Written by Laurel Weldon
As the Day 1 blog highlighted, violence against women is a widespread, ubiquitous problem across all countries regardless of economic status, across the public and private spheres, and across all sectors. Globally, the main driver of change to eradicate violence against women has been women’s organizing on their own behalf. Feminist organizing drives government and intergovernmental action on violence, and sparks normative change.
Over the past few decades, feminist activity has spread to more than a hundred countries in both old (street marches and ), and new forms (e.g. the exploding digital activism of the #metoo movement). This past success, however, does not justify complacency about the inevitability of progress on women’s rights, which continues to be strongly contested around the world. Indeed, the spread of feminist activism has increased the frequency of state repression specifically focused on women’s organizing; and transnational campaigns funded by donors in rich countries have pushed opposition to what they call “gender ideology,” sponsoring initiatives to resist and roll back attitudinal and policy changes in women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and related areas.
Across the world we are witnessing an atmosphere of backlash to efforts to address broader gender equality efforts and campaigns to address violence against women and the LGBTIQ community. Resistance to progressive schools curricula designed to improve acceptance and awareness of gender inequality and LGBTQ rights has emerged in Peru on the Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas (“don’t mess with my kids”) campaign, and is a phenomenon in Colombia, Mexico, France, Poland, and Canada and Australia. In the USA, recent reports indicate the Trump Administration is seeking to remove the word “gender” from UN documents and domestically, erasing LGBTQ people from websites and other government documents.
At the same time, funding for women’s initiatives is declining. Development assistance targeted to women has declined 20% overall. Similarly, funding from the USA, a major source of funding for women’s organizations worldwide, has also declined. This decline means a loss of material support for women-focused initiatives, including vital resources for anti-violence against women initiatives.
These factors are contributing to a worrying trend in women’s organizing, which in spite of the explosive growth in the eighties and nineties, has stalled globally. And even the best funded organizations need more support. Women’s organizations have tiny budgets compared with other social movement organizations: AWID found that the combined budget of the 1000 women’s organizations they studied was $106 million, a figure dwarfed by the budgets of even a single organization in the environmental field such as Greenpeace at $309 Million, or child well-being such as Save the Children. 1.442 Billion. (AWID 2013).
Women’s activists worry that core funding focused on feminist values and purposes is hard to come by, with funding increasingly tied to specific programs, and funded by corporate interests or offered in partnership with such interests. Those organizations who are at the forefront of identifying the intersectional nature of violence against women, find funding particularly hard to secure. This situation makes it difficult for women’s organization to set their own agenda, which is essential for those seeking to address violence against women.
Given the worrying context of backlash and funding cuts, during these 16 days of activism, we must call for greater support for women’s own efforts to address violence and oppression. Feminists’ activists have drawn the connection between women’s rights and human rights; this equation must remain at the forefront of efforts to address the violence and oppression that blocks our pathways to greater democracy, peace and sustainability.
Women facing sexual violence and street harassment – Survey in Europe and in the United States
Laurel Weldon is a professor of political science at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver.