Women and girls are changing the world, but at what cost?
Amira Osman did not expect that leading a women’s rights organization and participating in protests for women’s liberation in Sudan would land her in detention, without access to a lawyer or necessary medical care. Yet that’s precisely what happened when security forces broke into her home in the middle of a recent January night and took her to an unknown location. After a harrowing two-week detention, she was released in February.
As the president and CEO of Global Fund for Women, I see that stories like Amira’s are increasingly common among feminist activists across the African continent and around the world. Women and girls are participating in – and leading – movements demanding their rights. They are fighting for fair and just democracy, and winning. Yet their path is difficult.
Progress is celebrated, but change agents can be met with contempt – or worse
Protest is on the rise, but so is authoritarianism. More governments are adopting repressive tactics, presenting increased challenges and risks for those fighting for their rights. Last year, 75 percent of the world’s population lived in a country where democracy is deteriorating.
This means that activists and movement leaders, including the women and gender justice champions we celebrate throughout Women’s History Month in March, often face severe violations of their human rights for daring to speak out. They face ongoing risk of physical abuse, systemic sexual violence, arrest, abduction, and even death. The stakes are high for speaking out – and funders, NGOs, and invested community members across the Diaspora must step up to recognize the stakes for these activists and do what we can to lessen the load. This requires innovation, flexibility, and solidarity in supporting grassroots solutions and needs, all of which the sector has yet to demonstrate at a grand scale.
Funders must step up with funding and more to support holistically and flexibly
When women and girls can participate safely and robustly in political life, movements are strengthened and communities experience better outcomes in education, health, and safety. But women human rights defenders are often left out of traditional funding and support, and left to face attacks, threats, and even imprisonment on their own.
This Women’s History Month, I am calling upon fellow funders to step up to the plate with funding and more resources for activists at the frontlines of gender justice and ALL social justice movements working to ensure equity and equality for all.
Feminist funding means shifting power to historically marginalized communities including women, girls, and gender non-conforming people. It means getting flexible funding and resources directly to feminist activists who know exactly how to use it. And it is one important means of supporting democratic participation from across the Diaspora this Women’s History Month.
The solutions already exist – we must only listen and support them
It’s important to note that the solutions already exist locally. Innovation is required in learning to listen and leverage insights to better support local-led solutions, NOT to derive top-down solutions or “tell” communities what they already know.
For example, a confidential grantee partner builds the capacity of Sudanese women human rights defenders to protect themselves against human rights violations, particularly sexual and gender-based violence. In response to the recent attacks on activists, they are training women in conflict zones on safe communication skills and documentation of human rights violations. They are also supporting women protesters who have been detained, injured, or faced serious threats to seek justice for abuses.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Global Fund for Women’s grantee partner Debout Fille strengthens girls’ leadership and activism by training them to become parliamentarians and advocates for their human rights. Through their Girls’ Parliament program, they are building a powerful cadre of girls who participate in local planning and budgeting meetings and make their voices heard on issues that affect them. Their advocacy continues to change hearts and minds, and recruit new champions for girls’ rights.
At Global Fund for Women, we are committed to continuing to support such initiatives while listening and learning how best to continue to be supportive. We are even exploring new technology initiatives to leverage publicly available data so we can listen in real time to movements’ needs and drive our strategy to be more movement-led.
We invite fellow funders and members of the global diaspora who are invested in this work to join us in continuing to fuel the power of women, girls, and all marginalized communities as they work to protect their rights and turn the tides towards justice.