maximum donation he can to Morehouse, because the smaller college needs it more, and its history as a black liberal college is particularly important to him.
Callahan made the case that it is time for a major revisiting of the charitable tax code, noting that it was last revisited in 1969, and “a lot has changed since then. Since then we’ve have seen the rise of massive ideological infrastructure — on the left and right — and fueling this infrastructure is a growing flow of tax deductible dollars,” said Callahan.
“Democracy is tough stuff,” Carson said emphatically, as a prelude to his arguments for why donors still need privacy. He argued that forcing all philanthropic donations to be disclosed could cause many people to opt out of philanthropy, for fear of repercussions from groups that oppose the work they support.
Moderator Ana Oliveira spoke about the need for philanthropy to look more closely at gender issues, and how philanthropy is only just beginning to recognize how the sector itself is impacted by gender inequality.
“There hasn’t been enough shift in purpose of [philanthropic] giving to address issues confining to the lives of women,” said Oliveira, President of the New York Women’s Foundation. Oliveira asked the speakers to comment on philanthropy to invest more in understanding how gender plays a role in reducing opportunity, and to do more strategically to bridge this gender opportunity gap.
David Callahan spoke to the frustration that some women donors in couples feel when their male partner gets all the credit for their hard work. And he briefly discussed the way women are known for being “super networkers,” referencing Women Moving Millions as an example of an extraordinary women’s philanthropy network.
Big News: The NoVo Foundation has narrowed down the scope of its focus for its $90 million in funding to empower girls of color, and the funder is now seeking regional partners to provide support to community agencies doing work for gender equality. NoVo is currently opening up RFP applications for community-based organizations in the U.S. Southeast to get grants for helping girls of color.
This decision was based on the outcome of a year-long listening tour across the country with girls of color, movement leaders, and organizers. During that time, NoVo employed its strategy of getting feedback and solutions directly “defined and driven by girls and women of color” in order to maximize impact for this population.
Girls of color continue to face deep systemic, societal, and institutional challenges girls face, and the situation is particularly pronounced in the U.S. Southeast, which has been historically neglected by philanthropy, especially when it comes to the work of girls of color. Though 40 percent of girls of color live in the South, less than 1 percent of foundation funding went specifically to programs focused on Black women and girls.
This investment also comes along at an important time when civil society organizations like women’s funds may need extra support, given that the current administration plans to further cut discretionary social spending. Places like the U.S. Southeast will be particularly hurt by these cuts, and will need the added support of private philanthropy.
“The movement for girls of color in the U.S. is being led by fearless women, primarily women of color, often working on their own time and dime in a severely under-funded field,” said Tynesha McHarris, Fellow for NoVo’s Advancing Adolescent Girls’ Rights initiative. “Girls of color and their advocates have powerful visions for how to create meaningful change in their communities, this country, and the world.”
More of these visions are about to become realities, thanks to the NoVo Foundation making this work a priority. “NoVo will deeply invest in community-based organizations that center girls of color as agents in their own decision-making and create spaces for connection, healing, and consciousness-raising with and for girls of color,” said a press release announcing the new opening for RFP’s.
Along with emphasizing grantmaking in the U.S. Southeast, NoVo is also opening grantmaking to community-based partners nationwide, and will be providing grants that way to make sure there is still impact for their work in other regions.
“A vibrant movement to build power with and for girls of color already exists, and it is time for philanthropy to follow its lead,” said Pamela Shifman, Executive Director of NoVo. “Meaningful change for girls of color in our country is only possible if we shift power to those who are most affected.”
“We are ecstatic about NoVo’s community-based approach to grantmaking,” said Joanne Smith, Founder and Executive Director of Girls for Gender Equity. “Placing girls of color at the core of its grantmaking strategy will help NoVo direct resources where they are most needed and to those who are best positioned to lead social change efforts.”
NoVo’s Listening Tours also helped to affirm that some area of philanthropy are still very underfunded, including investments to end sexual violence and confront racism.
As the press release details, NoVo plans to provide flexible funding to organizations that:
Partner with regional grantmaking and movement building infrastructures, starting with the Southeast: In addition to prioritizing community-based organizations across the country, NoVo has issued an RFP to identify a regional infrastructure to partner with on grantmaking and movement capacity building, starting in the Southeast. The regional partner will house efforts that provide grant making to existing organizations and help seed new organizations, with the goal of eventually also supporting individuals and collectives outside of formal c3 structures. In addition to grantmaking the regional partner will provide the healing, political education and organizing capacity needed to sustain a healthy field.
This new announcement builds on the NoVo Foundation’s longstanding focus on adolescent girls, which was part of the organization’s vision at its inception in 2006. These new investments will also not compete with NoVo’s work in the Global South, which will “continue to deepen.”
“Whether in Jakarta or Jackson, the movement for girls is led every day by courageous movement leaders creating change in their communities,” added Jody Myrum, director of NoVo’s Advancing Adolescent Rights Initiative. “Together these efforts are advancing a tremendously dynamic and vibrant transnational movement to address the challenges faced by girls throughout the world. Guided by their leadership, the potential for transformative, long-term change is enormous.”
