A global market failure

A global market failure

The truth behind funding of women’s rights and equality.

The rights of women – and especially girls – appear to be centre stage in the development arena at the moment. With high-profile corporate campaigns like Gucci’s ‘Chime for Change’ and Nike Foundation’s ‘The Girl Effect,’ to high profile statements form the President of the World Bank, the UN Secretary General and most recently Bill and Hillary Clinton during their annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York, women’s rights and gender equality are hailed variously as the key to development and the answer to global economic growth.

But the sad truth is that the media campaigns and rhetoric just aren’t matched by resource allocation and funding to women’s organisations.

Quantifying the problem

A few statistics from multilateral funds paint the picture across the sector.

For 2007-13, only 0.37% of the EU budget was dedicated to promoting women’s rights and gender equality.

The budget for UN Women in 2013 totalled just $275 million – less than 5% of the UN's budget.

In 2012, the World Bank's spending for “social development, gender and inclusion" was less than 2% of its 2011 budget.

Less than 2¢ of every $1 spent on international development goes to adolescent girls.

And at a time when accelerating women’s empowerment has been ostensibly cast as a central issue in the post-Millenium Development Goals 2015 Agenda, during the UN Commission on the Status of Women’s annual session with Member States in March 2014, there was strong push-back from the US, Russia and Caribbean States on a recommendation to “increase significantly resources for grassroots, national, regional and global women’s organisations.”

A global market failure

The result is that women’s rights organisations across the world are chronically underfunded. It is what might be termed a massive, global market failure.

While calls and targets to increase women’s rights, participation and equality resound, the global community - from multilateral agencies to governments and corporations - are neither increasing funding nor effectively allocating resources and funding to the organisations who are actually doing the work on the ground.

A global survey conducted in 2011 of 1,119 women’s organisations from over 140 countries* found that women’s rights groups had a combined income of $106 million - compared with Greenpeace Worldwide’s budget of $309 million, or $1.4 billion for Save the Children International. The survey also found that the median income of women’s organisation’s was a tiny $20,000. Even more alarming, 35% of women's organisations were experiencing a budget shortfall and 20% were facing threat of closure.

“Whatever the headlines, the numbers tell a different story: for all the talk of “investment” in individual women and girls, there is no evidence of more funding for women’s organisations,” writes Association of Women In Development (AWID) Manager, Angelika Arutyunova.**

What can be done?

Firstly, it is critical to connect small and fragmented women’s organisations to give them greater access to resources, collaboration and a greater voice in lobbying for funds. This is what Sisters For Change is doing in setting up the Sisters For Change Community Network.

Secondly, donors, funders and international women’s rights organisations need to focus their strategies to support grassroots organisations and community efforts more directly and to increase accessibility of funding to these groups. This is why the Sisters For Change partnership model stresses collaboration, working together hand-in-hand and collective on-the-ground impact.

Thirdly, multilateral, bilateral and private funds need to think more long-term in providing multi-year and core funding. Commercial investments are usually made for a minimum term of 5 years. It appears sensible to structure funding for long-term social change on a comparable time-scale.

Last, but by no means least, individuals - like you - play a critical role in the funding landscape. According to AWID’s report, donations from individuals accounted for a significant 10% of the total annual budgets of women’s rights organisations. With the proliferation of traditional and new payment channels from Web to mobile, the power and contribution from individuals – especially women (who are 50 times more likely than men to give toward international and community initiatives) - can only grow. By so doing, it will encourage funding institutions – from multilateral agencies to governments – to follow suit and put their money where their mouth is.

Help change the funding picture for women's organisations worldwide today. Support Sisters For Change. We promise your money will reach the grassroots, help connect women's organisations and give women a greater global voice.

*”Watering the leaves, starving the roots,” AWID 2013
**“From aid to investment: funding women’s rights groups”, Open Democracy, December 2013