15 Minutes on Investing in Women

Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi: 00:01

Hello, and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World. Where in 15 minutes, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it.

My name is Lama Alsafi host of this podcast. In the past few years, we’ve seen big shakeups in women’s rights movements around the world, through the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements and annual women’s marches worldwide – women’s rights and gender equality have been brought to the forefront. Through our work we know that during a humanitarian emergency or natural disaster, women and girls are often disproportionately affected. We also know that a humanitarian emergency or natural disaster can set back women in terms of recent societal progress and gains made in equality. Our experience shows us that investing in women improves the lives of their families and entire communities. Now, as the world is in crisis, it is more important than ever to ensure progress is maintained and we keep moving forward.

Our guest today is Beth Woroniuk, Policy Lead at Equality Fund. Equality Fund works towards making global gender equality a reality by driving cultural, economic, and political changes forward with a focus on women’s rights organizations and feminist movements in Canada and around the world. Beth joins us remotely today from Ottawa. Welcome to the podcast, Beth, and thank you so much for taking the time, chat with us today.

Beth Woroniuk: 01:50

Hi Lama, thank you so much for the invitation. It’s a real pleasure to be here.

Lama Alsafi: 01:53

We’re excited to have you, and we’re excited to learn more about the Equality Fund. Tell our listeners a little bit more about the work that Equality Fund does.

Beth Woroniuk: 02:01

I’d like to go back two years to May of 2018. When the then Minister of International Development, Marie-Claude Bibeau issued a challenge to development organizations, private sector companies, and philanthropists to mobilize new funding to women’s rights organizations. And she pledged up to $300 million from the Canadian government to use as a leverage. Would other people come to the table with more and new money to grow the amount going to women’s rights organizations. Because it’s a real challenge, despite the increased attention, very very little money from international development actually goes to support the organizations that drive change and hold governments to account. So two years ago, then the MATCH fund decided to respond to this call to action from the Minister for International Development and we brought together a number of organizations under a feminist vision to build a new model, a new organization that would mobilize more and better funding for women’s rights organizations.

So at the Equality Fund, we have three core programs. We do this grantmaking, this support to women’s rights and feminist organizations. But what we’ve done with most of the money from the Government of Canada is set up an investment arm. So through a gender lens investing, we hope to drive change for gender equality, but also have returns on that investment that will go and fund the grantmaking in turn. Our third program is an ambitious philanthropy program where we are hoping to use the initial support from the Canadian government to encourage philanthropists to come on board. It’s a really bold and new idea to try and create an organization that will have its own independence. It will have its own revenue stream. And so even though philanthropy will play an important ongoing role, it will also have money coming in from the investments that will give it a degree of independence and self-reliance.

Lama Alsafi: 03:59

Beth, why do you think it’s important to focus on women and equality? Not just in Canada, but around the world?

Beth Woroniuk: 04:04

Several decades ago, I had the real pleasure to work with Rosemary Brown, who was the first woman of color elected to a provincial legislature. And one of the famous sayings from Rosemary is that, “until all of us have made it, none of us have made it.” And I think we’ve seen in the last few years, how interlinked the issues are for women in Canada and women around the world. So it’s essential to our well-being and our success with women will only be realized until we can make gender equality more of a reality.

Lama Alsafi: 04:40

Beth, what impact are you seeing from the investment and grants arm of the Equality Fund that’s been provided to women’s organizations?

Beth Woroniuk: 04:47

So we’re still in the design and build stage of the Equality Fund. We’re a new organization and we’re just beginning our grantmaking. Our focus is on providing core flexible multi-year funding to organizations so that they can build some stability and work on their own agendas. Core philosophy is that these organizations know their contexts and know how best to drive change, what kind of strategies to use, what will work in their communities and in their countries. Some early examples, we’re working with an organization of young women in South Sudan called Crown the Women. And they have been very active on advocacy against violence against women, especially violence against young women. And they’ve been very successful in raising community awareness.

Another really interesting group in Nepal it’s called NIDWAN. And they work on raising awareness on the needs and priorities of Indigenous women and girls with disabilities. They have been successful in providing more visibility and, and getting people to understand that when you talk about women, you can’t assume all women or all girls are all the same. Third example is an organization in Mali that works with women domestic workers, and they have been successful in earning the right to a six day work week, which sounds amazing that that’s a victory, but six rather than a seven day work week, as well as an official minimum wage for domestic workers. So we really believe in these organizations as the ones that are really important in seeing how we can support greater respect for the rights of women, girls, non-binary people and move progress forward.

Lama Alsafi: 06:35

Why do you think it’s important to empower organizations that are local and that already have, you know, the local perspectives and local knowledge? Why not just administer these programs from Canada and work this way?

