The Transforming African Feminist Funding Ecosystem: A Desk Review

The following desk review was conducted to provide insight into the current state of African feminist and women’s rights organising and movements and the responses and advocacy of feminist funders to prevailing issues and needs identified.

1. Introduction

1.1 Overview

1.2 Key Findings

2. Socio-political Climate on the Continent, Centring Women and Girls

2.1 Marginalised and Vulnerable Communities

2.1.1 Covid-19 and Women with Disabilities

2.1.2 Covid-19 and Girls and Young Women

2.1.3. Covid-19 and Women and Girls Living With HIV

2.1.4 Covid-19 and LBQ and Trans Women

2.1.5 Covid-19 and Sex Workers

Spotlight: African Feminists and Data Creation

3. Economic Landscape, Centring Women and Girls

Opportunities in the Sector for Women and Girls

4. Philanthropic Landscape, Centring Gender Equality and Human Rights Funding

4.1 Private Philanthropy

Funding for Marginalised Communities

5. Feminist Philanthropic Response on the Continent: Spotlighting Feminist Funders

5.1 FRIDA Young Feminist Fund

5.2 Global Fund for Women’s (GFW)

5.3 Fund for Global Human Rights (FGHR)

Spotlight: The Fund for Global Human Rights’ Participatory Grantmaking

5.4 Mama Cash

5.5 The East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative (UHAI EASHRI)

5.6 Initiative Sankofa d’Afrique de l’Ouest (ISDAO)

5.7 Urgent Action Fund — Africa

Spotlight: African Feminist Funders Strategising for the Future

6. Conclusion

1.1 Overview

The overwhelming majority of reports, publications, studies, and statistics prioritised were published during 2020 and 2022. The research and data of national, regional, sub-regional, international, and intergovernmental organisations, as well as human rights networks, philanthropy networks, and African feminist and gender knowledge hubs have been analysed to answer the following questions:

  • Who are key feminist or women rights-focused organisations and funds on the continent and outside?
  • What are the key issues affecting and key priorities shaping women’s funds, women’s rights, feminist organisations across the continent? And in the next ten years?
  • What support do African feminist organisations, women’s rights organisations, and feminist movements need from funders?
  • How are regional women’s funds and women rights-focused organisations in Africa and in the Global South engaging in philanthropic advocacy and/or influencing international development?
  • What are the operational, governance, and funding ecosystems and landscapes of regional women’s funds in Africa and in the Global South?
  • What are best practices or case studies among the feminist organisational ecosystem that apply to feminist philanthropic organisation, operations, and financial sustainability?

1.2 Key Findings

Socio-political Climate on the Continent, Centring Women and Girls

  • Recent years’ progress towards women’s empowerment and gender equality, particularly the signing and ratifying of sub-regional, regional, and international agreements, is noted positively and affirmatively across local, regional, and international organisations and networks.
  • However, and especially within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, “resource-related and socioeconomic constraints, cultural obstacles, electoral violence, gender-based violence, harmful practices, and restrictions on property ownership” impede on women and girls’ well-being and access to justice.
  • Feminist and women’s rights organisers, organisations and grassroots movements, have been critical to advancements and progress, before and throughout the pandemic, and are adapting and innovating their advocacy and network-building in response.
  • Funders are also starting to adapt their funding models and requirements, awarding more unrestricted funds and using participatory grant making models.

Economic Landscape, Centring Women and Girls

  • The recession of 2020 marked the continent’s first recession in half a century. Although increases in GDP in 2021 and 2022 are projected, recovery remains uncertain and continues to be impacted by external and domestic risks, including the resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic, financial market volatility and social tensions.
  • African women were more vulnerable to job loss, wage loss, and reductions in working hours during the pandemic. Digital and green economies offer new job and income opportunities across the continent, especially for women, if reinforced with policy and legal mechanisms meant to address gender inequities and disparities.

Philanthropic Landscape, Centring Gender Equality and Human Rights Funding

  • Human rights funding (except for grant funding for sexual and reproductive health), as well as official development assistance (ODA) to Africa has decreased. OECD data also reveals that $690 million USD of bilateral aid (> 1%) went to women’s rights organisations and movements in 2018–2019.
  • Feminist and women’s rights organisers are often at the forefront of the movement, including local and regional organising and community building efforts, with LBQ & trans women and sex worker rights defenders emerging and addressing intersecting oppressions. Organisers and organisations across surveys and studies have urged for increased, unrestricted funding, especially with the rise of the anti-gender movement across the continent.
  • The following feminist funds working on the continent have been identified for benchmarking assessment purposes: FRIDA Young Feminist Fund, The Global Fund for Women, the Fund for Global Human Rights, Mama Cash, The East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative, Initiative Sankofa d’Afrique de l’Ouest, and Urgent Action Fund Africa. The funds’ mission, funding models and impact align with commitments to funding LBT, indigenous, sex worker, young women organisations and movements, as well as core, multi-year, sustainable funds. Each fund’s mission and impact, funding models, eligibility requirements and relevant financial and strategic plan information are detailed.

2. Socio-political Climate on the Continent, Centring Women and Girls

Recent years’ progress towards women’s empowerment and gender equality, particularly the signing and ratifying sub-regional, regional, and international agreements, are noted positively and affirmatively across local, regional, and international organisations and networks. This, alongside years of grassroots organising and mobilising, has contributed significantly to the material, social, political, and legal needs of women and girls across the continent.

In its report, African Women’s Decade 2010–2020: Ten Years On, Where Are We?, Make Every Woman Count notes that the introduction of women’s and human rights mechanisms, at the sub-regional, regional, and international levels demonstrate continental-wide commitment towards gender equality and the empowerment of women. Women’s rights activists, organisations, and grassroots movements have been critical to advancements and progress. However, and especially within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, weaknesses exist in the areas of “data collection, monitoring, accountability, and documentation”. Furthermore, “resource-related and socioeconomic constraints, cultural obstacles, electoral violence, gender-based violence, harmful practices, and restrictions on property ownership” impede on women’s well-being and access to justice.

The 2019 African Gender Index by The African Development Bank found that “generally, women lag behind men in all the three dimensions [and] …women perform poorly in the Empowerment and Representation dimension in all countries”. Even with the introduction of legal and policy mechanisms and tools, there is a lag in implementation because of “entrenched discriminatory practices and traditional concepts of femininity”.

Even across indexes and indicators, case studies and reports, noted progress was slow-moving and uneven. The Covid-19 pandemic presents further barriers and challenges, exacerbating “already-existing gender inequalities, laying bare serious fault lines in safety, physical and mental health, education, domestic responsibilities, and employment opportunities”.

OECD’s 2021 Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) Regional Report for Africa found that African women face the highest level of discrimination in the world. The region, on a scale from 0–100 with 100 indicating absolute discrimination, scored 20 on the SIGI. At the subregional level, “Southern Africa fares the best, with a medium level of discrimination and an overall score of 32 compared to the other African sub-regions: North Africa (49), Central Africa (44), West Africa (44) and East Africa (39)”. When further broken down, by dimension of analysis, the highest levels of discrimination across the region are found within the family sphere, followed by restricted access to productive and financial resources, restricted civil liberties, and restricted physical integrity.

