Global Resources

Watering the leaves, starving the roots: the status of financing for women's rights organizing and gender equality

Author: A. Arutyunova, C. Clark
Publisher: Association for Women's Rights in Development
Publication Date: Jan 2013

In the foreword to this report, AWID Executive Director Lydia Alpízar writes that she finds it, “truly surprising… that women’s rights organising and movements have been functioning, often with quite minimal financial support, even as their experience and effectiveness has increased.”

This publication, the fourth in AWID’s series, Where is the Money for Women’s Rights (WITM), presents research findings and analysis on the financial status of women’s organisations around the world, as well as the funding trends impacting them. Based on a survey of more than 1,100 women’s organisations worldwide, this report describes in detail the rapidly-changing funding landscape, and makes recommendations for mobilising more and better resources for women’s rights organising through a feminist collective resource mobilisation approach. In the context of preparing for the post-2015 development paradigm, this publication is designed to help women’s rights organisations and their funder allies to improve their resource mobilisation and distribution strategies.

The authors describe an unprecedented "spotlight" on women and girls, who are recognised as key agents in development as never before. However, this seems to have had relatively little impact on improving the funding circumstances of the large majority of women’s organisations. The meaning of the metaphor used by the authors is that the ‘leaves’ — individual women and girls — are receiving growing attention without support for ‘the roots’ — sustained, collective action by feminists, women’s rights organisations and activists.

Other key funding trends include:

  • Vast resources are becoming available under the broad umbrella of ‘development’; and there is significant interest in ‘investing’ in women and girls.
  • Mechanisms and sources of development financing and philanthropy are becoming increasingly diversified; nevertheless, economic growth and return on investment are the priority, rather than human rights and well-being.
  • Private sector interest in, and approaches to, development, philanthropy and women and girls is permeating traditional development and funding sectors; this raises questions regarding how women’s organisations can critically engage with this trend.

Among the recommendations for women's organisations are: 

  • Assess the ways in which diverse funders are playing a role in your context, researching relevant actors and initiatives to inform strong collective responses to manoeuvre in this new reality; take stock of who is informing funding agendas in the context within which you work, orwho is partnering with the development organisations you know; and identify converging areas of interest and areas of conflict. 
  • Determine criteria and opportunities for critical engagement as a means for women’s organisations and movements to build political agency and capacity to ‘be at the table’, without becoming “co-opted” in the process. This requires willingness to step into spaces that are unfamiliar, making a genuine effort to understand the perspectives of groups at the table, and challenging our own assumptions before determining the potential that a particular actor or space holds for advancing women’s rights agendas. This engagement may require a different style of working or different language, without compromising core principles, and is likely to be a long-term undertaking. 
  • Using classic distinctions in gender analysis, such as “practical needs” and “strategic interests”, can be useful for women’s rights activists to educate actors regarding why technical fixes to the practical challenges that women face are rarely enough to significantly improve their quality of life, and change cycles of discrimination and violence. Monitoring and evaluation systems that effectively address women’s rights achievements and contributions are essential.

Recommendations for funders include identifying national strategic partners; developing effective funding strategies that look at quantity, quality and shared values; and accountability mechanisms must be considered crucial for learning and improvement.

To download PDF’s of the different sections of this publication, or to read them separately online, visit this AWID webpage:

A visual representation of the financial situation of women's rights organisations globally in 2010 can be accessed online:

For more information about AWID’s Where is the Money for Women's Rights? initiative, visit: