Feminisms, Justice, and Urgent Action: Voices from the UAF Community

Philanthropy versus fascism in Europe: How can funders support movements under attack?

By Raisa Borshchigova, Shalini Eddens, and Nathalie Margi

In partnership with the Global Philanthropy Project, Urgent Action Fund (UAF) organized a panel discussion on philanthropy’s role in increasingly authoritarian and volatile times in Europe and Russia during the Annual Policy Briefing of Ariadne, the network of European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights, which took place April 3-5 in Belfast. Nathalie Margi, Senior Advocacy Officer at Urgent Action Fund, moderated a rich conversation with Rokhaya Diallo, journalist, and filmmaker in France, and Tatiana Vinnichenko, Executive Director of the Moscow Community Center in Russia. Speakers shared examples of how funders can enable activists to respond strategically to rapidly shifting situations as well as discussed specific funding gaps and other key forms of contributions donors can make to movements.

Nazi Germany was defeated more than 70 years ago. However, ethnonationalism in Europe continues to prosper. Once in the shadows, far-right, neo-Nazi movements and extremist religious groups are re-emerging in the public sphere. Strange bedfellows such as the Catholic and Orthodox Church and extreme rights groups are taking advantage of these troubled times and increasingly working together to roll back human rights and social justice gains and attack minorities and marginalized populations.

Rokhaya Diallo has found herself at the center of a debate about racism and free speech in France. Last year, she was forced to step down from the government’s Digital Council, an independent commission of experts appointed to advise the president on digital policy. This incident only served to reinforce her conviction that France has a problem with state-sponsored racism.

Rokhaya Diallo, photo courtesy of Stand Up for Human Rights, United Nations.

Ms. Diallo emphasized that it is not only far-right movements but – crucially – far-right ideas more broadly that are gaining traction, seeping into mainstream discourse. As a result, she faces attacks not necessarily from the extreme right, but often from political actors that position themselves within the center-right or even the center-left. As she explained: “I am Black and I am a Muslim. So anything I say, I know there will be backlash. Those who attack me the most are in the so-called mainstream. A local official in Paris sued me for posting an article (I didn’t write) on Twitter. She then shut down an event in her area that I was speaking at, because of my presence. It took me three years to win my case against her.”

Ms. Diallo also spoke about the backlash against Decathlon, an athletic store, when it made a hijab for runners. The company faced such virulent attacks that they had to stop selling the item out of fear for their employees’ security. Again, protests against the company came more from the left than the right. As Ms. Diallo put it, “we need to raise a generation of women who are ready to go out in public and speak for themselves,” stressing the critical importance of increasing visibility for minorities.

Funders have a key role to play in supporting underrepresented groups and taking an intersectional approach. Ms. Diallo highlighted: “It’s very easy to support mainstream groups – they have visibility and they will just repeat what is already being said and done.”

“Funding smaller, emerging groups from minority communities is what will shift the perspective.” – Rokhaya Diallo

Tatiana Vinnichenko, Executive Director of the Moscow Community Center, spoke about growing homophobia throughout Russia and the recent lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) purges in Chechnya, “a federal subject of Russia.”

In Eastern Europe, especially in Russia, religious and political leaders are joining forces with misogynist, homophobic, and racist actors to undermine the rights of women and LGBTQI groups as well as attack the very concepts of gender and sexuality. Russia’s “gay propaganda” law is a classic example of political homophobia targeting vulnerable sexual and gender minorities for political gains.

Tatiana Vinnichenko, Moscow Community Center.

Intense violence against LGBTQI people in Chechnya, which peaked in 2017 and again earlier this year, was the latest evolution in a long line of atrocities perpetrated by the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. In Chechnya, anything that goes against Kadyrov’s ideology is deemed deviant and impermissible and is severely punished. Armed with enormous power and immunity guaranteed by Russian president Vladimir Putin, Kadyrov has crushed local civil society and pushed activists out of Chechnya and even Russia.

Ms. Vinnichenko described a climate in Russia where any talk about sexuality has been shut down since the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that marriage equality is illegal. As a result, violations of freedom of speech and assembly as well as hate crimes are pervasive and not investigated. While mainstream international media has highlighted violence against gay men in Chechnya, insufficient attention is paid to the intersectional ways in which lesbian, bisexual, and trans women are affected.

In the North Caucasus region, 74% of queer women have been outed, 38% have reported honor killings of their female relatives or friends, and 33% have attempted suicide.

Yet, because of the “propaganda law,” crimes against LGBTQI people cannot be categorized as hate crimes and LGBTQI people hesitate to report any crimes against them to the police. Chechen LGBTQI people face intersecting and compounding forms of violence, which persist even after they flee. As Ms. Vinnichenko explained: “In Russia, they are at risk because they are LGBTQI; in the US they are at risk because they are Muslims.”

The challenges created by the rise of far-right ideologies are immense, and minority groups are most directly and ferociously attacked. More than ever, this context calls for philanthropy to take an intersectional approach. This entails a focus on the links between the diverse but connected movements that are attacking human rights with xenophobic, racist, Islamophobic, anti-migrant, sexist, and homophobic violence as well as restrictions on civic space and activism.

The discussions yielded concrete and actionable recommendations for funders to support progressive movements in this crisis:

1. Restake our claim and what we stand for

We must learn from groups opposing rights while also remembering and reclaiming all that they have learned from us. It is urgent to frame progressive movements as not merely reactive but profoundly emancipatory political movements in line with people’s needs. This also requires that we reclaim language and tactics that have been co-opted by the far right, such as human rights and gender.

2. Build bridges

We need to develop wider, more inclusive, and more effective alliances. This means working and strategizing across movements at local, national, regional, and transnational levels, focusing on particularly marginalized groups and centering their needs and perspectives, and overcoming the disagreements that divide us to find a strategic and pragmatic unity of purpose across our diversity. 

3. Resource stronger movements

This context calls for a plurality of tactics. We need to strengthen our infrastructure as a movement while also acting in more flexible and creative ways. This is a time to critically interrogate our reluctance to support explicitly political projects.

4. Take the long view

Far right movements have been strategizing for decades. It’s imperative that we also adopt a long term strategy and vision. This means providing holistic security support – not just for physical security but also for psychological wellbeing and sustainability, and not just to individuals but also to their families, communities, organizations, and movements. It also requires funding youth movements as well as research that maps funding flows and provides data on diverse needs. Importantly, we need to practice our values by recognizing the long, invisible, feminized work of relationship and trust-building that can enable us to place human beings at the center of our work and practice solidarity in deep ways that go beyond a mere buzzword.

Grantee partners Rokhaya Diallo and Tatiana Vinnichenko with UAF Senior Advocacy Officer, Nathalie Margi.

At UAF, we see our role as supporting social movements. This means moving the money where it is not, investing in more informal, spontaneous activism, and embracing a broader understanding of the diverse actors creating change. Our model is rooted in providing rapid and flexible funding to activist movements so they can respond creatively and strategically to shifting situations.

Examples of recent human rights work UAF has supported:

  • Bulgaria: Organizing by local women’s groups in response to backlash from extreme right and Catholic groups opposed the ratification of the Convention of the Council of Europe for the prevention and elimination of violence against women.
  • France: Combatting threats of “anti-white racism” and defamation for institutional racism work.
  • Montenegro: Thwarting growing opposition to laws prohibiting sexual violence.
  • Poland: Lobbying the adoption of highly restrictive laws on abortion and reproductive health, proposed by governments and the Catholic Church.
  • Romania: Organizing in response to a proposed referendum to redefine the law of marriage as the union between a man and a woman.
  • Russia: Supporting urgent holistic security training for trans activists in response to the increase of transphobic attacks in digital spaces. We also supported evacuations and relocations of LBT women during the LGBT purge in Chechnya and Russian WHRDs who played a pivotal role in organizing evacuations for Chechen LGBT people.
  • Spain: Opposing anti-choice movements pressuring the government to revoke the NGO status of women’s rights organizations.

Longer term funders might translate these examples as setting aside a pool of funds that can be deployed to respond to unanticipated moments. But that’s only one small piece of the funding ecosystem – we need a diversity of funding strategies and we need to be mindful that our resources are not exhausting social movements with logframes but instead nurturing political activism with flexible, responsive, and sustainable support.  As donors, we must think about “risk” differently and keep in mind the bigger picture risk of us not acting or acting insufficiently in these times of backlash.

As always, the groups that are most attacked and that experience the intersections of multiple marginalizations have so much to teach us when it comes to resistance strategies. Our role is not only to ensure that these voices are not silenced but also that they are centered and that we collectively learn from them so progressive social movements can not only survive, but thrive.

PART 2: How activists  might leverage psychological techniques  to  advance  human  rights advocacy efforts in the current global climate

Catherine Côté, Urgent Action Fund Summer Intern and Loran Scholar

Platforms like the United Nations Human Rights Council and UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice are important, because they allow WHRDs to share their experiences and discuss issues directly affecting their communities with relevant people at the UN with the power to change the grave circumstances WHRDs face, yet lack the frontline experience or perspective. However, these opportunities, despite being important and valuable, are emotionally draining for WHRDs and put their own security and the security of their families at risk.

This is partly why innovation surrounding our advocacy methods is so important.


As described in the previous blog post to this series A psychopolitical analysis of the UN Human Rights Council, a lot of politicians seem to be stuck at the pre-contemplation stage. This first stage of the model – where people are unaware of the need to change and deny the problem – needs to be overcome in order for change to happen. The model highlights the importance of support from other people such as friends, family members or a coach in all stages of change, including to help acknowledging the problem, but also to maintain the behavior while the change is ongoing. In a political context, NGOs and other stakeholders can play this role of positive support to encourage change.

Taking the importance of external support into account, an interesting method to consider is creative activism (craftivism). This idea of gift-giving not only relies on the transtheoretical model of behavioral change, but also on the most basic behavioral assumption that giving a reinforcement (something positive) after a good behavior increases the chances for that behavior to be repeated in the future. And outside psychology, people are more prone to do something when they receive positive comments than when what they are doing wrong is constantly highlighted. Therefore, maybe trying to focus on politicians’ and Member States’ positive actions is just as important as denouncing what is wrong.

We must however keep in mind that it is hard for frontline activists who face extremely difficult situations and threats in their daily work to talk about the institutions’ positive work when there is still so much work to be done and they are often facing threats to their lives because of the actions or inactions of States. This restates the importance of having NGOs and other stakeholders work in partnership with frontline defenders to balance these contradicting tensions of highlighting good practices as well as holding States accountable and highlighting the threats and challenges faced by women and LGBTQI+ defenders, including reprisals after they engage with multilateral institutions.


Another important concept to keep in mind when advocating, especially for controverted issues such as women’s rights, abortion, gender identity and sexual orientation and sexual and reproductive health, is that core moral values lead the way in which we advocate. Indeed, our arguments are based on these values, but if these arguments do convince us and other people sharing the same moral values, these arguments may be totally inefficient for people having different values as values are not universal. Different researchers in the field of political psychology supported the hypothesis of disagreements between liberals and conservatives to be rooted in that difference in moral foundations (Graham, Haidt and Nosek, 2009). Indeed, Graham, Haidt and Nosek (2009) supported that conservatives’ values are usually loyalty to the ingroup, respect for authority, and purity/sanctity whereas liberals’ values are usually care and equality and fairness.


Feinberg and Willer (2013) also supported the importance of underlying moral values in political orientation, but they also pushed this idea farther by applying it to political discussions. In their study, they asked liberal participants to write a text to convince conservatives of the importance of same sex marriage and conservative participants to write an essay convincing liberals as why English should be the only official language in the USA. They analyzed the essays written by every participant to identify the moral values on which their arguments were based. Their findings revealed that 79% of liberals used arguments based on moral values typically associated with liberal political views and only 9% used arguments based on conservative values, whereas 59% of conservatives used arguments based on conservative values and only 8% used arguments based on liberal values. These results show that even when having the purpose of convincing people with opposite views in mind, people usually tend to base their arguments on their own moral values and not on those of the people they are trying to convince. The authors raised that this tendency added to the deeply rooted nature of moral foundations might be a reason why conversations between liberals and conservatives tend to be tumultuous and unfruitful.

That idea is interesting and could probably be applied to advocacy and activism. Indeed, especially when advocating on politicians with clear political orientations, taking their moral foundations into account could increase advocacy efficiency. As women organizations and activists often advocate for issues such as women’s rights, abortion, gender identity and sexual orientation and sexual and reproductive health which are usually more compatible with moral foundations associated with left-wing views, it is important to reflect on how these issues can become important and valuable for right-leaning politicians and institutions.


It is important that women’s human rights defenders engage directly with institutions like the UN as their frontline experience must be shared and heard by institutions no one else should own that information. But other stakeholders, like public foundations and intermediaries like Urgent Action Fund are also essential to the equation because as an institution they do not face the same individual risks as many WHRDs do.

Furthermore, taking into account psychological theories such as the transtheoretical model of behavioral change and the theory of moral foundations in advocacy and activism can also help to better understand the biases not only politicians and institutions but also advocacy actors and activists are experiencing in order to reinforce advocacy strategies. It can help us realistically assess our limitations while also managing our expectations of where collectively as movement organizers and funders we strategically place our energy and choose our allies.


Feinberg, M. & Willer, R. (2013). The Moral Roots of Environmental Attitudes. Psychological Science, 24(1), 56-62. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612449177

Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek A., B. (2009). Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(5), 1029–1046. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0015141



38th Session of the UN Human Rights Council. Geneva, Switzerland.

