On July 10, 2017 Jackson Leadership Fellow Radha Friedman convened funders from around the world in The Hague, The Netherlands, on the eve of the fifth World Justice Forum. It was a historic convening that brought together funders to explore how new Trump administration foreign policy may affect issues including the rights of women and girls, and how funders from other parts of the world can respond. The convening also counted as Radha’s project for the Jackson Leadership Fellows program.
The transition from the Obama era to the Trump administration has brought a host of questions, potential challenges, and many unknowns. In the last few months, as budget priorities have shifted, many bipartisan programs to protect the rights of women and girls and keep them healthy and safe have been defunded. As gender inequality is highly correlated with military conflict, human rights abuses, and economic stability, several countries are now concerned that the US can no longer be relied upon to champion democracy and fundamental rights.
Radha co-led the discussion with Julie Broome, Director of ARIADNE, a network of European funders, to explore the challenges that new US foreign policies pose for civil society organizations working to protect human rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, environmental rights, etc., and opportunities for public and private donors in other nations to step forward. Julie is also an alum of the Jackson Foundation staff!
Saskia Brechenmacher, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, shared her research on the global trend of closing space for civil society. She explained how the US fits into the larger context of governments cracking down on civil society organizations working to protect the rights of women and disadvantaged groups, often by arguing that funds should be spent fighting terrorism instead. Since 2014, more than 60 countries have restricted civil society’s ability to access funding via expansive anti-terrorism laws.
Paige Alexander, a former senior official from the US State Department, provided additional context, including that the current US Cabinet has the fewest women of any administration in 40 years, and funding for women’s rights has been cut sharply since the new administration began. One of the most prominent examples was the US administration’s recent decision to defund the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN’s primary supporter of safe childbirth, gender-based violence response, and advocacy against abusive practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation.
US funding to protect the rights of women and girls has historically been bipartisan, because promoting women’s rights has demonstrated increased global stability, reduced poverty in developing nations and fuels economic growth. Global research confirms that the best predictor of a state’s stability is how it treats women.
The roundtable discussion provided an opportunity for funders to not only share their concerns, but ideas for action. A funder in Hungary shared that shortly after Trump’s election, the Open Society Foundations announced a $10 million rapid response fund to support those targeted by hateful rhetoric, designed to support “human rights, the rule of law, and an inclusive society.”
A funder from The Netherlands noted the creation of a global fund to reduce the funding gap of $600 million left when the US defunded the UNFPA and pledged $10 million, followed by several other countries, as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
While there is still much to do in the months and years to come, this collaborative spirit among funders—despite different funding mandates, laws, and cultures—is a strong step forward. This collaboration embodies the spirit of the late Senator Jackson and his ability to reach across the aisle to gain support for shared goals, and shows both resilience and optimism about our future.
The meeting concluded and was followed by remarks from US Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who beautifully encapsulated the sentiment in the room by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King: “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”
We are proud of Radha and impressed with her project and the quality of the convening that she pulled together.
Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director