Financing For Gender Equality: Rhetoric Versus Real Financial Support
FRIDAY FILE: The role of women and girls as key to changing the course of development has received increasing attention in recent years, further bolstered by calls for making gender equality a cornerstone of development, but has the rhetoric of commitment translated into actual financial support?
This article is part of a series of Friday Files to explore some of the issues and debates related to the AWID 2012 Forum theme and draw the connections between women’s rights issues and economic power. For more information related to financial flows click here.
By Susan Tolmay
Increased funding to women’s organizations is an “essential measure for sustaining a vibrant women’s movement.” Women’s organizing and movements matter because of their capacity to build individual and collective forms of empowerment, to advocate for change and because they create sustained change at multiple levels that policy change or limited interventions alone cannot achieve.
Following an Expert Group Meeting (EGM) in 2008 the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) raised concerns about the lack of political support and commitment, as well as specific budget allocations to gender equality and women’s rights. Low funding and the lack of sector prioritization by governments and donors were identified as affecting the integrity and ability of national machineries and women’s organizations to fully implement and advocate for women’s rights and equality. However, despite reaffirming the central place of human and women’s rights in development and underscoring the importance of implementing key global commitments, to date there has been little progress in implementing the recommendations proposed by the Commission in 2008, which were broad and far-reaching, focusing on a wide range of financial flows.
There is a range of factors influencing the realization of financing commitments for gender equality. The global financial crisis and economic recession that began in 2008 were but one dimension of a broader set of interlocking crises—those of food, energy, environmental and humanitarian dimensions—that continue to evolve and shape current realities. These crises significantly affect and negatively impact women in a numbers of ways - as core agricultural producers and sustainers of their families (especially in the global South); women are overrepresented amongst the poor and in low-wage earning and vulnerable employment positions all of which is compounded by the gender wage gap; women are also disproportionately affected by the energy crisis and by the recurrent environmental disasters and humanitarian crises linked to climate change.
In addition, there has been an upsurge of backlash and violence against women human rights defenders (WHRDs). We have also witnessed increasing repression of social movements and civil society, increased power of the corporate sector, militarization as a response to civil unrest and greater growth and strengthening of criminal networks and religious fundamentalist actors. All of these trends, together with a more challenging funding environment and increasing inequality and poverty among women and girls, have worsened or created additional challenges to women’s rights activists and movements that work to advance gender equality and women’s rights around the world.
Broader debates on the role of gender equality in development have highlighted that despite official commitments, donors’ and developing countries’ articulations of gender equality are often vague, lacking well-defined priorities and objectives, and rarely have specific, dedicated or well-resourced budgets. There is the need for governments and donors to get concrete and specific in tracking their commitments.
At the international level, women’s rights and gender equality activists involved in the aid and development effectiveness discussions have been lobbying for a shift in dominant development discourses towards an inclusive, sustainable, and just paradigm that recognizes and values reproductive and care work, promotes decent work, environmental sustainability and the empowerment of women and girls and human rights for all.
Women rights and gender equality activists and organizations have been at the forefront of advocacy around and critique of the highly gender-blind Paris Declaration (PD) and aid effectiveness processes, particularly underscoring the importance of putting gender equality, environmental sustainability, and human rights at the center of any effective development cooperation framework. Despite inclusion of §3 in the Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) where gender equality, human rights and environmental sustainability were seen as “cornerstones for achieving enduring impact on the lives and potential of poor women, men and children,” implementation has been patchy or seriously limited.
As a follow up to Paris, and in order to create a stronger development cooperation framework, in the lead up to the Busan Fourth High Level Forum (HLF-4), women’s rights activists and organizations developed specific recommendations which underscored the need for policy coherence so that economic policies (e.g., trade, migration, energy, etc.) and social policies are not working at cross-purposes, resulting in the perpetuation or intensification of social and gender inequalities.
Another factor at play is the role of emerging economies, such as BRICS (Brazil, India, China, Russia, South Africa), whose economies could soon exceed the total wealth production of today’s richest countries. Their influence and decisions on women’s rights and gender equality commitments will be important to watch in the future, along with the changing commitments of key donors in the North (and the citizens of those countries) to provide overseas development assistance (ODA) and fulfill their commitment to allocate 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) to ODA.
Investing in Women and Girls Trend
Over the past 3-5 years there has been a key shift in development positions with increased interest by different mainstream institutions in the potential and possibilities that “investing in women and girls” and “investing in gender equality” has for ending poverty, increasing security, as well as enhancing women’s status and livelihoods.
