Show Me the Money

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October 22, 2019
Mendy Marsh, Co-founder and Executive Director

Two years on from #metoo and #aidtoo the humanitarian system is still failing to listen to the women and girls it is there to serve.

Despite the headlines, the apologies and the welcome improved investment in safeguarding to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse across the development and humanitarian sectors, agencies and donors are failing to fund an end to violence against women and girls. The result – millions already living on the margins of survival left at further risk.

The humanitarian sector is failing women and girls

We expect women to feel safe in coming forward to share their experiences of abuse and exploitation but ignore these same women when it comes to the delivery of programs that are there to support them. If as organizations we can’t recognize and value the experience and expertise that women have about their own lives, communities and context, why should they come forward to share their experiences of violence?

Many rights-based organizations agree that listening to and learning from women and girls is the right thing to do. It’s also the expedient thing to do, as we know that women and girls explicitly improves program outcomes. But listening comes at a cost.

Here at the Sexual Violence Research Initiative a constant refrain has been the need for more money to tackle violence against women and girls.

Where is the money?

If we are serious about listening to women and addressing violence, we need to challenge the fact that an estimated average of under $2 per person is spent on tackling violence against women and girls.[1] This means that lifesaving prevention and response services are underfunded and under-prioritized, whilst crimes against women and girls in emergencies continue to rise.

Funding is critical if we are to create a platform to hear the voice of women and girls. For development and humanitarian programs to be effective in improving lives, violence needs to be addressed as this negatively impacts on so many human rights. To provide aid in the best way we need effective needs assessments that count women, listen and understand their specific needs and those of girls too. Donors also need to fund local women’s rights groups and women and girl led networks. In emergencies this is even more critical. Aid organizations have a responsibility to drive up standards and practices that protect women, girls and whistleblowers who are already in precarious situations.

Change is possible

The sector has some incredible activists who are working every day to change this. Women leaders like Netsnat Ghebrebrhan from Raising Voices, Davidica Ikai, from Itwak Women Empowerment Organization of South Sudan, Wangechi Wachira, Center for Rights Education and Awareness, and my own organization VOICE that is amplifying women and girls in crises. Each of these women and organizations are championing the need to open up spaces for women and girls in our programs and more money for the most vulnerable in communities and disasters.

These leaders need more donors and other senior leaders in agencies of influence to prioritize this work in their grants, proposals and advocacy. Organizations in the sector need to invest in specialists and experts that recognize and prioritize women and girls’ specific needs and more platforms need to be created from more women and girls can get involved with, whether this is about how aid is distributed or about how exploitation must be prevented. The sector needs new and stronger standards around reporting, tracking and ringfencing aid for programs that prevent women and girls from experiencing violence and crucially more money for women and girls in these settings.  If we do this then we will be well on the way to achieving the ambitions and pledges unlocked by the safeguarding challenges in 2018.

  1. Where is the Money? How the Humanitarian System is Failing in its Commitments to End Violence Against Women and Girls. VOICE and the International Rescue Committee. 2019. June.
    Photo credit: Peter Biro