Opting for feminist funding: an alternative for actors working to end FGM

It is clear that the feminist movements and organisations dedicated to the rights of women and girls in all their diversity have never been in greater need of resources.  With this in mind, it is important to find alternatives to diversify funding sources. A little-known alternative is women’s funds or feminist funds. 

A feminist perspective on funding has the potential to transform our society. As well as addressing deep-seated historical power imbalances, it can change discriminatory power relations and social norms that keep women in unequal power relationships.  

Innovative feminist funding challenges the status quo to re-examine existing systems. Aiming to open up possibilities for transformative, equitable and sustainable change, it embraces collaboration, learning, participation, inclusion and responsiveness in its processes and partnerships. This alternative to conventional funding follows a transformative, rights-based approach; its rationale is to empower women and girls to mobilise their own resources, but also to build the capacity of other stakeholders, with the ultimate aim of shaping their respective futures.  

To bring a feminist perspective into this equation, we need to look closely at what is valued and how value is created in the process of achieving gender equality, while supporting the rights of women and girls to impact on progress in all the Sustainable Development Goals. However, pursuing a feminist agenda is not only about what we do, but also how we do it.   

In this discussion, we seek to deliberate and share our views on what a feminist perspective on innovative financing entails and the benefits of such approaches.    

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has created a sense of urgency and renewed energy in pursuing a coordinated global effort to address inequalities and harmful practices such as FGM. Women’s rights and empowerment are advanced as a precondition for eradicating inequalities, as illustrated by the gender equality MDG 5 (Sustainable Development Goal 5, or SDG 5) and the mainstreaming of gender equality in all other goals.   

A feminist approach to innovative financing puts women, particularly women and feminists in the South, at the centre of the action and empowers them to tackle gender and power relations head on, transforming the discriminatory structures and social norms that are constitutive of inequality and poverty in their societies.    

A feminist approach to funding is essential for the inclusion and promotion of gender mainstreaming in projects, programmes and programmes:    

  1. More funding for women’s and girls’ rights organisations

Women’s funds are an alternative to traditional funding mechanisms. Indeed, we note that for more than thirty years these funds have been emerging (Global Fund for Women, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), XOESE Fund for Francophone Women, African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), …) and great progress has been observed since then as these funds also work by directing donor funding towards more impactful causes including harmful practices such as FGM. Women’s funds are therefore innovative in that they offer flexible feminist funding and support to fuel collective action and create meaningful change that will last beyond our lifetime. 

It is important that funding is directed to a variety of women’s organisations regardless of their size and that proactive efforts are made to make it accessible to grassroots actors dedicated to women’s and girls’ rights as well. These actors may face additional barriers to funding due to administrative and technical barriers to accessing traditional funding, and the fact that these organisations are often organised informally (not officially registered).    

In addition, it is essential to ensure that funding provided to women’s and girls’ rights organisations is flexible and allows for organisational strengthening, networking and movement building – this is the issue that the Women’s Fund addresses.    

  1. Gender-sensitive funding    

In addition to providing more and better funding to various women’s rights organisations, it is also essential for women’s funds and funds for women to ensure that funding includes a strong gender perspective, regardless of the organisation to which it is given.   

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), total DAC (the Development Assistance Committee) donor support to women’s institutions and organisations (governmental and non-governmental) averaged US$435m per year in 2016-2017. Of this amount, an average of US$177 million per year was committed specifically to women’s non-governmental organisations, and only US$31 million went directly to women’s organisations based in developing countries.     

At the heart of a feminist perspective on innovative funding are the following feminist principles that projects submitted for funding must meet:  

– Transformative change: A transformative change approach seeks to redress power imbalances between men and women, girls and boys. It challenges and changes discriminatory power relations and social norms that devalue women and girls in all their diversity (and that also have a negative impact on men and boys). These approaches are long-term and sustainable and often require collective action in addition to strategies to bring about change at multiple levels (individual, family, societal and institutional). Such as transformative approaches to ending FGM.  

– Empowerment: Empowerment is the ability of an individual or group of people to make choices and to transform those choices into desired outcomes. Incorporating empowerment into policy requires consideration of issues of autonomy, choice, empowerment and meaningful engagement. The feminist vision of empowerment goes beyond considering women as participants or beneficiaries; it means that women, in all their diversity, are experts in their own experience, agents of their own lives and actors in their communities and societies.  

– Feminist process: A feminist policy prioritises not only the outcomes – the advancement of women’s and girls’ rights – but also the process used to achieve them (the ways of working, the design and implementation of programmes, the values that underpin decisions). The fundamental aspects of the feminist process are integrity, contextualisation, learning, collaboration, participation, inclusion and responsiveness.  

– Intersectionality: Intersectionality refers to the multiple aspects of identity that play into people’s lives and experiences (such as gender, class, age, sexuality or ethnicity, …) and that can compound and exacerbate oppression. An intersectional approach in projects and programmes that aim to end FGM takes into account the complex ways in which multiple identities intersect and influence interests, participation and outcomes.     

  1. The benefits of women’s funds as an innovative financing mechanism

At the webinar on innovative financing to end FGM, one of the speakers representing the XOESE Feminist Fund for Francophone Women highlighted the benefits of diversifying funding sources for grassroots organisations working to end FGM, including women’s funds. We noted some of these: 

– Funding and support: Women’s funds offer flexible, core and longer-term funding and support measures tailored to emerging and established groups of women, girls, leaders, activists and self-organisations, facilitating the emergence of movements and organisations promoting women’s and girls’ rights (physical integrity and bodily autonomy).  

– Capacity building of grassroots actors dedicated to women’s and girls’ rights: Women’s Funds go beyond funding initiatives, projects and programmes aimed at ending FGM, building the institutional capacity of women’s organisations regardless of their size, encouraging and supporting innovative collaborative and empowering initiatives of women’s organisations. 

– Advocacy to influence the donor community: Women’s funds use their knowledge, experience, visibility and credibility within the different donor communities to increase the quantity and quality of funding for women’s and girls’ rights organisations.  

– Acknowledgement of power dynamics and the privilege of leadership and the establishment of equality-based accompaniment. 

– Long-term flexible funding that provides exceptional support to grassroots organisations working to end FGM and gives them more administrative freedom (more time for field activities). 

In conclusion, a feminist approach does not mean focusing exclusively on women and girls or supporting only feminist and women’s rights organisations. Collaboration with a wide range of organisations should be emphasised in order to build their capacity to advance gender justice and engage with men and boys. The main objective is to challenge and redress the social norms that underpin gender discrimination. 



“The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation” is part of the “Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM” project, supported by the “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM”.
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UNFPA, UNICEF or any other agency or organization.

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