Stay Informed

Your go-to source for the latest trends impacting gender justice and women’s rights around the world

Where is the Money for Women's Rights? Select 2009 Research Highlights and Trends

This Friday File is the first of a two part series featuring select highlights from AWID’s action-research Initiative “Where is the Money for Women’s Rights”. It illustrates some of the most significant general trends and opportunities that are impacting the current funding landscape. The second Friday File in this series will share further research related to various funding sectors, as well as recommendations and potential strategies for expanding the quantity and quality of resources for women’s organizing and women’s rights. 


The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) launched its “Where is the Money for Women’s Rights?” Action-Research initiative in 2004 in response to overwhelming requests from member organisations for tips on fundraising and donors. Through research, advocacy and collaborative analysis with diverse stakeholders, we set out to understand the trends and dynamics shaping funding for women’s rights work, to document how women’s organisations have been faring in the last decade and to advocate for more, better quality resources from donors.

Based on AWID’s survey results that targeted over a thousand women’s organisations from 2005 to 2008, we saw a clear picture of shortages across different funding sectors—cutbacks within many donor agencies or inaccessibility of many funding sources for the large majority of women’s organisations. Recognizing that women’s organisations play vital roles in advancing women’s rights and gender equality, it was alarming to see that between half and two-thirds of the women’s organisations surveyed reported annual budgets of less than USD 50,000.

The focus of AWID’s research in 2009 was to examine some of the important contextual shifts as well as persistent trends impacting resource mobilisation for women’s organizing—in particular the impact of the financial crisis and economic recession on key donor sectors. Our research results were recently presented for feedback at a two-day Stakeholders Meeting in Amsterdam that AWID convened in collaboration with Hivos and Mama Cash. The event brought together 50 women’s rights advocates who represented a diversity of funding sectors including bilateral and multilateral agencies, women’s funds, private foundations, international non-government organizations (INGOs), and women’s organizations. Below we highlight a few key trends from 2009, as well as potential implications for women’s organisations and their donor allies. The full analysis, entitled, Context and Trends Influencing the Funding Landscape for Gender Equality and Women’s Organizations & Movements will soon be available on


Official Development Assistance (ODA): We’ll see a Decrease, but not Necessarily for Gender Equality

The systemic crisis is contributing to reduced gross national incomes (GNI) for many donor countries, which in turn will mean a decrease in aid levels (which are a percentage of GNI), likely to be felt in 2010 and beyond. However, we also know that Official Development Assistance (ODA) support for gender equality has increased in recent years (reaching its highest ever level in 2008) and according to donor reports, any cuts would be part of overall decreases, not because of targeted scaling back.

In addition, there have clearly been positive advances in the recent years, with new gender equality-specific funds or budget lines created in several donor agencies. 2009 saw the continuation of important special funds targeting gender equality, including the Dutch MDG3 Fund and SIDA’s Global Program for Gender Equality (which doubled its budget in 2009 and is projecting another significant increase in 2010), and the UNIFEM Fund for Gender Equality supported by the Spanish Government.

Focus on Women and Girls as “Agents of Change” and “Economic Actors”

2009 saw heightened attention to the case for “investing in women.” From The New York Times Magazine, to the Gates Foundation, from the BBC Special Documentaries to Newsweek Magazine, from Nike Foundation to the Kristoff and WuDunn Book (Half the Sky), the role of women, particularly in relation to the economy, has received unprecedented visibility.

This trend is clearly reflected also in several donors which have increased their funding commitments in the last three years on this area—for example large international NGOs like Plan International, Save the Children, CARE are expanding their attention on women and/or girls, and some private foundations such as Nike and Novo are doing the same. While a hopeful trend, there are concerns that some of these approaches focus on the individual woman or girl, and seem to overlook the broader system at play in shaping her possibilities as well as the key role played by women’s movements that have long held women’s rights and gender equality at the center of their struggles for social and economic justice.

Breakthrough in the United Nations: The New UN Gender Entity

After years of civil society advocacy, on September 14th, 2009, the UN General Assembly adopted a historic resolution to create a new women’s agency that will consolidate the work of the four existing gender bodies (UNIFEM, DAW, OSAGI, INSTRAW) [1]. If robustly implemented, the resolution promises a politically powerful, independent agency with strong leadership and increased funds to advance adopted goals for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

One of the main concerns about the creation of the new UN Gender Entity is how it will be funded. The GEAR Campaign and others are urging Member States to commit “ambitious” funding—USD 1 billion—for a propitious launch of the new entity. This budget is seen, “as crucial to the success of the new agency; the expansion of an effective country level operation to address the situation of women globally must come from core funding to ensure that the agency can work with a high degree of predictability” [2].

Influence of aid effectiveness agenda on funding for CSOs

In line with the principles of aid effectiveness set forth in the Paris Declaration, donor governments are increasingly asking their Northern CSO grantees to ‘align’ to development cooperation priorities and ‘complement’ funding to partner countries through their support for Southern CSOs. Moreover, donor countries are increasingly applying the principle of ‘national ownership’, making more funds directly available to Southern CSOs, particularly through their embassies.

These shifts in policy frameworks open opportunities as well as challenges. New civil society policies and procedures could be a refreshing change, opening doors for more women’s organisations to access funding. However, funding through embassies will be in line with national priorities and may make it difficult to raise support for women’s rights issues. Who sets the agenda for funding priorities will thus remain a key concern, as well as the fact that women’s groups will have to compete with all other CSOs to access funding at the Embassy-level. Funding continues to be limited for women’s organisations

Participants in the recent Stakeholders Meeting were struck by the apparent sense that ample resources are ‘out there’. And yet, who’s accessing these resources? Are the women’s organisations that have been working for 5, 10, 20 or more years to advance women’s rights benefiting from this panorama? A few of them, mostly the largest ones, have been able to benefit. But AWID’s research shows clear limitations—especially in the current context of a systemic crisis—for smaller or middle-sized organisations (with budgets under USD 1 million) to benefit from the increased availability of funds.

In part this may relate to the strong “efficiency drive” within many funding agencies, which has led them to cut the number of countries and /or sectors where they provide support, shrinking the number of grantees and usually making it more difficult for organisations to access funders they don’t have an existing relationship with. This drive also contributes to a preference for supporting large scale activities, which are often perceived as having a bigger impact as well.


AWID will be continuing its research to monitor the funding landscape and identify key challenges or opportunities shaping women’s organisations’ access to quantity, quality resources. Part of this research effort will be to explore to what extent women’s rights organisations are being affected by the financial crisis and economic recession, and to do this we are currently collecting stories in English, French and Spanish. The goal is to share these experiences of the realities that women's organisations are facing in this context of crisis with donors--so that they know the urgent need for continued investment in women's organizing remains. If you would like to share your story and experience with us please send contributions to

Note: This Friday File draws on an article written by AWID for the upcoming issue of Oxfam's Gender and Development Journal.

Endnotes[1] Gender Equality Architecture Reform Campaign (GEAR), a coalition of over 300 organisations in 80 countries worldwide, launched in 2006 to influence the UN Reform process. The campaign has been particularly focused on the gender institutionality of the UN. For more information on the campaign, visit:

[2] Bunch, Charlotte, A Powerful Women's Agency: will the UN deliver?, OpenDemocracy, 27 October 2009.