The report’s findings as related to women’s physical integrity and employment are of particular concern, with the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbating existing gaps and crises. Overall, women’s health access and outcomes have been significantly compromised by the pandemic. This, along with lockdown and confinement measures, social distancing, school closures and increasing poverty due to lost income and unemployment, negatively affect girls’ and women’s health across the region. Findings emphasise that women’s unemployment is disproportionately higher as a result of overrepresentation in “severely affected specific sectors, such as retail trade, accommodation and food services, and domestic services”.

Similarly, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s 2021 report, Covid-19 in Africa one year on Impact and Prospects found that approximately 92% of women in Sub-Saharan Africa work in the informal sector and are “more likely to lack job security and other employment benefits such as social security, pension and health insurance which means they lose protection when they become sick or unemployed”. Almost 10% of women also reported increases in unpaid domestic and care work.

Overall, the Covid-19 pandemic has had “severe consequences on women’s health as well as economic and social wellbeing due to the intensification of prevailing inequalities and vulnerabilities” — with consequences “aggravated by intersecting elements and impacts…be[ing] more severe for women and girls in rural areas, of lower socioeconomic status or with disabilities”. Age, socioeconomic status, disability and ethnicity, for example, have a higher likelihood of increasing the risk of sexual and gender-based violence during Covid-19 lockdown and confinement measures.

@AfricanNGOs and EPIC-Africa’s 2020 Report, The Impact Of Covid-19 On African Civil Society Organisations: Challenges, Responses and Opportunities, captures the challenges and opportunities for civil society organisations across the continent. In a survey of 1015 civil society organisations from 44 African countries (22% of which focused on gender), 98%% of respondents confirmed having been adversely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and more than half (55%) confirmed experiencing a loss of funding. 85.47% of respondents also indicated that they could have done more if capacity or funding constraints were not a barrier. The pandemic “has exacerbated historical and ongoing challenges that hamper the sector”. However, organisations are re-orienting operations, strengthening advocacy and building solidarity across the sector. They are also leveraging domestic funding sources and are calling on funders to 1) provide additional and unrestricted funding and work with others in creating pooled funding mechanisms for CSOs; 2) use their influence to advocate for the inclusion of CSOs in governments’ national emergency funding mechanisms; 3) fund African CSOs directly; and 4) Support CSOs’ strategic investments in their technology infrastructure.

Specific to African women and girls’ civic engagement, CODERSIA’s 2021 Working Paper, African Women and Girls in a Shrinking Civic Space, found that “women’s rights groups continue to be creative to counter violence in the civic space through various means such as advocacy and lobbying for an enabling environment for effective implementation of legal and policy frameworks in line with international standards, promotion of positive political, social and cultural norms, attitudes and behaviours at national and community levels to prevent violence against women in the civic space”. Sohela Nazneen and Awino Okech, in their introduction for Gender and Development, Volume 29, Issue 2–3, Feminist Protests and Politics in a World in Crisis, also found that feminists across borders are organising around a range of issues, including: “cost of living, violence against women, denial of abortion rights, LGBTQI rights, weakening democracy, environmental crises, immigration laws, police brutality and unpaid and invisible care work”. They found that feminists have also centralised wellbeing and communities of care as essential to building and sustaining movements and solidarity.

However, tensions and anxieties exist within the feminist movement. The rise of “new voices and actors have joined the struggle for gender justice, and have reformulated old ideas in feminist politics and reoriented action accordingly.” African feminist and women’s rights’ actors (across levels and institutions) are being called on to address and resolve “exclusions and silence, particularly around race, sexuality, gender identity and generational lines… [and] deepening social and economic cleavages.” Generational divides also exist “in relation to expressions of sexuality, the reformulation of notions of culture, and questioning of gender binary identities.”

Dr. Abioloa Akiyode-Afolable, in Political Participation, Feminist Organising, and the Creation of Inclusive Democratic Spaces, also speaks to the dangers of “the rise of neoliberal feminism, which is becoming prominent in public discourse and further distorting conversations on women’s empowerment and threatens feminist agendas’ traditional role as a movement for social justice.” She encourages the utlisation of intersectional feminism “to achieve effective organising around social justice,” and believes that “it is essential to understand the relations of power, oppression, and privilege…[as] social justice is only achieved when all persons enjoy the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities across all sectors of society”.

2.1 Marginalised and Vulnerable Communities

The subsections that follow highlight issues impacting the following marginalised, vulnerable groups: women and girls with disabilities, girls and young women, women and girls living with HIV, LBQ women, Trans women, and sex workers.

2.1.1 Covid-19 and Women with Disabilities

The Global Call to Action Against Poverty’s report, Leave No Woman Behind — Africa Report Situation of Women and Girls with Disabilities — captures experiences and challenges faced by women and girls with disabilities in Ghana and Mali. The study found that “invisibility, stigma and marginalisation of women and girls with disabilities are exacerbated by age, gender and type of disability, leading to multiple discriminations and violence, often perpetrated by those closest to them”. Women and girls with disabilities, they argue, were “already vulnerable and stigmatised before Covid-19. Enforced lockdowns and increased dependence on others have also lead to increased risk, violence and abuse. They have to contend with even more reduced access to health services, including maternal health; increased exposure to domestic violence in lockdowns; criminality and violence linked to curfews; the burden of caring for the sick; and loss of income without compensation, as opportunities for work in informal sector dry up”.

UN Women’s 2021 Regional Analysis on Trends and Emerging Issues Related to Women with Disabilities in East and Southern Africa Focusing on the Covid-19 Pandemic reports that “women and girls with disabilities have been particularly badly affected, experiencing poorer health, lower levels of education and employment and higher rates of poverty, as well as increased risk of gender-based violence”. Experts across the region reported increased cases of domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse and exploitation against women and girls with disabilities — exacerbated by lockdowns, social distancing and confinement measures. Access to services such as health care and reproductive health services, education, justice and accessible information have also been severely affected.

2.1.2 Covid-19 and Girls and Young Women

African Child Policy Forum and Plan International, in Under Siege: Impact of Covid-19 on Girls in Africa, found that “control and mitigation measures targeted at minimising infections have also exacerbated the situation of already vulnerable children, especially in Africa, where child protection systems were already fragile”. Millions of girls have been deprived of access to food, basic healthcare and protection, and thousands were exposed to abuse and exploitation. School closures along with lockdowns, compounded and exacerbated the problems of child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), and access to sexual and reproductive services. Girls with disabilities, girl domestic workers, girls living and/or working on the street and in urban slums, girls in institutional care, and in detention centres, and refugee and stateless girls were named as particularly vulnerable.

In their policy brief African Girls in the Covid-19 pandemic, Plan International found that disruptions of preventive programming, disruptions in schooling, and severe economic and food crises as a result of the pandemic have and will continue to catalyse an increase in FGM, Child Early and Forced Marriages (CEFM), gender-based violence, and early pregnancies across Africa. Girls and young women’s activism and advocacy throughout the pandemic are also highlighted as critical to pandemic responses across the continent. Despite restrictions on civic engagement and freedoms, “girl activists and youth-led movements across the continent have stepped up efforts to advocate for increased protection for young girls during the pandemic”. They are, however, “limited in resources to respond and advocate”. Support for youth-led movements and networks are recommended as essential to pandemic response and recovery.

