For those of us who have worked on women’s and girls’ issues for many years, it may seem like these are banner times. Never before have subjects like girls’ education and empowerment gotten so much attention. Yet, this intensified interest hasn’t necessarily translated into an increase in funding for many of the women’s and girls’ groups doing this critical work on the ground. In many cases, funding for these organizations has remained static or even decreased. This is ironic considering the historical importance of the women’s movement to effecting change and achieving major social and economic advancements.
A recent op-ed in the New York Times, “To Stop Violence, Start at Home” mentioned a landmark 2012 study that found that the existence of strong feminist movements was a more important factor in reducing violence against women than a country’s economic status, the percentage of women in its government, or the presence of progressive political parties. This striking finding should mean that investments in women’s organizations are rising rapidly, but sadly this is not the case.
IWHC President Françoise Girard published a letter-to-the-editor in response to the op-ed, highlighting how critical it is to support women’s movements. She cites a report by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development that found that the median yearly income of more than 740 women’s organizations worldwide was only $20,000 in 2010. The title of the report “Watering the Leaves, Starving the Roots: The Status of Financing for Women’s Rights Organizing and Gender Equality”, articulates the current state of funding so poetically: there is growing concern for the needs and rights of women and girls—the leaves—but we are not supporting them at the roots. The organizations that mobilize women and girls and provide them a platform are not receiving the care and sustenance they need.
Social change has always occurred when women have been able to rally around the issues that matter to them the most, and through organizations and movements that are nurtured and cultivated. That’s why, since our founding in 1984,the IWHC has helped build and strengthen more than 80 local women’s groups in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. We know that women and girls are the experts on their own lives and realities and must be empowered to create lasting change in their communities. It’s clearly time that governments and international donors move beyond just rhetoric when it comes to women and girls.