PART 1: A psychopolitical analysis of the United States’ withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council

Catherine Côté, Urgent Action Fund Summer Intern and Loran Scholar

The 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council was met with media tidal waves with the withdrawal of the United States’ delegation. The Ambassador of the US, Nikki Haley, accused the Council of being a hypocritical institution where “human rights abusers continue to serve on, and be elected to”, as reported by CNN. Even though the US is not wrong on this point, its withdrawal happened immediately after the illegal separation of migrant children from their families at the US/Mexico border, which was widely covered by the media. Given the context, the US is itself all but blameless regarding human rights violations. From a psychopolitical point of view, how can we explain the United States’ lack of coherence between its beliefs and actions? And what are the implications of this lack of coherence when considering similar behavior of other UN Member States in regards to the global improvement of human rights? Two psychological theories, the theory of cognitive dissonance and the transtheoretical model of behavioral change, can give us an insight to answer these questions.


Cognitive dissonance is defined as a state of mental discomfort experienced when one’s actions and beliefs are not coherent together or with the perception one has from oneself (Festinger, 1957). Because it is an unpleasant feeling, individuals usually tend to reduce dissonance. Justifying their actions or thoughts is one way in which coherence can be reached and dissonance reduced, just like when people justify their smoking habit by highlighting the benefits they experience on stress management. This process can be compared to homeostasis, where the body tries to reach equilibrium, although in this case, the equilibrium that must be reached is between thoughts and actions.

In the case of the US’ withdrawal from the Human Rights Council, indeed, the US knows it is not blameless regarding human rights violations but is also probably believing human rights violations to be bad, which make it reluctant to admit its wrongs. Its behavior (committing human rights violations) and its thoughts or beliefs (believing human violations are bad) are not coherent. One could argue that by withdrawing from the Council and accusing it of being flawed, the US has the sense of denouncing an important problem (the idea that countries who commit human rights violations should not be on the Council) in order to preserve its positive image of itself as a country actively engaged in fighting human rights violations. Its decision to withdraw could also be seen as perfectly coherent with the situation: it commits human rights violations and believe states who commit such violations should not be members of the Council. There is therefore nothing more coherent than withdrawing from the Council. However, the problem here is it is not acknowledging its wrongs regarding human rights violations. For the sake of preserving its image and to reduce the unpleasant feeling of dissonance, denouncing the institution is therefore more efficient than acknowledging its wrongs.

This difficulty to acknowledge its wrongs can be seen as a major problem for the US (and any other Member State or politician) in tackling human rights issues in order to make change happen. The transtheoretical model of behavior change provides background to understand how change occurs and how it is prevented by this negation of one’s faults.


Essentially, is the US ready for change?

The transtheoretical model of behavior change (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983; Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross, 1992) is often used in therapy to assess one’s readiness to change something in their life. It was initially created to treat addictive behaviors. The model suggests five stages everyone go through when adopting a new behavior: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance.

One could probably apply the transtheoretical model to politics when analyzing UN Member States’ behavior regarding human rights. Indeed, change is presented in this model as a long process requiring, at the very beginning, to acknowledge the problem in the precontemplation stage. This stage can be described as the unawareness of the need to change and denial of the problem. During that stage, one is usually more aware of the cons than the pros of change.

Many states, when making statements or when reacting to the presentation of a report, do not seem to acknowledge the work that is still to be done in their country. A general trend that can be observe during the official sessions of the 38th Human Rights Council is that most Member States are really prone to talk about positive things they have implemented but are reticent to talk about upcoming challenges and what should be tackled next. Are Member States only concerned about impression management or are they truly not acknowledging the upcoming challenges and what they are doing wrong? It probably still has to be determined, but nevertheless, several Member States, including the USA, seem to be stuck somewhere even before the precontemplation stage.


We often tend to forget that behind politicians are flawed and imperfect human beings experiencing the same biases as everyone else. Applying psychology to politics allows us to understand how cognitive dissonance can prevent Member States to acknowledge human rights issues or other problems occurring in their country, which is in turn a factor preventing change to occur. These theories are also relevant to advocacy in order to induce a reflection on how these problems can be tackled and how to better influence Member States and politicians. Indeed, if they understand how politicians are influenced by cognitive dissonance and how behavioral change usually occurs, organizations in the field of advocacy and other stakeholders can reflect on their advocacy tools and techniques and adapt them to counteract these biases.

A question of interest for organizations advocating in the field of human rights such as Urgent Action Fund is, therefore, how can advocacy efforts effectively guide  UN Members States to the next stage of the transtheoretical model in order to move forward and to implement groundbreaking policies which will lead to real changes for human rights?

We will cover that and other existential questions in the second installment of this two-part series:

“How activists might leverage psychological techniques to advance human rights advocacy efforts in the current global climate.” – coming soon. 


Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford University Press. 

Karimi, F. & Kopan, T. (2018). There are 2,300 migrant kids spread across the US. What happens to them next?https://edition.cnn.com/2018/06/21/politics/migrant-family-separation-what-next/index.html

Koran, L. (2018). US leaving UN Human Rights Council — ‘a cesspool of political bias’. https://edition.cnn.com/2018/06/19/politics/haley-pompeo-human-rights-bias/index.html

Prochaska, J. O., DiClemente, C. C., & Norcross, J. C. (1992). In search of how people change: Applications to addictive behaviors. American Psychologist, 47(9), 1102-1114. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.47.9.1102 

4 Pride Stories Deeper than Rainbow Colored Vodka

Olivia Trabysh

Mainstream Pride coverage emphasizes glitter, parties, and corporate sponsorships but the Pride celebration many of us glorify today was created on the backs of trans sex workers of color. To conclude #PrideMonth with activism that honors 
Pride’s radical roots and lasts the remaining 11 months of the year we must center the narrative around those experiencing the most violent forms of oppression under the LGBTQIA umbrella. Who might that be?It’s STILL trans sex workers of color. Trans people all over the globe are facing increased violence and threats to their livelihood despite growing global societal acceptance of LGBTQIA people. Last week the World Health Organization recategorized transgender identity from mental disorder to “gender incongruence.” This is a step forward, but at a time when we need a giant leap rather than a step if we are to prevent more violence and secure equity.Securing resources and designing systems that ensure the safety and autonomy of trans sex workers of color are NGOs from India, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and the United States, each partner with the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights to strengthen and sustain LBTQI movements around the globe. Their stories of activism below.


Dr. Shymala Nataraj and the team at South India Aids Protection Programme support the wellness and safety of trans people and women by deconstructing the stigma surrounding sex work in metropolitan and rural India.  A stigma that involves the myth that sex work is the same as trafficking and that fails to account for the economic agency and mobility of disempowered people, who are consenting to sex work because it is often their only viable means of a living wage.

The SIAPP team deconstructs this stigma by running workshops where they discuss agency along a continuum and work through scenarios together that explain how being pro-sex work exists alongside anti-trafficking, not in opposition to it.

Photo courtesy of SIAPP. Featured Dr. Shyamala Nataraj.

There is a particular urgency to SIAPP’s work as recently proposed legislation in India expands the definition of “aggravated forms of trafficking.” This could actually criminalize trafficked survivors and further rob women and trans people of their autonomy to make a safe living for themselves and loved ones in a country like India, where economic hardship is widespread and employment for trans people is nearly non-existent.


Photo and curriculum courtesy of SIAAP, Vadamalar, Ashley Tellis, and Chhaya Ramachandran.

he 2018 Anti-Trafficking Bill in India has fundamentalist undertones that reflect the language and policies currently coming out of the United States, despite more common sense rulings and definitions of exploitation from the Indian Supreme Court.  

Define: brothel
 A brothel is a place where commercial exploitation or abuse takes place. If there is no sexual exploitation, it shall not be considered a brothel. –  Mr. X, Central Kerala v. State of Kerala, Kerala High Court, India, 2009

Nonetheless, the roots of extremist religious ideologies whether they be Western in origin, or blamed on Western influence, can also be seen in the recent violent raids of trans sex workers houses in Kyrgyzstan preceding the advent of the World Cup.


Labrys, a grassroots platform committed to improving the quality of life and human rights of LGBTIQA people in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia, evacuated a group of trans sex workers earlier this month, who have been impacted in state-authorized clean ups in lieu of the FIFA 2018 games in Russia.

“14 brothels” were violently closed in St. Petersburg in June resulting in criminal charges following the nearly genocidal language and directives of Russian State Deputy Vitaly Milonov.

Referencing the visibility of sex workers in tourist hubs in St. Petersburg,  Milonov stated: “certain ‘figures’ hand out catalogs to the passers-by with addresses of hangouts, post their nasty ads on poles…The task is to ensure that prostitutes are not only out of sight, but in general from our life, public consciousness.”

The argument surrounding sex work becomes a moral and deeply gendered one when bills like the Anti-Trafficking Bill in India and reform described by Milonov are used to to define all sex work as exploitation. Voluntary sex work is not recognized and advanced argumentation surrounding the exploitive nature of all work in capitalist models does not exist.

This is how violence by the state against women and trans people becomes sanctioned. They become exploited for being exploited. And for Russia and Russian influenced periphery countries in Central Asia, prostitution becomes a “European” entity, a Western entity, Russia can further distance itself from and respond back to with force.

A red umbrella is the recognized symbol for sex worker rights. Photo courtesy of Right Side NGO, Armenia, 2017.


Right Side NGO, the first and only trans led organization for trans people in Armenia and South Caucus continues to host awareness campaigns for the acceptance of trans people and in turn trans sex workers.

We deal with trans issues generally and in doing so also support those engaged in sex work. Due to stigma and discrimination, transgender people often don’t have an alternative choice of work. The aim of our most recent campaign was not only to raise visibility for trans people but also raise awareness and tell personal stories. We condemn violence towards trans sex worker women who are brutally beaten and subjected to violence,” says Right Side representative.

In the last two years, Right Side has documented more than 100 cases of gender-based hate crimes. In early 2018, they had already reported two violent attacks on trans women, in both cases the victims were severely injured. In addition, representatives of civil society and politicians promote and spread transphobic messages of hate and violence towards trans people publicly.In partnership with the European Endowment for Democracy, Right Side released a campaign last month, I AM FEARLESS, to combat persisting transphobia in Armenia. Right Side tries to address the economic hardships of sex workers, especially trans sex workers, by providing vocational trainings in make up and sewing. “We are proud that sex workers are not only beneficiaries of our NGO, but also volunteers and paid employees. Half of our board of representatives are sex workers.”

Read the report: “Hate Crimes and Other Hate Motivated Incidents Against Trans People in Armenia”


Falling in line with the false binary between pro-sex work and anti-trafficking, are the SESTA + FOSTA bills passed by the house and senate in the United States earlier this year. Both feature excessive and stringent criminal charges designed to deter sex workers themselves, as well as organizations in support of sex worker’s rights.

In the passed legislation, an aggravated offense in regards to any entity that “promotes or facilitates the prostitution of 5 or more persons” is tied to 25 years imprisonment. This legislation intends to target online venues where sex workers, not just trafficked people, are thought to advertise. Online venues allowed sex workers to have autonomy and agency over who and how they chose to sell their sexual services, often removing the danger and cost of street work, pimps, and brothels.

According to Scott Cunningham, an economist who studies prostitution, not only does SESTA + FOSTA remove the infrastructure that has kept sex workers safe, it increases the chance of death for trans people and women across the US. “We found the female homicide rate was 17% lower after erotic services on Craigslist opened in a city…Not just [the homicide rate] for sex workers, female homicide rates as a whole.”

Best Practices Policy Project, has released a statement on the emerging patterns of criminalization in sex trafficking legislation that affects communities of color and trans people disproportionately in the United States. Their analysis centers on three points.

  1. Law enforcement efforts to implement this legislation will focus on people of color, specifically African Americans, routing them into jails and prisons. Low income women of color will face the harsh penalties associated with “facilitating” prostitution.
  1. Transgender people, specifically transgender women of color, will be targeted by law enforcement efforts. The spaces where transgender people of color congregate online for any reason will be policed and in some situations transgender women will be misgendered as men in order to facilitate their arrest and demonization. This is already happening, as per observations made by Monica Jones, about the closing of sites since the passage of the legislation.
  1. These new laws will be used to police and surveil immigrants, leading to their deportation under the guise of ending sex trafficking.

The Desiree Alliance
, a national coalition for the civil, labor, and human rights of all sex workers just cancelled their 2019 Conference Transcending Borders: Immigration, Migration, and Sex Work despite being a featured speaker at the Women’s March in Vegas earlier this year due to the recent SESTA + FOSTA legislation.

The front page of their website reads: “Due to FOSTA/SESTA enactments, our leadership made the decision that we cannot put our organization and our attendees at risk.  We hope you understand our grave concerns and continue to resist every law that exists to harm sex workers!  Keep fighting!”

The most ironic part of this legislation designed to combat trafficking is that “traffickers might be the most stubborn of the participants in the market,” says Cunningham. They will survive and meanwhile, sex workers will be less able to connect with clients directly having to once again rely on pimps for their livelihood.


Those with the most oppressed identities are the most creative and equipped to design social solutions to carry our society forward.

Black trans women have been ringing the warning bell for so long,” says Penelope Saunders of Best Practices Policy Project. “We look to the work of Miss Major, Sharmus Outlaw, Tiommi Luckett, Monica Jones, Ceyenne Doroshow and so many other black trans leaders to learn how to be resilient in the face of almost unimaginable prejudice.”

Our grantee partners will continue working to center and gather resources to protect trans sex workers of color and LBTQI people as increasingly restrictive policies jeopardize their safety and autonomy.

Join them.

We support the fiercest, most creative, voices responding to the oppression of trans people and trans sex workers. When you give to Urgent Action Fund – your gift helps to end this violence.


Photo courtesy of generosity.com. Reposted via the Washington Blade. Featured Sharmus Outlaw.


Sharmus Outlaw an activist for transgender and sex worker rights and the rights of people with HIV/AIDS passed on July 7, 2016. It is in her memory that the Best Practices Policy Project wishes to honor their contribution to this post. Urgent Action Fund joins them in dedicating this post to Sharmus’s legacy to honor her life’s work and the two year anniversary of her passing.