2.1.3. Covid-19 and Women and Girls Living With HIV

UNAIDS 2021’s report confronting Inequalities: Lessons for pandemic responses from 40 years of AIDS found that in Sub-Saharan Africa 1) six in seven new HIV infections among adolescents (aged 15 to 19 years) are among girls and 2) adolescent girls and young women (aged 15 to 24 years) accounted for 25% of HIV infections in 2020. 44% of pregnant women living with HIV in Western and Central Africa were not receiving antiretroviral therapy in 2020. Additionally, key populations (people who inject drugs, trans women, female sex workers, and gay men and their sexual partners) accounted for 65% of HIV infections worldwide in 2020. They report that “Covid-19 lockdowns and other restrictions badly disrupted HIV testing, steep drops in HIV diagnoses, referrals to care services and HIV treatment initiations”. Covid-19 has resulted in increases in food and job insecurity, with people living with HIV facing “high levels of discrimination in employment and…high rates of unemployment, with a significant percentage engaged in the informal economy”.

2.1.4 Covid-19 and LBQ and Trans Women

The Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, in Understanding the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on LGBTIQ+ persons in Africa, warns that LGBTIQ+ persons across Africa may experience restricted access to shelters and community centres and health services; threats from hostile/homophobic lockdown environments; increased mental health impacts in countries criminalising same-sex sexuality; potential for increased social discrimination and attacks against LGBTIQ+ persons, and potential use of force and misuse of emergency powers by state actors against LGBTIQ+ persons.

In their 2020 Annual Report, INEND reported that during the pandemic LBQ women “had lost jobs in the service or customer care industry… [and] found themselves with hungry children and no child-care as schools closed abruptly. They needed food, household goods, rent, protection, [and] psycho-social support”.

Tshegofatso Senne, for GALA’s Queer Lockdown: Covid-19 and Queer Life in South Africa, reported that queer organisers and activists across Namibia, Ghana, Uganda and Zambia (several of whom were LGQ women and trans women) were “adversely affected by the lack of reliable and affordable social services and utilities”, as well as a lack of psychological and mental health support, homelessness, and police violence. Covid-19 statistics, and gender statistics at large across the continent, are collected utilizing the gender binary — which ‘invisibilses’ huge portions of the queer community. Organisers also shared that budget limitations and constraints posed challenges to working with and supporting community members.

In ISDAO’s 2020 inaugural journal, Myria: Civic Engagement of LGBTQI Activists in Broader Social Justice Struggles in West Africa, Dr. Rita Nketiah shares that “in Ghana, there is currently a small handful of women-centre and/or feminist queer organisations and collectives that mobilise to advocate for, teach and build the capacity and empowerment of LBQ women trans* and non-binary people.” Their activities and advocacy have been essential to “creative arts/theatre, peer counselling, civic engagement, sexual and reproductive health rights advocacy and consciousness-raising”. The pandemic, however, has exposed long-existing inequalities in accessing affordable, reliable, non-judgmental healthcare, as well as limited physical social space.

Dr. Azwihangwisi Helen Mavhandu-Mudzusi, in Survival Strategies of HIV-Positive Transgender Women During the Covid-19 Lockdown in a South African Rural Community, found that adverse circumstances facing transgender women with HIV in a rural South African community were exacerbated by the pandemic. Respondents shared they were faced with housing insecurity, economic insecurity, food insecurity, lack of access to antiretroviral treatment, and a lack of social support. Some respondents were also “directly involved in the care of people who tested Covid-19 positive”. Others experienced intimate partner violence during lockdown and confinement periods.

Freedom and Roam Uganda’s report The Impact Of Covid-19 On Lesbian, Bisexual And Queer(Lbq) Womxn in Uganda, notes an increase in homophobia and transphobia throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to cases of physical and sexual assault and violence, loss of income and unemployment, eviction from homes by landlords, decline in wellness and mental wellbeing, and limited access to healthcare and legal aid services. The study also found that there was “limited funding for LBQ womxn, both from the womxn’s movement and the LGBTQ movement…There was limited engagement among organisations and limitations in donations”.

2.1.5 Covid-19 and Sex Workers

The majority of respondents for the Global Network of Sex Work Projects Covid-19 Impact Survey — Africa reported facing increased repressive measures from the government, including the closure of brothels, bars, massage parlours and crackdowns in areas known for street-based sex work. Respondents, as a result of the criminalisation of sex work, were unable to access income support or emergency housing. Respondents also reported reduced access to condoms and lubricants, harm reduction services, HIV treatment, and STI testing and treatment.

Respondents in the UN’s Rapid Scoping Assessment of the Impact of Covid-19 on Sex Worker Programmes in East and Southern Africa found that loss of income, food insecurity, loss of housing, exclusion from government social protection schemes and displacement have posed some of the greatest challenges to their livelihoods. Nearly half of them reported having been a victim of police violence during the pandemic. They also noted “an increase in stigma and discrimination towards sex workers […] and arrests. Nearly half of respondents also reported challenges to accessing healthcare for non-Covid-19 conditions (as related to HIV and sexual and reproductive health specifically) . Few sex workers, however, “cited the risk of contracting Covid-19, even though the nature of sex work makes it highly risky for Covid-19 transmission”.

In response to the new challenges posed by the pandemic, sex worker organisations have been mobilising peer educators “to provide decentralised services, including home deliveries of Antiretroviral (ARV) and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) refills, condoms and lubricants”. Organisations have also been “conducting rapid needs assessment surveys, applying for donor emergency grants and negotiating with donors to reprogramme…appeal[ing] for funds and goods from their members, set up crowdfunding campaigns, [and] partner[ing] with humanitarian and charitable organisations”.

Spotlight: African Feminists and Data Creation

“African women are experts on their lives and experiences with data and datafication in their context and need to be brought on board for envisioning alternatives to the algorithmic order and totality”


Pollicy has identified over 140 feminist organisations across Sub-Saharan Africa, with a stated intention of making “this list publicly available and regularly updated”. Seven key sectors/issues of focus across organisations were: sexuality and sexual/reproductive health; socio-economic rights focused particularly employment; subsistence; unpaid care and work; education, with an emphasis on STEM pipelines; civic and political rights, with an emphasis on political participation and representation of women; cultural rights — with an emphasis on championing against traditional and cultural norms; and environmental Issues

Across the continent, gender data is under-collected, and population estimates for the LGBTQI+ do not exist. As argued by Pollicy, a Uganda-based collective focused on the intersection of data, technology and design for governance and advocacy — “data feminism offers a framework for African women to imagine and build afrofeminist data futures…[and] the most complete knowledge comes from synthesising multiple perspectives, with priority given to local, Indigenous, and experiential ways of knowing”.

In Afrofeminist Data Futures, Pollicy focuses on current trends and the future of African feminists’ data collection, sharing, and use for social transformation. Their research — which consists of a mapping of feminist movements, a desk review, and interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders across the continent — found that feminist movements are currently collecting data for 1) advocacy and awareness raising, 2) policy influence, 3) programme and impact measurement, and 4) fundraising and needs assessments. Data types collected include 1) incidence and prevalence rates), 2) provision of services and clinic intake, 3) social media metrics and reach, and 4) knowledge, perceptions and behaviours.

