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Ants in the Kitchen: The Role of Data in Human Rights Funding

June 25, 2013

(Caitlin Stanton is the Director of Learning & Partnerships at the Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights. A version of this post appears on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Headshot_caitlin_stantonA professor at Vanderbilt University, Brooke Ackerly, once told me, "Numbers matter. If someone tells you there are ants in your kitchen, you'll want to know whether there are two ants in your kitchen or whether there are TWO MILLION ANTS IN YOUR KITCHEN." And if there are anywhere near two million ants in your kitchen, then your neighbors will also want to know about it. Transparently sharing quantitative data helps us understand the scope of a problem and decide how to gauge the scale of our response, while allowing others to learn from our efforts.

In Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking, the Foundation Center and the International Human Rights Funder's Group collect, analyze, and publicly share quantitative data that tell us about the scale of our response to human rights violations. The report finds that foundation grantmaking to address these issues occurs on a global scale and is a widespread practice, with 703 foundations giving a total of $1.2 billion in grants for human rights causes in 2010.

For many of us in the field of human rights grantmaking, and particularly for those of us within foundations working to advance the rights of women and girls, the startlingly low amount of funding going to address the issue of freedom from violence stands out as an important finding from the report.

Indeed, funding to secure freedom from violence accounts for just 4 percent of the total grantmaking by human rights funders included in the study. Within that issue area, the largest chunk of grant money goes to addressing freedom from torture -- a significant issue to be sure, but one that impacts a relatively small number of individuals compared to the one billion women and girls who face violence based on their gender. In fact, the report finds that in 2010 just $5.3 million was directed to the issue of domestic violence, with another $8.6 million directed to the issue of gender or identity-based violence. Combined, this accounts for roughly 1 percent of the $1.2 billion in grants included in the study.

Data like this helps us identify issues, such as gender-based violence, where the scale of the response is not always aligned with the scope of a problem.  In terms of scope, we know that approximately one out of every three women and girls globally have their right to freedom from violence violated by men who assault, rape, abuse, and sometimes murder them. We also know that in addition to being a violation of women's human rights, such violence costs societies billions ($5.8 billion annually in the U.S. alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control) in lost worker productivity, public health consequences, and costs associated with legal and social services.

Any way you look at it, violence against women is a major roadblock to economic and social progress and a violation of human rights on a massive scale. And when we compare the scope of the problem to the scale of the response, the data tells us that we are responding to a two-million-ant problem with a two-ant solution.

The good news is that where grantmaking related to freedom from violence is happening, we are seeing a growing number of innovative efforts to integrate grantmaking, field-building, and advocacy strategies to achieve greater impact. Three recent examples stand out:

In Chicago, one-third of all crimes reported are domestic violence-related. To address the problem, the Chicago Foundation for Women's Freedom from Violence initiative is incorporating its grantmaking, advocacy, and capacity-building efforts into an overarching strategy. An Advocacy Academy and Executive Directors Roundtable also supports local nonprofits working for the right of women to live free from violence.

The Global Fund for Women has funded organizations that advocated for stronger legislation to address violence against women and girls in twenty-five countries, including the Philippines, Bulgaria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mongolia, and Georgia. Last fall, the fund began to look for ways to raise its own profile with respect to the issue and, to that end, worked with a coalition of seventeen other women's funds to bring a petition to the Council of Europe in support of the ratification of the Istanbul Convention -- a framework designed to prevent, stop, and sanction the crime of violence against women.

In addition to directing a significant share of its grantmaking to freedom from violence, the Open Society Foundations has used its Web site as a platform to share grantees' stories and raise awareness of the issue. More recently, the OSF Moving Walls exhibit included the stories of domestic violence survivors from South Africa.

Data can tell us a lot, revealing challenges and underscoring actions we have taken -- or failed to take -- to solve problems. Stories from funders that work to secure freedom from violence contributes another layer to the picture, as well as a sense of what is possible. It is my hope that the examples shared above are the leading edge of a wave of grantmakers ready not only to fund but to raise their voices on this critical issue.

-- Caitlin Stanton

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