4 ways for the development community to prioritize gender financing

A women’s group in India discuss income generating projects. How can the development community prioritize gender financing? Photo by: Maria Andersson, IM Individuell Människohjälp / CC BY-NC-ND

As United Nations humanitarian agencies struggle to overcome severe financial strain and back ongoing emergency operations, such as the Syrian refugee crisis, targeted funding for gender rights continues to lag.

Fostering gender equality is broadly considered smart economics, for poor and rich countries alike. Yet gender equality programs typically compose only a fraction of total humanitarian funding, and dipped from 22 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2014. Financing for gender can sometimes require creative approaches, experts say.

One method and resource — regional partnerships — was the focal point of a workshop last week during the two-week long Commission on the Status of Women at the U.N. headquarters in New York. Representatives from regional organizations such as the African Union Commission and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, which co-hosted the event, gathered to discuss lessons learned.

Devex spoke with several attendees from the U.N. and other organizations to gather some insider tips for strategizing gender financing.

1. Look to national governments and budgets for support.

Begona Lasagabaster, the head of U.N. Women’s leadership and governance sector, refers to the phenomenon as an “unfortunate constant.” Even in the face of political will and a strong legal framework, there is still no “means of implementation,” she said. While U.N. Women has long struggled to keep pace with other U.N. agencies when it comes to its budget, Lasagabaster noted that overall pledged increases for official development assistance for gender issues may not trickle down to the grassroots level. It is critical, she said, to consider many different entry points of funding.

The first, but not only, source she recommends considering is national budgets.

“We have a tendency to look to ODA, but what can you find within your national budget, what is being talked about on a national level, meaning parliamentary, or subnational, going local?” she said. “We have to be adjustable in a way where we can be flexible and look at all of these main sources of funding.”

2. Connect at all levels.

According to Charles Chauvel, U.N. Development Program’s team leader for inclusive political processes in its bureau for policy and programs support, effective partnerships with civil society and women’s organizations offer the “best way” to conduct its work on governance and participation of women in the political arena.

In practical terms, for civil society organizations, this could mean working with unlikely partners, or even potential competitors for funding sources. It’s a question of leveraging influence and examining what big terms like public-private partnerships break down to mean.

Lasagabaster said the relationship between local nongovernmental organizations, national and international organizations should not be discounted, but rather, encouraged for the exchange of skills and resources each has to share.

“The local organizations may be able to provide basic things like project funding but they do not have the technical capacity or the knowledge to go to the national arena, but the local level is also critical and brings something essential, which is sustainability,” she explained. “The grassroots women are always there, always will be there, always have been there. That can benefit national NGOs, too.”

3. Link work back to the SDGs — but keep it specific.

Massimo Tommasoli, International IDEA’s permanent observer to the U.N., said that gender has become more inherent to the governance work he undertakes with public institutions and organizations across the world. Still, he recognizes that there is more work to be done, as when it comes to implementing the 16 Sustainable Development Goals, Tommasoli sees the inclusion of the SDGs into programmatic work as key for funding.

While it is not yet clear which goals might be prioritized, he recommended thinking comprehensively, while also keeping certain priorities, such as gender, in mind.

“We need to look across the board and think how these goals will connect and what their impact will be on a local and regional level,” Tommasoli said.

Similarly, the goals, when considered, should be thought of not as global or universal targets, but instead as applicable to specific needs on an individual country level.

“This is about translating the SDGs into good policies and making sure the policies are, at a local level, gender sensitive and specific and could enhance gender equality,” he said.

4. Think short term, if necessary.

The reality for many organizations, especially smaller ones, might often come down to practicalities. Across the Middle East, the work and needs of Arab women’s organizations differ, according to Hoda Badran, secretary general of the Arab Women’s Union, representing a few thousand organizations.

Typically, though, issues surrounding power transactions and political space cross over from one organization’s work to the next. Consistent, as well, is a lack of technical support and funding that is cited as a routine concern, according to Badran.

“Most organizations are funded by project,” she said. “There is no sustainability. Projects can go on for a few years and then there is a great effort to get another project off the ground.”

While not a solution per se, thinking shorter term, with targeted projects, may offer a viable option to continuing work on gender equality.

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.