Women’s History Month: Lessons to Learn


March is a special month not only because it heralds the breaking in of spring but also because it celebrates women worldwide. The momentum that began with Women’s Day has been carried forward by Women’s History Month with this year’s theme “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence

An interesting theme, especially for NGOs, this year is aimed at honouring women “who have led efforts to end war, violence, and injustice and pioneered the use of nonviolence to change society.”[1] Women and social movements are intertwined in history but often forgotten or skipped. Gender practice in development has been an issue for development agencies – NGO, bilateral and multilateral alike – since the mid-1970s. As Women’s History Month dawns to a close, here are five things you could implement at your non-profit organisation that will help you acknowledge, encourage and celebrate the vital role women play in the development sector:

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  1. Balance Better:
  2. Boards: Board decisions determine the NGO’s direction, policies and ultimately, the impact it has on the people it serves. Your non-profit should aim to establish a well-balanced board that collectively represents the community and the cause you are working for. Women’s representation in executive positions is, of course, low across all industries. But according to recent reports, the figure is particularly low in the NGO sector, where women head just 12%of major NGOs in the United States.[2] A philanthropic foundation in India found that 13 out of 74 non-profit organisations that were headed by men had no women on their board.[3] The theme continues across countries and it is critical for NGOs worldwide to have a fair representation of women on their board of trustees/advisors.
  3. Staff– Women make up 75 per cent of the nonprofit workforce, but just 18 per cent of the largest nonprofits’ CEOs are women and they earn up to 8 per cent less than their male peers.[4] Latest gender compensation findings for the non-profit sector shows that the richer an organization is, the larger the gender-based compensation gap[5]. The Global Gender Gap Report further notes, historically female-dominated industries such as the non-profit industry, tend to pay less than those with higher male representation. When women enter a profession in large numbers, pay tends to decrease relative to other industries.[6] As a fair employer, it is crucial that you take gender diversity into due consideration while hiring for middle and senior management positions and pay fairly without gender-bias.
  4. Partners—In both India and Tanzania, it was found that women’s NGOs had made vital contributions to the success of development projects, but they were easily marginalized and trivialized once those projects got off the ground.[7] If you are a woman run NGO/ independent consultant partnering with other agencies or organisations, please ensure to have a legally valid MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) or contract signed and agreed upon before devoting yourself to a project.
  5. Gender Audits—If you have the capacity as a sustained NGO to conduct gender audits, they are a great tool for promoting effectiveness, efficiency and coherence, that can help organisations identify what gender-based policy works and where there are issues that can be resolved.
  6. Gender Budgeting– Gender budgeting should be an ongoing approach, following gender audits, to ensure that resources are going to address gender issues. Gender budgets are a tool for NGOs to make visible and track how program resources are being used to benefit women and men, contributing to more transparent budgeting and financial monitoring.

Pro-Women Staff Policies: Several NGOs that work in women empowerment and related fields, consider gender-friendly attitude as a ‘coat’ that they put on during fieldwork and take off when they come back to the office. It is important that the vision, mission and values of your non-profit are implemented both for your beneficiaries and your staff. Having basic infrastructure such as maternity leaves, grievance redressal mechanism, safe space, women-friendly work styles can go a long way.[8]

  1. No decisions about us, without us: Incorporating a women’s perspective, which would mean listening to and including women in planning and programming as a participatory approach is the only right way to make an action plan. NGOs can identify and appoint Gender Champions—advocates of gender equality that inspire others in the workplace to contribute, confide and communicate ground realities to the decision makers.
  2. Beneficiaries: It is in the field and in the programs and activities of local NGOs (and their donors) that gender policy is put into practice. Effective gender work requires a good understanding of the local context and entry points for addressing gender inequalities. However, the capacity of local NGOs to work in gender-informed ways is often an area for development, with staff themselves part of a culture that ascribes gender roles to women and men. Gender sensitization among fieldwork staff as well as behaviour change modules for the beneficiaries should be an integral part of your project onboarding process.
  3. Leverage Networks: Networking can be helpful in negotiating gendered spaces and sharing successful strategies. There are several networks of women development workers and women-for-women funding opportunities that are exclusively helping women get recognized and be credited for their valuable work. A women-friendly non-profit may endorse a culture of gender-balance but it is up to the women to grab the opportunities that come our way. Signing up for quality assignments, agreeing to mentorship, convincing leaders to nominate you for training programs and awards is ultimately incumbent on us. Keeping a log of activities and impact on key projects on a regular basis helps your contribution be more visible and less dismissible.

fundsforNGOs has an impressive list of opportunities for women in development practice as well as non-profits working towards women empowerment. Circulate this article among colleagues and friends to start conversations around Women’s History Month and the change we need to bring in.

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[1] National History Women’s Alliance

[2] https://mic.com/articles/59871/ngos-help-women-everywhere-except-in-their-own-boardrooms#.xGhvhaiDN

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[3] Dasra Survey

[4] https://www.cgdev.org/blog/assessing-gender-gap-nonprofits-global-development

[5] https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2018/09/25/nonprofits-gender-gap-persists-says-guidestar-and-the-largest-may-get-worse/

[6] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/11/women-leaders-key-to-workplace-equality/

[7] Women’s NGOs are changing the world – and not getting credit for it, theconversation.com

[8] LinkedIn

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Elsa U. Pardee Foundation Grant Program to Support Research in the field of Cancer in U.S.

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James L. Baillie Memorial Fund’s Regular Grants Program in Canada

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U.S. Embassy in the Philippines seeking Proposals to Commemorate the Shared History, Courage, And Friendship of Americans and Filipinos during WWII

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Woodard & Curran Foundation seeking Applications for Impact Grants Program in the U.S.

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