From leading women’s suffrage at the start of the 20th century to the development of the Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation Acts in the 21st, a dedicated community of women’s organisations – together forming the women’s sector – have been instrumental in promoting the rights of women in the UK and enabling women to make positive change in their own lives. However, a recently released report suggests that the 2008 recession and subsequent austerity measures have disproportionately impacted the women’s sector. As a result, vulnerable women around the country have no access to much needed support services.
The Rosa Fund’s 2014 report ‘Stepping Up? Investing in women in post-recession UK’, paints a worrying picture for the future of the women’s sector. Findings show that that 60% of women’s sector organisations have struggled to maintain their income over the last five years due to the recession. Two thirds of organisations reported seeing their income decrease and nearly 5% were forced to close support services altogether due to lack of funds. This comes at a time when cuts to public sector jobs, wages and pensions have disproportionately affected women and women’s sector services are needed more than ever.
75% of the women’s sector surveyed is now being forced to draw on financial reserves in order to keep operations running, as the sector’s income no longer covers the full cost of support services that it provides.
In addition to struggling with financial restrictions, resources have been affected by “ten myths” that propagate the idea that gender inequality no longer exists and that women stand in a stronger social and economic position than they do in reality. As such, fundraising to support women has become a difficult “ask”, as the real need is not recognised.
Faced with these challenges, the research shows that the women’s sector now risks losing its wealth of experience and expertise, which could, in turn, lead to a further erosion of women’s rights.
Respondents are increasingly pessimistic about their future as existing funding streams come to an end. Funding is needed not only to keep services going, but also for:
- Research and development
- To give organisations the opportunity to find new ways of working and build sustainability
- To strengthen support at the grass roots and facilitate conversations between policymakers and practitioners to ensure that gender is on the agenda
- To raise awareness of the need and value of women’s organisations.
While women’s organisations are actively and creatively looking for new ways to fund their work, the scale and pace of change makes this particularly difficult.
Sandi Toksvig, Broadcaster and Ambassador for Rosa said:
It’s a myth that ‘we’re all in this together’. Women’s organisations working for equality in the UK were underfunded before the recession and they are being hit even harder now. We need to help girls and young women in this country to reach their potential and we need funds to make that happen.
Belinda Pratten, Author of the report and co-founder of BPRC associates said:
The real question is can we afford NOT to fund the women’s sector? When violence against women and girls alone is estimated to cost the UK £36.7 billion every year, these cuts are very short-sighted. Long term investment in women’s organisations is needed to enable all women to fulfill their potential and take more control over their lives.
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