Diana van Maasdijk

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–A woman in New Delhi facing social isolation because of her sexuality is able to find support at a counseling program for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women run by Sangini (India) Trust. A sex worker in Hong Kong being harassed by police can learn about her legal rights at a resource center created by the advocacy group Zi Teng.

These are the sort of grassroots projects that, in many parts of the world, are struggling to survive in a funding climate increasingly cool to women’s rights.

Last year, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development conducted an online survey of over 400 women’s rights organizations around the world and found that half of the respondents said they receive less funding than five years earlier.

In a subsequent report, the Toronto-based group found declining support for women’s rights programs across all sectors, including once reliable governments and foundations. Sources of funding that have cut back in their support of women’s organizations range from the Ford Foundation to Norway.

“We were shocked by how little money was being given to women’s rights,” said Diana van Maasdijk, director of development and communications for Mama Cash, a Dutch fund which, with 23 years of operation, is the oldest international women’s fund. Mama Cash provided some of the funding for the report.

Zi Teng, in Hong Kong, and Sangini (India) Trust, based in New Delhi, however, are thriving, thanks to grants from women’s funds such as Mama Cash and the Global Fund for Women in San Francisco.

88 Days Later

Now, five of these women’s funds are about to conclude a fundraising campaign that has spotlighted the lack of funding for women’s rights.

Mama Cash; the HER Fund in Hong Kong; Nirnaya Indian Women’s Trust in Secunderabad, India; Tewa in Chakupat, Nepal; and the Mongolian Women’s Fund in Ulaanbaatar launched their 88 Days Campaign on Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, and will wind it up 88 days later, on March 8, International Women’s Day.

The dates were chosen to emphasize that women’s rights are human rights, said Supriya Rao, a program associate at Nirnaya.

Mama Cash said it has so far raised over $135,000. Tewa reports raising around $4,000 by the end of Feburary. None of the other funds could tell Women’s eNews how much they had raised so far, but said they would make announcements after the end of the campaign.

The funds are conducting their campaign independently and in different styles. Two funds–Tewa and the Mongolian Women’s Fund–have distributed pouches and jars to community members to collect donations. Mama Cash has run its campaign on the Internet.

The money raised by women’s funds–which distribute about $15 million globally each year–is meager compared to official development assistance or the money distributed by large foundations. But as overall funds get scarcer, the importance of this special funding pool is growing.

“By providing resources to marginalized groups–such as indigenous and rural women, lesbians and young women–women’s funds are making a significant impact in balancing access to resources,” said Lydia Alpizar Duran, a spokesperson for the Association for Women’s Rights in Development.

Reaching More Groups Globally

Funds that specialize in women’s causes give grants that average between $1,000 and $15,000. Despite the small size of their grants, these funders are reaching more organizations globally. They were cited most often by women’s organizations as a source of funds in 2004, according to last year’s Association for Women’s Rights in Development survey. In 2000 they were the third most frequently noted funder, behind public foundations and agencies.

Recipients say women’s funds tend to be more supportive of groundbreaking and controversial issues. “They seem to be more driven by conviction and belief than other donor agencies,” said Ananditta Kushwaha, executive director of Sangini (India) Trust, the counseling center in New Delhi. “The giving becomes an act of solidarity.”

In 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available, women’s funds held around $24 million in net assets, earned $28 million, and distributed $15 million to women’s projects worldwide.

The Global Fund for Women in San Francisco is the heaviest hitter. It gave $7.5 million of the grants disbursed and controlled $20.7 million of the net assets. Mama Cash came a distant second, disbursing $3 million that same year and claiming $4 million in assets.

Between 1999 and 2003 less than 1 percent–or around $400 million–of total annual official development assistance given by the by the members of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development went to projects that had gender equality as a primary goal, according to its own analysis. The organization is composed of 30 democratic and developed countries.

Since 2000, countries such as Norway and Holland, which have been some of the strongest supporters of women’s rights, have shifted from giving to specialized women’s rights groups. Instead, they have focused on a so-called gender mainstreaming approach, in which aid recipients are expected to filter gender concerns throughout all their development programs. As an example, Norway, which had supported a fund for women in development at the Inter-American Development Bank, in 2005 switched gears and asked that the money instead go to paying gender consultants on other projects.

‘Gender Mainstreaming’ Effect

Gender mainstreaming has tightened the purse strings on women’s organizations and promoted a technical and apolitical approach to women’s issues, the Association for Women in Development report claimed. Many women’s rights advocates surveyed in the report said gender-mainstreaming projects lost sight of eliminating male-female inequalities as a primary goal.

Between 1998 and 2003, women’s rights organizations lost over $20 million in annual funding from the Ford Foundation, one of the biggest givers to women’s organizations. The New York-based fund gave $72 million to women’s rights efforts–both at home and internationally–in 2003, down from $93 million in 1998. The number of grants directed to women and girls also went down, to 381 from 440.

Other large foundations, such as The David and Lucile Packard Foundation in Los Altos, Calif., and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., followed a similar trend.

A major countervailing funding force was provided by the Seattle-based Gates Foundation. Created in 2000, it gave over $320 million to women and girls in 2003. However, most of that was concentrated in the health and education sectors, and the money was concentrated on 41 recipients, such as EngenderHealth, an international women’s health organization based in New York, and the Population Council, another international organization that works on reproductive health issues and is headquartered in New York as well.

Few small women’s rights groups or organizations working on political or economic issues received any of that funding.

The rise of politically conservative governments and religious fundamentalism has made the promotion of women’s rights increasingly unpopular, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development noted in its report.

The women’s projects they surveyed indicated that, outside of Europe and North America, it was more difficult in 2005 than in 2000 to find money for reproductive and sexual rights, political and civil rights, and health issues not related to HIV-AIDS.

Funding was easier to raise for work on HIV-AIDS and violence against women. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development research also showed that development aid in support of gender equality focused on education and health, as did the Gates Foundation’s grants.

Bojana Stoparic is a freelance writer based in New York.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected].

For more information:

Association for Women in Development
“Where Is the Money for Women’s Rights?”
[Adobe PDF Format]:

Mama Cash:

“Women’s Rights: Ready to Swim in Mainstream?”: