The Centrality Of Investing In Women’s Rights Organizations And Leadership: The Launch Of The Dutch FLOW Fund
FRIDAY FILE: In May of this year, the Dutch government launched the Funding Leadership and Opportunities for Women (FLOW)Fund— which represents the replenishment of the successful MDG3 Fund.Women’s rights and civil society organizations that meet the criteria can apply for FLOW through July 29, 2011.
The FLOW Fund is sourced at €70 million and runs from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2015.
AWID interviewed Robert Dijksterhuis, Head of the Gender Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands regardingthe strategic importance of the FLOW Fund for global women’s rights organizations.
By Kathambi Kinoti
AWID: You have recently announced the launch of FLOW, which is a re-imagination and replenishment of the MDG3 Fund that focused on strengthening women’s empowerment and rights worldwide. Can you briefly share how the new Fund came to be established?
Robert Dijksterhuis (RD):As we all know the MDG3 Fund comes to an end this year. The government of the Netherlands attaches great importance to the empowerment of women and girls worldwide and the need for such a fund continues to exist. FLOW is currently funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but the Irish government has also committed to make a contribution for 2012.
AWID: What role did women’s rights organizations play in advocating for the replenishment of the MDG3 Fund?
RD: I think the best contribution came from the grantees of the MDG3 Fund who demonstrated that it pays to invest in gender equality. They showed that you do not need huge amounts of money to bring about sustainable change that benefits women and society as a whole. And they did this with an enthusiasm and commitment that was picked up internationally. NGOs and other country government delegations approached the Dutch delegation at the 2010 UN General Assembly to praise the MDG3 Fund and the activities it sponsored. Dutch NGOs like WO=MEN/Dutch Gender Platform brought this to the attention of Dutch parliamentarians, which in turn led to positive comments from parliament.
AWID: What initially inspired the Dutch government to develop a Fund that focused explicitly on women’s leadership, empowerment, and rights?
RD: The Dutch government through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs places an emphasis on the empowerment of all people, whether male or female. We need to strive towards a world in which all people are able to make their own decisions and guide their own lives. However extra effort is needed to address the situation of women and we see this as a prerequisite for the three goals of FLOW.
AWID: What are the main priorities of FLOW?Who do you aim to reach? How and why were these priorities chosen?
RD: FLOW focuses on three priorities in which women’s leadership is seen as an important instrument:
- Security: Activities designed to promote security by combating violence against women and actively involving women in decision-making in peace, security and reconstruction processes.
- Economic empowerment: Activities designed to promote economic self-reliance, by giving women a say in food security, employment, property rights and access to safe drinking water.
- The participation and representation of women in politics and public administration.
These priorities have evolved from the experiences of the MDG3 Fund. At the same time, they are in line with the new priorities of Dutch foreign policy.
AWID: What have been some of the crowning achievements of the MDG3 Fund in terms of women’s rights and gender equality?
RD: We are now at the preliminary stage of assessing the results of the MDG3 Fund since some projects will get an extension of their project period or budget. The definite results will most likely be known in spring 2012. Still, a few results have come to our attention like the wide impact of the Ring the Bell campaign in India, as well as the work done in improving land rights of women in Southern Africa and Uganda by the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa (NIZA) and MIFUMI respectively. An unexpected, but positive effect of the Fund has been the large numbers of women who have joined trade unions as a result of the activities of small organizations, through whom the Fund for Global Human Rights has reached close to 40,000 women worldwide, almost half of whom are women living in India.
AWID: What are your hopes for the impact of FLOW?
RD: We started the MDG3 Fund based on the conclusion that progress on MDG3 [the third Millennium Development Goal] was very slow, both in absolute as well as in relative terms. We wanted to do something about that. One of the means was to empower women to speak up and provide their own solutions, because this could lead to new, sustainable solutions. So we hoped that the projects would lead to the results they focused on, so that the gender gap would close a bit more.
In this way, we hope to continue to show that investing in equal rights and opportunities for women can be done intangible, easy and energizing ways[for donors]. We hope that through our efforts we will catalyze a new flow of investments in gender equality, such as investments coming from new donors, from countries, corporations, or NGOs. With MDG3 we asked ‘Do you see the opportunity?’ Now we go to the next level and ask people to make the flow of investments in women’s equal rights and opportunities deeper and wider.
AWID: The MDG3 Fund and FLOW are unique amongst other funds as they focus primarily on supporting civil society organizations, and the majority of MDG3 Fund grantees have been women’s organizations. Could you describe how you envision FLOW’s relationship with civil society, and specifically women’s movement building in the future?
RD: Like the MDG3 Fund,FLOW is aimed at civil society organizations. We chose to do this because of how we believe social change occurs. Socio-cultural, economic and political processes of change cannot be imposed on society solely through government efforts, but must be brought about through change within society itself. We believe that this can be done most effectively with an efficient and effective network of civil society organizations.
Women’s organizations are of particular interest to us of course. But, the MDG3 Fund showed that other organizations can also make a contribution to achieving gender equality and raising awareness about the situation of women worldwide, for example, the Gender Wire hosted by Inter Press Service (IPS) and the International Trade Union Confederation.
We hope for a fruitful cooperation with our grantees. FLOW chooses to invest in civil society organizations because they have the capacity to start social change by building movements. I think that Mallika Dutt from the Breakthrough Trust summed it up nicely when she presented her project at the 2010 CSW and said: “What started as a campaign has turned into a movement.” One of the things I am most proud of is that the MDG3 Fund has turned out to become more than just a portfolio of 45 projects. Grantees are cooperating with one another, exchanging views and experiences and looking at their role and contribution to the bigger picture of improving gender equality. So the MDG3 Fund has become a movement in itself. We are hoping for the same for FLOW.
AWID: What are some the biggest challenges that FLOW will likely face in the coming years? How are you thinking of addressing these challenges?
RD:At this moment the biggest challenge for FLOW is finding suitable partner organizations to apply for grants, so that we can have a well-balanced fund that makes an optimum contribution to all priorities and ensures that it is active on all continents. When FLOW starts in 2012, one of our hopes is that the FLOW grantees find connections with each other. With the MDG3 Fund, the 45 grantees worked together and formed a small community on their own, mostly facilitated by AWID. We hope for a similar movement for the future FLOW grantees. This is something that is beyond our power, but has to be initiated by the grantees themselves.
AWID: What are the possibilities for the Dutch experience with the MDG3 Fund and FLOW to inspire other donors to support women’s leadership, empowerment and rights?
RD:I think the MDG3 Fund and FLOW show that it is worthwhile to invest in women. To make funds available for the empowerment of women is not only a necessity, but also brings more gains than you can imagine. As our policy rules say: “Investing in women is smart security, smart economics and smart politics.” It unleashes the potential of women and therefore gives societal development an enormous boost. Apart from the Fund for Gender Equality of UN Women, other funds do not acknowledge this potential enough.
We have had financial support from other donors in the MDG3 Fund, and we indeed hope that this can be expanded with regard to FLOW.
In closing, I would like to strongly recommend that readers visit our website www.minbuza.nl/flow where they can find all official documents related to the Fund. The website, which is regularly updated, is our main channel of communication and reaches possible subscribers that we may not otherwise have been able to reach with information about FLOW.
 A debate and vote was held in parliament on the extension of the MDG3 Fund for past grantees at the end of 2010 . The vote passed and the total amount of the extension was €12 million. In 2011, political support for the Fund continued with the eventual complete replenishment of the Fund at €70 million. (Source: Staff member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Member of Dutch Civil Society)