Women’s organisations and movements have historically been key actors in the advancement of women’s rights, gender equality, social justice and development. Nevertheless, this important role has been threatened by the growing challenges to obtain resources that support this work. The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) has become aware of these challenges and has seen that the dominant sense is one of scarcity: too few interested funders, with too little money to support existing women's rights initiatives. Is this really the case? Is it that women's rights groups are not bold enough in their fundraising strategies? Is it that donors simply don't understand the urgency and importance of this work?

AWID set out to answer these and other questions in 2004 when we launched the multi-year action-research initiative "Where is the Money for Women's Rights?" to gain a better understanding of funding trends for women's rights work and how best to expand the resource base for feminist movement and women's rights organisations. What we have since learned is that the challenges of the current funding landscape are many; including what seems to be decreasing support for women's rights organisations among almost all sectors of funders in most regions.

Our findings point to the need to completely re-think the relationship between money and movements. A focus on individual organisational survival — while understandable in times of crisis — contributes to fragmentation and weakened movements. We must find alternative, more collective ways of approaching resource mobilisation that both expand the pool of resources for women’s organisations generally, and strategically influence donor agendas.

In this edition we specially focus on information and communication technologies (ICT) and gender, taking a closer look at the women’s organisations working on this area that responded to our 2006 survey. In addition we include some highlights of an interview conducted with Ms. Sonia Jorge, a specialist in Communications Policy and Regulation working on Gender and Development. Her valuable inputs not only reflect what we have observed in past researches but also contribute to a better understanding of funding trends, women’s organisations, ICT and gender.

Women's Rights Organisations Working on ICT

Based on AWID’s most recent survey results (2006), of the 958 women’s organisations which responded, only 161 mentioned to work on ICT, accounting for 17% of the sample.

The regional distribution of these organisations is as follows: 43% based in Africa, 12% based in Asia, 19% based in Latin America and the Caribbean, 6% in the Middle East and North of Africa, 16% in Central/Eastern Europe and 4% in North America and Western Europe. Only one organisation did not identify the region it belongs to (region unknown). The graph below illustrates these percentages:


Within that particular group, two-thirds of the organisations had annual budgets of less than USD 50,000 in 2005, as it is shown in the following graph:


The role that civil society organisations, particularly women’s organisations, play within the information society is crucial to a sustainable long term development. Following Nancy Hafkin and Sophia Huyer’s 2007 report, "everyone will benefit if women engage in and actively contribute to the knowledge society. If they do not, society will be deprived of their full creativity, perspective and experience, and women will not be able to play a role in designing, creating and developing science and technology (S&T) that affects every aspect of their lives and determines their life opportunities" [1].

The data presented clearly shows that women’s organisations working on ICT live and work with limited resources. Even if this may seem as a rather discouraging landscape, there has been an apparent improvement in the last ten years: in 1995 81% of the organisations working on ICT had budgets under USD 50,000, and in 2000 this percentage was of 74%. If their impact is to be expanded and the benefits of ICT to women and their communities are to be enhanced, committed efforts from key actors to effectively include and integrate gender equality in policy making is urgent for ensuring that resources will be available for women’s organisations.  

On the other hand, half of these organisations declared that it is more difficult to raise funds now than 5 years ago, while only 25% said that it is either easy or stayed the same. In addition, 32 organisations said they didn’t exist in the year 2000, which shows how young the women’s rights organisations working on ICT are. Consequently, many of these organisations are in an early stage of development, a critical aspect that needs to be ameliorated through funding in order to ensure equal access for women and men to the ICT. There is also a need to elaborate clear and effective guidelines on how to engender ICT policies, which entails, as Sonia Jorge underlined, professional expertise in both gender and ICT to address the technical aspects of ICT/telecom policy and women’s organisation. Gender advocates need to be engaged with universal access policy and ensure that those funds are used to support access to and use of ICT by women.

Who Funds Women's Work on ICT?

According to the whole sample of our survey respondents, the most important sources of funding in financial terms for 2005 were bilateral and multilateral assistance (23% of total revenues), international non-governmental organisations (14%) and large private foundations (13%).

