Shifting Power to Gender Justice Movements

By Giving List Women   |   May 20, 2024
Abortion Rights Activists in Argentina—On August 8, 2018, thousands of supporters and opponents gathered in Buenos Aires to await the outcome of the historic vote that would expand women’s access to legal abortion. After hours of debate and an early morning vote, the Senate handed down their decision as crowds waited outside. With a vote of 38 to 31, the law was defeated. Despite the outcome of the Senate’s decision, women’s groups in Argentina feel that they are at a turning point in the effort for legal abortion, and they vow to continue their work. (photo by Roberta Dabdab, estudio x+x for Global Fund for Women)

What happens when you’ve succeeded with your mission of seeding women-led grassroots organizations for over 30 years, and helped create more than 20 sister funds at national and regional levels around the globe? “You shift from the trees to the forest,” says PeiYao Chen, Global Fund for Women’s President and CEO.

Chen has been with Global Fund for Women for over 10 years and helped lead their transition from supporting organizations to supporting gender justice movements. Why gender justice? Global Fund for Women was created with the understanding that women’s rights are fundamental to social, economic, and political change around the world. Gender justice is an even more expansive version of this. Why movements? Research has shown that social movements are one of the most effective mechanisms for long-term sustainable change.

As Chen explains, until 2020, Global Fund for Women focused on identifying grassroots organizations, the “trees,” and helping them grow. Each year, they would support 300 to 500 organizations globally. But a social movement, the “forest,” is made up of trees and so much more. Air, soil, sun – an entire ecosystem that changes the framing and units of analysis.

Where Global Fund for Women Fits into the Feminist Funding Ecosystem

Global Fund for Women now supports 11 gender justice movements around the globe – loosely connected groups of individuals, organizations, and networks working towards similar goals, goals which are not necessarily tied to policy change alone. What ties each movement together is a shared vision for the future.

Global Fund for Women serves as a hub for funding, collaboration, sharing best practices, and promoting cross-regional cooperation. Internally, Global Fund for Women strives to bolster their own management practices by building opportunities for staff growth and leadership, maintaining transparency around decision making, and providing inclusive governance at the board level for young people, creatives, and partners. 

They understand that for movements to sustain themselves in the long run, they can’t just depend on protest alone. They need the ability to make collective decisions about the future, including decisions about priorities. They need to also focus on what kind of resources the various movements require to be successful. If the movement desires to make decisions collectively, Global Fund for Women helps establish an inclusive movement committee. Global Fund for Women’s goal is to shift power from donors to movements, and within movements to marginalized groups, whose voices need to be at the table. 

How to Shift Power in Practice

How does this work in practice? In Peru, Global Fund for Women has been supporting the movement to end sexual and gender-based violence for the past three years. First, they analyzed the landscape by engaging local researchers who showed them that most resources and attention went to a handful of more established organizations in Lima. Many organizations led by marginalized communities outside of Lima felt disconnected from the mainstream feminist movement. To address this, Global Fund for Women helped form a Movement Advisory Group that included underrepresented groups. They succeeded in bringing activists from rural, young, indigenous, disability rights, and trans communities together and giving them power to decide where the money goes. 

Three years into this movement committee model, the results are promising. Global Fund for Women measures their reach by how many small (under $50K), new (first time grantee), and unregistered organizations get grants. In a typical Global Fund for Women portfolio, 20-30% of grantee partners meet their criteria. In Peru, it’s 75%. Global Fund for Women is reaching groups that were previously inaccessible to them, from hard-to-reach regions of the country. And because committee members serve for limited terms, this first movement committee is making plans to transition and bring in the next cohort. Power shifted.

“Movements Start with Anger.” Using Technology to Identify Movements Sooner

“Movements start with anger. People who experience injustice are angry that existing systems are not responding to their needs. They take their anger to the streets and online, and we use that as early indicators that collective actions are happening,” says Chen. But it’s nearly impossible to stay abreast of all the gender movements globally when they’re in their nascent stages.

Enter the Gender Justice Data Hub, a digital tool Global Fund for Women launched in 2023 using publicly available protest data to systematically identify and track where anger is coalescing, and leading to organizing. Global Fund for Women developed a Social Movement Index that ranks countries based on the level of activist activity. They ultimately identified six countries in Latin America for close monitoring in the pilot phase. Using on-the-ground knowledge and connections, and local activists and advisors who provided further contextual  information, Global Fund for Women  identified three emerging gender justice movements they would not have known about if they had not gone through this process. The plan is to learn from this process in Latin America and then expand it globally. 

While questions may arise about privacy and security with the launch of the Gender Justice Data Hub, Global Fund for Women is intent on providing digital safety support to movements, including by partnering with organizations with expertise in digital security that provide training in safe communications and new technologies.

Movements Move Mountains

Global Fund for Women’s movement approach shifts power into the hands of those working at the frontlines of gender justice. Their grantmaking and advocacy are challenging the status quo. From the trees to the forest, their movements are moving mountains.


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