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“What does it mean to transform the way power operates in this country? How do we not perpetuate the same systems of domination inside of our own work as we reimagine what our communities can look like and what our institutions can and should look like?”

 – Alicia Garza, Black Lives Matter

As 2020 comes to a close, many of us are struggling to stay afloat amid the unpredictable currents that have sidetracked and sidelined us this year. The world as a whole remains in dire straits as healthcare practitioners work to alleviate the pain caused by ongoing effects of COVID-19, along with the incompetent responses from far right leaders and administrations. Domestically, the U.S. has come face to face with social justice movements calling at once for holistic, inclusive, and equitable policies that fully address the depths of our nation’s toxic past with the intention, first to heal, and then rebuild it into an authentically diverse future. Where we go with this momentum in 2021 will speak volumes in the history books to come.

In terms of the work we do with WECO, and of global gender equity, the development community has seen setbacks that could amount to years, even decades, of progress. According to a recent UN Women report, the impacts of the current health crisis could force an additional 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, 47 million of whom are women and girls. Women are also more likely to work in social care positions and are on the frontlines of COVID-19 relief work, meaning they are more likely to be exposed to the virus. On top of this, gender inequities are exacerbated during times of crisis, which means there are more instances of domestic violence and sexual abuse, less reported incidents of abuse and assault, higher rates of joblessness for women, and increased amounts of unpaid labor.

Two glaring realities have been made apparent by recent articles and research on the state of global gender equity: more dedicated giving to gender equity is paramount; and, better gender data is fundamental for our capacity to build smarter, more effective gender programming.

The 2018 Development Co-operation Report conducted by the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC), mirrors these conclusions as central to both preventing the situation from worsening, as well as building back a better society. The report outlines how women especially need access to sexual and reproductive health care, and that governments need to gather more and better data to achieve their ambitious gender equity goals. Offering a high-level overview and analysis of official development assistance (ODA) trends and issues, the report presents a number of disturbing statistics on where we stand globally with gender equity.

Highlights include:

  • Only 4% of total bilateral aid is currently dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Gender focused aid will need to scale-up significantly to reach the recommended target of at least 20% agreed upon in 2018.
  • Donors need to invest in dedicated support for women’s empowerment instead of only gender mainstreaming.
  • Policy makers must combine gender-responsive analysis, budgeting and auditing, as well as a gender-responsive public financial management framework to improve the lives of girls and women, and beyond.
  • To make progress towards gender equality, policy makers need to recognize the central role of gender equality and sexual/reproductive health and rights to development, and take them into account across national policies and programs.
  • For every 100 men aged between 25 to 34, 122 women of the same age group live in poor households.
  • 214 million women of reproductive age in developing regions, who want to avoid pregnancy, have an unmet need for modern contraception; and unsafe abortion is still one of the leading causes of maternal death.
  • If another 600 million women had access to the internet, annual GDP could increase by as much as USD 18 billion across 144 developing countries.
  • An extra year of secondary schooling for girls could increase their future wages by 10 to 20%.
  • Fully closing gender gaps in the labor force could add up to USD 28 trillion in annual GDP by 2025.

The World Inequality Report (2018) additionally provides some startling numbers on poverty and wealth distribution:

  • In 2015, 10% of the global population (736 million people) were living in extreme poverty.
  • Forecasts for 2030 from the World Bank suggest rates will not fall below 3%, with the poorest 50% of the world’s people estimated to receive less than 9% of global income, while the richest 1% receive more than 20%.
  • If in-country inequality continues to rise, the global top 1% income share could increase from nearly 20% to more than 24% in 2050, while the global bottom 50% share would fall from 10% to less than 9%.
  • If all countries follow inequality growth on par with the U.S., the global top 1% income share would rise to around 28% by 2050; a rise largely made at the expense of the global bottom 50%, whose income share would fall to 6%.

There is still time to change course. The World Inequality Report concluded how if all countries follow the relatively low inequality growth on par with Europe, the global top 1% income share would decrease to 19% by 2050, and the bottom 50% income share would increase to 13%. A combination of three methods can reduce large public debts (and create less wealth inequality): progressive taxes on private capital, debt relief, and inflation. The authors were not starry-eyed about how this could be achieved; reducing public debt, as they emphasized, will be a challenging task, one that will need to be rooted in analysis of economic, social, and historical data.

How gender equity practitioners address these statistics is another story. The 2018 Development Co-operation Report called for providers to update their program frameworks in three key ways:

  1. Create a new narrative that spells out the mutual benefits of leaving no one behind for everyone;
  2. Deliberately mainstream the objective of inclusive, equitable, and sustainable development through development co-operation portfolios, and harnessing agents of change, innovation and data;
  3. A smarter use and allocation of ODA as an integral part of broader efforts to increase the volume of financing to achieve the SDGs for all.

According to Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff, this process of inclusive growth can “reinvigorate people’s trust and build a new policy era that puts the well-being of people and the planet at its heart…[and] will take countries to both pursue inclusive growth policies domestically [as well as] co-operate internationally to ensure no one is left behind.”

In other words, long-term investments and partnerships with civil society organizations (CSOs) will have to take precedent in the coming months to close the gaps for those who have been left behind. These are CSOs that advocate for and amplify the voices of people on the frontlines of poverty, inequality, and vulnerability.

