This April, the Global Fund for Women co-organized with the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), a historic feminist strategy meeting titled “Resource Mobilization for Women’s Rights Organizations and Movements in the Middle East and North Africa,” which was held in Marrakech, Morocco. The meeting aimed to create an unprecedented opportunity for dialogue across donors and women’s rights organizations as well as among women’s rights organizations from different countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, deepen critical analysis of the geopolitical and resource-mobilization challenges, and identify potential strategies.
In the MENA region as in others, resource mobilization is a deeply political issue, especially if we are to consider strategies around the ‘war on terror’ and agenda of ‘democratizing’ the Middle East. Like in other regions, however, women’s rights organizations often compete for limited resources rather than collaborate to develop strategize that seek resources collectively to support the movement.
The historic meeting brought together around 80 women’s rights activists from the Middle East and North Africa representing 19 countries, including 50 from grantee partner organizations and ten MENA Advisors. In addition, 40 representatives of donor foundations, individual donors, and international women’s rights organization and 16 staff members of AWID and GFW participated and enriched the conversations.
A Young Women’s Dialogue, attended by 16 young women’s rights activists between 20 and 29 years old from nine countries preceded the meeting. The young activists discussed their concerns as participants within the larger women’s movements and the challenges of organizing and mobilizing resources. This exercise built stronger ties and solidarity and empowered them to be more vocal, engaged and effective at the larger meeting the following three days. In addition, we ensured the meaningful participation of traditionally marginalized women’s groups and populations, including rural women, women with disabilities, lesbian and queer women, young women, and women living under occupation.
From the first day of the meeting, it was clear that the challenges the women’s movements in the region face are enormous, from the political context of autocratic governments, ongoing wars and occupations, US military presence, to the rise in religious fundamentalisms, to the encroaching globalization aggravating poverty, intensifying exploitation, and preventing local people from ownership of their resources, to the difficulties of transforming patriarchal laws, attitudes, and practices, and finally to the lack of resources to women’s rights work. During the last day, participants focused on moving forward, discussed strategies to address these challenges regionally and nationally, avenues for collaboration between progressive donors and women’s rights activists, and laid out individual and collective commitments.
The meeting was historic particularly because such a conversation focusing on resources and bringing together donors and activists had never happened in the region before. Whereas women’s rights activism and scholarship has a long history in the region, it is, as GFW Board Member, Leila Hessini stated, “at best unknown, and at worst ignored or even purposely silenced by international organizations and actors.”
One of the important outcomes of the meeting was a MENA Donor Directory that acts as a resource guide for women’s rights organizations in the MENA to the donor world, with focus areas and contact information. Another important outcome of the meeting was the discussions around the relationship between money and movement in the region historically and in the future. Participants working in groups by country or region analyzed the current situation and came out with a diversity of steps to continue the conversation beyond the meeting and to start implementing strategies to engage donors. Yet, another significant outcome was the preliminary conversations around a feminist narrative on sexuality. In fact, our newest MENA Advisor, Nadine, working with the Meem Collective, indicated that it is foreseeable in the near future to say that: “the history of the MENA lesbian movement will be split into "Before Marrakech" and "After Marrakech!”
Yet another important outcome is a renewed commitment to multi-generational movement building among women’s rights activists in the MENA region. The young women’s rights activists who participated in the meeting are in the process of creating a Young Women’s Network that can work collectively to address these concerns and mobilize programs and resources to keep growing new feminists, ensure that they are integral to the women’s movements beyond the lip-service often provided to younger generations. Despite the fact that several of our sisters from Iran, Iraq, and Palestine were not able to attend due to visa and travel restrictions, our incessant efforts resulted in the participation of some including those from countries generally marginalized regionally due to political situations like Mauritania, Palestine, Iraq, Libya, and Syria.
For the Global Fund for Women, this meeting was important in multiple ways. It was our first major collaboration with a strategic partner, AWID, and the largest international convening we have organized. It was the result of our cumulative initiative work in the MENA region over the past four years. The success of the meeting was a reflection of the degree to which women’s rights activists in the MENA region have come to trust the Global Fund and see its commitment to the region as long term and really grounded in knowledge of the region, its challenges, and issues as well as the continuous feedback and observations groups and advisors provide. Finally, the meeting accomplished an important component of the MENA initiative of engaging our donors interested in the MENA for the purposes of increasing and leveraging additional resources to the region, creating an affinity group, and creating vital learning opportunities on the emerging issues and the history of the movements in the region.
Senior Program Officer for Middle East & North Africa