New Partnerships to Support Gender Equality

The traditional donor-recipient relationship is a one-way street, in which donors provide funds for specific programs with a particular set of conditions. However, that model is evolving into a more collaborative partnership through which donors and recipients work together to assess needs, develop goals, and implement programs.

“We don’t call it donors anymore,” said Aldijana Sisic, chief of the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women of UN Women. “We call it partners.”

Sisic was part of a recent panel discussion focused on the changing role of donors in funding programs to support gender equitable empowerment, which closed FHI360’s Gender 360 Summit in Washington, DC. The conference focused on engaging adolescent girls and boys in achieving gender equality and combating gender-based violence.

“It’s a much bigger process in building the relationship in which we all understand what our common ground is and our goal,” she later added.

World Learning CEO Donald Steinberg led the discussion and in addition to Sisic, was joined by representatives from preeminent funding organizations and agencies from around the world, including Susan Markham, senior coordinator for Gender Equality & Female Empowerment at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); Rebecca Terzeon, coordinator for Gender & Women at the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID); Bill Costello, minister-counsellor for the International Development Branch at the Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC; and Musimbi Kanyoro, president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women.

Women’s and girls’ empowerment is a growing topic of interest , underscored by the launch of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals this past fall. One of its major goals focuses on gender equality and aims to eliminate violence and discrimination against women, ensure women’s full and effective participation in leadership roles, and provide equal rights for women worldwide by 2030.

However, while each goal focuses on a different world issue, Sisic said it is vital to view the them as interconnected rather than discrete. Other goals include focus on economic development and expanding access to education. It was pointed out that if women and girls do not have a safe space free from violence and abuse they will not be able to participate in the economy or attend schools.

Steinberg agreed and added that the new donor-grantee partnership should be viewed as a way to bring the two together to ensure inclusive development and come up with innovative solutions.

“It is really about using those funds to be a catalyst, to bring new ideas to the table, to use the convening authority,” he said.

Inclusion was another theme of the discussion, which serves to ensure beneficiaries are involved in setting goals and creating programs that will meet the needs of their communities.

“We need civil society,” Sisic said. “We need people who know what’s actually happening on the ground.”

Kanyoro of the Global Fund for Women said one way to better engage civil society is by removing barriers that many small organizations face in applying for grants and other sources of funding due to their lack of staff and other resources.

“We have to make it easy for people to get the money,” she said.

Kanyoro said the Global Fund for Women has taken steps to break down some of these barriers through policies that include accepting applications in a wide variety of languages.

“Take the burden on yourself if you are the donor,” she said. “Don’t put the burden on the grantee.”

Costello, with the International Development Branch of the Australian Embassy, said that while organizations should include all populations in these programs and processes because it is the right thing to do, institutionalizing inclusion would accelerate the mainstreaming of marginalized groups.

“I know there is always a strong call for a rights-based approach, but I think there’s a huge amount to be said for a rules-based approach, which is, it’s part of your procedures. It’s part of your rules,” he said.

USAID’s Markham noted that inclusion benefits everyone by providing better, more creative solutions to problems. She said while there is still more work to be done, there has already been remarkable progress in this area.

“The networks around the world, the knowledge that we’ve gained, the movements that have been created, I think we’re on a great path,” Markham said.

Panelists agreed that youth is one of the most important groups to include. Sisic said to stop calling youth the leaders of tomorrow, because many of them are already acting as leaders.

“We have to scrap that because that’s not true,” she said. “They’re already leading from their own levels of engagement, from their own understanding, from their own life experience.”

Terzon of the United Kingdom’s DFID said one way to engage with youth is by using language they understand and really listening to what they say and how they say it.

“It’s our job to listen and to understand what young people want,” she said.

The panel concluded with recommendations from speakers on how civil society and donors partners can better cooperate to advance gender equality around the world. Their advice included persistence in the face of adversity, ensuring resources go directly to grassroots organizations, recognizing and helping advance the changing landscape of donor-grantee relationships, and understanding that each person and organization brings a unique perspective to the issue.

Terzon summed up the discussion by stating that the world has come to the realization that focusing on gender equality is vital to advancing global peace and prosperity and all those in the international community must be a part of these efforts.

“I think that with that realization has come that everybody has a role to play,” she said. “Everybody has a responsibility, everybody has a lot to contribute, and everybody can benefit.”

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