We can smash one of the defining inequalities of our time

The 1995 World Conference on Women convened by the United Nations was a watershed moment for women's rights, a pivotal event in the movement for global progress toward gender equality. Last week, 26 years later, leaders from government, civil society, philanthropy and the private sector gathered in Paris for the culmination of the Generation Equality Forum, another once-in-a-generation opportunity to support women's rights organizations and feminist movements across the world.

Convened by UN Women, co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France in partnership with youth and civil society, and ongoing since March, the forum was a global gathering to launch a powerful agenda of actions. While we have seen progress toward gender equality around the world over the past 26 years, more is needed from everyone -- us included. At this crucial moment, this is why Canada and the Ford Foundation are proud to join together to push for greater support and resources for gender equality.

Women, girls and non-binary people have long faced discrimination in every facet of their lives -- one of the defining inequalities of our time. But Covid-19 has widened these disparities, created new barriers and compounded the intersecting forms of discrimination and exclusion they face. Women have lost jobs at nearly twice the rate of men, according to research from the McKinsey Global Institute. Women continue to bear the brunt of unpaid labor at home. And women and girls have suffered increased incidents of violence during stay-at-home orders, with some countries reporting a significant increase in calls to crisis hotlines.

Despite these challenges, women, girls and non-binary people remain organized, active and resilient in pushing for change. In fact, strong, autonomous feminist movements are one of the world's most powerful drivers of lasting progress towards multiple forms of equality and justice.
In Canada, the government has responded to the advocacy of Canadian women's rights organizations by committing this year to building a country-wide early learning and childcare system.

In Paris, Canada committed $100 million to address inequalities in unpaid and paid care work internationally and nearly $80 million in direct support to feminist movements and organizations around the world to address discrimination and barriers to education, promote the rights of girls and advance gender equality in parliaments and legislatures.

These measures are in addition to funding the government of Canada is already providing to organizations that support more than six million Canadians every year and is helping women recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic and address systemic issues facing underrepresented and vulnerable women. The government of Canada has also taken steps to help women and children fleeing gender-based violence by supporting 1,200 women's and equity-seeking organizations.

And, at the Ford Foundation, innovative leadership and vision from women of color grantees helped inspire the Black Feminist Fund, one of the growing number of women-led, feminist organizations the foundation is increasing support for.

These initiatives represent necessary, meaningful progress. But together, and as a global community, we all must do more.

Around the world, feminist movements and women's organizations suffer from a widespread deficit -- in both resources and trust. Despite rhetoric around the importance of gender equality to international progress and well-being, recent data from the Organization for Economic Co-​operation and Development (OECD) shows that, globally, women's rights organizations receive approximately 1% of official development assistance.

This needs to change -- now.

And so, in Paris, we joined together with civil society, government, business corporations, philanthropic and multilateral stakeholders to leverage this historic moment. Along with others, we are forging the Global Alliance for Sustainable Feminist Movements -- a cross-sector network rallying the resources of the world's most powerful institutions around the goals of women, girls and non-binary people.

With strong feminist policy and sustained, unified, multi-sector collaboration, global institutions can put money and power in the hands of the feminist organizations already fighting every form of gender-based inequality and injustice. When guided closely by feminist insights and influence, these collaborations can be transformational. We already know that courageous feminist action can scale local solutions for global change.

In fact, we're already seeing them in action through our shared support for the Equality Fund. Canada established the fund with a CAD $300 million investment, the equivalent of about $239 million USD, and the Ford Foundation is its second largest donor, with the largest private investment to date. This first-of-its-kind global platform brings together feminists, philanthropy, the private sector, civil society and government actors to invest in women's rights organizations, women's funds and feminist movements around the world, particularly in the Global South. And we've seen everything from feminist radio programming in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to feminist peace builders in Colombia, to domestic workers' unions in West Africa grow stronger as a result. Working towards $1 billion in social impact in its first 15 years, the Equality Fund provides an entry point for donors of all kinds to directly support the feminist movements that are so fundamental to our future.

As partners in this work, we are united by a firm belief in the power of women in all their diversity to be agents of change in their communities and our world -- and by a shared conviction in our collective obligation to fund their work, now and into the future.

All of us have a unique role to play in the fight for gender equality. When we follow the lead of feminist visionaries, we can do our part to dismantle the systems of patriarchy that continue to hold women back. Leaders in government, philanthropy, civil society and the private sector are no exception -- us included.

Many existing mechanisms -- the Equality Fund, women's funds and consortia such as Leading from the South and the Women's Funds Collaborative -- offer opportunities to leverage greater resources for feminist movements and make sure the money goes directly to those driving the change women, girls and non-binary people need.

Now is the time for all of us to imagine new partnerships and commit to action -- including new and increased funding -- not just this past week in Paris but for decades to come. Together, let's put women's rights organizations and feminist movements at the center of the global agenda by ensuring that meaningful resources -- and power -- flow to them wherever they are.

Justin Trudeau is the 23rd and current Prime Minister of Canada. Darren Walker is the president of the Ford Foundation, a global social justice philanthropy organization. Theo Sowa is the board co-chair of the Equality Fund and was formerly the CEO of the African Women's Development Fund (AWDF), a nonprofit resourcing African women's organizations on the frontlines of change. The views expressed here are the authors' own.

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