Am I being watched by the government? Am I the kind of activist/writer who might get detained and questioned at the US border? Across the world, activists and social justice leaders are asking themselves scary questions about what the many repressive events of recent days portend for their safety and security, and for political struggle worldwide.
A new report from the Transnational Institute (TNI) in Amsterdam makes the point that civil society may be shrinking in the coming years, as we face increasing barriers to movement-building from government.
The report was created by a group of eight authors, and also several organizations including “Palestine Link, Women Peacemaker Program, Un Ponte Per, AWID, Africans Rising for Justice, and Peace and Development,” as valuable contributors.
The report cites the recent attempts to suppress Black Lives Matter, as well as the “the criminalization of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement” as examples of activism facing repressive action from “states, corporations and the Far Right.”
This report raises important concerns that are central to the cause of gender equality, and to issues related to how and where women fund social movements. In particular, the report cites donors having higher levels of “risk aversion and securitization,” which will result in “limiting or withdrawal of funding available for both grassroots activism and marginalized causes.” Instead, donors will be more inclined to favor larger, less politicized organizations that are seen as “safer.”
From the report:
The current emergency has been a long time in the making. But only recently has it galvanized a concerted response by organized ‘civil society’, which is now mobilizing to understand and counter what is termed ‘shrinking space,’ a metaphor that has been widely embraced as a way of describing a new generation of restrictions on political struggle. The concept of space itself has different definitions depending on who you talk to. Some understand it as limited to space to influence policy (a seat at the table) while others understand its meaning as political space to organize, to operate, to have a legitimate voice, to protest and to dissent. The former tends to depoliticize contestations while the latter is empowering them. These distinctions concerning how ‘space’ is conceived will shape the type of response warranted, with important implications for who engages in that space and how.
This paper attempts to deconstruct the ‘shrinking space’ narrative by explaining what it means and unpacks some of the problems inherent in the concept. It also considers who is most affected by ‘shrinking space’, and why; where the trend is headed; how it relates to the other dominant paradigms of the 21st century; and how progressive social movements may respond.
Progress for women is gradual in a world where an estimated 15 million girls are sold into marriage. In developing nations, the situation is even worse. According to the UNFPA, an estimated “one in three girls is married before reaching age 18. One in nine is married under age 15.” Among other scary news on child marriage is this recent report that child marriages are on the rise in Syria.
There are several funders paying close attention to the problem of child marriage. These include Kendeda, which has committed over $31 million in this arena in recent years, and provides support for Human Rights Watch, the Global Fund for Women, and Girls Not Brides. The Ford Foundation also does some significant work in this area, and The NoVo Foundation is also committed to the cause of ending child marriage.
A recent addition to the funders in this space is The Firelight Foundation, which according to Inside Philanthropy, partnered with Agape AIDS Control Program in 2015 to put in place programs to stop child marriages and early pregnancies “across five wards in the Shinyanga, a region of Tanzania where nearly 60 percent of girls are married before their 18th birthdays.”
Philanthropy will hopefully become more attuned to the particular reforms that countries need to end practices that hurt women and girls. There is so much to know and learn in this area, and reforms that must be funded. For example, I would like to find out about funders who are working to ban the Islamic practice of triple talaq in India, which entitles a man to dissolve his relationship with his wife by announcing three times, “Talaq.” Recently, there has been successful organizing to end the controversial “Talaq” practice. CNN reported that more than a million Muslims, mostly women, have signed a petition to end the divorce practice of triple talaq.
You can count me in on signing the petition to end triple talaq. Meanwhile, Philanthropy Women will continue investigating the funders working on particular areas of legal reform to marriage codes that impact women and girls, and will highlight the philanthropy working to remedy the problems.
Ruth Ann Harnisch recently penned a piece for The Tennessean on why she supports The Women’s Fund in Tennessee, seeing them as “the smartest, most efficient way to meet the ever-changing needs of women and girls in this area.”
Women’s funds today are using a range of strategies to build economic security for women and families. By lending capital to women’s small businesses, many women’s funds are helping women build their own financial security — an important step in advancing the frontiers of gender equality.
Investing in financial stability for those on the margins of society, including those who have been traditionally excluded, is central to the mission of many women’s funds, and The Women’s Fund discussed by Harnisch in the article appears to be a prime example of this. The Women’s Fund supports Doors of Hope, for example, which “offers real-life training for women coming out of prison, along with support as they develop skills for living.”
From Ruth Ann:
I’m always amazed when a stranger recognizes me as “that girl from television,” since it’s been almost 30 years since Ruth Ann Leach signed off from WTVF-Channel 5.
Are you old enough to remember when I started as the “Dollars and $ense” consumer reporter in 1973? All these years later, my business is still centered on dollars and sense. As an investor in for-profit and philanthropic ventures, I continue to look for the biggest bang for the buck.