We can walk the talk… and fund it

For years, women’s programmes have been underfunded, stifling our progress and slowing down transformation.

This year, however, women gathering at the AU’s third High Level Panel (HLP) on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment began to consider new funding models.

Despite ongoing progress, women’s rights and gender inequality remain a critical need. It is a moral, ethical and human imperative: How can we justify having more than half the globe’s population being treated less fairly than their male counterparts?

Women everywhere need prioritised, dedicated and consistent investment and resources. However, investments in gender equality are vastly insufficient and only a small proportion of aid addresses women’s specific needs. For many decades, funding for gender and women’s rights programmes has been largely dependent on mainstream funders and donors.

The heavy reliance on external donors has had the effect of stifling growth and slowing down progress in realising gender equality.

 

This calls for new and innovative approaches to women’s rights funding. At this year’s HLP, a challenge was put to our generation of women’s rights activists to starting thinking beyond conventional forms of funding.

AU chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma suggested: “Instead of always scrounging around and begging for money for these gender events, often at the expense of our principles and our autonomy, is it not time that, as women activists, we contribute and mobilise other women to contribute even just a dollar a month to fund the activities and programmes we think are important for African women? Why can’t we say 'enough of begging'. Let's put the first dollar ourselves and then ask the neighbours to help.”

Indeed, this is a call to all women activists to play a part in the financing of the work that we so passionately love and wake up to do.

For example, it will take only a million of us to commit to this for us to raise $12 million in a year. While this will not necessarily solve all our challenges, it will be a step in the right direction. The idea is that by mobilising our own funds, we can decrease our dependence on outside donors. 

For decades, gender and women’s rights work has been severely underfunded. A 2010 Association for Women's Rights in Development study revealed that the median budget for 740 women’s organisations was a measly $20 000.

In comparison, in the same year, the income for Save the Children International and World Vision International was $1.4 billion and $2.6bn respectively.

This is a worrying trend, often characterised by piecemeal funding offers to women’s rights programmes, which are not sustainable.

We could not agree more with the call for new approaches to funding for gender equality. While joint efforts by women and men are important, there is a need for innovative strategies.

Arguably, creating our own streams of self-reliant funding will give us the much-needed currency and power to define and shape our own agendas.

We will make our own decisions on what and how to use the resources we collect. We will create our own negotiating tables, sit on those tables and not wait to be called to tables created for and by men. After all, she who pays the piper calls the tune.

It is also important to note that indigenous forms of giving are not new to African women. African women have traditionally been heralded for their generations of life-changing service to society.

Women have always been at the forefront of indigenous forms of giving through informal and sporadic ways: providing care and support to a sick family member or neighbour, helping a beggar, supporting an extended family member.

But today, women are not limited to contributions of service, as they are achieving full confidence in their capabilities as financial-savings actors.

Research has also found that women have unique giving patterns as a result of their socialisation. Women do not give the same way men do.

Grounded in a tradition of volunteerism and sharing, women can bring a new voice to philanthropic giving, one that is based on partnership and engagement and has the potential to transform the world of fundraising.

In South Africa, for example, you’ll find makgotlas for funeral expenses or stokvels for group purchasing or community entertainment.

In Kenya, you’ll find groups designed to save for a large investment that benefits the community, usually investing in a business or the Nairobi Stock Exchange.

The principal idea being to work together towards a common goal.

It follows that replicating a similar model, starting with mobilising resources for our own meetings and events, is likely to succeed in the African context. By building on women’s tradition of service, leveraging current expertise and strategic financial giving, African women can shape the future of gender equality and women’s rights on the continent.

This is a call to every woman, from every class, age, race and across ethnic groupings. Despite our diversities, we share common challenges and sometimes common aspirations.

This is therefore an opportunity for us to rally together towards a common cause and for our common good. It is an opportunity for us break our own barriers, one dollar at a time.

Many of us are in a position to give at least a dollar a month, some can give more than a dollar a month, while others less than a dollar.

All contributions are important, and those who are not able to contribute in monetary ways can find alternative ways of contributing. We all have different skills: some are good at mobilising, some at supporting other women, some at breaking the silence of abuse. Every one of us needs to take a measure of responsibility and demonstrate our commitment.

Only once we have created our own sound financial base and strengthened our solidarities can we confidently approach and hold to account those in the mainstream to ensure sufficient funding to support women’s rights.

Our commitment to giving could be one of the indispensable means of transforming the women’s rights agenda on the continent. For a (gender) group that has often been marginalised and reduced to second-class status, philanthropy is a powerful expression of uplifting solidarity.

Simply put, it is at the core of the ties that bind us.

Women gathered in Kigali proposed a task team to set the plans in motion. African women are being presented with an opportunity to drive transformation for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. This is no small ambition, and we all ought to play our part.