Building peace rooted in gender equality: funding for autonomy10 December 2021
We hear from women’s rights organisations in South Sudan and Yemen about why direct, long-term and flexible funding is essential.
Women and girls in societies affected by conflict are facing increased gender-based violence (GBV) due to weak protection systems, difficulty accessing services, patriarchal values and, more recently, COVID-19 restrictions.
Women’s rights organisations are ‘first responders’ – working tirelessly to end GBV and fill the gaps in prevention, security and justice left by struggling or indifferent public services.1 Their work includes: improving women’s economic and social situations; strengthening the capacity of law enforcement and other public institutions to respond to women’s and girls’ needs; facilitating their access to sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial services and justice; and promoting women’s participation in peace and political processes.
The gender funding gap
Patriarchal gender norms and societal structures exclude women from decision-making, confine them to the home and restrict their access to power and resources. It comes as no surprise, then, that women’s rights organisations, most of which work to transform this situation, find it particularly difficult to access funding. The situation has worsened since the beginning of COVID-19, during which organisations have observed ‘a lack of funding or staff needed to maintain their operations properly, impacting their ability to keep responding to women’s needs in the communities where they work’.2
In Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria, Gender Action for Peace and Security UK and partners (including Saferworld and our partner Somali Women Development Centre), heard from women’s rights organisations, who suggested that this lack of access to funding was due to rigid donor agendas, burdensome due diligence and reporting processes, difficulties accessing information about calls for grants, and lengthy, over-technical application processes.3
'A remarkable – and disturbing – 99 per cent 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'.4 The available funding usually does not cover overheads, security or organisational and professional development, leading to a high staff turnover.
A balanced funding system is central to ensuring inclusive peacebuilding efforts which tackle root causes and shift the power dynamics that perpetuate conflict and violence. Providing direct, long-term, core and flexible funding to women’s rights organisations is crucial to building a peace rooted in gender equality.
Resourcing change in South Sudan and Yemen
“This project is trying to address one of the main problems of women rights organisations: most of the projects don’t include overhead costs, which constantly puts the organisation and our work at risk”.
– Anna Tazita Samuel, Executive Director, Women for Change, South Sudan
Saferworld – funded by the UK Conflict, Stability and Security Fund and working alongside Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and Women for Women International (WfWI) – is providing core and flexible funding to women’s rights organisations in Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria. This ‘resourcing change’ programme supports organisations to work on the barriers that hamper their ability to respond to women’s and girls’ needs and protect their rights.
Women for Change, a South Sudanese organisation which received core funds through the project, plans to strengthen their proposal writing, monitoring, evaluation and learning, and to train their board members on leadership and management. “We [also] want to strengthen our advocacy department as that’s how most of our activities and the voice of the women [including GBV survivors] in the community will be heard. Also, without a well-trained board, the organisation might not achieve its long-term goals. Until now, no donor has given us the opportunity to allocate funds for these activities,” explains Anna Tazita Samuel. Anna and her team are also raising awareness of COVID-19 among people with limited access to information (including refugees, internally displaced people, and those living in remote areas or with low levels of literacy), while working to increase women’s and girls’ access to information and services related to sexual and reproductive health and rights, such as menstrual hygiene, and GBV prevention and protection.5
Roots of Generation, a South Sudanese partner, will use the grant to improve their financial reporting, monitoring, evaluation and learning, and communications. They are hoping to have stronger systems in place that will help them secure more funds for projects. As Dorong Grace, Executive Director explains, “if the organisational structures are not robust or cannot be maintained beyond specific projects due to a lack of core funding we are more easily denied”. Part of Roots of Generation’s work is based on enhancing women’s economic empowerment, similar to another partner, the Women Advancement Organisation, who work in Yei (South Sudan) to provide women with technical and vocational education and training. “Equitable increase in knowledge and skills among women, men, boys and girls to manage conflict related shocks is key”, explains a member of the organisation. Improving women’s job opportunities is a step towards changing gender dynamics and preventing domestic violence, as well as an entry point for women to public participation. The project also supports internally displaced women and refugees, who face greater systemic exclusion from earning a living.
Marib Girls Foundation will use the funds to improve their Early Warning Centre for Conflict Resolution and Peace-making and to train young people as peace ambassadors to increase their participation in peace and political processes. They appreciate “this project’s flexibility in supporting project activities even if they change, which is one of the most important factors of success in light of the circumstances that Yemen is witnessing”. With the situation in Marib deteriorating, they are now directing the funds towards strengthening their security and communications.
Another focus of work for women’s rights organisations worldwide is improving the way in which law enforcement bodies deal with cases of GBV. In Yemen, the ToBe Foundation for Rights and Freedom trains police officers to respond effectively and sensitively to survivors of GBV, including imprisoned women, and refer them to psychological and legal services if necessary.
Many factors prevent Yemeni women’s access to justice; a limited knowledge of rights and judicial processes (including fees and how to reduce them); a men-dominated system with little capacity to meet women’s needs; and gender norms that expect women not to press charges – or the harassment that follows if they do.6 In response to these barriers, Yemeni Women’s Union Mukalla offer free legal support and information for women and girls, including GBV survivors, because “as in many contexts, domestic violence is usually treated as a family matter by customary justice systems, which puts women at risk of greater abuse and deters them from reporting”. To continue providing a strong, professional service, the Yemeni Women’s Union is using the core funds provided by this project to strengthen its capacity on Yemeni women’s rights legislation and international treaties (such as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women), which will help it deliver a sensitive and effective response to survivors of GBV who approach them for support.
Working to put an end to GBV and advance women’s rights and gender equality is arduous and high risk, particularly in conflict-affected contexts. Doing so with limited resources is even more complicated. A more equitable funding system that provides direct and core funding to women’s rights organisations to lead the change they want to see is not only an advance towards women’s rights and gender equality – it also works to transform power dynamics and build a long-term feminist peace.
This comment piece is a joint piece authored by our partners in South Sudan and Yemen:
Marib Girls Foundation
Root of Generations
ToBe Foundation for Rights and Freedoms
Women Advancement Organisation
Women for Change, South Sudan
Yemen Women Union
4AWID (2019), ‘Toward a feminist funding ecosystem: A framework and practical guide’, September.
5CSRF (2020), ‘The impact of COVID-19 on women and girls in South Sudan’, July.