Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Swatee Deepak, director of With and For Girls (WFG), a collective that gives financial support to girl-led and -centered groups around the world and engages young women in participatory grantmaking panels.
What is your current greatest professional challenge?
How to best support mergers in the philanthropic sector adhering to the same values and care we place across our work.
With and For Girls was initially incubated within a private foundation, Stars Foundation. In 2018, as a collective, we worked together with adolescent girls to identify a new home and chose Purposeful. What followed was a merger of WFG from Stars to Purposeful. Progressive philanthropy is filled with discussions about shifting power. Here we are, a funder collaborative, working globally across the global north and south and made up of established funders now being held by a grassroots-based organization with headquarters in Sierra Leone.
Young feminists have been organizing across the globe for decades, but their work, particularly in the media sector, has been woefully underfunded. I know, since I was one of them. In 1969, when I co-founded Women Make Movies, women’s funds didn’t exist.
Over the decades, thousands of young activists have gathered at events like the International Forum on Women’s Rights and Development, the flagship event of AWID (Association of Women’s Rights in Development), and have talked about the need for more funding for young feminists, particularly in media. As the last decade closed, many young activists lamented that no women’s fund specifically addressed their youthful organizing needs. So they decided to start their own, with AWID and Fondo Centralamericano de Mujeres (Central America Women’s Fund) incubating this spark of an idea.
In 2011 FRIDA was born. With the purpose of providing more resources to young women leaders, FRIDA aims to amplify feminist voices and bring attention to feminist work. FRIDA recognizes bravery, creativity and resilience as essential qualities that guide their efforts. A lively timeline of the young funds’ evolution from budding idea to full scale operations – six years out – provide an insightful history of the fund. (See timeline link at bottom of page).
The actual name – FRIDA – spells out five core values: Flexibility; Resources, Inclusivity, Diversity and Action. (That dispels any myths I held about it being an homage to a special artist!) A quick survey of its website shows a vibrant team of some 72 young women who act as advisors, associates, and board members guiding the fledgling fund.
To date, FRIDA has provided $1.3 million in direct grants to over 150 different groups in over 80 different countries. The sheer scale of such an effort is a remarkable feat. The young fund is also a strong model for participatory grantmaking. In its most recent cycle, 450 groups from across the globe participated in voting on grant proposals that would address priorities in their regions.
My own experience with FRIDA came about when the former founding coordinator, Amina Doherty, attended a workshop on Media as a Feminist Activist Tool that I organized at the 2012 Women’s Funding Network conference in Los Angeles. In her blog, Doherty amplified the voice of one of the workshop participants: J. Bob Alotta, Executive Director of Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, who said, “If we are committed to different outcomes, we have to invest in them. Period. In order to fight, in order to do more advocacy, we need media and we need to be willing to invest.”
Back then I took a hard look at the first group of FRIDA grant partners, which included such groups as Association of Young Women for the Culture and Development of Haiti and Crested Crane Lighters in Uganda.What impressed me, as I so often find with grassroots activism, is an overt perspective of the incorporation of feminist media as a tool within their work. And if media is not a major focus of the work, it is intuitively incorporated as a means of action. This I saw repeated over and over in the summaries of the groups that FRIDA funded.
Just a month ago FRIDA announced its latest – its fifth – cycle of grants. From an applicant pool of about 1,000, composed in 7 different languages, 106 groups from 73 different countries were selected to receive grants.
“A Space of Affection”
Colectiva Feminista Gordas sin Chaqueta is one of the current grant partners of FRIDA. Based in Colombia. they work with a model called “Artivism” on issues related to gender-based violence. Through various media, documentaries, photos, songs and texts, they seek to “contribute to the cultural transformation of the violence that is exercised on the bodies of women, as well as stereotypes that reproduce inequality in the context of patriarchy.”
Their vision by 2020 is to gain local, national and international recognition “for contributing to transforming stereotypes that reproduce violence in the larger patriarchal system.” As a group, they believe their most significant contribution has been to create a “space of affection” to heal the wounds left by “machismo” (male violence). Lively, creative and determined, the Gordas are working to break down stereotypes that lead to women being abused. They have a Facebook page where readers can follow their work.
A Comic Book of Bad-Ass Women
In Poland, the first teenage NGO is forming, called MamyGlos, which translates loosely as “We’ve Got Voice.” Starting with the most minimum number of three, but with relentless organizing, over 400 girls came to a teen workshop. The girls published coloring books featuring ‘bad-ass women’ and an educational card game. The point of MamyGlos is to help girls stand up for their rights, and feel safe in their communities. These young women are fighting within Poland, where statistics for women’s safety are particularly grim, with one in five women surviving rape. It’s exciting to see young women leaders in Poland stepping up to educate others about the pitfalls of girlhood within the dominant culture.
Also funded by FRIDA is Wlaha Wogoh Okhra, an online Egyptian journal of women’s rights, history and cultural analysis. With a strong belief that film and drama can alter mindsets, they have launched an expanded investigation into Egyptian and Arabic movies. In particular, they explore the portrayal of women and craft a feminist analysis of these movies, allowing for a more nuanced feminist perspective among viewers.
The publication has been a leader in tackling numerous contentious issues. It has reported on women living with HIV, the commodification of women in the media and drama, and how Egyptian feminists suffer stereotyping and tracking within the society.
Wlaha Wogoh Okhra has also tackled Egyptian movie posters in a feminist light. Called the Feminist Cinematic Study, this monthly series explores how women are shown on the posters. The series is highly thought provoking. The group, further, organizes on-line trainings for women journalists and mass communications students on feminist journalism. In addition to their own website and their publication, they’ve accounts at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
I am grateful that FRIDA has stepped forward to provide resources for these critical efforts of young activist grassroots groups. Such support is vital in early stages of a group’s growth. Keeping alive these global media efforts by young feminists is vital to changing hearts and minds. They enable the hard organizing work of these young women’s energies and programs to survive. More about the other funded projects in the current cycle can be explored with links to fuller descriptions.
A social media vehicle that bridges the communication gap between AWID’s International Forums is the AwidFeministFutures.tumbler site. There, as well on other parts of AWID webpages, is an empowering Bell Hooks quote: The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is – it’s to imagine what is possible.Read More