On International Women's Day, let's give feminist groups the funding they need | Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo-Wondieh

In Cameroon, and across the world, grassroot organisations like mine have been on the Covid frontline. Now we need proper support

When Covid-19 first entered Cameroon, where I live and work, I knew that women would be among the worst affected by the ensuing crisis. Across the world during the pandemic, violence against women and girls has soared, and women are also bearing the brunt of the economic fallout.

These same dynamics are at play in Cameroon, but many women here now find themselves in a doubly difficult situation. As the world has gone online, digital gaps in Cameroon have left the majority of women disconnected, unable to access education or connect with one another. A 2015 report revealed that only 36% of women in Cameroon were internet users – and very little has changed since then.

The organisation I lead, Women for a Change, was founded to help women and girls in Cameroon. Covid has highlighted the importance of our work. Women and local feminist groups like ours are part of the frontline response to the pandemic and are driving recovery efforts. But despite this, only 2.1% of international humanitarian assistance goes directly to locally run organisations like mine, working with communities on the ground. And only 1% of gender equality funding trickles down to women-led grassroots organisations.

We know that women-led organisations can often have the greatest effect on social change. Evidence shows that women’s organisations and feminist movements propel long-term social transformation, support economic empowerment and promote equality for all. Because they often have deep relationships with local communities, feminist movements have the understanding, visibility and influence to mobilise and respond during a crisis like this one.

At Women for a Change, we provide menstrual hygiene resources and information to help protect women from domestic violence, including for those affected by armed conflict. During the pandemic, we’ve translated Covid guidelines into local languages so they’re accessible to women working in outdoor markets and to female roadside vendors, and have provided women with face masks and disinfectants. We have supported adolescent girls with internet data so they can continue getting an education and can participate in important global meetings such as the United Nations’ Generation Equality forum.

As one participant in our digital training programme said: “This is my first time using Zoom and attending a virtual meeting. I have learned a lot … and will use this knowledge to empower my sisters in my village.”

Across the world, feminist organisations have been taking a similar approach to our work in Cameroon. When the pandemic hit, women-run organisations started providing helplines for victims of domestic violence and ensured that reproductive health services were still accessible during lockdown restrictions. Many of these initiatives were community-led; in Cameroon, women’s groups organised across digital platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram. These efforts have been initiated by individuals, often lacking state support, and resources will be needed to sustain them.

Yet our systems of governance and policies often overlook the interests of women. If we’re to truly “build back better”, as many have suggested, governments must include women and girls at all levels of decision-making. And philanthropists who fund development initiatives should put resources and control directly into the hands of local women-run organisations.

We need not just more funding, but better funding: flexible core funding that allows organisations to use the grants how they wish. It was this unrestricted, flexible funding from the Global Fund for Women that allowed our organisation to quickly turn our attention towards the Covid response, and gave us the autonomy to provide what our communities really needed.

On this International Women’s Day, I’m calling on governments and funders to make good on the promises they made at the UN World Conference on Women, almost 26 years ago, when many pledged to fund local gender justice organisations. As we’ve seen during the pandemic, when feminist groups like mine take the lead in responding to crises and rebuilding societies in their wake, we have the opportunity to create a safer and more equitable world.

  • Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo-Wondieh is the executive director of Women for a Change, Cameroon, a feminist advocacy organisation working for women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, leadership and development

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Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo-Wondieh

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