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INGOs moving their HQs to the Global South will not alter the management problems with international development and human rights work, manifest in elitist decision-making and unequal resource distribution.

In November 2015, the Guardian ran a “Where is the Money for Women’s Rights” paints a vivid pictures of how finances are dwindling for smaller women’s rights organisations and grassroots groups, in favour of funding fewer, larger organizations. The money seems to have dried up for social justice and development, particularly when it comes to women’s human rights. According to AWID’s report, about half of women’s rights organisations that were surveyed reported that they receive less funding than they did five years prior. More than half of these organizations reported that it is harder to fundraise than it was ten years before.

This leads us to question to what extent funding larger INGOs benefits local groups and organizations, particularly as these groups ‘go local’ establishing relatively independent local offices, a phenomenon that has been underway for some time. More importantly, will having more HQs based in the global south affect funding proportions? Often, larger organizations absorb funding at the expense of the very organisations that they purport to nurture and capacitate. Moreover as they relocate to the South they bring salary scales that attract skilled workers out of the local non-profit sector, as has been ,” a loaded term used to describe a women’s rights movement ruled unilaterally by elite, northern women.

At UAF-Africa, a pan-African feminist fund (and autonomous offshoot of its sister fund, Urgent Action Fund - Global) we have spread our staff across the African continent, from Cairo to Harare, and have observed the benefits and challenges of going virtual. This model, though complicated by time zone differences, connectivity issues, and organisational registration questions, encourages a more inclusive spread of voices and communities rather than privileging a single location and culture.

For instance, in our recent experience, the inclusion of a staff member originating from and based in the Middle East has drawn us closer to the Arab feminist movement, resulting in exciting connections and support to feminist activists based in the Middle East and North Africa.

Through our wide reach, we linked to Fondation YTTO in 2012, a Moroccan women’s rights organization that organized a caravan of women for equality and against child marriage, when they and other feminist organizations lost government funding at the same moment that the government prepared a bill to lower the legal marrying age. The caravan moved through very isolated rural areas, sounded the alarm on the situation of girls who are victimized by child marriage, and allowed them to make a documentary using the testimonies of girls and families. They were able to conduct a large national and international advocacy campaign, which denied all arguments presented by the government to legitimate a child marriage bill. This was a significant connection.

Of course, the virtual model is neither the only or best model for women’s rights and international development work. There are myriad unexplored ways in which advocates, campaigners, researchers, and funders could plug their agendas into diverse realities. Ultimately, there must be a more radical re-evaluation and decentralization of the geography of social justice, beyond maintaining unipolar power centres.

* Valerie Bah is the Communications and Knowledge Management Specialist at the Urgent Action Fund – Africa. The Fund is a pan-African and feminist Fund, established in 2001 in Nairobi, Kenya. This article was previously published by Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

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