Challenges faced, from most to least indicated, include:

  1. Connectivity and access
  2. Data literacy
  3. Resources
  4. Gatekeeping
  5. Donor agendas
  6. Lack of gender-disaggregated data
  7. Outdated policies (digital ecosystem)
  8. De-prioritization of feminist causes
  9. Time lag between large-scale national surveys
  10. Verification and replicability of available data sources

Recommendations from feminist activists and movements of the future of the feminist data ecosystem included the establishment of independent, nonpartisan and intersectional data centres, formation of data collaboratives, funding for data training initiatives and feminist technologists, funding for feminist research, increased appreciation for diverse forms of data, and increased digital security and safety for women and girls.

“An Afrofeminist data future would be one where African women have the right to privacy and full control over personal data and information online at all levels — a form of data justice. African women, just like grassroots data activists, understand the need for engagement with data but resist the massive data collection done by individuals, non-state actors, corporations, and states”

3. Economic Landscape, Centring Women and Girls

In the African Development Bank’s African Economic Outlook 2021, it is reported that Africa’s GDP contracted in 2020 — the continent’s first recession in half a century. In spite of a projected 3.4% growth in real GDP in 2021, the outlook of recovery is “subject to uncertainty from both external and domestic risks” which include:

The Resurgence of Covid-19, Financial Market Volatility, Social Tensions, Extreme Weather Events, Low Commodity Prices, Low Remittances, and Low Tourism.

The Bank also reports that approximately 39 million people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty because of the pandemic, with a large proportion of the newly poor consisting of women and female-headed households. Additionally, African women were more vulnerable to job loss, wage loss, and reductions in working hours during the pandemic.

The risk of job losses for women due to Covid–19 is much higher than for men in part because the pandemic affected sectors where female employment is high. Women’s loss of income often has long-lasting effects, such as increased levels of child malnutrition, school dropout, poor health, and child labour (AfDB, 2021).

The Bank predicts widened gender disparities — with short-term and long-term consequences for welfare and wellbeing across the continent — if negative trends of women’s under-employment and unemployment are left unmitigated.

The IMF’s Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa projects 3.7% and 3.8% growth across Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Recovery, however, “remains extremely uncertain, and risks are tilted to the downside. In particular, the recovery depends on the path of the global pandemic and the regional vaccination effort, and is also vulnerable to disruptions in global activity and financial markets.”

Widening divergence across regions, as well as within nations themselves, has particularly harsh impacts on the region’s most vulnerable. The IMF reports that “working hours were cut by more than 7% in 2020 — equivalent to a loss of about 22 million full-time jobs — with a disproportionate impact on women, young people, and the poor”. Additionally, an estimated 30 million people were thrown into extreme poverty.

The 2021 SIGI Regional Report on Africa further elaborates on this data, sharing that “in 2020, the labour force participation rate was 20 percentage points lower for women than for men across African countries.” Discriminatory social norms that confine women to reproductive and care roles are among the leading causes of this difference. In 2018, women spent, on average, four times more than men on unpaid care and domestic work, including raising children, caring for sick or elderly family members, and managing household tasks.

External financial and technical assistance, from international organisations and donors to multilateral actors, are noted as critical to recovery. Digital technologies and climate mitigation and adaptation strategies are also presented as opportunities for substantial, sustainable growth.

Opportunities in the Sector for Women and Girls

Women and the Green Economy

In 2021, UN Women and the African Development Bank (AfDB) reported that women are positioned to benefit positively from the green economy transition paired with policy interventions that address gender discrimination.

Overall, women in agriculture, forestry, and tourism are well positioned for increased green jobs. However, women are underrepresented in key sectors of the green economy that will offer the higher-end jobs, including energy (especially wind and solar), transportation, and construction. Women are overrepresented in agriculture, waste management and certain areas of renewable energy (biomass), which will offer mostly lower-end jobs.

Policy recommendations include:

  • Implementing public policies and programmes to ensure women get an equitable share of green jobs;
  • Developing women’s networks in male-dominated sectors;
  • Supporting the organisation of women into women-led cooperatives and economic groups; and
  • Removing of gender discrimination in legislation and addressing inequalities in the distribution of unpaid care.

Women and the Digital Economy in Africa

An October 2020 Harvard University policy brief argues that “including women in the digital economy in Africa presents enormous opportunities for reducing inequality, achieving development and economic growth, and accelerating business and market integration in Africa.”

Africa is home to the fastest growing tech sector, which includes industries such as information and communications technology (ICT), financial technology (FinTech), and e-commerce. However, women are underrepresented and marginalised as entrepreneurs. Only 9% of African tech start-ups are led by women. Women are also excluded as consumers, with a 37% gap between men’s access to mobile internet compared to women’s (Connected Women: The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2021).

Policy Recommendations include:

  • Prioritising equitable access to STEM education and digital education for all girls;
  • Building equitable infrastructure for internet access in communities and in schools;
  • Promoting regional collaboration across digital technologies;
  • Co-investing in public-private partnerships that are mutually beneficial to achieving gender inclusion in tech; and
  • Establishing women’s networks and mentoring programmes to support women in tech.

4. Philanthropic Landscape, Centring Gender Equality and Human Rights Funding

In response to economic uncertainty, philanthropy has been identified as central to the recovery and transformation across sectors. However, the most recent Advancing Human Rights Annual Review Of Global Foundation Grant making, reveals a decrease in human rights funding in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2018, with grant dollars declining by $32 million USD (11%) overall. Funding for sexual and reproductive rights was the exception, with a noted increase of $30 million USD.

Chart 1. Top 25 Foundation Funders for Human Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa. The African Women’s Development Fund ranked 11th, investing $5.1 million in grants in 2018. AWDF also ranked as the top funder in the Global South, by grant dollars.

8% of foundation human rights funding went to Sub-Saharan Africa in 2018, $290.9 million USD out of a total $3.7 billion USD. By issue, 48% of grant funding (by grant dollar) addressed sexual and reproductive health (19%), equal rights and freedom from discrimination (16%) and health and well-being. Freedom from violence and environmental and resource follow at 11% and 10% respectively. By population, funding largely focused on women and girls (42%), followed by children and youth (24%), LGBTI people (4%), and human right funders (3%). Funding for sex workers accounted for less than 1% of grant dollars.

Focusing on members of the Development Assistance Committee, OECD’s 2021 Snapshot of development finance for gender equality and women’s empowerment reports that “DAC members committed $53 billion USD ODA in total on average per year in 2018–19 for gender equality…represent[ing] 44.5% of bilateral allocable ODA”. Only 5% of aid towards gender equality, however, was committed to programmes that integrate gender equality as a principal, or primary policy objective.

Bilateral aid for gender equality and women’s empowerment by sector (and by share) is largely integrated into social infrastructure and services (74%), agriculture and rural development (66%), economic infrastructure and services (63%), education (63%), government and civil society (54%), and health (52%). The focus on gender equality is noted as particularly low in the energy (15%) and humanitarian aid (23%) sectors.

Government & civil society is the sector where the highest volume of funds are allocated for gender equality and women’s empowerment at $10.6 billion USD, followed by economic infrastructure and services at $6.6 billion USD, education at $5.5 billion USD, agriculture and rural development at $4.4 billion USD, and humanitarian aid at $4.5 billion USD. Energy and industry, mining, construction, trade, and tourism are the sectors with the lowest volume of funding allocated, at $1.3 billion USD and $1.2 billion USD respectively.

