Ending violence against women is possible – but it can’t be done on the cheap

A project-based funding approach presents major barriers to local women's organisations

Image: Nicola Bailey, ActionAid

Tackling violence against women and girls is complex and challenging, but it is not impossible. All over the world, fearless women and the grassroots women’s rights organisations that they lead have been at the forefront of this fight-back for decades – with real, tangible results.

In Nepal, for instance, Saathi, a national organisation working to end violence, lobbied for legislation on domestic violence for over a decade, until the government finally passed the Domestic Violence Act in 2009. There are thousands more examples like this globally.

Wherever they are, women’s rights and feminist organisations are best placed to turn the tide against violence within their communities and their countries. From changing policies, holding governments to account and providing frontline services, their work transforms the lives of millions of women and girls, many of them amongst the most marginalised.

However, they face countless obstacles; above all, they are chronically underfunded. And it is high time for their contribution to be fully recognised and rewarded.

On average they receive just 1.5 percent of aid money committed for gender equality worldwide. Nearly a third of those who responded to the survey said they receive less funding now than they did five years ago and nearly 60 percent didn’t feel their organisation was financially sustainable.  This echoes evidence from the Association of Women in Development (AWID) and various women’s funds, who have long emphasised the need to urgently address this crisis if we ever hope to achieve gender equality.

This problem is exacerbated by type of funding available. Increasingly, organisations are mostly able to access short term funding for specific projects, which is problematic because it is not flexible or predictable.

It means organisations are unable to plan ahead, recruit staff or prioritise activities that are key to achieving change on the ground. It also increases their workload because of stringent reporting requirements. As the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA) underlined, ‘short term funding is an impediment and we end up spending more time with reports than on actual work’.

Small, already under-resourced organisations also tend to find the application process extremely grueling. Most of them are understaffed, reliant on dedicated women volunteering and work long hours. The Centre des Dames Mourides in Mauritius, which focuses on women’s health,  put it like this:  ‘Our NGO is run by 15 volunteers. We have no paid staff. We have a director who works on a voluntary basis. We find it difficult to get a professional to write our project’.

Organisations are also increasingly forced to become ‘donor driven’ and chase funding linked to international policy agendas, rather than being able to prioritise the needs of women and girls in their communities.  And of course some groups are based in volatile areas with constantly shrinking civil society spaces or political instability, which makes things even more challenging.

Thankfully however, the issue is finally gaining more traction internationally, with organisations like AWID, the Global Fund for Women and Mama Cash doing some ground-breaking work to demonstrate why resourcing feminist and women’s rights organisations and movements is so important. Others, like the OECD and the World Bank are also joining in.

But time is ticking by and governments have yet to answer Nambzira’s question. Will they ensure that she – and millions of others – are free from violence, have access to specialist services that meet the needs of women, that supportive laws are in place and sufficient resources earmarked for their implementation?

So far, too many governments have failed and would likely continue to do so without the tireless pressure from feminist and women’s rights organisations and movements.

Having prioritised tackling violence against women, the UK Department for International Development recently committed an additional £6 million towards funding grassroots groups for the next year. This is a very welcome contribution; but it is one step on a long journey.

Anyone serious about ending violence against women and girls needs to stop scrambling around for answers and start supporting solutions. The evidence is clear: the work of women’s rights groups saves lives, but it doesn’t come for free.

Anne Quesney is a Women’s Rights Advocate for ActionAid

Chiara Capraro is Policy and Advocacy Manager at WomanKind

See also: ‘I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor’ – MP shares personal experience of rape in Commons debate


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