Monday, January 09, 2006

UAF: Not Just For Women To Know

The URGENT ACTION FUND For Women's Human Rights (UAF) bills itself as "the only international women's fund in the world designed to respond on short notice."

This organization collaborates with women activists in three primary contexts: peace building in situations of armed conflict, escalating violence, or politically volatile environments; potentially precedent-setting legal and legislative actions; and protection of women human rights defenders. And it joins with local women to "build civil societies that honor their experiences and include women at every juncture, especially in areas of armed conflict and war, where they are most at risk."

The UAF was begun in 1997 because early on in that year the organization's co-founders saw the need to help eliminate human rights violations against women. And not only that, but there was a need for rapid responses when these situations were urgent. A nine-month feasibility study was conducted to determine the viability of rapid response grantmaking. This study included conducting interviews with over eighty international activists and funders. After the findings were reached, seven individual women philanthropists were moved to launch UAF-Global in October 1997. A week later, funds were already being disbursed.

Not only broad societal issues, but women's everyday lives are the concern of UAF; because it is in the home, the neighborhood, the village, and the workplace where women have to struggle for equality. And equality in all of these areas of women's lives is a fundamental prerequisite for social justice, global security, and sustainable peace.

When there is an immediate need for funding to address a particular struggle for women's human rights, many funders are unable to respond adequately and human rights delayed are human rights denied. Not that organizations that are unable to respond immediately do not carry out an invaluable service in the area of human rights, but it has to be acknowledged that there is a need for rapid response as well.

UAF is structured so as to enable women to mobilize and act within very short periods of time by being able to approve emergency funding of up to $5,000 USD within 72 hours of a request. There are many uses to which the grant recipients apply the funds received from UAF; and they range from flying expert witnesses to the site of groundbreaking women's legal rights litigation, to evacuating activists whose lives are threatened as a result of their work. Funds have even been used to mobilize women to vote in an unexpected election. Supporting the struggle to creating sustainable structural change is the goal of UAF's rapid response grants.

Within three years of its creation UAF expanded its initial role of rapid response to include planning and implementing collaborative initiatives to support women in armed conflict regions. These projects are designed to: "deepen women's understanding of particular conflicts; provide women with the tools needed to initiate strategic actions in their situation; build advocacy skills through training; and encourage ongoing information-sharing and networking."

In its first collaboration in this area, UAF partnered with local women's groups and the US-based Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children and resulted in a gender audit of reconstruction policies and programs of the major international bodies involved in post-conflict work in Kosova. This report is still in use by activists, and more about it can be found on UAF's web site.

UAF believes that "Rapid response grantmaking and collaborative regional initiatives inform and strengthen each other, resulting in the creative synergy that builds an effective and strategic support mechanism for women's human rights efforts."

UAF's awareness of the need for more in-depth work in particular areas is increased by the grant requests from particular conflict regions. These grant requests ultimately may lead to a consultation or training and also there is an enhancement of understanding among women's activism in armed conflict situations in general.

In the future, UAF wants to delve more deeply into existing situations and initiatives, and to expand into additional regions of the world where emerging conflicts threaten to undermine the peace, security, and human rights of women and girls.

UAF wants to gain further understanding of the nuances and complexities of situations, and maximize their effectiveness and strategic impact in dealing with those situations. UAF also wants to expand its role in Africa.

UAF-Africa was founded in the summer of 2001 to support African women as they respond to violence in their particular communities. UAF-Africa has collaborative initiatives in the Great Lakes region and Sierra Leone that promote transitional justice during the "stages between outright violence and real peace." It is their aim to join with local activists to help provide the tools that are needed to influence policy on behalf of women's human rights. Currently, UAF and its partners are focusing on promoting women's participation in transitional justice processes arising in the aftermath of violent conflicts.

One strategy being used by UAF is to combine short-term policy related projects with the availability of rapid response grants. UAF-Africa believes that it's in Africa demonstrates the powerful synergy between collaborative regional initiatives and rapid response grantmaking.

UAF-Africa believes that it made significant progress in 2004 towards "placing women's organizations at the centre of regional peace advocacy efforts by supporting a strong network of local and regional organizations to raise the quality of women's participation and providing much needed support for program and institutional effectiveness."

One of three women-specific grantmakers on the continent is UAF's Partnership with African Women's Funds to Promote Access to Regional Mechanisms.

In November of 2004, UAF-Africa partnered with the African Women's Development Fund to support the attendance of twelve women at the African Women NGO Forum in Addis Ababa, ahead of the African Union's (AU) ministerial conference. UAF says that this partnership promoted women's autonomy in decision-making by enabling them to take part in key AU processes.

Examples of some of the projects in which UAF has participated are listed below:

Save Somali Women and Children
Somalia/Kenya $5,000

SSWC's work has ensured that Somali women are present at the negotiating table, that women participate in the rebuilding of Somali society and that society includes permanent roles for women leaders.

Promoting Women's Participation in Transitional Justice Processes

Rwanda Women's Network (RWN)
Rwanda, $5,000

In an attempt to deal with the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, the Rwandan government instituted a Gacaca system of courts, scheduled to begin hearings in July 2004, but was hindered by the widespread intimidation of witnesses.

"RWN sought a grant to address the situation by having women survivors of rape and/or violent crimes stage a play entitled Byiringiro (Hope) in the towns where harassment and intimidation of witnesses was especially prevalent. UAF-Africa provided $5,000 to enable RWN to travel to the affected areas and use the play to advocate for women's participation in the Gacaca process.

The group reported that a performance in the province of Ruhengeri prompted much thought and discussion about the genocide. The local authorities were impressed by the play and encouraged the group to show it in other districts. RWN wrote, "People saw the value of the drama in its ability to educate and empower women to tell their stories and seek support for the trauma they endured. The power of personal stories will empower women to have the courage to speak of their own experiences and find release from their suffering." RWN intends to perform Byiringiro in other districts, prioritizing those most affected by the genocide, as part of their overall strategy to bring women's voices into the Gacaca.'

Well, I'm only 15% through my notes about UAF, but I have to go. I didn't get a chance to say anything about the Four Criteria for proposals to the UAF or about the Three Categories which are:
1. Interventions in Situations of Armed Conflict
2. Protection of Women Human Rights Defenders
3. Precedent-Setting Legal or Legislative Action

I didn't even get to say anything about the rest of the 30 grants that were provided in over 20 countries to help women realize their human rights.

So I will leave it to you to educate yourself about The URGENT ACTION FUND For Women's Human Rights. And I'm not just speaking to the women that are reading this article. There are, unfortunately, too many men out there who choose to remain ignorant about the transgressions against women's human rights, and what needs to be done to correct the situation. And this is a good place to start.

URGENT ACTION FUND For Women's Human Rights

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