25/11/2014 04:17 GMT | Updated 24/01/2015 05:59 GMT

A Force for Change in Women's Lives

New research shows that women's rights organisations are key to tackling violence against women and girls, yet a lack of funding is stopping them in their tracks

Violence against women and girls is not new: it's hardly even news. Sure, the occasional high profile or particularly grizzly case hits the headlines - the Oscar Pistorius trial, the Delhi gang rape, the beheading of a woman in a north London garden. But for the millions of women (one in three of us in fact) who face beatings, rape, sexual assault, stalking, harassment and emotional abuse, violence is largely unreported or ignored.

Violence against women isn't confined to one country, culture or way of life. It is a global system through which men exert power and control over women. Violence or fear of violence affects all women, everywhere.

To tackle it, we need to dig down into the root causes - the unequal power relations between women and men, and the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours which condone and promote violence. These don't change overnight, the world has been built on male privilege and patriarchal rules that keep women in their place.

Yet there's a force for change in women's lives - a group of people who are standing tall and challenging the status quo, pushing boundaries and questioning power. Women's rights organisations are the champions of the change we need to see. They come in all shapes and sizes, from small grassroots collectives of women working to support survivors of violence, to international lobby groups pushing for change at the UN. What they all have in common is that they have the rights and needs of women at their heart, are usually women-led and are challenging the very structures that maintain gender inequality.

New research from Womankind Worldwide has documented the work of women's rights organisations in tackling violence against women and girls in Ethiopia, Ghana and Zambia. Across the three countries, whilst the contexts are very different, there are some important similarities and lessons.

First, a holistic approach is key to ending violence. The three organisations involved in the research are working with whole communities. They are supporting women and girls to claim and assert their rights and mobilising communities to challenge discriminatory attitudes and behaviours that condone violence. Second, there is a need to focus on women's participation and empowerment. Women's rights organisations are doing this in a practical way by providing safe spaces where women can meet to discuss the issues that affect them and supporting women to control their own livelihoods and to take leadership positions so their voices are heard. Third, each organisation in the research works closely with traditional and religious leaders to gain their support and commitment to ending violence against women.

The research adds to growing evidence that women's rights organisations are vital in preventing and reducing violence. They understand the contexts they are working in and provide solutions which are firmly rooted in local communities. Their starting point is their commitment to women. As such their determined activism and innovative programmes have positively changed the lives of women and girls across the world. But as each organisation knows, there is no quick fix to gender inequality - it takes years of working intensively at all levels of society to create change.

Despite the evidence that their work is effective in challenging inequality and tackling violence against women, women's rights organisations have something else in common - they face a chronic lack of funding. A survey by the Association of Women in Development in 2011 of 1,119 women's rights organisations from over 140 countries showed that only one in ten received funding from bilateral, national governments and INGOs, and only 6.9% received funding from UN Women. Funding tends to be short-term and project tied, so women's rights organisations which have their own strong visions and agendas, are often forced to follow the latest donor trends.

Millions of women and girls continue to face violence. Yet we know that it is preventable. And we know women's rights organisations have a key role to play in that. They are changing the world for women, but to change it for good, cash-strapped women's rights organisations need financial support. Tackling patriarchal structures is neither cheap nor quick - yet it's worth it for the world we want to see, where women live free from the fear of violence. The international community needs to step up and match the commitment and drive of women's rights organisations with the cash to drive forward their work.