For several years now, Francophone African feminists have found a powerful advocate and supporter in the Togo-based women’s fund XOESE. The word xoese means ‘to believe in’ in two African languages, Mina and Ewe. And XOESE truly believes in the power of women organising themselves. The fund mobilises financial resources and invests them in small yet promising women’s groups in French-speaking Africa and Haiti. XOESE also effectively lobbies within the international donor community for increased funding for initiatives in French-speaking countries. 

XOESE’s director, Massan d’Almeida, has been involved in the plans for this unique fund from its inception. “During the AWID forum in Bangkok in 2005, we recognised the severe lack of access to financial resources for the French-speaking women’s movement. What little money was available for women’s rights, went to English-language initiatives. With a seed grant from AWID, we started a network called ROFAF to raise and distribute funds on a small scale in Francophone Africa. But without a follow-up mechanism, these efforts remained isolated. Around 2015, we decided to start a truly autonomous fund that would cater to the entire Francophone region. Fortunately, Mama Cash was available to provide guidance, as we had never built something like this from the ground up before. After three years of building our visibility and raising money, we were able to award our first grant in 2019.” XOESE initially began its operations in five out of the 25 Francophone countries targeted by the fund in Africa and beyond. “We began with supporting four to five groups in each country to begin to create a critical mass.” The fund now supports over 80 groups in 15 different countries, with its budget reaching over one million euro in 2021 – tripling the budget compared to the previous year.  

Much of XOESE’s work consists of supporting groups to create good applications that do justice to their important work. D’Almeida explains, “We encountered a challenge there. You must learn to speak the right language to show funders the importance of your work. You must convey the urgency of your situation and the violations of rights. We see that many groups in French-speaking Africa still need to strengthen their capabilities in this area. The cultural legacy of centuries of colonial rule plays a role here. It is quite a process to take matters into your own hands again and reclaim your authority. So part of our ongoing work includes supporting groups in building their capacities. If an interesting group presents an idea, but needs help conveying it powerfully, we provide support.”  

D’Almeida gives the example of an organisation of market women who sought to provide its members with a daily stipend during times of poor business. “We challenged them to think collectively about how the money could be used even more effectively to reduce their vulnerability. As a result, they developed a plan to collectively purchase a machine that makes cassava harvesting less labour-intensive, significantly increasing their earnings from sales.” XOESE also teaches groups how to tap into local philanthropic opportunities, for example by requesting materials or meeting spaces instead of solely asking for money. “In this way we are gradually strengthening the influence of the Francophone women’s movement; not by providing larger grants, but by giving groups the tools to grow into organisations that can raise funds themselves.”  

Furthermore, XOESE proactively works to influence institutional donors. “We are trying to break their wait-and-see attitude towards women’s rights activists from French-speaking Africa.” A major success was the open letter initiated by XOESE, addressed to French President Macron. “In this letter, we urged the French government to make their development budget for women’s rights accessible to initiatives led by women from Francophone Africa, because only organisations with an annual budget of at least five million euros could submit an application, excluding most women’s organisations in Africa.” The letter paid off; XOESE now has a seat at the table with the French government, and grant conditions have been changed. 

Another success story was the Je m’engage campaign launched by XOESE in May 2021, in the run-up to the Generation Equality Forum in Paris. During this forum, governments, companies, and activists from around the world developed a five-year action plan for gender equality, with financial commitments totaling 40 billion dollars. With Je m’engage, XOESE amplified the voices of Francophone women during the Forum. In advance of the Forum, XOESE also facilitated the formation of national coalitions in 12 different Francophone countries through small campaign grants and a toolbox.. “These coalitions started lobbying local governments and secured 127 commitments to tackle gender-based violence and actively promote women’s rights.” It is clear that Francophone women’s rights activism may still be growing, but it is rapidly gaining ground.