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Arab Women’s Fund: an idea whose time has come

Jane Gabriel
29 November 2007
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by Jane Gabriel, who reports from Amman where Karama activists from across the Middle East and North Africa are meeting.

When representatives from Karama attended an International forum of the Association for Women's Rights in Development in 2005, they found little attention to their region's priorities and a dearth of Arab women's voices in the conference. Hibaaq Osman, founder of Karama, political strategist and campaigner for women's human rights, decided that it was time to find the resources that would allow them to participate. Working with women's organisations that rely so often on western donor funding, Hibaaq says that she comes up "against blocks wherever there is a new idea, either the donor doesn't understand the idea itself, or has their own idea of what women's rights work is; that if it's new and from the ground they find it very difficult to understand".

Although the Middle East is flush with oil wealth and military aid, not much funding is put towards women's rights. US foundation grants give only 6.1% of their grants to groups in the Middle East and North Africa. Adding to the shortage of funds in this region, women's groups also report that even when they do win grants for their work, their governments often block the funds - whether they are for research and training for women in Tunisia dealing with violence against women or support for women in prison in the Sudan.

Karama activists working to end violence and promote women's human rights are meeting in Amman this week to brainstorm about how to find the much needed resources for women's human rights work, and the idea for an Arab Women's Fund is taking root. Tired of donors who they say set their own priorities and require boxes to be ticked, Hibaaq describes the goal of the new fund being to allow women working for women's rights to " work independently, on our own agenda, in our own way and in our own time".

Looking at the success of the Africa Women's Development Fund and the Central American Women's Fund, the meeting in Amman this week is discussing the principles and the process by which the Arab Women's Fund may develop. The goal is to have the operational launch in 2009. It is true, as the women from seven countries gathered here have repeatedly said that " the Arab Women's Fund is an idea whose time has come".

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