Data at the Intersections: Advancing environmental and climate justice using a human rights lens

Meerim Ilyas, Amber Moulton, Salote Soqo

Originally posted by the Human Rights Funding Network on May 23, 2018. 

In February, in San Francisco, a group of funders gathered for a day-long discussion of funding trends in human rights. The discussion offered opportunities for a deeper dive into funding shifts, what they mean and what we, as funders, can do to advocate for funding growth where it’s needed. Those of us who use a human rights framework to fund environmental and climate justice pondered over the data presented: What does it mean to fund an issue that is highly intersectional, not always defined as human rights-related, and heavily dependent on larger foundations?

A key challenge in the field of environmental and climate justice is to what extent funders apply a human rights lens in their grantmaking or consider themselves human rights funders. The research methodology captures human rights grantmaking even when funders do not explicitly codify their grants that way, which is crucial to providing an accurate picture of real investments. Yet, more could be accomplished if funders could break out of their silos and work deliberately across issues: applying a human rights lens to funding environmental and climate justice promotes systemic change that advances both goals.

Size Matters: Large vs. Small Funders and Their Strategies

Seven percent of all human rights funding from foundations is allocated towards Environmental Justice and Resource Rights (EJ&RR). Though EJ&RR funding increased by 145 percent between 2011 and 2015, it peaked in 2014 and began a downward trend. This drop is due to a handful of major foundations exiting or reducing their work in this area, which illustrates just how delicate the funding landscape is and how important it is that funders remain vigilant and collaborative to ensure a sustained increase in investments. This gap is not made up elsewhere: 8% of the bilateral and multilateral funding that met the definition of human rights grantmaking went towards EJ&RR, but it is unclear how much of this funding meets the needs of vulnerable populations or supports climate justice.

Given that only a small percentage of philanthropic dollars go towards EJ&RR, larger funders have a substantial influence in overall funding trends. Historically, they have tended to fund more established organizations and not smaller, less formal groups, but this is changing. Larger funders have begun working with intermediary funders who can make smaller grants, while some smaller funders have banded together to create funder collaboratives like the Grassroots Climate Solutions Fund. These approaches are reaping results: between 2011 and 2015, the number of EJ&RR grants under $10,000 increased by 59%.

Another trend we’re seeing is that funding for grassroots organizing to promote EJ&RR has risen in recent years, but is still substantially less than other strategies funders are supporting like advocacy and capacity building. In 2015, funding for grassroots organizing amounted to just over $6 million, while funding for advocacy was over $68 million. Granted, grassroots organizing tends to be less expensive, in part because coordinating and relationship building are rarely realistically compensated in budgets. Yet, we believe bigger investments in local movements will lead to greater long-term impacts for EJ&RR. Funders must look beyond short-term victories and keep in mind successful local organizing may take years if not decades.

More Flexible Funding to Grassroots Groups

The downward funding trend for EJ&RR is disproportionate to the growing impacts environmental injustices and climate change are having – especially on vulnerable communities. Indigenous Peoples and human rights defenders (HRDs) are particularly affected; their sovereignty, identities, and livelihoods are at risk of being desecrated and lost. These communities are further marginalized by closing civic spaces and the spread of repressive regimes that support the commodification of land and other natural resources. To mount effective responses and mitigate further harms, funders must support these groups to develop and lead interventions.

Yet, the trends research shows that foundation funding for Indigenous Peoples decreased sharply from $40 million to $15 million within a span of two years, which is consistent with a general decrease in funding for Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Lourdes Inga, Executive Director at the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples, explains, “This sharp funding decrease corroborates what Indigenous Peoples are voicing on the lack of funding to support their organizations and communities, even though they are increasingly at the forefront of protecting their territories, water, biodiversity, and environment.” Lourdes stresses that funders must stay abreast of the trends: “Understanding of how shifts in priorities or funding flow impacts partners on the ground is critical.”

Funding Indigenous Peoples, especially women, to develop and lead their own strategies recognizes their agency and respects their right to self-determination. It also shifts traditional climate change discussions toward corrective justice by raising up the voices and priorities of those who are most affected and placing responsibility on carbon emitters and corporate perpetrators. Many funders are already doing this, from supporting indigenous women-led divestment strategies in the United States, to supporting advocacy led by Indigenous Peoples on issues like access to land rights, recognition of cultural rights, and food sovereignty. Funders should listen to and support the strategies Indigenous Peoples are prioritizing, like mapping sacred sites and documenting local ecological knowledge and resource management approaches.

More sustained investment is also needed to protect human rights defenders. This is important across the board, but particularly for those working in environmental and climate justice, due to the increasing trend in state-sanctioned land grabs, resource rights exploitation, and the repression of activists. Funding for human rights defenders increased by 133% between 2011 and 2015 – more than any other population tracked. However, the scope of the funding is still small: in 2015, only 448 grants explicitly mentioned human rights defenders. At the community level, people don’t necessarily define themselves this way – and this is particularly true for Indigenous Peoples. Yet, most human rights defenders in the environmental and climate justice space are Indigenous Peoples, which speaks to the intersectional identities communities hold and the intersectionality of the issues human rights defenders work on.

Recommendations for Funders

Funders must recognize the intersectionality of environmental and climate justice with other human rights issues. This not only reflects the reality of what communities experience on the ground, but can lead to synergies that advance complementary goals.

Funders should incorporate a human rights/justice lens in their grantmaking. This includes investing in communities and ensuring that strategies are community-led. There should be careful investigation of what communities need, as too often funders come in with pre-set frameworks for what they are willing to fund. Funders should also fund long-term, provide flexible funding, and integrate security and wellness in their grants in recognition that this work takes time to achieve, requires agility, and can be dangerous and draining – especially for communities on the front lines. Funders should do more to support Indigenous Peoples and human rights defenders, particularly through funding indigenous women-led initiatives.

The growing impacts of climate change on a number of human rights issues is bringing more attention to the role of human rights funders and donors globally. We must take risks and increase our investments strategically in ways that enhance the power of communities, not undermine them. Funders have a moral responsibility to work with their peers to keep each other accountable, share knowledge, and learn – including about their grantmaking. Most importantly, they must listen to communities and let those communities inform their strategies.

Funding and Building Power Across Movements

by Yumi Sera, Disability Rights Fund / Disability Rights Advocacy Fund (re-posted from the Disability Rights Fund)

With support from funders and with the groundswell of one billion persons with disabilities demanding their rights, I am confident we can redefine how we talk about rights, inclusion, equity, and diversity.

Photo: Panel at a 2018 Human Rights Funders Network meeting. Left to right: Claret Vargas, Dejusticia; Yumi Sera, Disability Rights Fund; Ana Maria Enriquez; Tim Sweeney, Pride Foundation; Caitlin Stanton, Urgent Action Fund

Last week, I was invited to a conversation at the Human Rights Funders Network to give context to five years of funding trends from the latest research on Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking. Caitlin Stanton from Urgent Action Fund moderated the conversation and the room was filled with activists and data geeks eager to learn about data.

What seemed like a happy coincidence was that on the other side of the world, my colleague Jorge Manhique was at the African Conference on Sexual and Reproductive Health with Urgent Action Fund Africa. He was with Robinah Alambuya, a Ugandan woman with psychosocial disabilities, who was talking about how girls with disabilities face a high rate of gender-based violence. Even five years ago, Robinah would not have been able to speak out because of the discrimination she faced within the disability movement and the feminist movement. Today, she runs Triumph Uganda, an organization that advocates for and supports girls and women with disabilities, giving them space to speak out.

Photo, left to right: Faridah Nabbanja (NUWODU, Uganda); Ruth Nkutumula (DIWA, Malawi); Jennifer Isiko (Triumph Uganda); Robinah Alambuya (Triumph Uganda); in Front: Sigere Kasasi (DIWODE, Malawi)

The Disability Rights Fund began ten years ago, powered by the momentum built from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD is an international human rights treaty that, for the first time at the global level, considered persons with disabilities as rights holders, and not as objects of charity.

One in seven people in the world has some form of disability. According to the data from the Advancing Human Rights report, persons with disabilities are not getting a proportionate share of the funding from human rights funders.

What the data doesn’t tell us is the stories of the movement’s progress and the courage of persons with disabilities speaking out. I see how far the movement has come with such modest investments. I like to believe that we are reaching a tipping point – soon, we will see more and more leaders choosing to work across movements, and not in silos.

If we resource more young people with disabilities and women with disabilities and give them the space to speak out, they will take the lead. Santi Setyaningsih, an Indonesian young Deaf woman said, “To achieve gender equality, we must not forget the rights of women with disabilities.” Five years ago, her voice was not even included in the movement.

In alignment with the movement motto, “Nothing about us without us,” persons with disabilities are now demanding to be at the decision-making table, and not just on the menu.

A rights-based treaty at the global level, like the CRPD, can be used as a tool for persons with disabilities to change discriminatory laws at the national and local levels. For example, with our support, disabled persons organizations (DPOs) have advocated for 64 national laws and legislative changes. That means children with disabilities are able to attend school, and women with disabilities can demand justice when they have been violated.

It was just two years ago that three women were murdered in Haiti because they were Deaf; the perpetrators held a belief that women with disabilities were evil spirits. Fast forward to last week, when my colleague Jo-Ann Garnier accompanied twelve Haitian persons with disabilities to speak at the United Nations in Geneva. Representing persons with disabilities in Haiti, they informed the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities how the CRPD has been implemented by the Government of Haiti. In their presentation, they also demanded justice for the three Deaf women. Jo-Ann reflected on DRF’s strategy:

We supported disabled persons organizations from across Haiti to speak as one strong voice. The movement’s strength comes from the diversity of perspectives and their collective hope for equal rights and opportunities for all persons with disabilities.

We’ve come far in the last three years, I borrow a saying from Haitian activist, Soinette Desir:

The respect for our rights will not be possible without the solidarity and collaboration of all.

We must continue to learn from research and data, and let us also be sure to learn from leaders on the ground. If the communities we support are collaborating across movements, then we, as funders, should too. With support from funders and with the groundswell of one billion persons with disabilities demanding their rights, I am confident we can redefine how we talk about rights, inclusion, equity, and diversity.

Yumi Sera is the Director of Partnerships and Communications at the Disability Rights Fund and Disability Rights Advocacy Fund and the Co-Chair of the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples.

Shifting the Power: Women’s Voices at the Center of Global Justice Conversations

Kate Kroeger
Urgent Action Fund Executive Director, Kate Kroeger, speaking to Global Affairs Canada in Ottawa. January 25, 2018.

Urgent Action Fund Executive Director, Kate Kroeger, speaking to crowd at Global Affairs Canada in Ottawa. January 25, 2018. Photo courtesy of Nobel Women’s Initiative.

Adapted from Kate Kroeger’s keynote remarks at Shifting the Power summit hosted by Global Affairs Canada and organized by Nobel Women’s Initiative and the Match International Women’s Fund. Access the full report on the outcomes of the summit here.

For more information on Kate’s speech and the conversations at the event browse #ShiftThePower on Twitter.

We are in a moment where it couldn’t be clearer that women’s voices, our leadership, and our experiences must be at the center of conversations around justice and equality. It is a moment that is framed in feminist terms, aimed at producing long term structural change.

The moment we are in was most recently expressed by the simple and powerful phrase #MeToo. #MeToo began as a cri-du-coeur around sexual assault, and now it has caught fire and become a movement. And with that, it has spawned workplace conversations, new programs and interventions, and a renewed awareness of the very real experiences that hold women back from achieving our full potential. It has demonstrated that the courageous act of speaking out holds tremendous transformative power.

But that transformation, now underway, didn’t come from nowhere. In fact, women’s rights organizations have been working for years on sexual harassment and assault. So when #MeToo happened, they were ready to capitalize on the momentum. It was women’s rights organizations that shaped the messaging, raised awareness, and used the star power associated with #MeToo to mobilize resources for legal assistance programs for low-income women, among many other interventions.

And so too with women’s movements around the world. Day in, day out, women’s rights organizations work on the issues that define women’s lives: health, education, economic empowerment, freedom from violence. They build evidence, they advocate, they run programs at the community- and national-levels. And yet they do so with very little attention and very few resources, until their moment comes.

Recognizing this, the Canadian government has done something remarkable. Through the feminist international assistance policy, it has made a bold commitment to move money to these organizations, recognizing the critical work they do. Recognizing, in fact, that without resourcing women’s rights, lasting progress will remain out of reach for many communities around the world.

Last year’s commitment of $650 million for reproductive health programs and the launch of the Women’s Voice and Leadership program represent exactly the right political commitment at exactly the right time. As a Canadian, I can’t tell you how proud these announcements have made me. At Urgent Action Fund, on a daily basis, I hear from women who are responding to rights violations in the US and around the world, often in an environment where the government itself is responsible for those harms. So I am acutely aware that Canada’s leadership at this particular moment is critical.

But I ask that we take all that has been done, all the groundbreaking leadership, and do more. Stepping up starts with public commitments such as the one Canada has made, but it cannot stop there. To stop there and return to business as usual would be to stop short of success and squander an opportunity.

To make the most of this opportunity, four tools must be leveraged to translate Canada’s feminist commitment into impact.

Tool #1:

If you want to see results, get as much money as you can to grassroots women’s movements. I realize this seems incredibly obvious, but you would be surprised at how little funding actually gets that far. As Melinda Gates recently pointed out in TIME magazine, women’s rights organizations receive only 2% of global gender funding. Two percent. And herein lies the disconnect. Our goals are transformational but too often they don’t actually translate into new ways of working.