To achieve a world in which women’s rights are fully realized requires programming that actualizes women’s empowerment and rights through targeted actions and creates a conducive social environment for gender equality—one that recognizes women’s right to participate in the decision-making process, as equals, with men.

In terms of their ODA, donor institutions must develop systems that equip them to genuinely understand the context of gender equity in a given region in a manner that enables them to fully empower women and girls. This well-informed approach will translate ambitious policy pledges into actual results; and, it necessitates on the presence of dedicated advisors as well as non-specialist peers who have the knowledge and commitment required to address issues of gender inequity in their own regions.

An integral part of this process will include training women and men about women’s rights, and facilitating women’s leadership and decision making at every level. As the report plainly put it “no decisions about women should be taken without women.” Deepening evidence-based research and improving the collection of more gender equity data is absolutely part of this.


Time for a Funding Renaissance

None of this information is all that new to Shaida Badiee of Open Data Watch, Chung-Wha Hong of Grassroots International, Hamzat Lawal of Connected Development, or Cornelieke Keizer of the Women’s Rights & Gender Equity Taskforce for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs—among countless other individuals and organizations who have been saying some version of this for years. Hundreds of civil society organizations are working harder than ever, many overstretched and hustling for resources to produce effective aid. So what’s the way forward? How do we close the gap between what’s needed and what’s provided for global gender equity?

Shaida Badiee wants providers to focus on creating stronger systems of philanthropy that integrate gender-oriented goals into budget policies, programs, and processes. It’s not enough to have strategies for gender equality; countries need plans that are linked to data needs so that the data is used in a way that accurately and effectively demonstrates impact. Her main caveat to this is to avoid a piecemeal approach with data collection, i.e., only funding one branch of gender data based on funder interest or mission. Doing so would create silos of information instead of a comprehensive narrative on the status of women and girls worldwide.

Hamzat Lawal’s similar understanding of the importance of data and the need for flexible philanthropic giving cannot be understated. His main challenge to donors is to consider what is working right now and how to amplify the lessons we already know, primarily by investing in local knowledge and rational solutions that work for real people in real places in real ways. In terms of data collection, it must be a coordinated effort so that the way forward is truly well-informed.

Hand in hand with accurate and equitable data collection is inclusive finance. Chung-Wha Hong works with movement building that is contingent upon restructuring existing giving schemes to be more equitable. Rebuilding philanthropy should include structural reforms that do away with inequitable processes that place profit at the center of economic systems rather than values such as human rights. Currently, only 1% of total U.S. philanthropic giving goes towards advocacy and organizing in low/middle-income countries. To change this, donors will need to address how the giving model reflects inequality and support movements for social justice and reform by amplifying the work of grassroots organizations with local-global solutions (organizations like La Via Campesina).

It will also take boldly and deliberately strengthening global feminist movements to combat systemic patriarchy. Cornelieke Keizer emphasizes the need to give direct aid to feminist organizations, women’s funds, and action coalitions that invest in feminist movements (such as Leading from the South, a feminist philanthropic fund). The future of gender equity programs hinges on a shift of power that creates a larger funding ecosystem with real synergy to change inequitable social structures. This can be achieved by using intermediary organizations to disburse funds to smaller ones as a means of having more impact; and by funding local grassroots organizations directly.

These are radical solutions to some, obvious ones to others. Regardless of the reaction to them, they are a huge part of what is necessary for real change to occur. 2020 has sent us all a message; and the message is clear. Donors not only need to increase their funding of civil society organizations; they also need to provide more flexible, direct support. The process for governments, funding institutions, and practitioners alike will hinge on holding each other accountable to promises made, and persevering through the fog.

The Hewlett Foundation offers one example of what a new model of giving could look like: regranting, intermediary organizations. The Foundation gives funders in the U.S. the opportunity to make tax-deductible donations that can then be disbursed in smaller amounts to a wider range of global organizations. This strategy incorporates feedback from nonprofits so they know whether or not a given strategy is working. While not an end solution, this is a beginning to the process of shifting power in more authentic ways to include civil society in the discourse that so affects their futures.

Domestically, IUPUI Women’s Philanthropy Institute gives us some seemingly promising statistics for U.S. giving to women’s and girls’ causes. From 2012 to 2017, government grants to women’s and girls’ organizations—especially those focused on reproductive health and family and gender-based violence—increased by a total of 34.4%, significantly more than the 14.6% rate of growth in government grants to other charitable organizations. It’s worth noting that while philanthropic support for women’s and girls’ organizations increased across the board from 2012 to 2017 (an exciting trend if it continues), as it stands, this represented only 1.6%, a small share, of overall charitable giving.

Despite the hard new reality we face, some philanthropic organizations are taking this destabilizing time as an opportunity to consider how best to rebuild from the rubble. The landscape of humanitarian aid, specifically in terms of global gender equity, has been given an opportunity to shift toward more flexible and direct funding. It will be imperative in 2021 that funders jump on this opportunity to transition to a more holistic, collaborative, and equitable approach with civil society—to ensure we not only rebuild, but rebuild better.


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