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Chronically underfunded, women peace builders need support more than ever
COVID-19 emergency response activities, Madartek, Basabo, Dhaka. Photo: UN Women
COVID-19 emergency response activities, Madartek, Basabo, Dhaka. Photo: UN Women

Women peacebuilders mediate disputes, diffuse tensions and save lives in the hardest to reach places, yet their front-line work is consistently underfunded. When progress made on gender equality is at risk of reversal worldwide, and inequalities and instability are growing, sustained funding for women’s work for peace is desperately needed. 

Here’s where we stand:

  • The share of bilateral aid dedicated to programmes on gender equality and women’s rights in conflict-affected and fragile countries has decreased in recent years, to just 4.5 per cent. 
  • Of the total bilateral aid targeting fragile countries from 2017–2018, a meagre 0.2 per cent went directly to women’s rights organizations – a percentage that hasn’t changed in a decade. 
  • Meanwhile, investments and trade in arms continue unabated, with global military spending reaching a record USD $1.9 trillion in 2019 – the largest annual increase in a decade. This is 20,000 times higher than the amount of donor support to women’s rights organizations (UN Women's calculations).


Bilateral aid targeting gender equality and the empowerment of women in fragile or conflict-affected situations


Source: WPS Dashboard: Bilateral Aid to gender equality | Bilateral aid dedicated to gender equality as the principal objective(%) | Bilateral aid to women’s rights organizations(%)
Note: Data is from the OECD creditor reporting system. Data is for 2010-2018, average per year.


On the 20-year anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on WPS, financial resources are falling disappointingly short of political commitments. 

“Amid the competing demands for aid awakened by COVID-19, already cash-strapped women’s peace organizations will paradoxically need to prepare for a battle – for funding,” warns Paivi Kannisto, Chief of UN Women’s Peace, Security and Humanitarian Action Section. “Sustained efforts to ensure peace and women’s rights risk being neglected amid the focus on COVID-19 responses. But can governments afford to disregard financing for women, peace and security when the consequences would breed greater risks and instability?” 

The UN Peacebuilding Fund and the Women, Peace and Humanitarian Fund (WPHF) are two major supporters of local women’s peace organizations. In 2019, the Peacebuilding Fund approved investments worth USD $191 million in 34 countries, with 40 per cent supporting gender-responsive peacebuilding. Since its establishment in 2016, the WPHF has mobilized USD 50 million in funding to finance projects by 200 civil society organizations in 25 countries. 

Still, a WPHF survey of 78 of its civil society partners in April found that 29 per cent believed their organization’s existence was at risk due to the COVID-19 global pandemic and its effects, as funding is being redirected towards other organizations. 

“The life of our organization depends on the projects (signed agreements) that are carried out,” explained Fabio Romero Mora, Director of a WPHF grantee from Colombia. “In this sense, the pandemic affects the implementation of current agreements, putting associated personnel at risk and hindering or reducing our possibilities of signing new project agreements.”

Another WPHF grantee, Nada Mohammed Ibrahim Al-Jubouri, president of the Iraqi Organization for Women and Future, expressed similar fears: “If the epidemic continues, it will be difficult to finance the salaries and rent of the office.”

Ahead of the Security Council’s annual Open Debate on Women Peace and Security on 29 October, the Secretary-General’s report says the COVID-19 crisis has placed systemic inequalities and skewed spending patterns under a magnifying glass, specifically noting the need to reverse the upward trajectory in military spending while increasing investments in social protection and human security. 

It notes that although financing for the WPS agenda has increased over the past five years, “inadequate and unpredictable financing remains a major roadblock,” adding that commitments are often not linked to budgets, planning is not always informed by a gender analysis and recommendations by women leaders and organizations are often left unheeded or deprioritized in final decisions. 

The report calls for the donor community to devote at least 15 per cent of Official Development Assistance to conflict-affected countries to advance gender equality and provide five times the direct assistance that is currently going towards women’s organizations. 

The Secretary-General points out that in conflict-affected countries, women’s groups have been a lifeline for their communities. They have community trust and outreach, which are crucial for public health messaging during a pandemic. 

But without financial support, these organizations run the risk of halting operations, the report warns. “Bigger and bolder steps are needed to translate the feminist vision for peace, grounded in positive peace and human security, that women peacebuilders laid out when crafting the building blocks for the women, peace and security agenda 20 years ago into reality.”

The Secretary-General warns that how the international community upholds its commitments to gender equality will affect countries’ abilities to rebuild their economies and societies and prevent the escalation of violence, noting that there is a strong correlation between gender inequality and conflict risk.

Finally, the report calls for a gender data revolution on WPS targeting the general public, through data-driven storytelling focused on closing data gaps and on increasing knowledge. To this end, the Secretary-General notes: “It is clear that we have to expand our partnerships on data production and use and invest much more in making the knowledge useful for both policymakers and the general public.” 

Visit the WPS dashboard for the latest data on women, peace and security.


Jen Ross is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years of UN experience, including with UN-ECLAC, OHCHR and UN Women.

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