To Accelerate Social Change, Approach Philanthropy With a Feminist Lens

By Angelika Arutonyva and Leila Hessini



Globally, feminist movements have been some of the biggest drivers of progressive social change. Credit: UN Women


Feminist movements are powerful, and donors who want to contribute to solving the biggest challenges facing the world today, should fund them deeply, and without restrictions. Research by Htun and Weldon back this up, showing that globally, feminist movements have been some of the biggest drivers of progressive social change.


The work of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) helps us understand what this looks like in practice. In 1995, they began working to strengthen women’s rights and address the issue of violence against women. Working across eight countries, SIHA built an informal network of women with very little funding, most of which was project-specific.


Once they received their first core funding grant, they had the flexibility to be responsive—and none too soon. When Sudan’s dictatorship fell in 2019, SIHA was ready to respond. They had built trust within the country and knew how to support communities. At a time when other actors couldn’t enter the region and it was difficult to get funding through, SIHA supported feminist activists to respond to threats, especially that of mass sexual violence, as well as the opportunities for impact.


We see similar patterns around a variety of issues within the gender justice umbrella. In 2021, Benin liberalised its abortion law allowing for the termination of pregnancy at up to twelve weeks in cases where a continuation “is likely to worsen or cause a situation of material, education, professional or moral distress which is incompatible with the woman’s interests.”


This is a significant win for feminist movements as it recognises the importance of abortion access for a wide variety of reasons. At the global level, for years, feminist leaders have advocated for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to pass a treaty that recognises the gendered nature of the world of work.


The result was ILO Convention No. 190, described as the first international treaty to recognize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment. This is a major policy win and Governments that ratify the convention will be required to put in place processes to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work.


The work that feminist movements do is vital, and yet this is work that is severly underfunded.


Analysis from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) shows that women’s rights organizations receive only 0.13% of Official Development Assistance (ODA) and 0.4% of all gender-related aid. Additionally, only 0.42% of foundation grants are allocated towards women’s rights.


This is the massive gap that we need a bold new school of philanthropists to fill. To deliver on the promise that feminists and social justice movements hold, we require bold innovators to shift the way the world operates. Daring progressive individuals should invest resources into people who can shift our communities and societies to be better, more accepting and welcoming environments. All that is needed to do this is to provide communities, particularly those led by Black, Indigenous and People of Color with a significant level of resources that allows the freedom to be bold and creative in their work.


Recently, Shake the Table, a feminist organisation that bridges the worlds of philantopy and social justice, teamed up with the global philanthropic advisory firm Bridgespan, to explore how feminist movements can be supported to address systemic oppression, and to realise the transformative change that donors seek.


This initiative is a first – bringing together insights from High Net Worth Individuals and feminist movement leaders. The report calls for new financing for feminist movements – asking for an investment of an extra $1.5billion per year. In their words:


We set the very minimum of $1.5 billion a year over and above current funding levels as a starting point, to hold ground against the anti-gender movement and gain traction toward a just future for us all. For thousands of individual feminist leaders, organizations, and their collective movements, this investment would represent a game-changing opportunity. Increasing the resources available to feminist movements by an order of magnitude could enable gains (and stave off losses) in reproductive rights around the world, fairer and more dignified wages and working conditions, and climate justice. It could advance work to reduce gender-based violence as well as push back against authoritarianism and protect democracy, countering systemic abuse in communities around the world. It would recognize the transformative, collaborative work of feminist movements across borders and generations. Such an investment will lead to outcomes we can’t yet imagine.”


And yet the outcomes that already exist speak powerfully of the possibilities that could be further unleashed if feminist movements were resourced boldly.


Feminists want to co-create a better world. A world where feminist movements thrive is one where people from all backgrounds live in peace and enjoy a full range of human rights and freedoms. A world where feminist movements thrive centres constituency work done and led by Black and Indigenous people, and People of Color.


This work cannot be done with a pittance. The work of world making requires bold philanthropy from a feminist lens. Significant resources need to be directed towards historically marginalized communities – led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color around the world.


Organizations working at the grassroots need to be trusted and recognised for the deep knowledge they hold on how to create change, and donors need to do what they can do best – give – and get out of the way so that the all important work of social change is accelerated.


Angelika Arutyunova is an Armenian from Uzbekistan, feminist social justice consultant with two decades of experience across regions, movements and sectors.


Leila Hessini is the Vice President, Programs at Global Fund for Women.


This post first appeared on IPS News.

20 views0 comments