“The Myth and Dilemma Surrounding Funding for Women’s Rights Organizations in the Global South”
By Sara Solomon Teklewold (UNC Global Studies ’24)
Summer 2023 AFE Blog Post Series
Oxfam is known for the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) methodology manual. In 2016, while I worked as a gender specialist at ACID/VOCA, I implemented the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) methodology with coffee-producing cooperatives in Ethiopia. GALS is a community-led empowerment methodology that uses the principles of inclusion to improve the income, food, and nutrition security of vulnerable people in a gender-equitable manner. Couples who belong to agricultural cooperatives received training in the four regions of Ethiopia as part of the project activity using a modified version of the GALS methodology. This methodology proved successful and attracted women as members and leaders of agricultural cooperatives. One success of the method is the inclusion of a statement on the need to draft gender strategies in the bylaws of agricultural cooperatives. Cooperatives that developed a gender strategy using the GALS methodology increased the number of female members and leaders in agricultural cooperatives.
In 2023, as part of my Applied Field Experience (AFE), I am lucky to have had the opportunity to work for an organization I proudly call a learning organization, OXFAM OUS. Oxfam’s programmatic work, campaigns, research, and advocacy encompass feminist approaches. By integrating a feminist lens into its work, Oxfam aims to create a more equitable and just world where women’s rights are respected, gender inequalities are addressed, and all individuals can thrive. Some of Oxfam OUS’s work that caught my attention during my short stay included its work on transformative leadership for women’s rights, the US Care Policy Scorecard, and the maturity model approach to safeguarding work. I also received some training, one of which was on feminist principles in practice.
I worked for the Gender Justice and Inclusion Hub on a scoping report outlining funders’ viewpoints and experiences that supported women’s rights organizations. This study explored the motivations, decision-making procedures, and standards for funding women’s rights organizations and the challenges and opportunities of women’s rights organizations to advance women’s rights and empowerment.
The myth and dilemma of funding women’s rights organizations in the Global South are complex and multifaceted issues that reflect broader challenges in international development, gender equality, and philanthropy. Women’s rights organizations in the Global South often operate within unique contexts requiring tailored strategies that consider local nuances. Funding sources can influence the agenda and priorities of women’s rights organizations, leading to tension between staying true to their mission and aligning with the preferences of funders.
Many women’s rights organizations in the Global South need resources. Funding challenges include reliance on short-term grants, a lack of core funding for operational sustainability, and pressure to demonstrate immediate, quantifiable results, which can hinder long-term planning and the ability to address underlying systemic issues.
According to different sources, such as the Women & Girls Index, only 1.9% of funding was allocated to women and girls in the US in 2018. Only one percent of the already small pool of gender equality funding gets to the grassroots level. These findings suggest a preference for more renowned and established organizations over grassroots women’s rights organizations when distributing funds since they are thought more capable of delivering results. However, grassroots organizations play a critical role in community engagement, local knowledge, and addressing issues at the grassroots level. These factors must be revised to ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of women’s rights initiatives.
The assessment report titled From Local to Global: Learning from Our Partnerships with Women’s Rights Organizations and Gender Interest Organizations indicates that despite Oxfam’s commitment to supporting women’s Rights Organizations (WROs) through its strategic plan 2013–2019, only 10% of 4108 Oxfam’s partners in 2016–2017 were WROs. Only 2% of these partnerships are at the global level. The proposed influencing strategy on gender justice and rights for 2023–2027 demonstrates Oxfam’s strengthened commitment to collaborating with women’s rights organizations and feminist movements at the local, regional, and global levels.
A more thoughtful and cooperative approach to funding women’s rights organizations, especially those in the Global South, is necessary to dispel misunderstandings and resolve problems around them. One recommendation is to work with local organizations and leaders to comprehend their needs, difficulties, and objectives. Work together to develop funding methods that support their aims, providing core funding that covers operating expenses frees organizations to concentrate on their long-term goals without being pressured to apply for new grants. Recognizing the interconnectedness of various women’s rights issues, supporting initiatives that adopt an intersectional perspective, addressing various forms of inequality and discrimination, and allocating funding to larger organizations and grassroots organizations is necessary. The Capacity Assessment Tool for Gender-Just Organizational Strengthening (CAT4JGO) developed by OXFAM Canada is an excellent example of how to work with organizations to design monitoring and evaluation methodologies that capture qualitative and transformative improvements, reflecting on the complex character of women’s rights. Funders should recognize their biases and power dynamics and seek to create equitable partnerships that empower local organizations.
I appreciate the support for my summer internship from the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center and UNC’s Curriculum in Global Studies. The internship experience created an opportunity for me to visit Boston, a city renowned for its historical significance and thriving cultural scene, where I spent a few days working in the Oxfam US office.