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Why women’s and girl’s charities are in survival mode

By Rebecca Gill 31 October 2023 4 minute read

Women’s and girl’s organisations are facing a funding crisis.  

I lead Rosa, the only UK-wide expert funder of organisations led by and for women and girls. 

Our new research found that the women and girls sector received just 1.8% of the £4.1 billion worth of grants awarded to charities in 2021. And of that, a third went to organisations with no specific focus on women and girls and just 3.9% went to the small and micro-organisations at the heart of the sector. 

If we really value an equitable future for women and girls, then we need to invest in it.  

The value of women’s and girl’s charities  

Women’s and girls’ organisations are crucial to the fabric of civil society. Crucial to us having good laws, good public policy, and good politics.   

These are the organisations that work tirelessly to tackle inequality, discrimination, and injustice. Every bit of progress in culture, law, policy and practice in women’s and girls’ lives over the last 200 years has been pioneered by women and girls organising and mobilising.  

So much of what we take for granted now: equal pay legislation, support for women prisoners, domestic violence refuges, rape crisis helplines, reproductive support, childcare, maternity rights, pensions for part-time workers, or the simple right for women to have access to their own bank accounts – every single one of these has been fought for one and sustained by the collective effort of women.   

It’s hard to believe that until Rosa was formed in 2008 there was no dedicated women and girls fund in the UK.  

Over the past 15 years, the need for Rosa and the funding we distribute has grown exponentially: every grant fund we open is increasingly oversubscribed and we know the sector is consistently trying to do more with less.  

The scale of the funding challenge for women’s and girl’s organisations 

In the face of this challenging situation, the team at Rosa worked with a network of partners to take a deep dive into the funding of the women and girls’ sector to better understand where the money goes and what needs to change. 

(The partners were: The Centre for Regional, Economic and Social Research (CRESR) at Sheffield Hallam University, National Lottery Community Fund, and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.) 

This was a really ambitious piece of work and the insight it gave us was invaluable. Of course, we already knew that the UK’s women and girls’ sector wasn’t getting the investment it needs or deserves. But what we found was shocking and showed that the long-term sustainability of the sector was being put at risk, to the detriment of women and girls across the country.  

Our key findings included: 

  • In 2021, a total of £4.1 billion worth of grants was awarded to charities, but the women and girls sector received just 1.8% of these.  
  • One-third of all grants for ‘women and girls’ focussed activity – worth £24.7m – went to organisations with no specific focus on women and girls.  
  • Not only are the odds for securing funding stacked against them, but the majority of grants given to women’s and girls’ organisations were for less than £10,000.  
  • What limited funding is available is unevenly distributed: micro and small organisations make up 86.5% of the sector by number, yet they receive just 3.9% of the total income. Many of these organisations have women with lived experience driving their work – bringing unique perspectives, expertise, and insight to the sector. 

Investing in a more equitable future for women and girls 

There is a real danger that women’s and girls’ organisations remain undervalued, underfunded and almost invisible to policy makers, fund holders and politicians. 

It is our hope that our fellow funders across the UK and internationally will use our research to consider how they actively and sustainably support, invest in, and commission the women and girls’ sector over the coming years.  

We also hope that women’s and girls’ organisations will be able to use the insight it gives to support and fund their work, particularly as they make the case to funders for investment. 

We simply cannot sit back and accept that there is a tiny pot of funding available to deliver campaigning, advocacy and life-changing service delivery for over half the population.  

At Rosa we remain resolute and determined in our efforts to fundraise and invest in a more equitable future for women and girls. We recognise that charities run by and for women and girls lie at the heart of a society in which women and girls can be safe, healthy and equal – which benefits us all.  

Rebecca is the CEO of Rosa, the UK fund for women and girls.  

You can explore Rosa’s new research, Donate to Rosa, or get in touch with the Rosa team


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