Meaningful funding for women, girls and gender non-conforming people in Fiji

Delailasakau Women’s Group in Naitasiri. PC: Rob Rickman

 

By Rochelle Jones and Erica Lee

Despite their contributions to systematic and transformative change; rural, remote and marginalised women, girls and gender-nonconforming people in the Pacific remain under-resourced.

In fact, less than 1% of funding directed to the Pacific actually reaches women’s grassroots organisations[1].  These were the findings of a scoping study conducted by the Fiji Women’s Fund (FWF) in partnership with the Urgent Action Fund Asia and Pacific (UAF A&P), to investigate the funding realities for feminist and women’s organisations in the region.  According to the report:

“Feminist activism in the Pacific is affected by not just ‘lack of resources’, but also lack of equity. Few grassroots organisations enjoy access to, knowledge of, or skills to develop proposals. Even the opportunity to participate in discussions on what resources and where they should be deployed is the privilege of few. Small and unregistered women’s groups or collectives are among the most marginalised”.

FWF and UAF A&P aim to shift more power and resources into the hands of diverse women and gender non-conforming people from rural, remote and marginalised communities in Fiji and the Pacific. While both are only four years old, these funds are already having an impact influencing resources and power for women and girls rights – yet there is still much more to be done.  In this blog, we take a look at the role of women’s funds in funding grassroots organisations.

The role of women’s and feminist funds as change agents

Women’s and feminist funds play a critical and unique role in resourcing women’s rights and feminist groups, organisations and movements, because they are part of the movements (activism for women’s rights and gender equality) themselves. As the resource mobilisation arm of the movements, their approach is different to the historically colonialist, philanthropic patron-client models, which has led to the power imbalances we see in the current funding ecosystem[2].

Women’s and feminist funds are led by and for diverse women and gender non-conforming people, and use intersectional feminist principles in their funding models. This ensures that overlapping or intersecting forms of discrimination are taken into account and that groups themselves have the power to define funding priorities. Intersectional feminism has been described by the International Women’s Development Agency as “your life experiences are based on how your multiple identities intermingle (race, gender, age, religion etc).”[3]

Indeed, these funds’ very existence evolved from a funding ecosystem that has historically overlooked women’s and feminist rights movements and the critical work they do – particularly in the Global South. For example, AWID has shown[4] that “99% of gender-related international aid fails to reach women’s rights and feminist organisations directly. Three-quarters of the funding never leaves development agencies themselves, and the remaining money that does, goes almost entirely to mainstream Civil Society Organisations and International Non Governmental Organisations”.

This is a huge amount of money that is not reaching or being controlled by movements and grassroot communities directly – and women’s and feminist funds are striving to change this.

Examples of funds that have emerged over the past decades to fill some of these resourcing gaps include: Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice; Mama Cash; Global Fund for Women; FRIDA – Young Feminist Fund; African Women’s Development Fund; and many more local and regional funds such as the Urgent Action Funds; Women’s Fund Asia; and FCAM (Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres) in Central America.

Women’s and feminist funds are different from other funders:

They fund women’s rights and feminist work exclusively, and being led by feminist movement actors[5] and principles, they understand and can respond better to their grantees’ needs.  This results in flexible, long-term funding that is conscious of the intersectional realities of feminist social change and incorporates a vision of redistribution and decolonisation[6]. The staff members of the Fiji Women’s Fund have been in the feminist and women’s rights movements in Fiji for a number of years. Since its inception the Fund has worked with diverse actors and have responded to grantees needs not only making resources available via grant calls but also analysing the context and mobilising much needed resources during crises.