As the inimitable Theo Sowa of the African Women’s Development Fund has said, “How do we expect to see real change in women’s lives when women’s rights organizations aren’t getting any money?”

Think about it.

In 2012, a groundbreaking study by Mala Htun and Laurel Weldon in the journal Gender and Development looked at 70 countries over 4 decades. They found that the single greatest factor leading to strong policies on violence against women was not the size of the country’s GDP, or even the number of women in elected office. It was the existence of strong and independent women’s movements.

And we are in a movement moment, to be sure. Not just #MeToo but #FeesMustFall in South Africa and #BlackLivesMatter globally, and #NiUnaMenos in Latin America. These movements are led by women.

Supporting women’s movements means getting the resources as close to the grassroots as possible. This simply can’t be done by only supporting organizations that are headquartered in Canada or other countries in the Global North. There is nothing wrong with working with Northern organizations. We are easily accessible – we are in your time zone, and it takes us just a few minutes to get to your offices. We are great at reporting and navigating international banking systems. It could even be argued that we are shouldering an administrative burden on behalf of movement actors in the Global South.

However, to be truly feminist is to challenge the status quo and to find new ways of doing things that puts power in the hands of people who have been historically excluded. And this means working with new actors, however uncomfortable that may be. It means investing time and resources into actors whose capacity will be built by the very process of receiving your funding, so that once your grant comes to an end, they will be better equipped to receive funding from other governments. That’s sustainability.

Shift the paradigm away from a managerial funding approach and towards a transformational approach.

Tool #2:

To support women’s movements, support women’s funds, 70% of which are in the Global South. Women’s funds are so crucial to funding architecture. These are funds run by and for women; by and for activists. As such, they are naturally adaptive and accountable to the movements they support. They exist at the local, regional, and international level and they specialize in reaching the grassroots. There are no less than 40 women’s funds around the world, from Mongolia to Tanzania to Nicaragua. Some focus on young women, others on LBT people, and yet others on rural or indigenous women.

Between 2011-2015, these funds invested over $220M, making around 9500 grants. Their funding spanned 173 countries. These numbers are likely to grow, as major donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have started to make significant investments in their work. But even now, these are big numbers and represent reach, absorptive capacity, and a depth of experience. Prospera, the international network of women’s funds, exists to support women’s funds in working effectively with major donors. And indeed, many women’s funds have received support from bilateral donors such as the Swedish, British, and Dutch governments, totaling over $16 million in a two-year period.

If you want to reach grassroots women’s movements, use women’s funds as your vehicle. In doing so, you’ll also be supporting local leadership and strengthening the funding architecture in the Global South.

Environmental women's human rights defenders, Indigenous land rights activists, and Urgent Action Fund grantee partner. Indonesia, 2014.

Environmental women’s human rights defenders, Indigenous land rights activists, and Urgent Action Fund grantee partners. Indonesia, 2014. Photo credit: Krissanto Triputro.

You will be shifting the power. And you will get results. Because that’s what feminists do.

Tool #3:

To support movements effectively, provide more than one kind of support. As you know, the best kind of funding is, of course, unrestricted, long-term support. Do not shy away from this – I would never encourage that. But I would encourage you to look at additionally funding capacity-building, travel support, advocacy, rapid response grants, and other interventions.

Women’s movements and the women’s rights organizations that comprise them are fluid, operating in shifting political contexts and often excluded by mainstream human rights and development organizations in their countries. As such, they benefit from multi-pronged support to help them overcome structural barriers and achieve success.

Tool #4:

Fund consortiums. No single organization or women’s fund can do everything. So, one way of ensuring that women’s movements receive a basket of support is by funding a consortium of organizations that can provide it.

This has been a methodology used most recently by the Dutch government and the European Union. For example, the Dutch government has provided 32 million euros over a five-year period to the Count Me In Consortium, which is made up of 7 feminist organizations that work on advocacy, capacity-building, long term funding, and, rapid response. Count Me In members are based in the US, Canada, Latin America, Africa, and Europe.

Consortiums are not without their pitfalls, and they are certainly a lot of work for those of us who are in them. This is one area where donors have pushed us outside of our own comfort zones, but we see the value in the innovation and creativity they have brought us. And for our government partners, these consortiums ensure that the government is able to see its reporting and coordination requirements met, while also ensuring that the funding reaches women’s rights organizations, tailored to grassroots realities.

That makes the funding relevant and meaningful to women’s rights organizations, who are the drivers of the change you seek through the feminist international assistance policy.

So here are your four tools:

  1. Get money to grassroots women’s movements
  2. Support women’s funds in the Global South
  3. Provide multiple forms of support
  4. And do that by funding consortiums

I recognize that asking you to do these four things will take you into uncharted territory at a time when your plates are already full. There’s no question, it will take extra work to build new partnerships and fund in new ways. But in doing so you will be taking Canada’s feminist commitment and giving it meaning, with all the transformational potential it holds.

You will be shifting the power. And you will get results. Because that’s what feminists do.

On “keeping going while things are stirring…”

Shalini Eddens

One year ago, over 3 million people around the United States took to the streets to protest a government whose rhetoric and tone threatened human rights and contradicted basic human values like respect, kindness, fairness, and integrity. The Women’s March was a pivotal moment both in the United States and globally. It was an outpouring of love and a public expression of outrage. It lit fires of creative energy that led many to find their political voice for the first time.

Today, many of the fears and concerns we held then have become our reality. We are witnessing renewed nationalism, white supremacy, racism, Islamophobia, and patriarchy. The rights of the most marginalized communities are under open attack, as repressive governments come into power.

On November 9th, 2016, Urgent Action Fund launched the Resist & Reclaim Fund to support activists and organizations in the United States who are at the frontline of fighting for the human rights we all deserve. Since that day, the Resist & Reclaim Fund has provided rapid security and rapid advocacy support to 36 organizations in 14 US states from New York to Louisiana to Texas to Washington. Over 90% of these grants went to efforts led by women and transgender people of color. Groups supported include the Young Women’s Freedom Center in California, who swiftly drafted a policy platform in response to local propositions that would impact formerly incarcerated girls. As immigrant communities came under attack, the Resist & Reclaim Fund supported rapid legal aid as well as a convening of LGBTQ Black immigrants from across the country to create long-term strategies and build a network.

Of concern to us, over the past few years, Urgent Action Fund has seen a 300% increase in security grant applications from women and LGBT activists in the United States. Thus the Resist & Reclaim Fund has also provided support for relocation and other security measures, such as for a faith leader in Tennessee who received death threats after she denounced white supremacist actions in Virginia.

Left: Three women smile and pose for a picture, two of them hold protest signs that are images of women, behind them are marchers at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017. Right: Seven women stand in the middle of the street each holding a life-size red colored letter to make the word “JUSTICE,” at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017, the Washington monument can be seen in the background.

Photos courtesy of The Women’s March – powertothepolls.com.


The Women’s March in 2017 also laid the ground for a re-examination of the feminist movement in the United States. The reality of how much is at stake and the moral responsibility to take a stand has manifested into initiatives such as Time’s Up Now and #MeToo which have shone a light on sexual harassment and abuse of women and girls; the Women’s Convention that brought together over 5000 participants in Detroit, Michigan for an activist boot camp; or the wins in the November mid-term elections in Virginia with the election of the first openly transgender woman to the state legislature or when Alabama Black women ensured that Roy Moore (who has been accused of sexual harassment), was not re-elected back into office.

The momentum continues as organizers prepare for the Women’s March Rally on January 21st in Nevada, a battleground state and location of one the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. The theme is Power to the Polls. The rally will mobilize women to register to vote and promote the election of more women and progressive candidates into public office.

At Urgent Action Fund, our struggle for justice and equality will continue until each and every person in all the corners of this world can attain the freedom to live their fullest lives. In the words of Black abolitionist and women’s rights activists Sojourner Truth from her address to the American Equal Rights Association in 1867, “So I am for keeping the thing going while things are stirring; because if we wait till it is still, it will take a great while to get it going again.”

Whether you are attending the rally in Nevada, watching it via live stream, marching in your home state, or using the day to be with family and friends, Urgent Action Fund stands with you in solidarity, justice, and love on January 21st and always. We can’t stop and won’t stop.

Moving from Rights Eroded to Rights Realized

Laurel E. Fletcher & Katrina Natale

In 2017, a women’s rights watchdog group reported that 25 women were killed for their human rights work, a decrease from the 37 women human rights defenders(WHRDs) killed in 2016. These deaths are an outrage, but represent only the most extreme form of violence and repression that human rights defenders around the world are confronting.

We are witnessing a growing trend of “closing space” for civil society actors – a term which refers to restrictions that authoritarian and right-wing governments are imposing to obstruct and limit oppositional voices. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders receives complaints from activists world-wide about closing space, and reports that one-third to nearly one-half of which concerned WHRDs in the years from 2004 to 2014.

Women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI*) human rights defenders the world over are targeted in the closing space phenomenon both for who they are as well as for the work they do. These defenders are targeted because they are often “perceived as challenging accepted sociocultural norms, traditions, perceptions, and stereotypes about femininity, sexual orientation, and the role and status of women in society.” Yet, only limited analysis has been made of their experiences of closing space.

Rights Eroded Blog Photo

In response, the International Human Rights Law Clinic(IHRLC) of Berkeley Law and the Urgent Action Funds for Women’s Human Rights (UAF) conducted a review of the laws and their impacts on WHRDs in 16 countries. Our report Rights Eroded: A Briefing Report on the Effects of Closing Space on Women Human Rights Defenders offers a window on the challenges women and LGBTQI* human rights defenders face as well as their resistance strategies and recommends action international and state authorities as well as donors should take to protect these front-line activists.

Women and LGBTQI* human rights defenders interviewed for the report spoke of their experiences of structural and social discrimination, targeted efforts by the State to hinder their work, gendered forms of harassment, and criminalization of their activities. They described a climate in which States have moved to restrict their access to the funds essential to their work. Governments have applied a complex web of rules including anti-money laundering and national security legislation to ensnare organizations engaged in legitimate human rights work. They emphasized how social stigma and targeted campaigns by the State to delegitimize their work undermine public support for their activities and limit the resources available to them. Activists revealed the ways in which they self-censor to avoid confrontation and abuse from State actors. And, importantly, they cataloged the strategies that they employ to resist closing space through alliance building with other human rights activists, leveraging media attention, and adopting new funding strategies.

The international legal framework presumes the activities of human rights defenders to be legitimate and lawful and seeks to facilitate their work. This stands in stark contrast to the lived experience of women and LGBTQI* human rights defenders who face daunting legal and administrative barriers to their activities and chilling threats to their well-being. Given the current climate—what we term a “rights-deprived” environment—the focus for these activists shifts from transformative social change toward basic survival, as their ability to claim their right to advocate for human rights is challenged and undermined.

State policies and practices that restrict funding to civil society organizations create uncertainty and dependence for human rights defenders and perpetuate a vicious cycle in which their organizations are less able to maintain the kind of public presence that draws funding and support.

We also appreciate that women and LGBTQI* human rights defenders are savvy. They make calculated choices about how to navigate the landscape in which they operate, at times choosing to limit their activities to preserve their continued existence. However, such censorship comes at the hidden cost of pushing their work further to the margins, weakening their ability to hold the State to account, and undermining participatory democracy.

The innovative approaches that women and LGBTQI* human rights defenders take to resist closing space are a testament to their perseverance, creativity, and commitment to human rights promotion. We must also acknowledge the gendered nature of the constrained space in which these defenders operate. These activists shoulder disproportionate burdens among civil society groups because they advocate for politically unpopular and often socially marginalized communities. This inequity must be reversed if societies are to benefit from the transformative social change that these human rights defenders advance.

The voices of women and LGBTQI* human rights defenders urge action. The report includes recommendations and calls on States, the United Nations, and funders to act vigorously to create the “safe and enabling” environment for human rights defenders called for under international human rights law.

States must relax legal and administrative obstacles to human rights work, end gendered harassment, intimidation, and attacks, and take proactive steps to champion the invaluable role that women and LGBTQI* human rights defenders play in protecting and promoting human rights.

The United Nations must recognize the disproportionate, particular, and intersectional ways in which women and LGBTQI* human rights defenders are impacted by closing space and carry this perspective forward in creating protections, interpretations of norms, and elaborations of new standards that are responsive to the particular experiences of these defenders. UN mechanisms must proactively seek the input and expertise of women and LGBTQI* activists impacted by closing space in monitoring and reporting on State compliance with human rights standards and in interpreting these norms.

To support the leading role that women and LGBTQI* human rights defenders play in creating transformative, structural change in their communities, donors must continue and deepen their efforts to offer flexible, creative, and sustained funding to women and LGBTQI* human rights defenders. These defenders need support that takes into account the informal and formal ways that they organize themselves, gives defenders the ability to respond to the changing nature of closing space, and provides core funding in contexts where the very existence of these organizations is under threat.

Women and LGBTQI* human rights defenders are key to realizing the potential of the international human rights framework for society’s most vulnerable members. They deserve our respect, protection, and support.

Originally published on Intlawgrrls.

#MeToo Reminds us of the Brave and Simple act of Speaking Out

Kate Kroeger

On December 6th, I woke up to the headline that TIME had chosen the women who have broken the silence on sexual harassment and assault as its ‘Person of the Year’.  It’s a fitting choice, marking one of the most significant moments of the year. A moment of courage, a moment of voice, a moment led by women who, in whatever way they each saw fit, said ‘enough’. By sharing their stories or quietly offering solidarity to those who did, women transformed the heartbreak of this moment into a reckoning.

That same day, December 6th, was also the day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada. It’s the day when, in 1989, 14 women were killed in their university classroom in Montreal, by a gunman who said he was trying to ‘fight feminism’. I began my university education in Montreal just a year later and these women – those who lost their lives, as well as their classmates who survived and spoke out – transformed my commitment to feminism and justice. It was because of them that I said ‘enough’. I studied, I spoke out, and I committed myself to supporting women who may face violence or threats.