Specific to women’s rights organisations and movements, $690 million USD of bilateral aid (> 1%) went to women’s rights organisations and movement. The Association for Women’s Rights in Development’s (AWID) 2021 Report, Where is the Money for Feminist Organising? Data Snapshots and A Call to Action, in a closer analysis of OECD data, explains that “despite donors’ commitments to resource gender equality, over 99% of ODA and foundation grants do not directly reach women’s rights, gender justice, and feminist movements. Findings also indicate that women’s rights’ grants are a mere $422.3 million USD, equivalent to 0.42% of the total foundation grants in 2017. Out of 6,830 total women’s rights grants, the average size was $61,844 USD.

The analysis of 3,739 feminist and women’s rights organisations from the Global South also found that almost half (48%) reported their more recent fiscal year budget as less than $30,000 USD, and 47% of organisations located in Sub-Saharan Africa were found to be operating at a budget of less than $30,000 USD.

Echoing the findings of AWID, the Human Rights Funders Network (HRFN) and the Black Feminist Fund (BFF) uncovered that “of $3.7 billion USD in over 27,000 human rights grants made in 2018, 1,405 grants totalling $178 million USD identified both women, girls, or trans people and Black, Afro-descendent, or African people as target populations”. 1,225 of 2,487 human rights grants in Sub-Saharan Africa, totalling $136 million USD, were found to be coded for women and girls and/or transgender people.

4.1 Private Philanthropy

OECD’s Private Philanthropy for Development — Second Edition reports that from 2016 to 2019, Sub-Saharan Africa was the top recipient region of private international philanthropy funding, with $5.5 billion USD (13%). Data collected from the continent — South Africa (31 foundations) and Nigeria (12 foundations) — was also highlighted as an indicator of growing philanthropy in emerging economies.

Additionally, in a closer look at African funders, the African Philanthropy Forum and the Bridgespan Group’s 2021 report Disparities In Funding For African NGOs: Unlocking Philanthropy For African NGOs As A Pathway To Greater Impact, found that “African NGOs received a relatively modest share of large gifts between 2010 and 2019: 14% of grants (by value) from non-African donors and just 9% from African donors (with large gifts defined as $10 million for non-African funders and $1 million for African funders). The number of gifts in 2020 was seven times the annual average for the previous decade. Yet, African organisations still only received 9% of grants (by value) from African donors, and 33% of their large-scale gifts [were] towards their own operating foundations.”

The Africa Grantmakers’ Affinity Group, in The Africa Funding Landscape: A Profile of Funders Focused on Africa and Perspectives on the Field, found that African funders’ commitments to providing support for — and collaborating with — local organisations and networks was at odds with inadequate funding in their focus areas, as well as grant making practices centred on funder-led objectives, unrealistic accountability requirements, or limited local knowledge and engagement. 42% of funders focused primarily on women and girls, whereas less than 10% of these indicated a focus on victims of abuse and crimes or ethnic minorities, “and none noted an explicit focus on the LGBTQ community.”

Funding for Marginalised Communities

The State of Funding for LGBTQI organisations

Funding for LGBTQI organisations and movements is of significant concern globally and in Africa, more specifically. The Global Philanthropy Project found that US-based organisations associated with the anti-gender movement (including the Christian Broadcasting Network) reported more than $1 billion in overseas expenditures from 2008 to 2017, with the third largest portion of expenditures, ($238 million USD) distributed across Africa.

Focusing on the raise of faith-based, gender-restrictive organising and funding in Ghana, the Global Philanthropy Project in Manufacturing Moral Panic: Weaponising Children to Undermine Gender Justice And Human Rights, found that “the Ghanaian case illustrates how faith-based, gender- restrictive groups use the rhetoric of protecting children and leverage entrenched anti-LGBT sentiment in many English-speaking countries in Africa to manufacture moral panic.” They note that the funding mechanisms of gender restrictive organisations are often long term (between 40–50 years), in the form of endowments, trust funds and block grants, and have few constraints.

“In order to shift from a reactive funding approach to a worldmaking one regarding women’s, children’s and LGBT rights”, it is recommended that progressive funders:

  • Ensure grantees have access to long-term unrestricted funding;
  • Cultivate a diverse ecosystem of funding opportunities for grantees, including direct, project, general operating, and core support to create stable projects; and
  • Fund more flexibly to allow grantees to adapt to the changing, malleable tactics of gender-restrictive groups.

The State of Funding for Sex Workers

Sex workers, across diverse gender and sexual identities, are at the frontlines of movements across Sub-Saharan Africa. In their Covid-19 Impact Survey, the Global Network for Sex Work Projects found that “sex worker-led organisations are mobilising and championing solutions to support their communities”. The survey found, however, that they are also facing barriers securing funding generally, and emergency funding most pressingly.

Diving Deeper: Under the Surface of LGBTI Sex Workers Funding Data also captures disparities in funding for sex workers, with a 2% increase in LGBTI sex worker funding in Sub-Saharan Africa, as compared to a 40% increase for overall LGBTI funding.

In LGBTIQ+ and Sex Worker Rights Defenders At Risk During Covid-19, Frontline reported that “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+) rights defenders and sex worker rights defenders (SWRDs) protecting their communities during the Covid-19 outbreak are facing increased physical, economic, legal and psychological risks.” Case studies from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Zimbabwe illustrated the commitment of LGBTIQ+ and SWRDs, as they “continue to advocate for rights to health, freedom from violence, access to justice, and non-discrimination” in spite of barriers and abuses.

In response to — and in support of — LGBTI+ and SWRDs, Frontline recommends that donors:

  • Offer support for capacity building and private networking between grantees, to enable human rights defenders (HRDs) to directly share strategies for movement building and protection across organisations, collectives, and movements;
  • Support HRDs’ general operating costs to ensure they are not forced to choose between conducting emergency response work and paying their own salaries;
  • Examine and take concrete measures to rectify the systematic exclusion of LGBTIQ+ and sex worker communities from Covid-19 response funding, including the distribution of food and medical supplies;
  • Include and prioritise the analysis and recommendations of HRDs from these communities during reform efforts;
  • Provide flexible and sustainable funding that strengthens LGBTIQ+ and SWRDs’ abilities to advocate for their rights, build networks of solidarity with state and non-state actors, and safely coordinate emergency response; and
  • Continue to support organisations that are already active and experienced with current capacity in providing services or conducting research for a public health and financial crisis.

5. Feminist Philanthropic Response on the Continent: Spotlighting Feminist Funders

Leila Hessini’s 2020 study and analysis of Prospera members, Financing For Gender Equality And Women’s Rights: The Role Of Feminist Funds, argues that a “shift from neo-liberal models of development, to caring and just economies, … entails systemic changes in how resources are redistributed, requires that existing actors shift their policies and practices, and that new funders come to the table to create a more transparent, interconnected, and intersectional global feminist funding ecosystem. She further argues that 1) commitments to funding groups closest to the communities we serve — specifically LBT, indigenous, sex worker, young women and 2) core, multi-year, sustainable funds to southern-led organisations and movements should be key priorities of all donors.

Based on Hessini’s findings and recommendations, as well as desk review findings on movements trends and needs, the following feminist funds working on the continent have been identified for benchmarking assessment purposes: FRIDA Young Feminist Fund, The Global Fund for Women, the Fund for Global Human Rights, Mama Cash, The East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative, Initiative Sankofa d’Afrique de l’Ouest, and Urgent Action Fund — Africa. The funds’ missions and grantmaking models were developed and implemented alongside in response to the needs of women and feminist organisers, organisations, and movements across the continent. Additionally, their strategies center 1) marginalized communities — e.g. LBT women, sex workers, girls and young women and 2) sustainability through flexible funding to best resource and support the needs of organisations and the larger feminist funding ecosystem. The funds’ mission and impact, funding models and eligibility requirements, and relevant financial and strategic plan information, are detailed below.

