On the one but last day of the CSW, the Dutch government in collaboration with AWID, Hivos and Mama Cash hosted a side event on the opportunities for governments to successfully invest in women’s empowerment and gender equality. At the CSW two years ago the Dutch government hosted a similar event. It then launched the MDG3 Fund, a new € 50 million fund in support of Millennium Goal 3: women’s empowerment and gender equality. The overwhelming number of applications submitted, more than 450, asked for multiple folds the amount of resources available. The Fund was raised to € 70 million. Forty five, predominantly international and regional, organisations have since received funding out of the MDG3 Fund. Their activities take place in 105 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Robert Dijksterhuis, head of the gender division at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, used the occasion of this year’s CSW to highlight the relevance of this new funding mechanism, its collaboration with Dutch NGOs as co-signatories to the Fund, and the experience of MDG3 Fund recipients of being capacitated to scale up their work. Dijksterhuis was adamant about his mission: “We as governments can not drive this agenda of gender equality and women’s empowerment on our own. But we can support it as women’s organisations are the driving force. We need to support scaling up of their agenda and programmes. It can be done, and should be done and I so appeal to other donors, fellow bilaterals, foundations and International NGOs to do the same, either contribute to the MDG3 Fund or the UNIFEM Fund for Gender Equality, or set up similar funding mechanisms.”
The MDG3 Fund did not emerge overnight and was the result of a collaborative Dutch NGO lobby towards the Dutch government, inspired by AWID’s action research Where is the Money for Women’s Rights and Organizing. A key actor in this lobby process was the Dutch development agency Hivos, represented by myself, Ireen Dubel, on the panel. The other four panellists were MDG3 grantees. Geeta Misra, MDG3 recipient and Executive Director of CREA (India and global) and board member of the oldest women’s fund Mama Cash, shared the difference the MDG3 funding has made for her organisation in the field of violence against women: upscaling of the work, coalition building across five countries in South Asia and collaboration with Central Asia, plus inclusiveness towards women who are at the margins of violence against women’s work, lesbian women, transgenders, sex workers, disabled women. She emphasized the importance of the MDG3 Fund support to organisations like Mama Cash and other women’s funds, as a mechanism for redistribution of large grants to women’s initiatives at grassroot level. Ruth Ojiambo Ochieng, Executive Director of Isis-WICCE, a regional organisation based in Uganda active on issues of women in (post) conflict situations, was very honest about being a MDG3 recipient. “We got a million and it almost made us crazy, it made our dream come true. It was a lot of money, but to be honest, the money is spend easily given the demands.” The request for results by donors was perfectly responded to by Ruth’ narrative on what Isis-WICCE was able to do, given the new and substantial injection of resources. Delivery of health services to women in post-conflict Liberia, empowerment of Sudanese women resulting in standing for local government office, South-South exchange and professionalisation of her own organisation.
Her conclusion: “The MDG3 Fund must be scaled up!”
For Mallika Dutt from the Indian and US based multi and popular media organisation Breakthrough the MDG3 funding was a game changer in terms of capacity, depth and scale of the work done in the field of violence against women in India. Apart from reaching out to new audiences, new stakeholders have come on board, ranging from ordinary citizens, men and women, engaging with issues of violence against women, to local governments taking responsibility. Asia wide demands are forthcoming for Breakthrough to facilitate similar processes.
Cindy Clark from AWID completed the panel with the latest AWID research on the funding landscape, trends, challenges and opportunities for women’s rights work. Renewed interest to fund this agenda might be jeopardised by the impact of the financial and economic crisis.
The more than hundred persons in the audience shared appreciation of the MDG3 initiative and the Spanish funded UNIFEM Fund for Gender Equality and the need for other donors to come in in support of similar funding mechanisms, in particular given the context of the crisis and falling levels of ODA support and the flux of the Dutch government due to the fall of its cabinet and upcoming elections in June 2010. Robert Dijksterhuis however was optimistic: “The MDG3 grantees and non-awarded applicants are proof of the need and demand. So the future is in collaboration.”