At Urgent Action Fund, that same commitment is at the heart of our work. We support the advocacy, security, and wellbeing of women and trans people doing frontline human rights work by making rapid funding available to them within a week of their request, 365 days of the year.

At the beginning of 2017, Urgent Action Fund made a grant to a Palestinian organization working with women journalists in Gaza and the West Bank. These women are working in a volatile security environment, reporting on critical human rights stories. And yet, they face systemic bias and intimidation, which prevents them from obtaining steady paid jobs in the media. As a result, there are fewer women in the field and there is less reporting on women’s rights related issues. Sexual harassment and intimidation make it harder for women to speak up or file a complaint, as they would risk their reputation and source of income. With a rapid response grant from UAF, these women created a model of collective security and solidarity that has allowed them to regain their confidence, speak out more freely against threats, and advocate for stronger workplace protections.

In July, UAF supported a group of women in Papua New Guinea defending their farms from corporate land grabs. The affected communities are in isolated areas where public protection and human rights observers are scarce. These women also face risks and threats due to their gender and often can be accused of sorcery, as a way to hold them back. The funds from UAF were used to provide security training as well as medical care for the women doing this work at great personal risk.

This fall, Urgent Action Fund’s security support was a vital resource for women and trans activists in Charlottesville, Virginia speaking out against racism and white supremacy. A rapid grant funded community defense and security training, enabling local organizers to continue their vital work of providing leadership development and youth-centered programming related to LGBTQ rights, social, racial, and environmental justice. And when a faith leader in Tennessee was harassed and received credible death threats from white supremacist groups after she spoke out about Charlottesville, a rapid security grant from Urgent Action Fund helped her to temporarily relocate and kept her safe so that she can continue to be a voice for justice.

At the end of each year, I make it a practice to revisit examples like these of the courageous activism by women and trans people on the frontlines of human rights struggles around the world. It is their dedication to our collective good that fuels the work of Urgent Action Fund and keeps alive our commitment to justice, equality, and peace. With all the challenges this year has brought, #MeToo is a reminder that the brave and simple act of speaking out holds profound transformational power and contains the seeds of a better future for us all.


A redemption climb. A protest climb. A hopeful climb.

Kate Valleau

Hi world,

I’m Kate.

I’m an advocate for women’s rights because they’re human rights. In this moment it feels like there is so much negativity and destruction in the world. People tearing each other down, rather than bringing others up.I’m doing what I can to change that.

I’m climbing Kili to raise money for women’s rights, carrying with me all of the lessons imparted on me by all of the women who have built me up in my life as I complete the climb.

My mom, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and friends. Each with unique struggles that shaped them. As I am sure the women role models in your own life have faced and still face.

I am climbing to support the shared elements of our struggles. A redemption climb, a protest climb, a hopeful climb – translating good fortune and grit into action. If my climb resonates with you, show your solidarity by donating here.

Mention your donation is in honor of Kate Valleau and 100% of the proceeds will go to Urgent Action Fund.

It takes all of us to work together to overcome the different levels of adversity women face every day.

I hope you will join me.


What Does Advocacy Look Like in the Current Moment,
and How Should it be Funded?

Kate Kroeger

Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Divestment Delegation

Originally published on Philantopic, a blog of Philanthropy News Digest, a service of Foundation Center.

For twenty years, Urgent Action Fund (UAF) has supported frontline activism in the United States and around the world. The need for our funding has never been more apparent, especially here in the U.S. Activists — particularly those who are black, queer, Muslim, or undocumented, as well as others whose identities make them a likely target of threats — are operating in a different environment now.

In reflecting on our work over the past six months, I’ve identified a few keys to what effective organizing in the current era looks like, and how we as funders can respond.

1. The success of a progressive agenda is dependent on a groundswell of grassroots mobilization and support. Civil society has a heavy lift right now when it comes to defending existing rights and preventing a rollback of the gains we have made over the past few years. We need to recognize that if we are to create additional momentum and sustain our victories, the grassroots need support. Looking back, it’s clear that hard-won legal victories — the Voting Rights ActBrown vs. Board of EducationRoe vs. Wade — could not have been secured or sustained without the actions of vigorous and committed social movements. But because they are harder to fund, because being on the frontlines means they don’t always have the breathing room to promote the results of their work, and because philanthropy systematically ignores work led by marginalized people, grassroots movements are often the least resourced part of the equation. Yet their proximity to the issues at stake means they are often best placed to raise awareness and frame the debate.

2. Support intersectional activism and understand the security implications. Because of the backlash activists often face, over 50 percent of UAF’s rapid response grants go toward security for our grantees.

This has a lot to do with the fact that women and transgender activists are breaking stereotypes by taking a public stand. They confound society’s expectations that they will stay silent, apologetic, and shy away from controversial political views. In our society, one’s identity can put you at grave risk.

For example, as the rhetoric around mass deportations began to ramp up, Urgent Action Fund received a request to support an immigrant rights organizer, Valeria, who was facing deportation as well as harassment based on her gender identity at a Texas detention center. In addition to supporting the campaign for her release, UAF’s grant to her organization helped activists in the area build networks of support, take know-your-rights training, and develop messaging to push back against discriminatory policies.

As funders who support frontline advocacy efforts, we must remember that not all activists will be treated equally by those opposed to their efforts. At Urgent Action Fund we have seen a 300 percent increase in security requests from women and transgender activists in the U.S. over the past few months, and more than 96 percent of these requests have come from women or transgender activists of color.

As funders, then, it’s good to be aware that a strong security plan needs to be part of any frontline advocacy plan, and that we should be ready to fund both.

3. Work with international actors to advance a progressive agenda in the U.S. It’s a humbling time to be an activist in the U.S. Much of what we accomplished through our activism over the past few years has been rolled back or now seems out of reach. We can’t rely on the federal government in the way we could — to some extent — just a few months ago. The targets of our advocacy work need to shift if we hope to be effective.

Here’s an example from our recent grantmaking.

Last summer and fall, we supported Native American women at Standing Rock who were resisting the extension of the Dakota Access Pipeline through Native territory. Those efforts, targeting the federal government, were successful, although the victory was short-lived, with the new Trump administration moving immediately to reverse the decision.

This spring, Native women activists reached out to UAF with a plan to target international influencers, rather than the federal government, through advocacy focused on Keystone pipeline investors in Norway and Switzerland. As a result of this engagement — and the stories Native women shared with the bankers — activists were able to secure a commitment from the Norwegians to withhold their financing for the pipeline. The tactic also is working in the case of the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras, where efforts by activists to secure justice from the government following the murder of Berta Carceres, an activist who led a campaign against the dam, yielded little response. After sustained advocacy, however, three foreign investors in the dam pulled their funding.

The lesson: Funders who support advocacy groups that work at the federal level may need to think internationally as activists look for new paths forward.

Advocacy Right Now

These are just some of the ways that funders can be responsive to the current moment and support activism at a time of change and transition. In this context, being flexible with how our funds are used, and ensuring the timeliness and accessibility of that funding, is also of the highest importance.

A healthy democracy is one in which citizens can criticize their government and take action in support of a progressive agenda without fear of reprisal. In the current climate, we must be there to support activists willing to speak out and resource them in ways that enable them to be effective — and safe.

As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

As we work to create a more inclusive society and more responsive, democratic government, it is up to funders everywhere to support those willing to demand.


Happy International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia Anniversary (Over and Over and Over Again)

Mariam Gagoshashvili

Photo credit: Ekaterine Gejadze. Mariam Gagoshashvili, Tbilisi, Georgia, May 2017.

In honor of Pride and the commemoration of the Stonewall riots of 1969, we are sharing this brave, beautiful, and raw reflection on IDAHOT 2017  from our board member, Mariam Gagoshashvili. Her monologue, originally shared on Facebook,  speaks to the dangerous conditions and visceral pain LBTQI activists face in their work and day to day life.

As a feminist organization, Urgent Action Fund celebrates Pride not only because of our intersectional values but because of the courage of LBTQI activists. Their fight for human rights deserves recognition and support, always.

We never cease to learn from your example, Mariam. – xx, the UAF Team. 

I’m one of those people who needs stimuli to cry. I’m one of those people who cannot cry, but at the same time, I’m one of those who can easily cry. This is not a paradox. Let me explain. I cry when I’m overwhelmed by beauty, I cry when I’m overwhelmed by self-pity, I cry when I’m overwhelmed by anger, I cry when I’m overwhelmed by compassion – and I’m overwhelmed quite easily. I’ve even cried as a response to a powerful orgasm. Yes, it has happened, and I am actually saying it. I cannot cry though when I’m simply miserable. Simple, pure, personal misery – it does not overwhelm me in the same way. I start to cry, I cry out, but that’s it. Tears don’t flow. Or a couple of drops drop and then I stop. If I’m miserable and I feel I need to cry, I must read a book or watch a film that moves me. Then my tears can flow uncontrollably. But otherwise my crying is pathetic. It’s a short sob. Short dry sob. And then there’s nothing. A vast nothingness. And I stare at it. And it stares back at me. We recognize each other. We’ve lived so long side by side. We’re homies.

But wait. This was never the point.

So the point is that I’ve been struggling with PTSD for the last 4 years. Since May 17, 2013. I can’t believe so much time has actually passed. My ex and I would get these nightmares a week or two before May 17 every year since 2013. I guess my mom and some of my friends too (yes, including those who watched us from a balcony or from a safety of their homes – it has affected more people than you’d ever guess). One of them was there and is now dead, but that’s not the point, his death is unrelated. It came later. Others have lived on and I wonder what their lives have been with the unresolved traumas triggered every year in May and a multiple other times per year as we witness mass violence on our computer screens or in our backyards. Some of these people actually remained at the frontlines. N, for instance. Today she is burnt out, resentful. Most of us did burn out at different times. Before or after. Because of or regardless. Some of us did not, or might have not, we’re not really sure. While others did, but have never recognized. Another N, for example. This one – my mother. She keeps going on, but she’s not well. I moved out of the country, my ex did too, the first N I mentioned is moving on too. T has “retired from activism”, she told me yesterday. (Is it because of or regardless or maybe not a burnout at all and perhaps an exercise at free will and agency to choose what one wants to do and what one wants not to do anymore?). And T/G/C is dead. Committed a suicide. This was regardless of. He was never an activist, he was never part of the community (goddess, forgive me; my friends, forgive me, for bringing him in this, but I can’t help – this death has been haunting me too like it has been haunting you all).

Fuck. The train of thought just stopped. Blank. Empty.

Okay, so I sat down at my kitchen table in New York to do my nails. Manicure (not pedicure, first let’s focus on what’s visible first). And I haven’t eaten since 5-6 pm today. (My meals today were: gluten-free crackers, low-fat cream cheese, salmon, avocado; mixed roasted & salted nuts; fruits: mangoes, raspberries, blueberries, mulberries, strawberries; “the original kale chips” that B thought were disgusting, but I loved them; that’s it). I drank two large glasses of water when I got home at 9:30 pm (don’t ask me what I was doing between 7 pm and 9:30 pm) and now I’m having some leftover Jameson from my Saturday night date. So, I guess I got tipsy quite quickly (on “empty stomach”). I left my manicure partway finished because I urgently had to write. I tried to cry and I came up with the following triggers: romantic R&B music from the 90ies (a total random thing, I swear, that followed after I intentionally played my favorite “Love Hangover” by Jet Tricks) and all the emotions poured out on Facebook about the tomorrow’s/today’s (depending on where you are currently situated on the world map) IDAHOT demonstration in Tbilisi. It’s first time in 3 years (not counting the first, obviously), that I’m trying to engage with this date head-on. Perhaps because what the activists are planning tomorrow/today is the biggest and boldest ever, especially since 2013. Wow..

And the train of thoughts stop again. I go blank. It’s just too fucking painful to think about this. To remember. To reminiscence.


I wonder if I’m drunk.

Photocredit: Litterator’s blog. Mariam Gagoshashvili, Tbilisi, Georgia, IDAHOT May 2012.

There are leftover nuts sitting next to me on the kitchen table, in a cute little Tupperware. I feel nauseous. Nuts for lunch is ok, but nuts for lunch and dinner is too much. I can’t.

So I just sit and consider finishing up my manicure. I did consider inflicting overwhelming emotional pain upon me by watching the yellow minivan video that my dear friend N (a third one, neither my activist mother nor my activist friend, but my childhood-friend-turned-LGBTQ-ally N) just posted on Facebook. That would make me cry alright. But I can’t. I cannot. I just can’t.

I wonder how many of us walk around and go about our business with this unresolved trauma. There is so much talk about self-care, healing justice, holistic security. It leaves an impression as if all the activists in the world have access to these fantastic and necessary things. Yes, there surely are activists who do, and I know them and they are still messed up and burnt out, but they are out there. They do exist. But there are also others who never went to a group or individual therapy…

But wait, there is a very vague memory of me, my ex, my mom, and a couple of others from the yellow minibus going to an organization for a group therapy shortly after May 17 (this generates a short half-dry sob during which tears don’t actually leave my eyes and then just dry up). The office was (and still is?) next to my uncle’s house. I know the neighborhood very well. This is irrelevant, but somehow relevant because of the complicated relationship we queers have with our families. I’m in that neighborhood for the first time as (just) queer. As somebody who was violated because of who they are. Yes. And it feels weird and awkward. My ex is the sceptic, she resists the idea. There is this journalist T. She is part of the community, she looks much queerer than I do. She looks like a bull dyke. She was there in the minivan. She was there as a journalist, as a media representative, as an observer – or so the story goes. She got hit hard. She was one of the few people who was taken to a hospital. She suffers from a concussion during the group therapy. She talks a lot, is agitated. Two (or one?) nice lady welcomes us to the office and leads the group therapy session. I only remember this room – the room full of icons. We sit there, beaten up by the church and its followers, most of us in a therapy setting for the first time in our lives, surrounded by religious iconography. This is fucked up.

