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BLOG: Fund Her Future - Why We Must Invest in Specialized Women's Charities

In Scotland you are never more than 50 miles away from a project supported by the Women’s Fund for Scotland.

Since its inception, the Women’s Fund Scotland has distributed almost £3 million in grants to over 640 community groups and local charities. Yet, when one scopes out, underinvestment in women and girls remains a persistent problem across the UK’s third sector. 

In 2021, the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research published research that found severe underinvestment in specialist nonprofits serving disadvantaged women and girls. Of £4.1 billion granted to charities by funders, groups assisting vulnerable women claimed just 1.8%, revealing a troubling lack of priority for the under supported sector.

Experts state that resourcing women-led groups generates powerful positive change for marginalized communities facing systemic inequality and mistreatment. Enabling their advocacy secures government understanding of and responsiveness towards target populations' unmet needs. Sustained funding facilitates continuation of their critical support services.

However, analysis shows 86.5% of women's nonprofits are small operations, yet these received only 3.9% of all income. Over a third of already scarce funding explicitly targeting women and girls supported larger generic charities lacking specialized women's assistance. Micro-grants under £10,000 comprised most donations to dedicated women's groups, indicating extensive obstacles to financing their work.

Research also highlights that low-income mothers act as "shock absorbers" against poverty, carrying responsibility for purchasing, preparing food, and budget management to shield families. Recent evidence found financially strained women adopting increasingly detrimental coping habits as costs rose, including energy and food reductions, amassed debts, overwork, and social withdrawal.

For over almost a decade, The Women’s Fund for Scotland (WFS) has tackled the idea of specialist funding in innovative ways. First and foremost, the creation of 6 investment themes aim to take a far-reaching approach to supporting a variety of projects and circumstances impacting women and girls. Let’s take a look at some examples below:

Developing Leadership and Innovation 

Scottish Women in Sport requested grant funding to launch a pilot mentorship scheme for 12-15 young women, aimed at developing leadership skills and knowledge in the sports sector. Experienced women leaders guided participants through interactive modules focused on building identity, managing stress, and increasing resilience. Taking place in Glasgow from April to July 2022 but open to women across Scotland, project activities hoped to inspire and empower participants to address leadership disparities highlighted in research from the Observatory for Scottish Sport. By supporting young women in this way, Scottish Women in Sport sought to foster the next generation of female sporting talent in the country.

Growing Social Connections

Amma Birth Companions launched a 12-month therapeutic gardening pilot in April 2022 for its client group led by staff & volunteers. Participants accessed weekly drop-in gardening plus monthly workshops by external leaders on pre/post-natal wellbeing. ABC also organised nature trips to gardens around Glasgow and Edinburgh to demonstrate gardening's benefits.

Moving on from Abuse 

Rise Against Abuse applied for funding for their ‘Justice Equality for Women and Children Project’, which supported women and children recovering from domestic abuse and gender-based violence by navigating the legal system, producing key legal documents, mediating communications with key players, preparing statements and reports, assisting with legal aid, and explaining opaque legal processes so victims could effectively communicate their situations.

Improving health and wellbeing 

Glendale Women’s Café delivered a 10-week programme to combat isolation among Pollokshields women. Activities included biweekly crafting focused on reusing materials, professional wellbeing and massage sessions, heritage site visits, a menopause information session, and casual café chats. The welcoming space and engagement opportunities aimed to support the target group's mental, physical, and social health.

Building skills and confidence

Just Bee Productions sought to expand its women-only services through additional staff capacity. With only two current female support workers limiting women's service hours, hiring a third enabled increasing one-on-one crisis support and advocacy sessions from 12 to 20 per week. Expanded offerings also aimed to better meet demand for recreational programs like mother and baby groups, fitness classes, jewellery-making, and yoga.

Combatting poverty and building financial resilience 

Broke not Broken requested funds for user-led activities to connect local disadvantaged women, given barriers facing existing groups in their rural area. They aimed to facilitate 30 women in Perth and Kinross to jointly plan accessible outings and workshops focused on relationship-building, skill-sharing, and confidence-building through peer support. Transport and cost issues were addressed so participants could fully benefit.

What’s more, WFS is further revolutionizing third sector support through offering multi-year funding awards as well as traditional 1-year grants. 2024, will see several women’s groups deliver three-year projects that will aim to provide a long-term impact for women and girls across a number of local authorities. It is hoped that the recipient organisations will gain significant security to grow projects and services sustainably over time and the Women’s Fund for Scotland looks forward to tracking their progress over the next few years.

It’s clear that the third sector must still make major progress in equalizing funding access and opportunities for women's and girls' organisations. However, innovative models like the Women's Fund for Scotland provide reason for optimism by pioneering trust-based and collaborative philanthropy principles designed specifically to empower these groups.

As the findings show, the current landscape still enables systemic funding gaps, disproportionate barriers for smaller specialized charities, and insecure income streams that threaten sustainability. By revolutionizing sector norms through flexible, multi-year support paired with meaningful community collaboration, WFS points the way towards a future where vital assistance for marginalized women can thrive through responsive and understanding partnerships. 

Blog written by Mercedes Jones, Funds Adviser, Foundation Scotland