However it is important to also note the role played by women’s funds. While they accounted for just 5% of total revenue in 2005, 46% of survey respondents reported receiving support from these funds. Women’s funds are thus playing a critical role in reaching an enormous range of groups, in a sense broadening access to resources.

Regarding specific donors, the most important for 2005 as reported by the survey respondents included individual donors, the Dutch Government, the Ford Foundation, Oxfam International members, the Global Fund for Women and HIVOS.

Looking particularly at the 161 women’s organisations working on ICT, the 15 donors that provided the biggest support in 2005 were:

  • Global Fund for human rights

  • Toyota Foundation

  • Danish official aid

  • Local foundations

  • European Commission/EU


  • Your national or local government

  • Heinrich Boll Foundation

  • Dutch Government

  • Norwegian Government

  • CIDA (Canadian official aid)

  • United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

  • Global Fund for Women

  • CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development)

  • Oxfam International Members

Once again, the bilateral and multilateral agencies represent a big part of the funding available for this work. Women’s organisations should therefore be working to continue to showcase all the successful projects they have developed and make the case for further support, not only by governments or multilateral organisms, but also from other types of donors.  

An Alternative Vision for Resource Mobilisation

As we identify current and potential sources of funding for women’s organisations, it is important to step back and reflect on the broader significance of money in our movements. Without a doubt, the relationship has been a complicated one. While funding has facilitated many of our important achievements, it has also had unwanted impacts on our agendas, contributed to competition and fragmentation and has been seen as a ‘co-opting’ force. Money has rarely been the subject of open discussion; either for fear of appearing motivated for the wrong reasons, or for fear that sharing too much information will lead to another organisation’s gain and our loss. We must challenge this relationship between money and women’s movements. Our capacity to engage with donors is political, not just in resourcing our work, but in influencing funding agendas and priorities.

If we want to expand the pool of resources available for women’s organisations in all their valuable diversity, as well as ensure that donor priorities are more closely aligned to our own, we must change the way we approach resource mobilisation. This means moving away from traditional fundraising models where individual organisations reach out to individual donor agencies. It means including resource mobilisation as part of collective strategies where women’s organisations come together to influence broad funding sectors and trends, guided by shared strategic goals. This kind of strategy demands solidarity; we cannot rest if our organisation is well off financially while others are struggling. This is about the financial sustainability for our movements.

Women’s rights organisations must explore new approaches to resource mobilisation and financial sustainability that:

  1. Build collective power: How do we build shared political agendas that recognise our diverse political projects? A revitalised ethos of solidarity is urgently needed, to bridge the fragmentation that has weakened women’s movements around the world. Key elements are to: collectively clarify ideology, values and ‘non-negotiables’; widen the base of the movement and ‘popularise’ feminism; claim more platforms for coalition-building, collective reflection and analysis; identify priorities through genuinely democratic regional processes; design creative ways to share assets (legal and financial specialists, fundraisers, office space, funding for meetings, information on donors, communication technologies, etc).

  2. Engage with donor allies: Donor agencies are not monoliths. On the inside are individuals with different interests and priorities. Seek out allies within the agencies, put proactive strategies on the table and negotiate terms of engagement, and support internal champions to influence their funding institution.

  3. Create more autonomous funding to sustain our movements: there are many well-founded critiques of the impact that donor funding has had on political agendas of women’s movements. Membership fees, investment in long term assets, innovative experiments with a ‘solidarity economy’ are some of the strategies women’s organisations are using to develop more autonomous funding sources.

  4. Develop and support leaders: strong, vibrant feminist leadership is critical for propelling our agendas. Processes to build and strengthen multigenerational leadership are critical, as are efforts to build feminist leadership among grassroots and community organisations that ground women’s rights work.

[1] Engendering the knowledge society: measuring women’s participation. Published by Orbicom in association with NRC Press Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information, 2007

Lucía Carrasco, Fernanda Hopenhaym and Cindy Clark are each respectively, the Programme Assistant, Associate Researcher and Manager of the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID), Where is the money for women's right? Strategic initiative.

Lucía Carrasco and Fernanda Hopenhaym, with Cindy Clark

Lucía Carrasco, Fernanda Hopenhaym and Cindy Clark are each respectively, the Programme Assistant, Associate Researcher and Manager of the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID), Where is the money for women's right? Strategic initiative.

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