And that’s all I remember. That’s all the support we managed to access. But that’s ok, because we had/have each other. But that’s ok, because we did not know we needed more. We hugged each other tightly on the evening of May 17 and the days that followed. We watched out for each other. We cried together (yes, I did cry a self-pity and an empathy cry, a wet sobbing cry). We held each other tightly. Not all of us had this as we were separated in the privacy of our houses by hardly-caring police officers (but some were genuinely nice). But some of us, who were lucky enough to have each other near enough, we held each other tightly. We faced neighbors. We faced neighborhood grocery shops. I remember taking a knife and going downstairs with my ex to protect her while she bought us some food. Or maybe I waited for her upstairs, then freaked out, grabbed a knife from the kitchen, and went downstairs to make sure she was fine. I was ready to use that knife. I swear I was. But my brain has repressed the details from the memory since then. I can’t tell much now.

Yellow minivan. Yellow minivan. I push it out of my memory. (Video of incident Mariam is referencing).

What I do accept to remember is me sitting on my ex’s bed in my ex’s house with my mom sitting nearby – all three of us in shock (was someone else there? Maybe A, my godmother, who came as soon as she heard?). We – glued to the television that transferred news about us. We watched ourselves on the screen escaping the crowd and the aftermath. This is a weird thing to do, but we did it without any second thoughts. Sheer panic. Shivering. I remember tiny glittery pieces of glass under my t-shirt, under my bra, under my pants, under my panties. I remember them falling down on the bed, on the floor. Me sitting and shedding glittery glass. Sitting and shedding. Glittery glass everywhere. Also in my hair.


Amazing how violence can sometimes be shiny and glittery and sparkly. Amazing.

This does not make me sob. I just breath out loud.
I’m tired and hungry. And I need to take care of my manicure.
I’ll be late for the Tbilisi May 17 for a day and a half.
I’m sorry for the depressive post. I apologize.
I am sorry I cannot offer any optimism or any dramatic moments in the yellow minivan or before the yellow minivan cornered by blood-thirsty can’t-find-the-right-word-s.
I apologize.

It’s just the every-day, the mundane, the ordinary things-as-they-are.We carry on and carry out. Movements, activism, activities, actions, acts, and the life itself.
And we carry this shit.
Until we don’t.

I reach for the nuts.

Collective Care in Human Rights Funding: A Political Stand

To support the activists and groups that we fund, donors must engage in honest conversations around our own burnout and ethics. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate by Meerim Ilyas and Tatiana Cordero Velásquez on human rights and mental health.  العربيةEspañolPortuguês.

Article originally published for  Open Democracy on May 18, 2017. 

What is the responsibility of donors regarding the care practices of frontline activists? And how does our own well-being affect that of the people we fund? As a rapid response fund for women’s rights, we gather daily to discuss new applications for funding, which often involve issues of sexual violence. We take turns to offer analysis and debate on whether each request “fits our mandate”. This is a skill learned over time, a difficult one, which can make one feel expedient yet overwhelmingly responsible. And through each case of a woman activist risking her life, or an urgent situation where women’s and LGBTIQ rights are, once again, under threat, there is always a potential for a trigger. We, as women, often share similar histories, experiences and traumas with the activists we support. However, we have learned how crucial it is to heal oneself in order to support others facing similar issues. This is the only way to make collective transformation possible.

The experiences of women activists can be different than those of men, because of the gendered nature of threats and burnout.

The experiences of women activists can be different than those of men, because of the gendered nature of threats and burnout. The use or threat of sexual violence against women activists is very common, but it is also poorly documented, because it is often not reported or recognized. Women human rights defenders are also more likely to burn out because of societal pressure and condemnation due to their gender, and responsibilities to support their children and other family members.

Urgent Action Fund (All rights reserved).

Regional Convening on Sustainable Activism, El Salvador 2015. Urgent Action Fund-Latin America.

We at the Urgent Action Sister Funds are deeply passionate about supporting women human rights defenders, but we are not the ones at the frontlines. We are not the ones who will be jailed, who will get beaten or harassed, or threatened with rape for fighting for justice and basic human rights. For most of us in the donor world, this is not the reality of everyday life. Yet we experience triggers and secondary trauma, and the sense of frustration and responsibility can drive us to the point of emotional and physical exhaustion. As one colleague shared, “I try to compartmentalize things and will try to turn off work, but I do have dreams about traumatic cases.”

As advocates and funders, we must be honest about our own sustainability. How do we begin? Caring practices are deeply individual, cultural, and even depend on economic background and political beliefs. An ethic of care is both individual and collective. For many, separating their work from their personal lives can support overall well-being; but, unfortunately, this is not always possible for those of us working in the field of human rights. As women working to protect and promote women’s rights, it can be challenging to separate our work from our own personal struggles and obstacles as women. As funders in general, we must be aware of our own privileges and assumptions around care.

To support the activists and groups that we fund, we must engage in honest conversations around our own burnout, which stems from our internalized practices and habits, and a lack of healthy polices. To be an ethical donor, we must include funding for well-being and safety for grantees, which can only happen if we understand and utilize care practices, as individuals and as organizations, collectively. We must move away from an “us” (donors) and “them” (activists) mentality in this field. Only then will we stop exhausting activists by demanding ever-more measurable results and lengthy reports rather than funding their basic healthcare needs or providing unrestricted funds to support their secure transportation, maternity leave, pensions, or basic security measures for their offices and homes.

Well-being includes proper time and space to assess the hidden risk of workload and activism. It includes funding adequate time for rest for an activist, after she spent several months or years in jail, so she does not have to worry about sustaining her family. It includes not scheduling 12-hour day seminars and conferences, because we as funders often have the luxury of influencing, if not setting, the agenda. It includes funding an assistant for the activist with a disability, so she can be fully present and comfortable during a meeting or conference, and not forcing people to eat while they work. We must practice awareness and respect for cultural expressions of well-being. If our aim is to support movement building, we need to be open to the ways in which different social movements and people understand and define care practices. For example, many indigenous people define well-being as an everyday holistic practice that enables balance in life and with every living being, not as an individual act or of an organization alone. If we are to make transformation happen, we must broaden our scopes and worldviews.

Establishing sustainable care practices requires ongoing exploration and engagement to find what works. In their brilliant guide “Strategies for Building an Organization with a Soul,” two African feminists, Hope Chigudu and Rudo Chigudu, offer concrete suggestions for how to create an organizational culture where “impassioned people go to work every day, inspired by working in an environment that increases both their well-being and productivity.”

If an organization engages in an ethic of care, well-being practices become collective and incorporated institutionally, and individuals will be motivated to create and sustain their habits. For example, Urgent Action Fund fosters such culture by holding two “Getting Nothing Done Days” per year, during which staff take a complete break from their work to rest and spend time with each other. At Urgent Action Fund – Latin America, staff members responsible for rapid response grantmaking are provided with ongoing psychosocial support to help with processing their frustration, pain, and difficult workload. In addition, “Sustaining Activism” has been incorporated as a cross-cutting program in an effort to institutionalize well-being across the organization. Many of our grantees have already incorporated care practices out of necessity, and there is much that human rights funders can learn from their practices. Other organizations, such as FRIDA, have been incorporating individual and collective care tools in their everyday practice.

Only when these conversations and practices take place in both directions—from funders to grantees and back again—can we begin to understand the importance of funding and sustaining activism of frontline defenders.

Meerim Ilyas

Meerim Ilyas is a Senior Program Officer at Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights.

Tatiana Cordero Velásquez

Tatiana Cordero Velásquez is the Executive Director at Urgent Action Fund – Latin America.

Why Should Human Rights Funders Care About Digital Security?

Meerim Ilyas and Jennifer Radloff

Taken at FPI workshop. Photocredit: genderIT.org

At a recent gathering of women human rights defenders from countries with unprecedented levels of backlash against civil society groups, something out of the ordinary happened. At this timely meeting, organized by Mama Cash, all of us, participants and organizers alike, affirmed that digital security was a critical agenda item. We all wholeheartedly believed that digital security was a must-have in our activist work. It is something that everyone talks about; a buzzword and an equivocal concept that is either conceived to be individually understood (even when it is not) or is avoided entirely, whenever possible. However, for most women activists in the room, avoiding digital security was no longer a viable option

Magic happened that day. Thanks to the Association for Progressive Communications, digital security training turned into an invigorating, hilarious, theatrical stage where every person impersonated a particular component of the Internet, exploring its possibilities and limitations. We discussed what makes encryption possible, and why it is relevant. We mimed, we laughed, and we danced, because, really, what’s the point of revolution if we can’t dance?

Yet, for many activists, the ability to integrate and implement digital security practices following a stand-alone training is limited, and it is not difficult to understand why. Human rights defenders are already operating under conditions of severe pressure, receiving frequent threats, and have very few financial resources. Digital security requires behavioral changes, which in turn demands time, patience, emotional space, and daily practice. In short, to ensure that activists are practicing even basic digital security, they need a comprehensive, holistic approach to security, which addresses all aspects of their lives and examines how their activism impacts their well-being and vice versa. In other words, digital security must be integrated within activists’ sense of safety overall, just as digital security threats do not exist separately from physical and emotional threats.

…digital security threats do not exist separately from physical and emotional threats.

There is more to digital security than the technical skills of encryption, passwords, safe data transfers, and knowledge of policies around privacy rights and freedom of expression. Digital security entails our whole existence online, our relationship with social media, our presence in these spaces, and implications of our digital footprint. For many human rights defenders this is a central notion because of the increasing importance of their online activism due to heightened limitations in physical spaces. In fact, for many, especially for women and LGBTIQ activists, being present online is the ONLY option.

For many LGBTIQ groups in Indonesia, organizing a meeting on Facebook is the only way they can communicate and strategize, even though it is not the safest option. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, for young women, the very act of creating a profile online and expressing an opinion that does not agree with patriarchal norms challenges the status quo so much so that they can be attacked both online or physically and possibly even killed. The active use of an array of online tools presents a particular conundrum that we all face today – our impulsive engagement with the internet is occurring at a much faster rate than our understanding of our safety, privacy, and implications online. For activists, and especially women and LGBTIQ people, these issues can become a matter of life and death.

The internet is a transformative space for activists, connecting struggles, and providing spaces for advocacy, support and movement building. It also mirrors the offline world as it is rife with misogynistic and homophobic attacks. Our relationship with technology can be both transformative and an experience of violation. As activists, as women, and as LGBTIQ we have the agency and the capacity to make decisions regarding our bodies, minds, and lives in any of the spaces we live in, be they online or offline.

That is why in 2014 and 2015 APC brought together over 80 participants from six continents comprising gender and women’s rights activists, LGBTIQ movements, internet and technology rights organizations, and human rights advocates. APC wanted to collectively share struggles, find connections and talk and strategize around the internet: the politics of it, what it means for women, online violence against women and the nature of the harms that we experience every day, and critically, what kind of internet we want to build. One of the outcomes of these convenings is an evolving document with 17 Feminist Principles of the Internet (FPI) – critical yet proactive in creating a feminist internet.

The Feminist Principles of the Internet are something donors need to be cognizant of – “Some people say that we are good at expressing what we don’t want but not at expressing what we do want. But now we can say: This is what we want. This is the feminist internet that we want!” Supporting women’s rights work cannot be done without taking into account the ubiquity of the internet, the exclusion of many women for multiple reasons, the disconnect between human rights principles offline and online, and the documented struggles of women and LGBTIQ activists using online spaces and being systematically harassed, trolled and ultimately forced offline.

The FPI’s is a roadmap, an evolving, diverse and responsive guide for harnessing the internet to fight for women’s rights, so we can collectively contribute to the global movement to dismantle patriarchy in all the spaces we inhabit.

The magic of APC organized digital security training also surfaced sobering, heartbreaking experiences faced by activists in their online and offline work.Connecting the online risks to offline realities, and mapping out the online threats and fears faced by women human rights defenders in the room in various contexts helped to prioritize and examine strategies and tools to build resilience, creative use of technology, and the confidence to experiment.

Women at Radio Concha booth at the Feminist eXchange Hub at the 2016 AWID Forum. This image was shared as part of 16 Days campaign action (2016) sharing photos of women and girls using tech. Photo by Jennifer Radloff

Fortunately, some significant efforts to address online activism and digital security are already taking place on the global scale. One such space is The Internet Freedom Forum – created to explore activist responses to digital security. Feminist internet rights activists host sessions on online gender-based violence and feminist digital safety responses. While there are now many projects working on digital security training, very few of these projects are developed in ways that can be adapted to the diverse lived experiences of their participants. Women’s rights activists have expressed feelings of disempowerment when digital security training provides a litany of tools but does not sufficiently build capacity to create safe spaces online.

For traditional funders of human rights issues, understanding of how digital security is relevant may not be intuitive or easily understood. Funding for physical security needs, such as evacuation, office security and organizational planning around potential threats is already limited. We often see cases where dangerous work in hostile conditions was expected from activists, but no funding was provided for basic security. Digital security has become an increasingly important aspect of security needs for activists and requires a nuanced understanding of online safety for women and LGBTIQ activists. Within Urgent Action Fund’s rapid response grantmaking, we also learned that there is a vast diversity around capacities, skills, access to technology and local legislation, all of which can further challenge donor ability to respond in a timely and sustainable manner. As such, there is a clear need for open collaboration between human rights funders, women’s funds, and feminist organizations and activists to continue addressing issues around digital security.

