Fundraising For Indigenous Women's Rights Work
In May this year, indigenous women from all over Guatemala met in Antigua to participate in a one day workshop entitled "Resource Mobilization for Indigenous Women's Rights" co-organized by AWID and the International Indigenous Women's Forum (FIMI) with the support of UNIFEM and IBIS Denmark.
Monica Aleman, the Executive Director of FIMI spoke with AWID about the meeting.
By Kathambi Kinoti
AWID: What is the International Indigenous Women’s Forum? Why was it formed?
MONICA ALEMAN: The International Indigenous Women’s Forum is an international network of Indigenous women’s organizations and leaders that came together in 1995 during the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. The acronym FIMI comes from the Spanish version of the network’s name.
Indigenous women visionaries wanted to create an initiative that worked to realize a world free from all forms of discrimination, in which Indigenous women could exercise their human rights, access economic justice and participate fully and effectively in decision making processes that affect their lives at the local, national and international levels.
Over the last 15 years since its inception, FIMI has facilitated the participation of Indigenous women leaders from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas in the United Nations arena and in engagements with feminist movements and organizations. FIMI strives through its strategic programs to foster a new paradigm that can overcome racism, social exclusion and inequality and promote greater access to economic resources for Indigenous women.
AWID: What is the implication of the intersection of Indigenous women’s identities as Indigenous and as women?
MA: FIMI believes that Indigenous women’s human rights are an integral component to the collective rights of Indigenous peoples. The fight for Indigenous women’s rights cannot be separated from the struggles of Indigenous peoples as a whole.
An Indigenous women’s identity requires equilibrium between her position within the collectivity of her people and her individuality as a woman. Therefore, until the social exclusion and discrimination against Indigenous peoples comes to an end, it will be impossible to guarantee the specific rights of Indigenous women.
FIMI relies on two foundational principles within a human rights framework as the basis for the rights of Indigenous women: the universality and indivisibility of rights. The universality of human rights entitles each woman to exercise her rights, without exception. At the same time, FIMI believes that Indigenous women’s rights are dependant on securing the recognition of collective rights. As Indigenous women most commonly experience human rights violations at the crossroads of these identities, this indivisibility must be recognized. Likewise, it is necessary to address the self-determination of Indigenous Peoples through the development of Indigenous women’s capacity to exercise control over their bodies, families and communities.
AWID: What prompted the meeting that was held in Guatemala earlier this year?
MA: In the last few years, there has been increased attention to the fact that donor funds, whether private, governmental, or multilateral, do not adequately support programs and organizations that promote the human rights of women and girls. This is evidenced by the AWID report on funding for women’s rights.* When funding does address women’s human rights, it often support projects or workshops that are important in the short term but do not have the capacity to transform the situation for women’s human rights in the long term.
This pattern results in a lack of access to resources for women’s rights organizations, and this trend is more pronounced for Indigenous women’s rights organizations. Thus, as they confront greater challenges in the ongoing work to defend their human rights, Indigenous women’s organizations continuously struggle to broaden and deepen their impact. Often, they have insufficient financial resources to implement activities in their communities, much less to build the capacity of their organizations through developing more efficient administrative systems, forming relationships with other organizations, or fostering the leadership of their staff. In order for Indigenous women’s organizations to continue their impact on the long term, they must become sustainable, and this can only be achieved by making meaningful investments in the area of livelihoods, and environmental stewardship. This will provide the foundation for the increased growth of a strong Indigenous women’s movement that can make sustained demands.
Indigenous women’s organizations, which have now emerged all over the world have approached FIMI and AWID to facilitate a space and the resources to strengthen their networking capacity with other Indigenous women, to organize and to advance the discourse on Indigenous women’s rights. The Guatemala experience is part of an ongoing relationship between FIMI and AWID to explore “Where is the Money for Indigenous Women’s Rights?” and to launch at the community level the first cycle of the Indigenous Women’s Fund in August of 2009. The AWID initiative provided the right framework to engage in discussions with Indigenous women’s organizations in Guatemala about greater access to financial resources, existing donors, and thematic patterns being funded. It was critical for movement building to provide a democratic space to share information on available resources.
AWID: Who were the participants?
