Along with Leigh-Anne Pinnock from Little Mix, Jameela Jamil, Kate Kamau, Isha Sesay, Janet Mbugua, Gina Din, Myriam Sidibe and Wandia Gichuru, I wrote an open letter to donors to demand a step change in the way gender equality work is funded on the African continent.
It’s time for donors to really think about who they are funding and what biases and stereotypes are influencing their decisions to do so.
As an FGM survivor and activist myself I have seen the aid industry from the inside and it has been problematic for as long as I can remember. Those of us who work to end violence against women and girls all feel it and have had to put up with the “white saviour” mentality, which has permeated every level and has caused Africans and other women of colour to be sidelined – even when we are the individuals who have been risking our lives to lead efforts on the front lines of activism.
Despite empty promises to “do better” and to involve recipients in decision-making, the world’s largest foundations and bilaterals have often used an approach to international aid on the African continent that withholds power, excludes and disempowers women, and fails to increase the capacity of the committed gender equality activists who lead change at the grassroots.
We have seen time and time again how donors are happy to use African women on the covers of annual reports, or as the “faces” of fundraising drives, but almost never directly fund the women’s groups they represent. This amplifies inequalities and leaves women even further behind than before.
I have seen with my own eyes that when donors give directly and invest in African women they help us to lift ourselves, our families and our communities out of poverty and into prosperity. 90 per cent of a woman’s income tends to go towards her family to build them up.
When this happens at scale entire countries can benefit from the increased value of women and girls, who can fully contribute to society, with less fear of being held back by violence and discrimination such as female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage and sexual violence.
The data backs this up. Incredibly, AWID reported last year that only 1 per cent of gender equality funding reaches women’s organisations – and while Africa is not segmented within this, our experience would suggest that the continent’s frontline women’s groups are some of the most excluded.
We have less than a decade to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, including pivotal Goal 5 – Gender Equality. We also have an urgent need to recover from Covid-19, which has caused devastation to much of the African continent and exposed the enormous gaps in how international aid is distributed.
The pandemic has clearly shown us where things are not working. Large international charities are usually not physically present to do the urgent and essential work that’s needed at this time. However, for the most part, donors are not giving directly to those activists who are doing the heavy lifting day in and day out.
At this moment of reckoning in the world, where Black Lives Matter has become a mantra and a mirror that can be held up to expose the inherent racism in our society, I hope that we can also hold a mirror up to the international aid sector, which claims to want to end inequality, racism and violence against women and girls, but which rarely puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to women’s grassroots activism.
I am committed to make sure that this will change as it is the only way we will ever end the violence committed against us and ultimately achieve a more equal, safe and prosperous African continent.
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