On June 26, 2021, the Asfari Institute held its third webinar from the Feminist Circle Series entitled entitled “Funding Feminist Movements in the MENA: Analyzing the Current Ecosystem“. This circle brings together feminist funds to discuss joint action and collaboration which seek to address the endemic issue of funding feminist movements and activism globally and in the MENA region. It also discusses the outcome and implications of the Generation Equality Forum which just took place in Paris in early June. In an effort to address the key issues related to feminist movements in the MENA region as well as the challenges facing such movements in terms of funding to reach a solution, a circle was organized with several activists of different backgrounds.
Speakers’ work within their organizations
Kasia stressed that feminist movements are the key drivers for worldwide change either by pushing for economic justice, standing up to the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting communities, or helping in family recovery. However, financing feminist actions or gender equality has been severely underfunded.
Mozn Hassan talked about how the Doria Feminist Fund cares for the voices of the feminists in the MENA as in other countries. She then talked about the language challenge, considering that most work done isn’t in Arabic and there isn’t even thought to make it in Arabic. Doria tries to increase communication between people in the region and raise the voices of those who are not able to reach the top and be heard.
Lama Al-Khateeb discussed the forum held in Paris in which the Open Society Foundation (OSF) announced its commitment to 100 million dollars in the next 5 years to strengthen feminist movements around the work and to increase feminist leadership in various sectors. OSF doubled the amount of money put into supporting justice movements and establishing new and different programs to support feminist movements.
Lama also discussed the challenges and limitations in terms of funding. OSF engaged with major donor organizations to support worldwide funds. Funding targets included sustained feminist rights, reproductive rights, the right to women as care providers, and organizing in the digital sphere as well as online harassment. This initiative is global and not specific to particular regions and could build bridges between the MENA region and other areas of the world.
Zakaria Nasser focused on the needs of transgender people in Lebanon. He reiterated the problem of language in funding especially because many funds speak about transgender people as a third type of human that is yet to be discovered. Moreover, the major barrier with funders is speaking and filling out the application. However, feminist movements and their funding have helped his organization as they have a nonlimiting aspect to projects which simplifies the funding process.
Hadeel Qazzaz from Oxfam addressed how organizations can represent themselves and their thinking in a way that can be well received by others. She talked about the evolution of feminist activism from political movements to NGOs and losing much of their structure while having deficiencies in writing proposals.
Kasia then talked about the emerging initiative for a global alliance for sustainable feminist movements that is being co-developed with Canada and the equality fund and AWID will be the first time where feminist activists will share a platform with funders and will have a space for funders to hear how flexible funding affects feminists.
The way forward
Funders face challenges in identifying the type of funding that they are able to provide and setting donor agenda and the flexibility in actors through identifying where funding should go. It is key to respond to complexity and diversity within feminist organizations in generations, communities, minorities, and geographies that are established and operate in institutionalized as well as more informal movements and activists and researchers.
Beyond funding, there needs to be an investment in identifying mechanisms where donors can have an intersectional approach to respond to diversity with movements and this largely depends on programs. Emphasis on spaces for dialogue and learning was also highlighted, especially as movements change and expand. The generational divide remains unaddressed due to internal factors and challenges within movements and surrounding them topped by the power of conservative forces.
Traditional research is severely underfunded to researchers and scholars and donors refrain from investing in academic research and theory because it is hard to track the immediate impacts of such activities. Accumulated analysis and data on gender are essential for strengthening the analysis and formulating policies.
Another problem raised is that many partners are not responsive to the history and context of the region. It is important to look at what actors in the region are trying to do to change the narrative. These discussions and the outcomes from them have been essential for the development of plans taking place for the coming 3-4 years.
This summary was written by Antoinette Abou Jaoude.
Meet the speakers and moderators
- Lina Abou-Habib is the Interim Director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut, where she also teaches undergraduate and graduate gender courses at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. She serves as the Chair of Collective for Research and Training for Development – Action, a Board Member for Gender at Work, as well as the MENA strategic advisor for the Global Fund for Women. She is also a member of the Editorial Board of the Gender and Development journal published by Oxfam.
- Rita Halwani is a Political Science undergraduate student at the American University of Beirut who is minoring in International Law, Human Rights and Transitional Justice, and Civil Society and Citizenship.
- Dr. Hadeel Qazzaz is a Palestinian feminist and human rights activist working in the areas of development and gender justice.
- Lama Al-Khateeb is the senior program officer at the open society foundation, she works on issues related to advancing gender equality, supporting civil society, and pushing for political reform through election programs.
- Mozn Hassan is an Egyptian feminist activist and founder of the Nazra for feminists, she founded the Doria feminist fund and has won several awards for being at the forefront of the front against human rights abuses and a voice for victims of sexual violence and rape.
- Zakaria Nasser is part of the founding team of Qorras and leads Qorras’ finance and governance. He also manages Tajassod, a project focusing on trans needs and priorities.
- Kasia Staszewska is the Advocacy Lead for Resourcing Feminist Movements at AWID. Staszewska has been supporting the work of feminist and social justice movements for the last 15 years.
Watch the full recording here: