On March 6, the Malaysia based International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW AP) organised an event on the global economic crisis and how to sustain and invigorate the women’s human rights agenda.
Due to the current economic and financial crisis there has been a significant shift and shrinking of financial support for women’s human rights organisations. During the event organisations and donors - amongst others OSI and Hivos - discussed main issues that have had an impact on the women’s movement.
Women’s organisations shared their experiences and strategies on how to advance the women’s human rights agenda, the challenges that they face in doing so and the innovative measures they used in addressing the funding crush.
One of the presenters was Leontine Bijleveld, of WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform, she shared the experience of a coalition of Dutch organisations in keeping women’s rights on the Dutch international agenda.
The Netherlands government commits to women’s rights as a priority within its foreign policy. It has a dual track strategy as established in the Beijing Platform for Action: investing in women’s rights (stand alone track) and mainstreaming gender into all other programmes and policies. At the end of the nineties the stand alone track disappeared from the political agenda. The Dutch government focussed on gender mainstreaming, which was in fact gender “away streaming”. The second track, investing in women’s rights, was pushed to the background.
An evaluation of Dutch policies and programmes indicated that focussing on gender mainstreaming, led to away streaming and that the dual strategy was essential in the fight for equal rights for women and men. Due to the evaluation and an intensive cooperation with the coalition of Dutch women’s organisations, the Dutch government reaffirmed in 2007 its commitment to the dual track strategy and created a fund amounting to 70 million Euro to promote women’s rights and gender equality via women’s rights organisations, the MDG3 Fund.
Leontine Bijleveld emphasized that “due to the strong lobby and cooperation with parliament by civil society organisations, women’s rights are kept on the Dutch political agenda, even under the new conservative government.” The MDG3 Fund is continued in a new fund: FLOW Funding for Leadership Opportunities for Women – 42 million Euro. Though this commitment from the Dutch government is positively welcomed, there is also critique, due to the complicated procedures the fund is mostly inaccessibility for grassroots and smaller organisations.
The important lessons which can be learned from the experience of the Dutch women’s coalition, especially in times of crises are:
1. A strong collaboration of women’s organisations is essential to keep women’s rights on the international cooperation agenda, especially in keeping governments committed to support women’s rights.
2. The dual track strategy as developed at the Beijing Platform for Action is essential in guaranteeing gender equality and women’s rights.
The presentations during the event focussed on the importance of coalition building by the women’s movement and funding for women’s organisations, with a specific focus on the importance of core funding for over a longer period. The event brought together donors and organisations from all over the world, IWRAW AP will present the main outcomes of the event to donors in order to keep gender equality on the international agenda.
Jessie HexspoorProgramme officer West Asia Hivos