5.1 FRIDA Young Feminist Fund

The Fund’s mission is to provide “young feminist organisers with the resources they need to amplify their voices and bring attention to the social justice issues they care about [and] enable the support, flexibility and networks to sustain young feminist visions”. FRIDA has made 235 grants globally, 44 of which went to African organisations.

FRIDA’s grantee partners focus on a wide range of social justice issues, including Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Climate and Environmental Justice, and Girls’ Rights.

Funding Model

FRIDA’s Funding + Model, co-created with young feminist organisers to ensure relevance and direct response to community needs, provides support for organisational sustainability, as well as feminist movement building. Along with core grants, FRIDA provides access to — and support for — networking, exchanging, and learning opportunities.

FRIDA uses a participatory grant making model and gives core grants that are flexible, in order to allow “groups to define their own budgets and dedicate funds to where it is most needed”.

FRIDA also has special funding dedicated for the following:

  • Capacity Strengthening Grants
  • Travel Grants
  • Collaborative Grants
  • Post-Convening Grants
  • Resource Mobilisation Grants
  • Funding in Emergencies

Additional programmes include:

  • The Accompaniment Programme, which is designed to create a feminist and political solidarity model which is built on a commitment to equal, honest, and open communication.
  • The Online Learning Programme, which allows grantee partners and advisors to access to key learning opportunities through a series of webinars that are created solely to address the self-identified needs of the community.
  • FRIDA Regional and Global Convenings, which are thematic convenings at the regional, sub-regional, and global levels to strengthen and encourage a community of learning between grantee partners, providing them with opportunities to create new skills, knowledge and networks.

Funding Eligibility

FRIDA grants are dedicated to organisations for youth under the age of 30 (youth membership must be at 70% or higher) that are led by young women and/or trans and intersex youth under the age of 30. Groups do not need to be legally registered organisations.

FRIDA grantees are dedicated to improving the lives of young women/trans* and intersex youth at the local, national, regional or international levels, inclusive organising, and collective action & feminist movement building.

FRIDA prioritises the following groups:

  • Small, emerging grassroots groups with little or no access to funding from larger donors;
  • Groups, networks, or collectives based in Sub-Saharan Africa, South, Southeast, East Asia and the Pacific, The Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and Central, Southern, Eastern Europe and Central and North Asia);
  • Groups located in remote, underserved areas;
  • Groups that are made up of — and/or working with — socially excluded and disadvantaged young women, trans* and intersex youth, especially: refugees, ethnic, national and caste minorities, rural women, urban disadvantaged, lesbian, bisexual, trans*, women and trans* living with HIV and AIDS, sex workers, women and trans* with disabilities, women and trans* living or working in armed conflict and post-conflict zones, women and trans-led unions, groups working on climate justice and land rights; and
  • Groups using creative and innovative strategies to further their activism (including art, music, culture, poetry, social media, feminist activist driven research etc.).

5.2 Global Fund for Women’s (GFW)

GFW’s mission is to “fund bold, ambitious and expansive gender justice movements.” GFW has made a total of 12,434 grants for $191,982,237 USD to 5,296 organisations in 177 countries.

3,046 of those grants went to 1,434 organisations across 42 Sub-Saharan Africa countries, with the first grant made in 1988.

The majority of grants made addressed the following issues:

  • Ensuring Economic and Environmental Justice
  • Expanding Civic and Political Participation
  • Fostering Social Change Philanthropy
  • Advancing Health and Sexual & Reproductive Rights
  • Increasing Access to Education
  • Fostering Social Change Philanthropy

Funding Model

The GFW believes that “social movements are one of the most effective ways to create and sustain long-term transformation” and “recognizes grassroots people power as one of the most effective mechanisms to create and sustain long-term social transformation”.

The GFW provides general operating support grants (76% of which are multi-year) that are unrestricted, flexible funds to meet “partners’ needs, from programs to projects to operating expenses, including rent, salaries, communications, and travel”. Crisis grant funds are also available to respond to “climate and natural disasters; public health crises; or sudden and drastic increases in political violence.”

Groups do not need to be registered non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to qualify for funding.

Funding Eligibility

The GFW’s grant making “centres historically marginalised communities and those most impacted by gender injustice, including cisgender and transgender women and girls; gender diverse and nonconforming people; racial, religious, and ethnic minorities; young people; sex workers; disabled people; and members of the LGBTQIA+ community”.

The Fund supports organisations that:

  • Are governed, directed, and/or led by historically marginalised communities.
  • Use an intersectional feminist analysis.
  • Focus primarily on advancing gender justice
  • Embrace collective action.

5.3 Fund for Global Human Rights (FGHR)

FGHR’s mission is to “equip grassroots activists with the financial and strategic support they need to improve lives, mobilise movements, and build a better future for their communities.” Since 2002, FGHR has made $100 million USD in grants to more than 800 organisations across the world. FGHR’s target issues are Climate Justice, Legal Empowerment, Building Civic Power, Women’s Rights, LGBTQ Rights, Migrants Rights, Children’s and Youths’ Rights, and labour Rights.

Currently, FGHR supports “activists working to resist dictatorships, rehabilitate child soldiers, demand protections for LGBTQ people, decrease sexual violence, and promote sustainable economic development” in Burundi, Democratic Republic of The Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.

Funding Model

The Fund for Global Human Rights is committed to “working in partnership with community-based activists and groups” and focuses on “advancing community-driven and grassroots initiatives because… the people most affected by human rights abuses are best equipped to develop their own solutions”.

The Fund for Global Human Rights’ approach to supporting gender equality focuses on the following strategic areas:

  • Preventing Violence Against Women
  • Enabling Economic Well-Being
  • Enshrining Women’s Rights In Law
  • Providing Access To Healthcare

The Fund for Global Human Rights gives general support grants “that equip activist groups to develop their own visions for achieving equality and justice and to be nimble and resilient”. They typically support grantees for 5 to 10 years and provide “emergency support when needed”.

Additionally, The Fund for Global Human Rights provides mentoring, knowledge building and sharing, and networking building opportunities at the regional and global level.

Funding Eligibility

The Fund for Global Human Rights’ funds:

  • Registered or unregistered grassroots organisations with the ability to manage multi year unrestricted grants; and
  • Grassroots organisations — i.e., organisations that come from, are led by, and are accountable to the people most impacted by a problem. The organisation can be formally or informally structured, can work within or outside of movements, and can be made up of volunteers or have paid staff.

Spotlight: The Fund for Global Human Rights’ Participatory Grantmaking

Lessons from the Tar Kura Initiative in Sierra Leone

In 2019, the Fund for Global Human Rights and Purposeful, a feminist movement- building hub for adolescent girls, piloted a participatory grant making initiative in Sierra Leone. The Tar Kura Initiative was designed to “contribute to changing young people’s sense of power and agency over their own lives… [and] to help build a cadre of youth and children’s rights leaders who will reinvigorate the field and become powerful advocates for change.

