Skip to the page content
December 14, 2015

Donors urged to fund female activists battling violence against women

ActionAid calls on women to unite against violence and stresses that funding for grassroots collectives is essential to their ability to effect change. Cross posted from the Guardian, by Liz Ford.

Greater efforts to organise and fund local women’s groups are required to combat gender violence, according to ActionAid.

Onyinyechi Okechukwu, a communications specialist for ActionAid Nigeria who has been closely involved with the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, said a forceful local women’s movement had the power to effect lasting change. “I strongly believe we have to establish women’s movements so it’s not just about one person, it’s a collective voice,” she said.

Okechukwu was in London recently for an event at parliament to mark the start of 16 days of activism on ending violence against women. She pointed to the events following the suspicious death of a surgeon in Lagos as an example of what collective activism can achieve. Hestianna Idiodi-Thomas died at her home in October. She was taken to hospital by her husband, a pathologist. Soon after her death, the medical association made statements suggesting she had killed herself.

“And then the women’s organisations and individuals came together and formed a collective of concerned women,” said Okechukwu. Concerned Women’s Voices created a twitter hashtag, #WhatHappenedToDrThomas, called for a proper investigation into her death and for another autopsy to be carried out to establish how she died. Last month, the inspector general of the police ordered a fresh investigation into the surgeon’s death.

“That is the power of movements,” said Okechukwu. “[It’s a message] we are trying to pass across to communities where we work. If you have issues, you have to bring it to the group. We’re actually trying to build collectives in communities so it’s not just one person’s voice, but a group’s voice that people are hearing.”

Local groups nonetheless need funding, she added. Organisers often have to dip into their own pockets to help pay for local events or outreach campaigns and programmes. “Women’s groups should be deliberately identified and funded,” she said. “If they are not identified and funded, they will continue to struggle.”

Figures published by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development in its 2013 report Watering the Leaves, Starving the Roots, found that the average income for the 740 women’s organisations it surveyed was $20,000 (£13,000) a year. Groups in sub-Saharan Africa received an average of just over $12,000 a year.

Earlier this year, ActionAid and the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition accused governments of starving women’s groups of funds and therefore hindering their work. As part of its Fearless campaign, ActionAid is calling for more money for grassroots groups, which have a crucial role to play in tackling gender-based violence. The organisation is also calling on the UK government, which has promised to put women and girls at the centre of its aid and development policies, to take the lead on encouraging other countries to take practical steps to prevent violence against women.

Calls for funding are likely to grow louder now UN members states have committed themselves to ending violence against women and girls by 2030 under the new sustainable development goals, which come into force on 1 January 2016.

“Most governments or donors just want to see results immediately. They want to see physical things so they can point to what this money is doing,” said Okechukwu. “So they fund a school building or some kind of construction or health centre. They can easily see results. What we do in women’s rights work is a lot to do with advocacy, legislation issues – involvement in these takes time.”

A woman taking a case of abuse through the courts can require support for years during the lengthy process, she added, but this was not a good reason to ignore pleas for money from these groups. “Women’s rights organisations need to be consciously funded if you want those day-to-day cases of violence that you see, if you really want to address action.

“[Governments] can’t say we want to address violence against women and look for quick wins.”

On Thursday 10 December, ActionAid and Guardian Global development were hosting an event to discuss what needs to be done to ensure global commitments to eliminate violence against women and girls are upheld,  Nicky McIntyre the Executive Director of Mama Cash was speaking in the event as well.