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How to spend EUR 500 million: women's rights groups on European UN grant

We welcome this week’s announcement of a EUR 500 million commitment for work to end violence against women and girls. But there are important caveats.

Although donors increasingly recognise women and girls as ‘key agents in development’, there has been insufficient funding dedicated to strengthening women’s movements, which are critical to creating a just world for women and girls. In recent years, women’s rights activists have struggled to access global resources. A number of countries such as Egypt, Russia and India, have passed new and repressive laws that prevent groups from receiving money from donors overseas.

This is why activists have welcomed news from the European Union and United Nations this week, who are setting up a new collaboration to fund work to end violence against women and girls, with an initial commitment of EUR 500 million.

This is an historic investment. It follows Canada’s recent allocation of CAD 150 million to support women’s rights organisations in the global south. The Netherlands made the first such specific commitment in 2008 with its MDG3 Fund, named after the UN’s gender equality millennium development goal. Their initial allocation of EUR 50 million rose to EUR 70 million later that year, after a call for proposals received a huge response.

Although the priorities of the new EU-UN initiative are still unclear, its size is potentially game-changing in the field of work to end violence against women and girls.

But struggles for women’s rights require more than high-level financial commitments. It’s crucial that this money has an impact on those who need it most. This includes historically excluded groups and movements such as community-based organisations in the global south, rural women, women with disabilities, young feminists, women working in the sex industry and women human rights defenders (WHRDs).

“Struggles for women’s rights require more than high-level financial commitments”

AWID, along with women’s rights organisations and funders Mama Cash, CREA, Just Associates, and the Urgent Action Funds, are part of the Count Me In! Consortium (CMI!) funded by the Dutch Ministry for Foreign Affairs to support the advocacy capacity of women’s rights organisations, groups and movements.

CMI! has repeatedly warned how little has been done to improve the funding situation for feminist and women’s rights organisations, whose median annual income tends to be in the region of USD 20,000.

The European funding announced this week is an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of women and girls around the world. But it is not clear how these funds will be spent and the degree to which they will be absorbed by UN bodies – large international organisations headquartered in world capitals, that are far from gender-equal themselves and often operate several steps removed from realities on the ground. 

For this money to make a positive change in the lives of women and girls, feminist and women’s rights activists must play a central role in helping define, implement and track the programmes that will be established through these funds. “Nothing for us, without us” has long been a rallying cry of feminist movements and it applies today.

“Nothing for us, without us”

A transparent and ongoing process to consult with civil society organisations, in particular feminist and women’s rights groups, should be established for all development phases of any established programmes. Feminist and women’s rights organisations and groups should also be funded directly, rather than through many intermediaries, if at all (as is currently the norm).

Importantly, let’s not recreate the wheel. The UN has existing funding mechanisms such as the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women. Such infrastructure should be strengthened rather than creating new mechanisms and bureaucratic structures to manage the resources announced this week.

UN bodies with core gender equality and women’s empowerment missions should be supported and made more accountable to feminist and women’s rights movements around the world.

The CMI! consortium will continue to work with activists and donors to make the case for how sufficient and sustainable funding can advance the rights of women, girls, trans, intersex and gender-non conforming peoples and communities.

Women’s rights organisations and activists have a wealth of expertise to share with the EU and the UN, to actively and increasingly work to end violence against women and girls. And we must insist: nothing for us, without us.