About Jennifer Radloff (@jen_ct)

Jennifer Radloff is the capacity building coordinator in APC’s Women’s Rights Programme. She is a feminist information activist who loves nature, running, poetry, clay, ocean, life stories and believes that change can happen.

Meerim Ilyas (@MeerimKG)

Meerim Ilyas is a Senior Program Officer at the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights and Board Member for Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID).

Discovering Space for All of Our Voices: Reflections from the AWID Forum

Urgent Action Fund and UC Berkeley International Human Rights Clinic
Photo taken at the AWID Forum in Brazil.

Photo taken at the AWID Forum in Brazil.















During the AWID Forum, in Brazil this September, Urgent Action Fund collaborated with a team of UC Berkeley Law Students and faculty from the International Human Rights Law Clinic to speak with our grantee partners and advisors about their experiences of the closing space and increasing restrictions on women human rights defenders. For these students, this was their first time attending a women’s rights conference such as AWID, and as intelligent and passionate future human rights lawyers, the experience had a profound impact on them. The following blog is the personal reflections shared by two of the law students who attended the Forum. In reading them, they remind me that AWID is not only critical for people in the movement now, but can be transformative for those who will hopefully be part of shaping and supporting the movement in the future. And when we think about Feminist Futures, that’s what we want….transformation. 

– Shalini Eddens, Director of Programs, Urgent Action Fund


No one could leave AWID without an appreciation for the diversity of experiences elicited by the simple question: What does it mean to be a woman? From Ghanaian women dressed in Kente to Egyptian women with earrings reading ash-shab yurid isqat an-nizam (“the people want the fall of the regime”), diversity could be seen and heard everywhere at AWID.

Such a space is powerful and inspiring. As law students, we entered AWID with our own identities, value systems, and areas of ignorance. Some experiences and conversations felt foreign and pushed us outside of our comfort zones. But it was important and not entirely surprising that we, the authors, had these moments, given our own diversity. Angela Donkor, a second year law student at UC Berkeley School of Law, was born in Ghana but grew up primarily in Italy, later moving to the United States at the age of sixteen. She has travelled to and worked in a variety of countries, assisting NGOs with their important work and educating herself about different cultures and social issues. She hopes to use her legal education to promote inclusion and acceptance of all people. JA is a third year law student of Palestinian and Irish descent at UC Berkeley School—roots that she recognizes as the epitome of modern-day colonialism. Her passion for Palestinian rights developed while she finished primary school in the Middle East, and grew during her undergraduate program when study of Irish history helped her to realize that her identity struggles were inherently intertwined. She hopes to use her legal education to advocate for the Palestinian right to self-determination, and one day, the establishment of an independent state that is no longer plagued by the ills of a 68-year military occupation.

Angela: Gender Identity and Gender-Inclusive Bathrooms

This year, the debate over gender neutral bathrooms has generated strong feelings on both sides of the discussion. Proponents have argued that people ought to be free to use any bathrooms they want, that forcing people to use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth fails to recognize their humanity. Opponents have argued safety concerns, chiefly that would be sexual predators might use gender neutral bathrooms as an opportunity to harm women and girls. In the United States, conservative towns have begun to pass laws forcing people to use the bathroom associated with their gender at birth.

To be honest, I was not sure which side of this debate I stood on. I am not even sure that, prior to the AWID conference, I had given much thought to the issue of gender neutral bathrooms. Perhaps I thought that my opinion did not matter, or that whatever I had to say about the issue would not make a real difference, considering how divisive the conversation had been. Then, I found myself in Bahia, Brazil at the AWID conference this year. In the lead-up to the conference, the organizers hosted a webinar in which they mentioned that there would be gender neutral bathrooms. As someone who has grown up using the same bathroom as people of my gender, I had gotten comfortable with the idea of knowing who was using the bathroom next to me. At first, it was hard to use the gender neutral bathrooms. I was scared about what my reaction would be and afraid that, if I reacted badly, I would make another person feel truly uncomfortable. However, on day two of the conference, I decided to give the bathrooms a try. I went in and did my usual routine. I did not feel uncomfortable, but that was because as soon as I walked in, it was clear that everyone in the bathroom was a woman. I told myself I had done it; I had used a gender neutral bathroom, but I had not. I felt like I had cheated myself of the experience because I had not confronted the “other,” I had not come face-to-face with someone with whom I typically would not expect to share the same bathroom.

On day three, I decided to use the gender neutral bathrooms again. This time, when I walked in, there was a man and a transgender woman washing their hands. I proceeded to use the restroom, but if I am honest, I was scared. I was scared that they had read the fear in my eyes as I walked in; I was scared that I had made them uncomfortable. So I took longer than usual in the bathroom, waiting to see if they would leave. Then, I opened the door and came out, washing my hands right next to them. I walked out and nothing had happened.

In retrospect, it was as normal a bathroom experience as the countless ones I had had before that day. What made it different was that I have grown-up in a world in which we are afraid of the other. I have grown-up in a culture that says men and women use different bathrooms. What was remarkable about what I learned that day is that we live in a world in which we have made the rules ourselves. And what is empowering about that is our ability to change the rules at any time and to be more inclusive—just what the gender neutral bathrooms aim to achieve. They force us to change the self-imposed rules in recognition of the humanity of others.

JA: MENA Coalition and the Intersectional Dialogue Surrounding Palestine

For the first time in my life, at AWID, I was in a space where people understood and respected my Palestinian identity and struggles. Throughout my life, women’s rights in Palestine have always been framed by both the patriarchal nature of Arab society and the role of Islamic fundamentalism. The activists that I have met in the global north continuously failed to recognize that Palestinian women cannot be “free” as long as they live under occupation, constant human rights abuses, and apartheid. Conversely, AWID created a space for dialogue on the intersection of issues that both Palestinian women and men face under military occupation. It also created a space for the intersection of struggles between women from conflict areas. I felt like I could wear my Palestinian identity as a badge of honor at AWID, rather than having to hide it as I have been trained to do by Western society. The sense of relief and clarity that I got from this experience left me thinking about issues that, quite honestly, I gave up on long ago.

Every time I discussed Palestinian rights with friends or family (usually fellow Arabs), someone always mentioned how the other countries in the Middle East never stand up for Palestinian rights. If we Arabs cannot stand together, then why should others stand with us in our fight against ISIS, the pursuit of democracy, etc.? I had asked myself this question on many occasions with no real answer. It was not until I attended the AWID conference that I realized that reliance on states with varying political and financial interests would never yield solidarity for our shared struggles. Instead, reliance on transnational movements and civil society organizations could become a great source of cross-border cooperation and solidarity.

This revitalized train of thought stemmed from a workshop that I attended at AWID on the establishment of a women’s human rights defenders coalition in the Middle East and North Africa. The workshop helped me to appreciate the viability of a cross-movement response to combating the similar injustices faced by all Middle Eastern people. A regional coalition is a great tool for activists throughout the Middle East to reconceptualize their strategies in light of each other’s experiences. Such coalitions can strengthen local movements and lead to concrete change. These coalitions recognize that feminism in the Middle East includes not only the right to drive or own land in Saudi Arabia, but also the right to live free from dire poverty or bombing campaigns in Yemen. Coalitions foster the essential idea that none of us are free until we are all free. With this in mind, it was also inspiring to see Palestinian self-determination framed not only as a Palestinian struggle, but also as a regional, and most importantly, a feminist struggle; one that was shared and understood by the many amazing women that I was fortunate enough to cross paths with during my time in Bahia.

When I sat on the terrace of one of the hotels on my first night at AWID, I spoke with a group of women from Algeria. The second they found out that I was Palestinian, they began to tell me stories of their own activism in support of Palestine, and how Algeria could never be free and at peace until the Palestinians were too. We spoke for hours about our shared hardships. I also met a woman from the northeast of India who lived under conditions of constant, heavily armed conflict. She talked about the Israeli role in fueling the conflict in her region and sympathized with my internal battle to remain active in an era replete with power-politics and western ideologies that continue to minimize my peoples’ suffering. Through her own activism and her words, she encouraged me never to give up fighting for the freedom and equality of my people, despite my exhaustion.

After these encounters, I returned to Berkeley more committed than ever to my peoples’ struggle for self-determination and the global struggle for women’s liberation. As part of the Palestinian diaspora, I can never stop fighting for my freedom, my identity. With this reinvigorated commitment to learning more and actually taking steps toward change, I decided to finally visit Falasteen. This December, I will make the journey; a trip that I will surely never forget, just like my father before me can never forget being expelled and forbidden from returning to his home on June 7, 1967. The first Israeli prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, may have been right in one respect: the old will die, but he was mistaken in believing the young will forget. I most certainly will never forget.


In a world in which we are afraid of diverse viewpoints and in which we seek refuge among those who speak and act the same way as we do, our stories show that we can be different and still value that difference. Our stories are examples of two future lawyers navigating a world in which we are seen as profoundly different and told that there is no way we can coexist together. A world in which we are told that we cannot all speak at the same time and have a voice, because one of our voices might take over that of the other. We reject these views because we believe that there is enough space in the feminist world for all of our voices to be heard and for all our experiences to be valued.

Berta’s Struggle Is Our Struggle 

Kate Kroeger, Executive Director, Urgent Action Fund, Tatiana Cordero, Executive Director, Urgent Action Fund – Latin America, Ndana Bofu-Tawamba, Executive Director, Urgent Action Fund – Africa | 16 March 2016 

Berta Cáceres’s assassination is a painful reminder of the way in which a trinity of corporate, government and military interests creates a tapestry of capitalist power structures, making for an often deadly struggle.

Berta Cáceres, assassinated 3 March, 2016. Photo: Consejo Civico de Organizaciones Populares e Indigenas de Honduras – COPINH

On the 3rd of March, Berta Cáceres, a prominent Honduran-Lenca feminist and Indigenous rights defender was assassinated in her home by unidentified assailants. A Lenca Indigenous woman, Berta worked indefatigably to advocate for the rights of the Lenca people. Her compassion and commitment led her to cofound the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations (COPINH) in Honduras in 1993. For twenty-three years she led environmental and land rights campaigns against megaprojects, most recently against the controversial Agua Zarca hydroelectric project for which she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015. Berta was also a mother of four.

In May 2013, Urgent Action Fund-Latin America supported COPINH twice with a security and protection grant (a collective form of protection, secure communication and mobilization), and more recently with an advocacy grant to demand the end of Berta’s criminalization. With the support of UAF-LA and international pressure and solidarity, Berta was released from persecution.

“We women are an incredible force that breathes life into the world.” – Berta Cáceres

In August 2015, UAF-LA held the Regional Convening on Defenders of Life against Extractivism as a strategic space for  organising, exchanging tactics, building capacity and solidarity. Berta was in attendance and stated that women human rights defenders (WHRD) challenging extractivism are in essence challenging the dictatorship of big capital, coupled with a patriarchal culture that positions the female body as a contested site of struggle. Women human rights defenders become the main victims of persecution, threats, harassment and sexual harassment, as an expression of a misogynist… Read More >>

 Homeless Women Say: NO WAR ON WOMEN!

Mark Leger, Director of Development, Picture the Homeless | 8 March 2016 

On Saturday, 5 March 2016, homeless women who are members of Picture the Homeless helped lead a march through Harlem for International Working Women’s Day. Why?

Women and families represent the fastest growing groups of the homeless population nationally. Approximately half of the homeless population are families with children. Among homeless families, 90 percent are female-headed. Families, single-parent family mothers, and children make up the largest group of people who are homeless in rural areas.

PTH marches at the International Working Women’s Day 2016: Unite & Fight for Liberation rally and march in Harlem. Photo by by Erik McGregor

PTH marches at the International Working Women’s Day 2016: Unite & Fight for Liberation rally and march in Harlem. Photo by by Erik McGregor

“As women, it took us a long time to get where we are today,” said PTH member Darlene Bryant, who will be marching on Saturday. “To get the right to vote, to get the right to real freedom of speech. But the fight isn’t over. Women have rights, but we have to stand up for those rights. As mothers, as sisters in the struggle, whether we’re on the streets or in a shelter, we need to stick together. Homelessness impacts women differently than men. We have to deal with the fear of attack, sexual assault, all sorts of things. That’s why we’re marching on Saturday…” Read More >>

 Let’s Talk About Risk, Philanthropy

Caitlin Stanton, Director of Partnerships, Urgent Action Fund | 8 February 2016

It’s time to come clean about something.

In philanthropy, we really love to talk about progress and social innovation. About forward movement and impact achievement, about tipping points and levers that catapult change. With logic models like Rube Goldberg machines for the production of equality and prosperity. In this version of our story, risk is hardly mentioned, people never burn out, and projects never falter.

BaiAliIt is not simply that we avoid discussing the vulnerabilities in our logic models as if they were a really embarrassing date we had when we were twenty-two. It is that the specific nature of challenging, disruptive events can be un-anticipatable. When something goes wrong, too often we think – “we must have funded the wrong group, the wrong strategy” – and too rarely do we think – “these failures and disruptions are an inevitable part of the process, how do we better prepare for them, learn from them, and mitigate their negative impacts?”

Important new research from the Open Road Alliance suggests that philanthropy needs more, and more honest, conversations about risk. Their findings, based on surveys of 200 nonprofits and 200 funders, reveal that risks are real and vulnerabilities are common. Yet, too often they are not discussed, and too rarely is critical contingency funding available to help grantees get projects back on track. Open Road’s findings suggest that funders should anticipate that 1 in 5 of their grantees will face an unforeseen, disruptive event that requires contingency funding during any given grant year.

