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Key messages

Monday 5 – Wednesday 7 February 2024 | WP3274


Reframing crisis

  1. People marginalised by gender discrimination and exclusions, facing multiple and intersecting forms of marginalisation such as disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and refugee and displacement status live in a constant state of crisis. This state of crisis is not innate; it is a result of deep political, economic and social inequities, and is further exacerbated by critical events, disasters, and conflict.
  2. ‘Crisis’, as defined by the humanitarian system, requires reframing to address long-term and embedded crises as they are experienced by communities and by marginalised groups, and to support and facilitate collective care.
  3. There is also a need to acknowledge and address the different ‘languages’ spoken by key stakeholders and strive to adopt common understandings and language for effective collaboration.
  4. WROs and WLOs play a critical, holistic crisis response role which is under-recognized by most mainstream humanitarian actors.

Women’s Rights and Feminist Organisations as responders to crisis

  1. WLOs, WROs, feminist organisations, and other constituency-led groups are responding to crises on the front line in communities, often with little or no pay, frequently putting themselves at personal risk. WROs and WLOs understand solutions across all sectors, have political imaginations, can take practical action, and most importantly have the trust of, and are accountable to their communities.

“Sudan is a mirror for humanitarian failure”

  1. With credibility, trust and accountability to the community firmly in place, these organisations respond before international organisations arrive and remain after they leave, providing unique care and support in ways that are inaccessible to the humanitarian system.
  2. Due to their genuine local positioning and ability to reach community members, the outcome of humanitarian responses would improve if more and better-quality funding was made accessible to WLOs, WROs and feminist organisations to enable them to scale up their complementary activities. WLOs, WROs, and feminist organisations need supporting and strengthening before an emergency hits, to maximise opportunities to respond effectively, and inclusively.
  3. Women’s and Feminist Funds, embedded within women’s rights movements, are an effective, existing funding mechanism designed to provide quality partnerships and support to WROs and WLOs. They operate at the national, regional and multi-regional level, offer flexible funding and accompaniment to grantee partners, and, collectively, have significant absorption capacity.

Collective care and reframing humanitarian action

  1. WLOs, WROs, and feminist organisations put collective care at the centre of their efforts, understanding that wellbeing is critical to sustain solidarity and action in communities.
  2. Maintaining the ecosystem, or collective tissue that binds feminist organisations, movements, and networks through collective care is a political act. Collective care and wellbeing can offer a model for reframing humanitarian action, with the quality of care and mutual aid requiring a similar standard to security. 
  3. ‘Capacity building’ efforts to strengthen WLOs, WROs, and feminist organisations are often northern-centric, and focus on training organisations in how to operate within the structures and constraints of the humanitarian system rather than genuinely valuing and harnessing the power of local knowledge, leadership, networks, and action.
  4. While efforts have been made to reframe humanitarian action through a localisation agenda and feminist frameworks, these conceptualisations and commitments made by humanitarian actors often remain at a global level and do not have meaningful impact during local and national implementation.
  5. WROs, WLOs, and feminist organisations face severe constraints to access humanitarian funds, including inability to meet stringent due diligence processes which are often applied in the same way to large INGOs as to national WROs. Successful examples of those working in the intermediary space, most notably Women’s and Feminist Funds, channel flexible ODA and philanthropic funds, allowing WLOs and WROs to centre their own strategies, and maintain feminist values and work on local responses effectively. However, Women’s Funds are unable to support all the eligible proposals they receive due to limited resources; demand far exceeds supply. In addition, some WLOs, and WROs are unaware of these funds, and do not know how to apply.

Diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality

“We have to get away from the idea that there is a mainstream population and then there are fringe groups. It is diversity all the way down.” 

  1. The humanitarian system is not always able to respond to diverse needs and to recognise intersecting vulnerabilities in communities; the system often reinforces existing power dynamics, including through continuing to marginalise those who are already marginalised.
  2. Gender and inclusion within the humanitarian sector are too often still viewed as a ‘problem to be solved’ rather than as an effective way to serve the right people at the right time. Mainstreaming gender and inclusion in a manner which truly supports excluded groups takes time and dedicated resources; without this, it can turn into a bureaucratic exercise for which no one takes responsibility.
  3. WLOs, WROs, and feminist organisations often work outside the formal humanitarian system and ensure meaningful inclusion of underrepresented groups including disabled people, LGBTQI communities, refugees and migrants, and others.

Accountability and risk taking

“How do we embrace risk, not avoid it?  Moving money is a political act.”

  1. Bilateral donors face significant and deep structural constraints to fund WLOs and WROs directly which relates to capacity, value for money, and risk taking. It is time consuming and expensive to allocate funds directly to small organisations and carries reputational and political risk for the donor in their home country. Using intermediaries, such as the UN and INGOS, is more cost effective and less risky for donors.
  2. Accountability of the humanitarian system to WLOs, WROs, feminist organisations and communities in upholding inclusive, feminist and gender-based principles and goals is lacking. Dangers and negative repercussions, such as withdrawal of financial support, exist when local organisations attempt to hold international actors accountable for decision-making and how funding is allocated.
  3. While there is a common desire for collaboration, there is a perceived sense of competition, and of ‘us and them’ within the complex ecosystem of donors, recipients and intermediaries, which is not conducive to understanding and collective action.
  4. Establishing reverse or mutual due diligence processes within the humanitarian system for organisations to hold donors and Humanitarian Country Teams accountable for policies and practices on inclusion and local action would be a strong move. However, this must not divert local energy and political imagination away from community-level drive for change.


Women’s rights organisations and movements in crises: pathways to progress


Ways forward: a summary

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