MA: The invitation was issued in a joint initiative between the FIMI, AWID and UNIFEM with the financial support of IBIS Denmark. Indigenous women participants included representatives from 30 different women’s or peoples’ organizations representing the major ethnic groups and Indigenous nations of Guatemala.
The criteria for participation included a balance between generations and the size and scale of the organization, ensuring that a broad range of actors working at the local or national level were present and allowing for the building of a greater understanding of the situation faced by women in Guatemala.
The workshop benefited from having women of all ages representing different expressions of leadership and decision-making models.
AWID: What are some of the funding trends affecting Indigenous women in Latin America?
MA: The FIMI and AWID put forward a methodology for the session using the framework of “learning from experience.” It included plenary discussions, group work, utilizing the learning spiral technique, and conducting a brief evaluation for the closing. The gathering was co-facilitated by Natalia Sarapura, an Indigenous leader from Argentina; Cecilia Umul, FIMI’s Program Officer for Guatemala; Lydia Alpizar, AWID’s Executive Director; and myself.
Principal areas of funding identified included community initiatives such as bake sales, tortilla sales, cash collection, craft sales, and fruit sales mostly in the form of cooperatives. Indigenous women were able to recognize that the key to their sustainability strategy has been being having the capacity to cultivate and manage resources from their own communities by involving all actors. Indigenous women participants at the session reinforce FIMI’s notion of philanthropy, which clearly differentiates between charity or subsistence aid and empowerment or social change. Indigenous women participants were able to see themselves as investors for social transformation.
Organizations present ranged from small community associations that manage an annual budget of no more than US$2000 to large national organizations with an annual budget of about US$1 million. In that context, they recognized how well positioned they are to play a role as key actors to reach across funding sectors, tailoring their proposals to different venues. Important donors in the region included: IBIS Denmark, Danida Denmark, Government of the Netherlands, the Government of Spain and the International Red Cross. Key areas of funding included: investment on infrastructure, health services, education programs particularly oriented towards literacy at the community level.
Indigenous women identified as challenges in their funding the lack of attention to areas such as long-term poverty programs, and racism and social exclusion that can prevent Indigenous women from assuming critical roles in the processes of development and social change. Another challenge identified is donors’ lack of culturally sensitivity when working with Indigenous women at the community level.
AWID: What were some of the highlights of the meeting for you, at a personal level?
MA: As I sat across the room, I was quite aware of the challenges that we face as women activists in confronting poverty, racism and an ongoing backlash against women’s rights defenders.
I was struck by the energy and commitment of Indigenous women leaders to remain engaged in an extremely challenging context. In the words of Juana Batzibal a representative of the largest human rights organizations in Guatemala (CALDH): “Women struggle to remain active amidst the poverty and increased violence against women in our country today.” I was struck to learn that engagement practices are yet to be improved even with the best of intentions. Large organizations and the donor community continue to set priorities regarding their regular funding cycle without integrating into their work ethics the principle of participation. This would require a commitment that can only be demonstrated by applying the principle of free, prior and informed consent, as defined by Indigenous Peoples. Very often, they are forced to shift their areas of work due to priorities set by outside sources of funding.
The representative from Conavigua was clear in determining that they can not continue to be benefactors of training programs when their immediate need to have access to food is not fulfilled.
Her eyes were sad but defiant as she demanded to know how could she use a training on health and nutrition held in her village to sustain her activism when she had only salt in her kitchen. She said “Sister, I know how to cook and what to eat, I just don’t have the food in my kitchen”.
I learned that access to information is the cornerstone in the process of moving forward.
AWID: What were the outcomes of the meeting, and what are the priorities going forward?
MA: As expressed previously, the gathering is part of an ongoing initiative between FIMI and AWID. Information collected serves as foundation for the development of the conceptual framework for a large-scale research project on “Where is the Money for Indigenous Women’s Rights?” to continue in the coming years. Concrete results of the Guatemala experience included:
- Validation of the Indigenous Women’s Fund Call for Proposals and evaluation guidelines.
- Identification of specific activities to be developed by participants of the workshop to engage more strategically with donors at the national level.
- Definition of the FIMI plan of action in Guatemala
- Advancements between Indigenous women’s organizations and UNIFEM in the definition of a national plan of action under the Secretary General’s campaign on violence against women.
*AWID’s "Where is the Money?" publications are available here.