This resonates at Urgent Action Fund, where we provide rapidly available contingency grants to grassroots women’s and LGBTQI equality organizations when they face unanticipated threats or opportunities. What also resonates with us are Open Road’s findings that reveal a de facto “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture around these issues within philanthropy… Read More >>

The New Year Requires a Renewed Commitment to Defend Human Rights

Nathalie Margi, Senior Advocacy Officer, Urgent Action Fund | 12 January 2016

At the United Nations Headquarters in New York, 2015 was marked by pervasive opposition to human rights, as UN Member States repeatedly attempted to roll back their earlier commitments. As we embark on this New Year, contentious discussions around the resolution on human rights defenders last November and December are a renewed reminder of the indispensable role civil society plays in countering this backlash.

In 1998, on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders by consensus, recognizing the important role of human rights defenders and demonstrating a robust and unanimous commitment to protect defenders working on all human rights.

Photo Credit: Basil D SoufiEvery year since and always by consensus, UN Member States reaffirmed this commitment at both the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council in subsequent resolutions on human rights defenders.

Last November, however, the annual draft resolution was met with fierce opposition at the General Assembly’s Third Committee, with the Africa Group proposing amendments to undermine the text and with China and Russia calling for a vote on the resolution for the first time in its history… Read More >>

In the Name of Love and Hate: Raising the Voices of Trans Women of Color

Danny Kaufman, Development & Communications Officer, Urgent Action Fund and Nathalie Margi, Senior Advocacy Officer, Urgent Action Fund | 27 June 2015

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its groundbreaking ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the United States. This landmark decision comes on the heels of the tireless work of countless activists who have for decades fought for equal rights under the law, and is a milestone in the ongoing struggle for justice, love, and equality.

Today also happens to be the Trans Day of Action, an opportunity for Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People to come together to break isolation, build new solutions, and address issues facing their community. It also comes on the heels of the horrific murder of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson, a Trans woman from Alabama, earlier this month; as well as the now infamous “Obama Heckler” incident earlier this week, where a Trans woman interrupted President Obama to raise awareness about the high levels of physical and sexual abuse Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People experience in U.S. detention centers.

rainbowflagWhile we are celebrating today’s decision to allow people to marry who they love, we also recognize that there is still much work to be done to ensure that Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People, in the U.S. and internationally, are able to live free from violence, racism, and hate… Read More >>

Lifting Up Black, Brown, and Trans* Women in the U.S.

Shalini Eddens, Director of Programs, Urgent Action Fund | 21 May 2015
Family members hold up pictures of women of color who have been murdered by police violence during a vigil in New York, May 20, 2015. Photo Credit: Shalini Eddens

Family members hold up pictures of women of color who have been murdered by police violence during a vigil in New York, May 20, 2015. Photo Credit: Shalini Eddens

Yesterday, on a balmy spring evening in Manhattan’s Union Square, with the sound of Hari Krishna’s chanting in the background, and tourists peering out of the large windows of Forever 21, a vigil was held to honor the lives – and raise the visibility of – Black women and girls who have died at the hands of the police.

The names of 8 women were spoken – Alberta Spruil, Rekia Boyd, Shantel Davis, Shelly Frey, Kayla Moore, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseax and Tanisha Anderson. Their family members called out their names, describing them as always smiling, the life of the party, warm and generous in spirit, and in the prime of her life. Their photos were held and passed to the stage by community members, as one woman spoke, “Who will hold our sisters?”

I began my first day with Urgent Action Fund in its Oakland office, on November 21, 2014 the day of the Ferguson Grand Jury verdict. Three months prior – the same week that Michael Brown was murdered – a police officer in Phoenix killed 50-year-old Michelle Cusseaux, a Black woman who suffered from mental health issues, while trying to serve a mental health order. Read More >>

Women and Girls With Disabilities Face Unique Risks in Nepal

Meerim Ilyas, Senior Programs Officer, Urgent Action Fund | 19 May 2015

As I continue to receive updates from our partners on the ground about the heartbreaking aftermath of two devastating earthquakes in Nepal, I am reminded of the difficulties that women and girls with disabilities, in particular, face in relief and recovery efforts.

Tika Dahal, founder of founder of the Nepal Disabled Women Association , with Meerim Ilyas, Senior Program Officer, at an Urgent Action Fund Regional Advisor convening in Nepal, February 2015. Photo Credit: Laxmi Ghalan, Mitini Nepal

Tika and Meerim at Tewa Center, Lalitpur, Nepal in February 2015. Photo credit: Laxmi Ghalan

With the death toll rising past 8,500 in Nepal, people with disabilities, and especially women and girls, have been one of the last to receive support, and face continued discrimination and isolation in the horrific days and weeks after the earthquake.

As one of our advisors, Tika Dahal, recently wrote, “In this serious condition, we need shelter, clothing, disabled friendly (mobile) toilets, sanitary materials, food, and medicine.” According to Dahal, who is the founder of the Nepal Disabled Women Association (NDWA), and the General Secretary of the National Federation of the Disabled Nepal (NFDN), 10 people with disabilities, including 2 children, have been found dead in her community since the first earthquake struck on April 25. More than 200 people with disabilities have been reported injured, and more than 500 families have been displaced since then… Read More >>

Reflections From UAF’s South Asia Advisor Convening

Shalini Eddens, Director of Programs, Urgent Action Fund | 27 March 2015

UAF’s Program team was thrilled to participate in our biennial South Asia regional advisor convening, held at the lovely TEWA center in Kathmandu, Nepal last month.


UAF staff & South Asia regional advisors. Photo Credit: Shalini Eddens.

Our network of advisors consist of more than 120 leading women’s and LGBTQ activists throughout Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and North America. UAF advisors are the backbone of our grantmaking, acting as our eyes and ears on the ground to ensure that our rapid grants continue to meet the needs of grassroots women’s rights activists worldwide.

Building solidarity and compassion, particularly at a grassroots level, is an essential component of movement building and advancing the rights of women and trans* people.

In all, 29 women leaders from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka joined us for three days of discussions, breakout groups, and strategic planning sessions. The women hailed from all walks of life — women’s human rights defenders, lawyers, judges, grassroots activists, NGO directors, researchers and writers, media and technology experts, and artists – and brought their diverse experiences, cultures, and perspectives to the discussion… Read More >>

 A United Response to Conflict in Gaza

Danny Kaufman, Development & Communications Officer, Urgent Action Fund | 23 July 2014

As the war in Gaza continues, Urgent Action Fund is horrified by and condemns the indiscriminate killing of civilians and stands in solidarity with those impacted by the violence.

Women and men from Awareness For You hold a protest sign with the message "neighbors for peace"

In response to this conflict, we have provided rapid grants to women-led organizations calling on the Israeli government to immediately instate a ceasefire and for a cessation of violence on all sides.

The Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP) is a Tel Aviv-based organization that encourages the active participation of Palestinian and Israeli women in peace building efforts. With a rapid grant, CWP organized a peaceful demonstration to protest the ongoing violence and advocate for a non-violent resolution to the conflict.

Awareness For You (AFY) is a women’s group in Kfar Qara, Israel that promotes gender equality and seeks to change attitudes about prevailing gender stereotypes.  AFY brought together Palestinian and Jewish Israelis to call for an immediate end to the violence. The protest included a human chain with the message ‘Neighbors in Peace.” AFY is also working to engage religious leaders in peace… Read More >>

Feminist Activists Attacked During A Women’s History Month Event

Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ | 7 March 2014

Urgent Action Fund partners, Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ, were attacked during an International Women’s Day event in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on March 6 2014. Below is their account of the attack.

On March 5th from 15 to 19 PM an activist team of Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ was carrying out a planned informational event, dedicated to the 8th of March (IWD) at an intersection of Kievskaya and Beishenalieva streets. The event included trivia with questions on the history of 8th march, statistics on women in Kyrgyzstan and the women’s movement, a stand with number “8”, feminist symbols (based on the Venus symbol) and captions “International women’s day of equal rights and opportunities”, “Time to act, Kyrgyzstan!” Activists were informing passersby about women’s rights, prevention of violence and the history of March 8th. The event was carried out with the permission of Lenin district administration.

Members of Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ participate in a "Why I Need Feminism" Campaign.

Members of Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ participate in a “Why I Need Feminism” Campaign.

At approximately 18 PM, when the event was coming to an end, a group of  of about 20-30 people gathered around the stand. They began aggressively asking questions about feminist signs and accusing activists of… Read More >>

Garment Workers In Cambodia Fight For Their Rights

Danny Kaufman, Development & Communications Officer, Urgent Action Fund | 28 January 2014

In Cambodia, garment workers – 90% of who are young women from rural poor families – are striking to demand higher wages and humane work conditions.

Garment workers march through the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The garment industry is Cambodia’s biggest export industry, generating over $5 billion in international sales for the country and employing approximately 500,000 people. Many workers were paid just $80 a month until this February when minimum wages were raised to $100.

Over the New Year, tens of thousands of workers went on strike, organizing public demonstrations calling on the government to raise the minimum monthly wage from $100 to $160.

On January 3 2014, four Cambodians were killed and 21 injured when police opened fire on striking garment workers calling for increased wages and improved working conditions… Read More >>

Ending Gender-Based Violence: The Intersection of LGBTI & Women’s Rights

Nevin Öztop, Editor-in-Chief and Vice President at Kaos GL | 26 November 2013


Our world today is struggling to pass an exam. It is an exam with only one question on it. Will we end violence against women and LGBTI people?

When we talk about gender-based violence, we talk about the continuum from the home to the battlefield, from public executions to the violence committed in the name of religion, morality or “public order.” From the perspective of LGBTI movements, this continuum includes as well the criminalization of homosexuality and cross-dressing, rape, hate crimes and speeches, usage of homosexuality in media to oppress opposing political and public figures, forced anal and vaginal examinations and arbitrary detentions, all of which are unfortunately ordinary stories in so many lives. Too rarely are voices raised in objection to this violence and to all gender-based violence. There are always plenty of excuses and justifications for being sexist, homophobic and transphobic…  Read More >>

Reflections from the Dublin Platform

Danny Kaufman, Development & Communications Officer, Urgent Action Fund | 11 November 2013

“No one should take a bullet for their ideas. You should live for them, not die for them.”

These were the opening remarks from the Seventh Annual Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders, organized by our long-time partner Frontline Human Rights Defenders. The three-day Platform brought together more than 140 human rights defenders from 94 countries to share their experiences, learn from each other, and come up with new and more effective strategies for their security and protection.

Participants gather outside of the Dublin Castle

Participants gather outside of the Dublin Castle

While I expected the Platform to be informative, I did not expect to be so profoundly moved by the courageous, formidable, and at times heartbreaking, stories that many of the activists shared over the course of three days. Stories like that of Ruth, a young women’s human rights defender in Kenya whose home was burned down by local militia after standing up for the rights of an adolescent woman to access reproductive health services; or Wazhma, whose spouse was kidnapped by the Taliban, never to be seen again, because of her efforts to increase women’s political voice in Pakistan; or Raisa, a lesbian activist from Kyrgyzstan who, along with her colleagues, was arrested, beaten and sexually assaulted by police for standing up for the rights of others to choose who they love… Read More >>

Anonymous Activist Reflects on the Release of Nasrin Sotoudeh

Anonymous (the activist who wrote this blog asked to remain anonymous due to security threats) | 3 October 2013

Nasrin Sotoudeh, the Iranian lawyer sentenced to 6 years in prison and a 20-year ban on practicing law, was released in Iran on 18 September, 3 years into her sentence.

Persian (Iranian) Community Demonstration in front of Dutch Parliament in The Hague. 15 Dec. 2012. PersianDutchNetwork
Persian (Iranian) Community Demonstration in front of Dutch Parliament in The Hague. 15 Dec. 2012. PersianDutchNetwork

It was not just the fact that she was a mother of a 2 year-old and 11 year-old at the outset of her imprisonment that led to strong and persistent advocacy efforts for her release. It was also that Nasrin Sotoudeh had depicted the highest professional ethics in the conduct of her legal work as a founding member of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders. She had defended women’s rights advocates, political opposition, children facing execution and a range of cases that carried considerable risk for her and her young family, and she knew this. Nevertheless, she persisted and ultimately paid a very… Read More >>

Why Does Women’s Equality Matter?

Kate Kroeger, Executive Director, Urgent Action Fund | 19 September 2013

In my line of work, I often get the question: “Why does equality for women and girls matter?”

To me, a world without equality for women and girls is like flying a plane with only one wing. To solve any of the issues of our day – from poverty alleviation to defending everyone’s human rights – we need to include allpotential agents for change.


Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights (UAF), the organization I lead, is the only fund of its kind to provide time-urgent funding specifically for women’s human rights activists.UAF protects, strengthens and sustain women’s human rights activists at critical moments. We respond to all requests within 72 hours, 365 days per year. Our support helps women’s rights activists—including members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trangender (LGBT) community—remain resilient in the face of unexpected threats or take advantage of unforeseen opportunities… Read More >>

Taking a Stand Against Sexual Violence

Anuradha Chatterji, Resource Development Manager, CREA | 13 May 2013

On 16 December 2012, a 23-year-old woman was beaten and gang-raped on a bus in Delhi, India. She died from her injuries thirteen days later.

Students at Delhi University listen to panelists

Students at Delhi University listen to panelists

In the weeks that followed, waves of protests took place across India. Young people and college students came out in big numbers, demanding justice and affirming women’s human rights.

The issue of violence against women (VAW) was placed squarely on the national agenda, in ways unprecedented in the recent past. There was immense mobilization and interest from young people on the issue of sexual assault and gender justice. Protestors demanded azaadi (freedom) for women. They asserted the need to protect women’s rights, not their bodies. Misogynist comments by certain religious and political leaders were vehemently denounced on primetime television. And yet, perhaps expectedly, some of the slogans were unsettling from a human rights perspective. Calls for death penalty and chemical castration for the accused were made, and countered, but continued to persist in pockets. Many questioned the rampant objectification of women in the media; some of these statements morphed into outright anxiety about the expression of women’s sexuality… Read More>>

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