Beth Woroniuk: 06:48

We really see feminist organizations, women’s rights organizations or LGBTQ organizations as the ones that have the best understanding of their local context. They know what’s going on. They know what kinds of change is needed, how to work with local leaders, how to build momentum, build community support for the kinds of changes that are are necessary. They’re also the ones that are going to be there when development organizations leave, right? They’re there, they’re going to stay and they’re going to work. But what has traditionally been the problem is that they haven’t had money. They haven’t had the resources. There’s more and more growing evidence on the importance of feminist movements and how women organize collectively in delivering change. There was a study that was released a while ago, across numerous countries, where they looked at, where there’d been progress on moving towards reducing violence against women and girls. And the main factor they identified was not the number of women in the legislature or not economic growth, but it was the presence of a strong, independent women’s movement. That, that was the best way to deliver. That kind of change was then to invest in strengthening collective action and, and women’s rights organizations.

Lama Alsafi: 08:09

Have you seen COVID-19 impacting the areas where you work and what are the actions, following up to that, that equality fund and other organizations are taking to support women during this time?

Beth Woroniuk: 08:21

Just like it’s turned our worlds upside down. That’s, that’s been the case everywhere. There have been so many strains and stresses on women’s organizations in different parts of the world. You know, we’ve been able to work from home. We can connect by zoom. Most of us have a stable wifi or access to a wifi connection in our home. Can you imagine trying to have staff work from home where you have regular cuts and electricity, let alone not having easily accessible wifi? So a lot are trying to figure out how they can carry on some of their, their work. And that’s just how they structure their own work. So many organizations were called on to do really basic community level work in terms of outreach, on information on the pandemic. We heard from a whole number of organizations that there wasn’t enough information or there was even disinformation about, about COVID-19. So they were looking at innovative ways to inform communities about COVID-19 about the importance of the distancing of hand-washing. Others are even finding, how do you encourage social distancing when housing is so crowded or how can you encourage hand-washing when clean water is in short supply. So there’s all kinds from, from how to, how they do their work to the challenges in the community to different kinds of issues from the increase in domestic violence, that has been a hallmark of this pandemic. So, so many different ways that the pandemic has, has had an impact on women’s rights organizations and their functioning.

Lama Alsafi: 10:11

So Beth we’re hearing a lot of discussion in the, in the nonprofit world about building back equal after COVID. I wonder if you can touch on this and how you think that we can build back better and build back equal?

Beth Woroniuk: 10:23

One of the real differences between the discussion of COVID-19 and earlier health crisis has been this increased awareness of the gender dimensions of the, of the pandemic, both here in Canada and around the world. We’re seeing the importance of what kinds of services are actually essential. The number of women as front line health care workers. We’re seeing that childcare is absolutely essential to the economy. We’ve seen how the pandemic has resulted in increases in, in domestic violence. Here in Canada, we’ve seen the importance of improving our longterm care institution. I think this awareness hopefully is laying the basis for us to think about what kinds of investments will help us emerge from this pandemic in a more equal way that we, by understanding the differential impact of the pandemic on marginalized people, on racialized, people, on Indigenous people on, on women and girls, we’ll, we’ll have a better sense of how we can actually structure those investments that are designed to help us emerge from the pandemic in a way that, that results in more equality. We’ll have to see if it actually happens, but at least this time we have the start of the analysis and the awareness that it’s, that it’s needed.

Lama Alsafi: 11:47

How can someone who is listening at home right now or in their car, how can they take action? What are some tangible things they can do to help create some positive change?

Beth Woroniuk: 11:57

There’s all kinds of things that people can do. One of them is to speak out in favor of Canada’s investments in international development. We are at a very low level in terms of how much Canada spends on official international development and there is an opportunity to tell politicians that we think, yes, even though we have an incredible needs here in Canada, in order to truly emerge from the pandemic crisis, we also have to ensure that we continue to invest in, in development. And one of those elements is the push for more funding to women’s rights organizations, given how important they are in the struggle for rights, for equality.

But also you can talk to your local MP about this. You could speak out when we’re talking about why, yes, it’s important to support local COVID recovery, but also global COVID recovery as well. If people are interested, they could go to the Equality Fund website, equalityfund.ca for more information on what we’re doing. And I think finally, it’s how we link what we’re doing globally to what we’re doing locally. And there are actions we can take to, in Canada around supporting an action plan, for example, on implementing the recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. So we know that all of these issues are linked and the more that we can make those links explicit. I think that the more positive change will result.

Lama Alsafi: 13:31

Thank you Beth, thank you so much for joining us today. I really enjoyed our chat.

Beth Woroniuk: 13:34

Thank you so much, Lama so did I.

Lama Alsafi: 13:38

Thank you again to Beth and that you to all of our listeners for tuning in. As always, you can stay up to date on the newest episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World on Spotify and iTunes.