Participatory grant making is the practice of ceding grant making power to affected community members and constituencies. It requires both a recognition of the unequal power relationships inherent in philanthropy, as well as a conscious effort to rebalance that power.

The Fund for Global Human Rights made a nationwide call for panellists of youth who would decide issues of focus and youth-led organisations to be awarded grants. Panellists, in orientation and training sessions, addressed leadership, resolving conflict, inclusion, and “participated at key stages of the process from the start, including defining the funding criteria”. Young people faced barriers in applying for, receiving and managing grants from traditional grant makers, with “adult-centric requirements and processes”. In response, there were no requirements for groups to be registered or have prior experience in managing grants and “activities and timelines were organised around school calendars. Young people were also allowed to submit their applications using accessible means (WhatsApp video and voice recordings) and handwritten applications. Purposeful partners also provided application support in certain locations.

Panellists reviewed proposals submitted by 45 youth-led organisations, visited the 25 finalist organisations and selected 10 grantees and the grant amounts they were awarded. Tar Kura, working with groups who had never previously had access to institutional funding, selected grantees that supported “the issues young people consider most pressing — economic empowerment, fighting violence and discrimination against girls, enhancing their participation in public life by building their skills, and promoting the livelihoods of young people”.

Challenges included the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on planned field visits and workshops, addressing and resolving issues related to power dynamics between some grantees and fiscal sponsors, and accommodating for schooling.

Note: In the Fund for Global Human Rights’ latest survey, From the Front Lines: Grantee Share Strategies, Challenges, and Feedback, grantees indicated that advocacy, research and documentation, and community, movement, and network building were the most effective strategies to the hardships and challenges posed by the pandemic. However, “most respondents (138 out of 193) estimate that more than half of their overall funding is restricted to use for specific projects and cannot be used for general operating expenses”. Fund strategies most appreciated by grantees were: 1) financial resourcing whether through core support, for the range of thematic issues supported, or how grant funds are disbursed; 2) connection and accompaniment through Fund staff expertise, coaching, solidarity, and site visits (although disrupted by the pandemic); and 3) technical resourcing, in general, to strengthen organisational capacities.

5.4 Mama Cash

Mama Cash “mobilises resources from individuals and institutions, makes grants to…self-led, feminist organisations, and helps to build the partnerships and networks needed to successfully defend and advance women’s, girls’, trans and intersex people’s human rights globally”. Mama Cash has distributed over $66 million USD in grants to women’s, girl’s, trans and intersex groups since 1983 and supports more than 150 organisations, networks and women’s funds annually (30 based in Africa).

Funding Model

Mama Cash has five participatory grantmaking funds: The Solidarity Fund, The Resilience Fund, The Revolution Fund and the Radical Love Fund.

  • The Resilience Fund provides core, flexible grants to self-led groups, collectives and organisations of women, girls, trans people and intersex people who work to build collective power, claim justice and create, sustain or revive ways of living that are just and fair. Grants are made with the intention of renewing for multiple years. Grantees are also supported through accompaniment grants, which provide partners the opportunity to strengthen their skills, knowledge and networks. The Community Committee (COM COM) is Mama Cash’s participatory grantmaking decision-making body and is run for and by activists with experience in feminist movements. COM COM determines who receives funding from the Resilience Fund.
  • The Revolution Fund supports timely, one-off initiatives that respond to or create an opportunity for change, enable a reaction to an urgent need, or seed a new project or idea.
  • The Radical Love Fund supports individual feminist activists with grants for up to two years to do feminist activism by coordinating or catalysing projects. Funding can be related to personal-political work, creative enterprises, learning and documenting feminist histories, facilitating networking that strengthens bonds across other groups or movements, and building just realities and futures through practice and sharing.
  • The Solidarity Fund was built with, for and by peer women’s funds to strengthen and support the feminist funding ecosystem by providing flexible funding to the global community of women’s funds to build their institutional knowledge, skills and resources.
  • The Spark Fund provides grants to strengthen the work of communities of women, girls and trans and intersex people working on contested issues in the Netherlands and the ABC and SSS islands.

Funding Eligibility

Mama Cash supports groups and initiatives that:

  • Work from a feminist, women’s, girl’s, trans and/or intersex rights perspective;
  • Are self-led by the women, girls, trans people and/or intersex people they serve;
  • Have the promotion of women’s, girls’, trans people’s and/or intersex people’s human rights as their primary mission, and not just as the focus of part of their programmes;
  • Push for structural and fundamental change;
  • Focus on issues that are under-addressed and/or contested.

5.5 The East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative (UHAI EASHRI)

UHAI EASHRI is Eastern Africa’s “first indigenous activist fund for sex workers and sexual and gender minorities,” providing flexible funding and responsive capacity support, and funds research, Pan-African engagements and convening”.

Since its founding in 2009, UHAI EASHRI has made 900 grants totalling $12 million USD. These funds were disbursed to activists and movements in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. Focus issues include “poverty and access to dignified livelihoods; healthcare including mental health wellbeing; shelter and housing and education while fighting the societal prejudice, unjust laws and policies that deny our communities humane lives and hope”.

Funding Model

UHAI EASHRI’s peer grants and strategic grants are made using the participatory grant making approach which “moves decision making from being donor centred to being community driven. It is in itself a diligence check… [and] allows us to take risks… [and] to take into account intersectionality and to reach groups that would otherwise be left out of mainstream funding such as transgender, intersex, refugee or migrant sexual and gender minorities”.

UHAI awards three types of peer grants once a year, determined by a committee of 13 activists nominated by Eastern African sex workers and sexual and gender minorities movements.

  • Msingi Grants — 1-year General Support grants with a funding ceiling of $7,500 USD
  • Tujenge Grants- 1-year General Support grants with a funding ceiling of $20,000 USD. Tujenge grants are typically used to contribute to ongoing programmes, and/or cover the core support costs
  • Imarisha Grants — These are 2-year core operating support grants of up to $60,000 USD allocated at a maximum of $30,000 USD per year.

UHAI also awards strategic, opportunity, and capacity support grants.

Strategic grants are targeted, non-competitive grants that establish partnerships with institutions in support of work that is larger in context and impact than would be possible through the Peer Grants process. Strategic grants are flexible in amount and duration.

Opportunity grants provide emergency assistance for security, protection, urgent advocacy and litigation, and other immediate events that may not be expected in an organisation’s work-plan.

Capacity Support Grants provide resources skills development in leadership, organising and tailor-made institutional development needs to strengthen systems, structures and processes towards technical capacities. Capacity Support grants are made all year round, are flexible in duration, and have a maximum limit of $5,000 USD.

Funding Eligibility

UHAI funds organisations that are led and managed by sex workers and LGBTI people. Mainstream organisations that work with movements are also eligible to apply for funding, particularly when they can demonstrate meaningful community engagement.

5.6 Initiative Sankofa d’Afrique de l’Ouest (ISDAO)

ISDAO is “an activist-led fund dedicated to strengthening and supporting a West African movement for gender diversity and sexual rights by adopting a flexible approach to grant making and building a culture of philanthropy committed to equality and social justice”.

In 2019, ISDAO gave 27 grants across West Africa that “support innovation and recognize diverse sites, forms, and expressions of activism in the West African region”.

Funding Model

ISDAO uses a participatory grant making approach as an organisation as a way of responding to “the needs of…communities, improve community organising and effect real change”. Organisations can apply for core support funding, project funding, or both. Grants range from 6 months to 24 months (maximum).