They provide direct (and usually core) funding to the organisations and communities that make up feminist and women’s rights movements. This is key for the realisation of rights for women, girls and gender non-conforming communities because it shifts power to where it should be – the movements themselves. Much of the funding for ‘gender equality’ initiatives goes to larger INGOs or CSOs – who are primarily implementing agencies for short-term projects that reflect their donor’s priorities[7]. Direct, core funding gives organisations themselves the decision-making power on how and where to use resources – including for organisational expenses or collective action. This is politically liberating, powerful and movement-building. For example, in Fiji, organisations like Medical Services Pacific and Fiji Disabled People’s Federation often receive funding for programming (e.g. justice), but not to support staff salaries or operational costs.  These programs need core funding to continue to exist – especially since both organisations provide specialist services.

They act as a bridge between small or informal groups, and large pots of money  thus opening doors for rural, remote and marginalised groups to access to bigger grants that may be otherwise inaccessible due to certain conditions that favour more established, registered organisations. Informal groups like Delailasekau Women’s Group or the Naitasiri Women in Dairy  Group have shared how important it is to have flexible funding such as the grants they received from FWF  and the additional support in financial literacy, communications and monitoring and evaluation has strengthened the groups knowledge and skills.

They don’t just provide funding. Women’s and feminist funds contribute non-financial resources such as capacity building, convening and connecting people, sharing of information and expertise, care and solidarity. Local and regional funds are also grounded in the feminist and women’s rights issues of that context, so are well-versed in what is needed. Through the various networking opportunities that the Fiji Women’s Fund provides, many grantees have reported connections to new funders or other groups.  A good example of this is the support offered by the Women Entrepreneurs Business Council to the Pacific Rainbow Advocacy Network to assist it with Business Contingency Plans to help it cope with any future crises. Both grantees of FWF, the two organisations had the opportunity to share learnings at the Fiji Country Annual Reflections Workshop in October 2020, an event co-hosted by FWF and the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Program.

Finally, they act as movement builders and advocates contributing to the transformation of the whole funding ecosystem to achieve more and better resources for feminist and women’s rights work. For example, FWF are members of Prospera – an international network of feminist and women’s funds that share ideas and work together to transform the funding landscape into a more balanced ecosystem.

By shifting more power and resources into the hands of diverse women, girls and gender non-conforming people from rural, remote and marginalised communities in Fiji and the Pacific, the FWF and UAF A&P are opening doors for a more inclusive model of funding in the region. We work in mutual solidarity with groups who are changing their own communities for the better, and in doing so, transforming unequal power relations that perpetuate systems of oppression and destruction.

About the Authors

Rochelle Jones is an international feminist consultant working as a writer and editor, researcher and resource mobilisation specialist, with over 15 years experience in women’s rights and gender justice. She has degrees in Science, Peace & Conflict Studies and International Relations, and a Masters in International Development from Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. Her work has appeared in various online and offline publications, including the Guardian, openDemocracy and Conectas.

Erica Lee is a Strategic Communications and Communications for Development Specialist with over 15 years of Pacific based communications experience.  She is passionate about using development journalism to amplify the voices of Pacific islanders, facilitate meaningful participation and foster social change.

[1] FWF & UAFAP (2020) “Where is the Money for Women and Girls in the Pacific” https://fijiwomensfund.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Full-report-UAF-FWF-14Feb2020.pdf; and AWID (2019) “Toward a Feminist Funding Ecosystem”

[2]  A funding ecosystem is comprised of those leading social change (activists, organizations, networks, and movements) and those who support their work (philanthropic funders, governments, activists themselves self-generating resources, and more)”. Cited in https://www.awid.org/resources/toward-feminist-funding-ecosystem-framework-and-practical-guide

[3] What does intersectional feminism mean – https://iwda.org.au/what-does-intersectional-feminism-actually-mean/

[4]  See https://www.awid.org/resources/toward-feminist-funding-ecosystem-framework-and-practical-guide, p19.

[5] MamaCash. “Investing well in the right places: Why fund women’s funds?” https://www.mamacash.org/media/publications/mama_cash-why_womens_funds_feb_2015_final.pdf

[6]  For example, see Astraea Foundation’s Feminist Funding Principles.

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