Women’s rights organisations


Around the world women come together – often at great personal risk – to fight for women’s rights. They work within communities to enable the most marginalised women and girls to understand their rights and have the confidence to claim them.

What are women's rights organisations?

Women’s rights organisations are women-led organisations working to advance gender equality. Some work at the grassroots level and have strong links with particular communities, while others work at the national or regional level.

Many deliver specialist services or projects which support women to escape violence or overcome discrimination. These include refuges or safe houses, counselling or legal aid, training or business start up schemes. Often women's rights organisations support women to create their own local groups and networks to share skills, knowledge and support.

Women's rights organisations also play an important role in influencing authorities to take women's rights seriously, whether through campaigns, training days, or awareness-raising through the media. They are very well placed to do this because their work is rooted in the realities of their communities. They fully understand the context of problems facing women and girls, and have developed effective solutions to create and sustain change.

Recent research comparing 70 countries across a 40 year period found that a strong women's movement is more important for combating violence against women than national wealth, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians. Women's rights organisations are a vital catalyst for gender equality and the realisation of women’s rights. Together with individual activists they make up a global women's movement which has helped to secure landmark international agreements and create positive change for women everywhere.

Womankind is proud to work in partnership with women's rights organisations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Shortchanging women's rights

Women's rights organisations need funding and support to scale up their work, but even funding for gender equality work isn't reaching them. In 2010, just 1.3 per cent of all funds dedicated to gender equality by the development assistance committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) went to women's rights organisations. As a result, many women’s rights organisations around the world are struggling to survive.

In most cases direct funding covering core costs has been replaced by short-term, project-based funding. This low level, fragmented support means that women’s rights organisations are often unable to scale up their work and build their organisational capacity for the long-term.

Being reliant on project funding also means that women's rights organisations must pour their resources into work programmes which reflect the priorities of funders rather than their own. Often they must set aside the work they know to be the most urgent and effective, or the difficult, long-term work of changing attitudes and challenging social norms which is essential for equality.

Women’s rights organisations have also raised concerns about increasing competition for in-country funding between local organisations and international organisations (INGOs). They describe how INGOs often access funds and then sub-contract local organisations to deliver the work – treating them as contractors and limiting their ability to apply their experience and expertise to the programme design.

These changes have been accompanied with an increasing focus on demonstrating short-term results. This focus can be particularly challenging for women’s rights organisations because of the structural nature of the changes they are seeking. These changes - effectively shifting gender power relations - are complex, take time, and are not easy to measure or quantify.

Supporting women's rights organisations

To deliver on commitments to gender equality and women’s rights, donors should increase support to women’s rights organisations and explore innovative funding models such as dedicated women's funds.

Women's rights organisations in the developing world have the experience and expertise needed to transform gendered social norms and power relations, and bring us closer to a world in which all women and girls can live free from violence. But they can't lead the way while they are struggling to survive.