ISDAO categorises grants into the following three tiers:

  • Up to $5,000 USD ⎯ Foundational seed support for informal start-ups between 0–2 years, working locally at the grassroots. These organisations might lack formal systems or structures and have most, if not all, their work led by volunteers. The annual budget for an organisation or group requesting this size grant cannot exceed $85,000.
  • $5,001 USD to $15,000 USD ⎯ Funding to sustain pre-existing work or to implement new initiatives undertaken by more formal groups that have been active for at least two years, working at local, national, or regional levels. These organisations should have some systems and structures in place and should be consistently staffed by either paid employees (part-time or full-time) or volunteers.
  • $15,001 USD to $20,000 USD ⎯ Funding to consolidate or develop work by formal groups working at national or regional levels that have at least 3 years’ working experience and have functional organisational systems and structures and full-time staff. It should be noted that the final amount of the grant awarded may differ from the amount originally requested and this decision is made by our Activist Grant Making Panel.

Funding Eligibility

ISDAO grants are awarded to organisations, networks, and groups that:

  • Are led by lesbians, gays, bisexual, queer, intersex and trans* (LGBTQI) people. ISDAO considers a group to be “led by LGBTQI people” when LGBTQI people are in decision-making roles, including defining the organisation’s strategic and financial priorities, and represent at least 75% of the staff, spokespersons, and members of the board or other decision-making bodies
  • Are based in at least one of ISDAO’s current focal countries, including: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal or Togo; Are dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQI people at the local, national, or regional level
  • Are committed to engaging in and strengthening the movement to advance the human rights and inclusion of LGBTQI persons. Your group should be open to collaborating with other LGBTQI organisations and allies and be willing to share your experiences to strengthen the LGBTQI rights movement.

Groups do not need to be legally registered to be eligible for funding. Groups without bank accounts will need to have a fiscal sponsor to receive grant funds.

Projects proposed by individuals, government institutions, or political organisations are not eligible.

5.7 Urgent Action Fund — Africa

Urgent Action Fund — Africa works to “support African Womn Human Rights Defenders, particularly in the feminist and womn’s movements, in their actions, which enable them to support and sustain themselves, each other and their work before, during and after urgent situations.”

Funding Model

Urgent Action Fund-Africa awards two types of rapid response grants for “short-term intervention[s] in the course of a long-term strategy”. These grants are “intended for unanticipated and urgent actions to respond to a shock or crisis or to take an opportunity.”

  • Rapid Response Grants — $12,000 USD
  • Defending the Defenders Grants (for activists at risk because of their activism) -$5,000 USD

UAF-Africa also offers grants for advocacy and alliance building meant for medium to long term “activities, processes and projects linked in some way to decision-making on urgent situations faced by…organisations”.

  • Advocacy and Alliance Building Grants (to support advocacy activities with policy makers, traditional leaders) — $20,000 USD

Grant requests are responded to within 48 hours of receipt and funds are disbursed within 1–5 days.

Criteria used when reviewing requests are:

  • Strategic — the action is related to a predetermined plan to create structural change that will advance women’s human rights and address some of the fundamental or root challenges that pre-empted the situation.
  • Unanticipated — the situation or opportunity could not have been foreseen and therefore could not have been planned for.
  • Time Urgent — the initiative must take place quickly (during a period of less than three months) for it to be effective or the opportunity will be lost.
  • Sustainable — the group is able to carry out the proposed action effectively and can secure funding for its future sustainability.
  • Supported — the group has the support of others involved in women’s human rights or related fields, locally or globally who must also be familiar with the situation.

Funding Eligibility

UAF-Africa funds women’s rights organisations across the African continent. Womn, as defined by UAF-Africa, includes “lesbian, bisexual womn, transwomn and those who are non-binary, identifying with neither gender”.

Spotlight: African Feminist Funders Strategising for the Future

In its strategic plan, Strategic Compass 2021–2030 — Centring African Womn: Feminist R/Evolution in Action, Urgent Action Fund — Africa shared its commitment to becoming a “fit and future-ready feminist fund, able to contribute in the best possible and most principled ways to movement building in Africa and globally”.

Its ways of working emphasise:

Collectivity and Shared Leadership: “We share decision making and power because the collective is central to living a full and meaningful life. Change happens through the collective and co-creation as much as it happens on a personal level. Within this shared leadership, we are deeply conscious of our own power as a large, regional institution with the ability to influence donors, and to mobilise and distribute funding.”

Cross Movement and Intersectionality: “We seek out, embrace and welcome all womn committed to creating change for and with womn and for the African continent as a whole. This means that womn of all bodies, identities, sexual orientations, from all geographies, and with a range of dis/abilities are an integral part of who we are and how we move through the world. Further, we work with and across issues and identities as these are all interconnected and expressed as the daily lived realities of womn.”

Openness, Knowledge and Learning: “We are aware of and celebrate knowledge, learning and wisdom. We bring these values into Urgent Action Fund — Africa. Those who we work with are experts and specialists in their own areas of work. There is much for us to learn from our partners and friends.”

In its recent report, The Other End of the Rope: Focusing Covid-19 Response on Those Who Need It The Most, Urgent Action Fund — Africa also makes a commitment to configuring its grant making to meet the needs of women and gender non-conforming people. In response to the pandemic, the Fund has been supporting initiatives that:

Develop and widely disseminate gendered messages and information about the disease;

Conduct action research/ document the effects of the pandemic on women and gender non-conforming groups;

Simplify and/or translate the complex Covid-19 information that is being shared by governments and public health experts into simple and local languages;

Address issues of gender- based violence particularly aggravated by Covid-19;

Respond to immediate practical needs such as water & sanitation service, hygiene & dignity parts, food, masks, etc.;

Create awareness education on Covid-19 at the grassroots level, targeting informal sector rural/ urban slums communities and other at-risk groups; and

Respond to collective care and healing to deal with distress caused by persistent forms of exclusion, violence and marginalisation.

6. Conclusion

In response to uncertain economic futures and unfavourable socio-political landscapes during an unprecedented pandemic, the women’s and feminist movements across the continent continue to mobilise towards equity across all aspects of society. Women and feminist organisers and organisations have been at the forefront of advocacy that has resulted in the implementation of legal mechanisms and social programs and policies that strive towards gender equity. Within the movement, girls and young women, LBT women, and women and girls with disabilities emerge from the margins in calls for intersectionality to ensure that no one is excluded or disenfranchised and needs are addressed across intersections.

Organisers and organisations have also called on their funders to transcend beyond traditional funding mechanisms towards flexible, general operating funds and funding for movement building/networking and technical assistance/training. Several funders, indigenous and global, have responded affirmatively and transparently. Their missions, funding models and practices centre organisers as experts in their communities and exhibit trust and confidence in organisations’ governance and operations. Through flexible, general operating funds, participatory grantmaking panels and committees, and funder-sponsored networking and training opportunities, the funders outlined are moving towards shared decision-making that shifts power and resources and allows for accountability, transparency, and collaboration.



Nana Afua Yeboah, Ph.D. (formerly Nana Brantuo) is an interdisciplinary researcher, writer & storyteller.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Nana Afua Yeboah

Nana Afua Yeboah, Ph.D. (formerly Nana Brantuo) is an interdisciplinary researcher, writer & storyteller.