How to create an international movement for gender equality

8 March is International Women’s Day. This year, we mark the occasion with a series of blog posts about initiatives to strengthen gender equality worldwide. In this post, Jenny Hedman from the OECD DAC Network on Gender Equality talks to colleagues from the Netherlands about their fund for women’s organisations.

A few years ago, when the Dutch learned that funding for organisations supporting women’s rights was declining internationally, they decided to do something about it. “We felt more action was needed to achieve equality between men and women” explains Robert Dijksterhuis, who leads work on gender equality at the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs. An additional reason to make an extra effort was that gender equality and women’s empowerment is one of the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that world leaders have set out to achieve by 2015.

Encouraged by their Minister for Development Cooperation, who had realised the positive spin-off effects of investing in women – healthier children is just one example – Robert Dijksterhuis and his team got the go-ahead to set up a 70 million Euro fund, the MDG 3 fund in 2007. Organisations and companies from all over the world were invited to submit proposals for projects in four specific areas: property and inheritance rights for women; equality of employment conditions and opportunities between women and men; women’s participation in politics and public administration; and, stopping violence against women. These were all areas where they felt more action would lead to results for women.

Together with Dutch civil society organisations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to fund only relatively large projects that would really have the potential to change things. The organisations and companies applying had to ask for at least 750 000 Euros – money distributed between 2008 and 2011. The Ministry’s concern that only a few organisations would be able to apply – it takes capacity to absorb such large amounts of money – was unfounded. They received 454 proposals.

45 projects were selected and supported by the MDG 3 fund. Some of the organisations in turn funded smaller grass-roots organisations. This has lead, amongst other things, to 10 000 women being trained to participate in politics and take public office, and 19 000 people learning about women’s right to own land in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Moreover, the relatively large sums of money that were granted enabled the organisations to become even more professional and develop their capacity – to ask for more money! This way, they are now able to expand their activities and provide more and better support for gender equality and women’s rights.

But this is not all. An unexpected but welcome side effect of the MDG 3 fund was that the grantees turned into a community, supporting and learning from each other. One of the grantees, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) – also the organisation that had carried out the research showing that funding to women’s organisations was declining – made sure that the organisations receiving grants came together to exchange experiences. Thanks to the partnership between the Ministry, AWID and other organisations, what started as a campaign turned into an international movement for gender equality and women’s rights.

Today, other donors are also joining the MDG 3 fund. The UK’s Department for International Development contributed 1 million to support activities on women’s land, property and labour rights. Other donors are also invited to join the MDG3 fund – and the movement.

 Useful links

Find out more about the MDG 3 fund and its results through the films:

Invest in women – Yes I see the opportunity and Invest in women and see results

OECD work on gender


OECD Development Assistance Committee work on gender

OECD Development Centre work on gender

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