Fund it like you mean it: Resourcing African movements for success and sustainability
By Mengo, Linking, Learning and Amplifier Officer, Voice in Kenya
Africa and its ‘family values‘…
The state of LGBTIQ movements in Africa for the past year or so has been hanging by a thread… a wet rayon thread. From Ghana’s Promotion of proper human sexual rights and Ghanaian family values bill to Uganda’s Anti-homosexuality bill (now assented into law) and, more recently the proposal of Kenya’s Family Protection bill, African countries’ lawmakers continue to put the lives of queer Africans in jeopardy by clothing state perpetrated queerphobia in a garment branded ‘ African traditions and family values.’It might seem as if these bills and other pieces of law across the continent attacking the human rights of queer people in the guise of promoting family values started recently but that is far from the fact. In 2020, The Global Philanthropy Project (GPP) together with its member organisations and partners published a report titled “Meet The Moment: A Call for Progressive Philanthropic Response to the Anti-Gender- Movement” .
The Premise of the Anti-Gender Movement
In defining the anti-gender movement, a term invented by the Vatican in the 1990s, the report highlights that in recent decades, there has been “a confluence and re-framing of multiple long-time anti-rights movements under the banner of a global “anti-gender” movement which attempts to codify and enforce the concept that biological sex represents the “natural” order while gender is an invention and an “ideology”.” This framework is “weaponised by conservative, radical political and religious groups in furtherance of ongoing strategies to attack human rights and self-determination, deny climate science, and promote authoritarianism.” There have been and continues to be enormous financial resources flowing to the said anti-rights movements and the institutions that support them, “leveraged into acceleration across global regions and yielding both the attrition of human rights infrastructures and the increasing rise of authoritarianism.” Further, “related movements and campaigns oppose gender equality and equity, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SHRH), the human rights of LGBTI persons, and various other goals and values of progressive and feminist movements.” 
Changing Faces Changing Spaces VIII (CFCS VIII)
On 15th-16th May 2023, funder organisations’ representatives drawn from private and public foundations, non-governmental organisations, donor governments, corporations and multi-lateral agencies gathered in the quiet town of Palapye, Botswana for the CFCS VIII Donor Pre-Conference hosted by UHAI EASHRI. The CFCS VIII conference was one of a kind as it was the first of its kind post 2020, one that did not take place in Kenya as has been the norm and one that included parallel pre-conferences by the Trans, Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer and Gender Non-Conforming (LBQ-GNC), Gay, Bisexual, Men who have Sex with other Men (GBMSM) and Sex Workers’ movements in Africa.
While there was exploring of the current terrain of funding going to queer movements (thank you to insights from the GPP’s 2019-2020 report) and seeing that funding and subsequent resources have been a steady high, it was not lost in the room that there is more that needs to be done to support African queer and sex worker movements in order to intentionally ensure and insure their success. Success in this case should be translated as not only seeing movements and activists prosper beyond donor dependency and reliance but also funders playing an extra role in ensuring the security and wellbeing of the activists that drive these movements is taken into account.
What then can funders do to ensure African queer and sex worker movements are resourced for success and sustainability, especially in the face of the raging storm of the anti-gender/anti-rights movements? There were several ways that were discussed in which this can be actualised and this is a call to all funders of the queer and sex worker spaces in Africa. While the donor entities may have in place systems and processes that may not reflect the proposals highlighted below, it is a chance for funders to consider a shift to embrace these intentional and practical ways to support the queer and sex worker movements in Africa:
Here is the How…
Centering wellness in resourcing communities: Organising and movement building especially in the current political context in most African countries comes with so much physical, emotional and psychological burden. It is not an unusual scenario to see and hear activists crashing from the burn-out of organising. It is further not unusual to see activists washing their hands and leaving activism on the basis of lack of support for their mental health. Funders should be intentional in funding the mental wellness of activists either through mental wellness grants or a budget line within an already existing grant. It is also vital to mention that mental wellness for activists and communities is not a one-size-fits-all scenario and thus costs may vary across contexts. As partners implement programs, let there be humanity and practicality from funders from inception to close out of projects and this can be achieved through possession of awareness by funders that activism is very emotionally taxing work and even within the laid down procedures, there ought to be an extension of grace to implementing partners. In that same breath, we could all borrow a leaf from FRIDA’s Happiness Manifesto.
Introduction and continuation of multi-year grants: Imagine the peace that comes with knowing that a community project you are working on does not have to come to an abrupt halt after 12 months because of a grant coming to an end. Imagine not having to resource mobilise round the clock to ensure that the staff that undertake the work are catered for at least a couple of years. While it might be impossible to completely stop resource mobilisation for movements in Africa, it sure does take a load off if funders support movement on a long-term basis as opposed to a few months off the year.
Building funding infrastructure that is parallel to the current context and that is set for the future: Embracing technology in grant-making and in the ‘post-covid’ era means that funders have to be aware of the circumstances in which different movements work under and support them in that. Reporting processes should match the context of changing circumstances and the strength of movements supported by incorporating other mediums of reporting for example conversation-based reporting, audio-visual based reporting and etc. Property purchases for partner organisations where legal climate and security context allows has been proven to reduce the general overhead costs and even set a foundation for steady revenue for partners.
In doing the above among other ways which we keep learning, it should finally go without saying that funders play a critical role in standing in gap between governments, other funders and rightsholders, and as such should use their positions to further advocate and bring resources closer to rightsholders. We should all strive to create and curate learning opportunities amongst funders and amongst movements in Africa, we should all strive to create and support strategic networks that work towards bettering the lives and experiences of queer people and sex workers in the African continent, we should take a stand in denouncing the anti-gender movement and channeling resources to the cause!