Standing Firm: Women and Trans-Led Organisations Respond to Closing Space for Civil Society

Foreward by Zohra Moosa, Executive Director, Mama Cash, and Kate Kroeger, Executive Director, Urgent Action Fund

As feminist funds, Mama Cash and Urgent Action Fund know that collective action by women, girls, and trans people is changing the world. Today, the global political and social landscape is becoming increasingly repressive, xenophobic, patriarchal and extremist. It is urgent to provide support to unapologetically progressive and feminist movements led by those most excluded and impacted.

In the discourse on closing space for civil society, we have observed that analyses and discussions do not consistently incorporate a gendered lens. We also know that repressive and violent reactions to their change agendas are not a new experience for the groups we support. Indeed, it is by the very act of speaking out and challenging the status quo that women, girls, and trans people have become the targets of conservative forces and developed the tactics and strategies to resist them. This is particularly true for those raising contested issues and working to secure fundamental rights that are criminalised in their specifc contexts. These activists have critical expertise and recommendations to share with the broader feld. It is in this spirit that we commissioned this research on the gendered aspects of closing space, as a contribution to the philanthropic space and as a tool for other activists to use as they continue to navigate this restricted landscape.

It goes without saying that it took a village to see this project to fruition. We are grateful for the generous support of the Levi Strauss Foundation in funding this initiative. A special thanks to our grantee-partners for their time and contributions — we are inspired daily by your determination, clarity and vision. Also thanks to the funders, networks, organisations and individuals who contributed their insights and expertise to this project. This report would also not have been possible without the contributions of Mama Cash, UAF and UAF-Africa staff. We are grateful to Jennifer Radloff and Jac sm Kee of the Association for Progressive Communications for their brilliant training on feminist principles of digital security during our convening. To Sandra Ljubinkovic, for beautifully facilitating our convening and reminding us that self-care and well-being are fundamental to our movements. Finally, special thanks are due to our researcher and writer, Kate Bishop—who beautifully wove together the stories, analysis and voices of the activists interviewed in this report.

We offer this report as a tool, resource, and testimony to inform the understanding of how closing space, in all its forms, has a gendered impact. Our aim is for this report to bring value to the conversations and collaborations around the closing space phenomenon.

Not surprisingly, the activists we work with emphasised that closing space is not a passing trend, but rather the current and future reality of our political, social and economic landscape. This requires us all to think differently, understand more deeply how our systems are broken, and intentionally apply a human rights lens to our work. In the words of one Russian activist interviewed for this project, “When they shut the door, we come in the window”.

Thank you for your commitment to listening to the voices of women, girls and trans people and for supporting their activism at this critical time in our world.

We stand with them, and invite you to, too.