Women rights organisations hit harder by funding cuts and left out of COVID-19 response and recovery efforts

Published: 10th July 2021

Grassroots organisations at the forefront of the fight for gender justice have consistently been the most heavily hit by funding cuts during the pandemic, despite increasing donor commitments toward gender equality. This comes at a time when gender rights issues including violence against women and girls, are increasingly being reported as emerging concerns due to the pandemic. 

According to a survey published today of over 200 Women Rights Organisations (WROs) across 38 countries, a third of them have had to lay off between one to as many as 10 members of staff. Eighteen have had to close altogether. 

The survey, Impact of COVID-19 on Women Rights Organisations: A Call for Global Alliance to Support Women Rights Organisations, was done by Oxfam with WROs across the Global South and allies in the Global North. It found that one in every three women’s rights organisations say they have been left out of conversations and policy-making decisions on their country’s COVID response and recovery efforts because they were not considered to be key stakeholders.  

“COVID-19 is decimating women’s grassroots organizations across the globe. These organizations are the backbone of societies’ efforts to bring millions of women together to claim their rights – be it to tackle domestic violence, address the hugely disproportionate care work that women do, and help girls to access education,” said Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International.

Bucher continued: “Donors and governments need to wake up to the crisis that women’s organizations are facing –and invest in them. Their networks provide support to millions of women and girls –as we’ve seen more than ever during the pandemic. By backing them, governments can truly live up to their promises to promote gender equality in the post-COVID recovery.” 

The 200 WROs were surveyed in four key areas: access to decision-making spaces; funding and resourcing; operational and logistical problems; and mental health and social impacts. 60% of the groups cited a lack of funding or staff needed to maintain their operations properly, impacting their abilities to keep responding to women’s needs in the communities where they work.

Most of the respondents noted an increase in cases of Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Women and girls have been made more vulnerable and in greater need of “safe spaces.”

The shadow pandemic, as it has been referred to by UN Women, is one of the most dangerous side effects of the Covid 19 pandemic. Beyond the obvious health implications of Covid, lockdowns have left women increasingly more isolated and in risk of abuse. For example, a recent survey by Oxfam in Afghanistan found that 97% of Afghani women reported an increase in domestic violence since the outbreak of COVID-19. 

“We are unable to access victims of GBV and young women in vulnerable zones due to the travel restrictions. It is even harder to mobilise and bring women to policy spaces especially online where most of these forums are held. We also lack adequate resources for mobilizing and organising young women thus the need to form a way to collaborate with other stakeholders to regain support, services and advocate for vulnerable groups directly and indirectly,” Representative, Women Right Organisations.

The groups also highlighted the increasing difficulties their staff and the women they work with had in accessing health care. Health systems had been stretched in every corner of the world as governments are forced to divert resources toward other areas of the pandemic response. Women, girls, adolescents, LGBTQIA+ and people with disabilities had been made particularly vulnerable, the agencies noted.

Survey respondents urged for more support to survivors of GBV and stronger social protection measures within countries’ stimulus and response packages that “reflect an understanding of women’s special circumstances and in recognition of the care economy,” as well as building those social protection measures into organizations’ long-term strategies.

Oxfam calls for donors –specifically governments and foundations but also international non-governmental organizations (INGOs)– to move towards a more equitable partnership model that respects the autonomy and voice of WROs, and their capacities to deliver programming and aid according to the needs of their communities. It is also crucial that WROs are included in conversations on COVID response and recovery for a gendered response to the pandemic.

Notes to editors

Contact information

Florence Ogola in Kenya | florence.ogola@oxfam.org | +254715115042

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