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Press Release: African Feminists at AWID Forum Call for Sustainable Resourcing

For immediate release:

Salvador, Brazil, 9 September: African feminists have called on donors to “put their money where their mouth is” by funding indigenous African women’s rights organisations threatened with closure as funding priorities shift.

While pledging to “get out of the box” and look into new sources of funding, including African philanthropy, a vibrant panel at the 13th AWID Forum organised by FEMNET noted that Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) “is not a favour” and remains the mainstay of many organisations.

“When you look at the financial outflows from Africa and existing global inequalities, we have a right to demand ODA,” said FEMNET Executive Director Dinah Musindarwezo. “It is ironic that we are being starved of resources at the very moment when we should step up our efforts to deliver on the Post-2015 Agenda.”

She noted that the stresses of funding reflect in credible organisations shrinking or closing; high staff turn-over; burn out and unhealthy competition among Women’s Rights Organisations (WRO) threatening movement building. “It is sad that mid- tier WRO are operating under severe financial constraints, and yet it is these women’s organisations that brought us where we are today,” said Ndana Tawamba, Executive Director of the Urgent Action Fund Africa.

“There is even less money for young women-led organisations, and WRO in West Africa threatened by fundamentalism,” added Diakhoumba Gassama, from Senegal.

The panel on “African Women and Money: Opportunities and Threats” observed that mid- size women’s rights organisations are falling between the cracks – too small to bid for the large global funds earmarked for International NGOs (INGOs) and too big for the small grants that these northern organisations administer in the global south.

“We need to guard against neo-colonial tendencies and demand that WRO in the global south be recognised and resourced,” said GL CEO Colleen Lowe Morna. “Failure to do so will result in the women’s rights agenda being perceived as imposed from the north and it will be resisted,” she warned.

Other threats identified include short term project funding; lack of institutional support; closing space for civil society in many countries; and the dropping of middle income countries from ODA support even though they still have huge income and gender gaps. “Women’s lives are not projects,” asserted Sally Dura of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe. “We cannot expect to be sustainable when we hop, skip and jump around for funding.”

The panel welcomed the recent move by the Dutch parliament to allocate Euro 40 million over four years to be channelled through four Women’s Rights Funds for WRO in the global South as a “step in the right direction.”

Head of Civil Society in the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs To Tjoelker announced at the session that the lions share (approximately Euro 24 million) would be channelled through the Accra-based African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), with 10% earmarked for community organisations; 30% for upcoming organisations with budgets of around Euro 200,000 per annum and 50% for regional networks. The focus would be on advocacy, institution and movement building rather than service delivery.

The fund follows an outcry and global advocacy led by the Women’s Major Group at the outcome of the second Funding for Leadership Opportunities (FLOW) Fund, which went to nine INGO-led groups.  Unlike the first round, that covered 35, mostly southern-based WRO, the rules favoured INGOs in the second round.

The FEMNET session at AWID commended the Dutch parliament for its “listening ear” and praised the solidarity shown by Dutch feminist organisations that lobbied for remedial action. “We need to see many more dedicated funds of this kind,” said FEMNET chairperson and Malawian gender activist Emma Kaliya. “We should never under estimate our power or right to influence the donor agenda.”

“Such funds should go directly to the grassroots, without being mediated by northern NGOs,” added Jennifer Gatsi of the Namibian Women’s Health Network.

Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA) women’s rights head Alice Kanengoni-Kwaramba cautioned that with refugee and migration crises showing little evidence of abating, funding will remain in short supply. She said women’s rights organisations need to become adept at linking their struggles to the burning issues of the day such as climate change.

Deputy Director of the Open Society Initiative of East Africa (OSIEA) women’s rights Sarah Mukasa warned that “donors will always have their agendas” and African WRO should not get caught in the trap of dependency. ”What about influencing our own African philanthropists, to focus on social impact and feminist agendas?” she asked.

Other participants called on feminist organisations to re-engineer themselves. FOWODE director Patricia Munabi gave the example of the radio station her organisation had started in Uganda that is both generating an income and educating the public on women’s rights.

“There is need for feminists to influence how good money goes to fund good work,” added Musimbi Kanyoro CEO of the Global Fund for Women. “We must start telling our story and capture the good results from our work,” she said.

Despite the shrinking funds for women’s rights organizations, it is essential to observe ethical standards, Diakhoumba added. “Can we just accept money from everywhere because of the funding crisis? There is a need to radically reinvent our relationship to donors and learn to be equal partners.”

According to the facilitator of the session, Kenyan feminist, Researcher and Keynote Speaker at the AWID forum Awino Okech, “donors fund people, but they also fund ideas. How often do we as feminists create time to think about feminist labour and work?”

 

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