In a report called ‘Where is the money for women’s rights?’, six organisations sound the alarm about the poor state of private and public funding for gender equality initiatives in France. Caroline Sakina Brac de la Perrière, executive director of the Mediterranean Women’s Fund (MedWF), sheds more light on the issue in an interview.
The report compares funding for gender equality initiatives in France with both the budgets allocated to other initiatives that have been awarded similar priority in France, as well as to the funding that other countries wielding similar funding power dedicate to gender equality programmes. The main conclusion of the report? Gender equality is not a public financial priority at both the local and national level in France. In 2016, the budget allocated to the Ministry for Family, Children, and Women’s Rights under the programme, ‘Equality between women and men’, was a mere EUR 27 million, or 0.0066% of the overall budget, while the annual cost to the French state of violence against women is estimated at EUR 2.5 billion. As a comparison, the Spanish budget dedicated to combating violence against women was EUR 0.54 euro per inhabitant in 2016, while in France this figure was just EUR 0.33. Private funding lags behind as well, paying scarce attention to women’s rights programmes. Funds and foundations specializing in this field have been established only recently, have few resources, and donations from individuals are insufficient. As a consequence, organisations are forced to close down or unable to accomplish their goals, and the cost of gender equality is increasing. The report calls for political commitment from the state to match its own policies with adequate funding, and to translate political will into public and private investments.
Why was this report necessary?
In France, the figures of funding for gender equality initiatives are incredibly bad, so the need to document these and raise awareness was very high. The Ministry of Family, Children and Women’s Rights in France has the smallest budget compared to all the other ministries, and the money that it does have serves different portfolios. Not all of its budget is allocated to women’s rights.
Would you say there is a mismatch between the value that France’s society attaches to gender equality and the existent funding possibilities?
Yes, definitely. In 2014, new legislation was passed that is claiming to promote “real” equality, so the political will was present. However, it was never followed by an implementation mechanism, and things never got off the ground.
The report highlights a taboo in French society surrounding women’s activism. What is the taboo precisely?
The linkage between women and money is taboo in French society. People don’t talk about money for gender equality or women’s activism. The dominant belief in France is that activist work and efforts towards equality should not have any financial cost. Unfortunately, women do this work for free, and they are deeply influenced by this belief.
In France, people don’t talk about money for gender equality or women’s activism
So where do you see the developments surrounding women’s rights going in the future?
At last, women in politics have begun to criticise how they are treated by their male peers. And they do this all together, irrespective of their party affiliation. In general however, the trend is quite negative. As elsewhere in Europe, there is a conservative backlash that takes a lot of effort to counter. The upcoming elections in France next year don’t look very promising. Gender equality and women’s rights are not necessarily a platform belonging to the political left or right. Inequality is more related to the patriarchal nature of French society. Violence against women is less visible, because it is less directly physical, but it remains widespread. The term ‘feminism’ is generally accepted, but we lack debates about what gender equality actually means.
How can things like this be addressed?
MedWF is now starting a campaign to put this more on the agenda. The six organisations that published the report propose that political parties have to pay a fine if they do not place an equal amount of women and men on their electoral lists – as they are required to do by law – and that this money is then donated to women’s rights organisations. We would like to have this claim taken up by women’s organisations.
So the political landscape needs to change?
Yes, but change starts elsewhere. Women activists always receive criticism about not being assertive enough to raise money for their cause, and often this is grounded criticism. But then, who is ready to give? We decided to lead the way, in requesting structural financial support from both public and private actors, but received very little response. We approached 200 Members of Parliament out of the 500 in total, and only four of them responded by allocating a small part of their annual individual MP funds (réserve parlementaire) to us. The only way that things can change is through convincing women’s organisations really ask for the funding. And once the political will is there, it needs to be translated into concrete financial commitments.
Caroline Sakina Brac de la Perrière is the executive director of the Mediterranean Women’s Fund, a women’s fund grantee partner of Mama Cash. The report ‘Où est l’argent pour les droits des femmes? Une sonnette d’alarme’ was published by six organisations: Haut Conseil à l’Égalité, Conseil économique, social et environnemental, Committee UN Women –France, Fondation des Femmes, Women4, and the MedWF. It can be accessed here (in French).