09/06/2015 12:09 BST | Updated 09/06/2016 06:59 BST

All the Things We Could Do, If We Had a Little Money: The Costs of Funding Women's Rights Work (Part Three of Three)

The previous blogs in this series (part 1 and part 2) have identified the barriers created by how funding for women's rights organisations works, and explored some of the problems this creates. In this final part, I look at some more challenges, and then offer some ideas for how things can change.

Money gets more money

All this adds up to a landscape where larger organisations get more funding, and others struggle, or even disappear. This is compounded by the global recession, and a decreasing donor focus on HIV, meaning the overall funding is reducing. Increasingly too, governments and foundations look to single large grantees, over coalitions and multiple medium grants, that allow smaller organisations a foothold. This is often seen as reducing administrative and other burdens, but in practice means that multi-million dollar organisations get and hold the big and small organisations can at best look to be sub-grantees. AWID's research in 2010 found that the combined income of 1,1000 women's organisations was approximately $106 million US, which they compare to the income in that year for Save the Children International and World Vision International of US$1.442 billion and US$2.611 billion respectively. Not only do the bigger organisations enjoy better ability to access funding, but they also benefit from administration fees on large grants, and bank interest and investment income off huge budgets. So the big organisations get bigger, and smaller organisations can't hope to compete.

Where the money goes

More, this adds up to a picture where generic organisations get the funds. If your organisation is specialised with one community or group, or in one area, it is increasingly difficult/challenging to access funds. In a given country, you may see the national HIV organisation accessing the global and governmental funding, while the women's groups, violence prevention organisations, LGBT organisations and others struggle. It reduces diversity in civil society, in both organisations and approaches, and creates a rocky terrain for new groups to form, a particular impediment for newly affected communities, youth-led organisations and others.

What next?

In 2013, AWID published the report Watering the leaves, Starving the roots which details how growing focus on 'women and girls' in development, this has not translated into funding and support for the roots of change - women's organisations. In a 2010 survey, the median income of over 740 women's organisations was just $20,000 US. The issues AWID identified have a long history and continue today (this excellent recent piece highlights the history and ongoing challenges of the under-resourcing of women's rights work). This lack of funding and systemic under-resourcing of women's rights work has been called a form of gender based violence and a violation of women's human rights.

The International Community of women living with HIV Eastern Africa (ICWEA) recently published a rapid situation analysis of access to funding by organisations of women living with HIV, gender and women human rights organisations in Uganda. Their analysis found there are many barriers to women's organisations and networks accessing funds, and called for enhanced technical assistance, funding calls specific for women's organisations, increased partnership and knowledge sharing with funding bodies, and institutional support.

In addition to these recommendations, if we are to see real change in the funding of women's rights organisations, it is essential that gender equality and women's rights are continuously and explicitly prioritised, including in the allocation of funds (and that gender 'mainstreaming' is not used as an excuse to lose gender from the agenda). Further, funders, including all governments, trusts, international NGOs, and UN bodies, must recognise that gender equality and women's rights have not been achieved, and recommit their efforts, and their funds, to supporting more progress. It would also be beneficial for funders and the public to recognise that splashy social media campaigns and celebrity endorsements don't make change, and for funds to be refocused on supporting the women who do. Funders and other actors must recognise that women's rights and feminist organisations are essential partners in achieving gender equality, and act to repair the disconnect between focus on women and girls, and funding for the organisations that can make change on women's rights. There is huge potential for transformative change, if only the funds are there to make it happen.