While acknowledging the opportunities this trend offers, and that women are central to development and economic growth and equality, as clearly demonstrated by the 2012 World Development Report (WDR), it is important to go beyond this framing to recognize the central role of women in development and to advancing social justice beyond “smart economics”. Ensuring that gender equality is a right, and not merely a means to an end (economic growth). Poverty alleviation and economic development strategies must challenge models based on unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, privatization of public systems, and exploitation of unequal gender and social relations.
Bilateral and Multilateral Funding trends for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment
While donors have acknowledged that gender equality is a cornerstone of development and some governments and multilaterals are financing at greater levels than others, overall commitments and interest in gender equality are not necessarily translating into more resources. Too often funding for gender equality takes a backseat to other priorities.
Funding data illustrates the extent to which gender equality gets short-changed at the bilateral and multilateral levels, despite strong rhetoric on the importance of women and girls in development. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) data (sector code 15170 on funding to women’s organizations and institutions), shows that $331.8 million dollars in the 2010 budget went to women’s organizations and gender institutions (including national machineries)—this represents 1.3% of all DAC screened funds dedicated to gender equality ($24.9 billion). Moreover, the largest dedicated multilateral agency for gender equality, UN Women, had a budget of just $235 million in 2011, which equals 4% of the total UN budget for 2011 at approximately $5.4 billion, and does not even reach half the target of $500 million that we all expected UN Women to have in its first year.
Recent research on the World Bank’s commitment to gender equality by Gender Action revealed stark gaps between the discourse and call to action of the 2012 WDR and actual investments— where the World Bank's spending for “social development, gender and inclusion" was less than 2% of its 2011 budget. If women represent half of the population and gender equality is such a high level priority, where multiple international frameworks from BPfA to Busan have affirmed the importance and centrality of investing in gender equality, then financing made available so far is clearly an indication that the political commitment to make this a real priority has a long way to go. Fulfilling this commitment is overdue, and we hope all donors will catch up with this pending debt with women around the world and fulfill their obligations soon.
Where is the Money for Women’s Rights (WITM) Research Findings on the State of Financing for Women’s Organizations
Preliminary analysis of recent research conducted by AWID in its 2011 global survey of 1119 women’s organizations from across the globe highlights some of the realities faced since 2008.
The findings paint a mixed picture for women’s organizations’ incomes and financial sustainability. While many organizations had met their ideal 2010 budgets and many increases in funding were seen, there is also a significant group of organizations that are struggling.
Median incomes are strikingly low and most organizations had not raised the income they needed for 2011, even though they were half way through the year. Across all types of organizations, there seems to be a general trend of fragmented funding, directed more often toward project rather than core support and one year grant cycles at the expense of multiyear commitments.
For the type of longer-term structural work that women’s rights organizations and movements address, there is a mismatch in funding disbursement practices (which range from the quantity, quality and type of funding to the accountability structures attached to that funding). If donor commitments to financing gender equality are to be successful, this requires a shift in how funding is delivered—moving from fragmented, short-term funding cycles to longer term partnerships of predictable, flexible, and multiyear support. Overall, there is also a need to scale up and increase funding for gender equality and women’s empowerment and particularly the funds that reach women’s organizations directly, as evidenced by the high demand and low funds available overall, as well as by the lack of the sustainability of organizations and movements in the sector. Full data analysis from the WITM research will shared at the upcoming AWID 2012 Forum.
 The data show that nearly half of women’s groups were secure in their funding situations, meeting their ideal budget for 2010 (44%) with very few (3%) seeing budgets surpluses. However, over one third of women’s organizations (35%) experienced a significant shortfall in meeting their ideal budget for 2010. Nearly 15% of organizations experienced catastrophic budget shortfalls falling in the 80 to 100% range. The majority of organizations (54%) experienced shortfalls in the 20 to 50% range and 14% of organizations experienced larger shortfalls, ranging from 55-75%. On the less extreme end, minor to moderate shortfalls (between 5 to 15%) affected 14% of women’s organizations.
 Results from WITM 2011 research show that over a fifth (21%) of women’s organizations in the sample have lost donors since 2008. These decreases have impacted organizations sustaining losses in diverse ways, primarily resulting in cutting activities (66%), cutting programs and projects (52%), reducing staff size (47%), or having staff forgo salaries (38%). One fifth of women’s organizations in the sample reported experiencing the threat of potential closure.