"A Feminist Foreign Policy Must Be Radical"

The Centre for Foreign Feminist Policy interviewed Amina Doherty, founder and coordinator of FRIDA, a young feminist fund.

by CFFP, September 17, 2019
Pussy Power

This article was created by our friends of the Centre of Feminist Foreign Policy. Find other interesting articles on the topic here.

Jennifer Brough (JB): Hi Amina! You have an impressive history working within women’s rights organizations, particularly those with a focus on network building and feminist resource mobilisation. Can you tell me what sparked this interest and your journey to where you are today?  

Amina Doherty/ Picture: CFFP

Amina Doherty (AD): While I have always been a passionate advocate for women’s rights, I actually fell into the world of human rights grantmaking and philanthropy by accident. When I was 23 years old, I landed a role as the Women’s Rights Program Officer at a private family foundation in London. It was my first job out of college and, at that point, I had very little experience in philanthropy—even less so in the direct experience in grantmaking. I did not come from a community of financial wealth and had very little sense of how to navigate those spaces. I quickly learned that there were very few people who looked like me doing this work—young, Black, and Feminist from the Global South. With my profile, it was often difficult to be in philanthropic spaces, particularly when the issues that I cared about most were being discussed and dissected at the table with words like, “Grassroots. African. Voiceless. Women.”

Through this experience, I wanted to explore what it meant to shift power dynamics in philanthropic spaces and to increase access to funding for work that I cared deeply about. In 2008, the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) published its Where is the Money for Women’s Rights report, which highlighted the lack of resources for women’s rights activities, as well as the dynamics around funding. This research led me to start thinking about women’s access to resources and the connection between access and power. I went on to be a founder of FRIDA in 2010, and to work with many Women's Funds, including Mama Cash, Foundation for A Just Society, African Women’s Development Fund, and now, The MATCH International Women’s Fund.

The Women’s Fund model appeals to me because Women's Funds do not see themselves as intermediaries who implement development projects, but as feminist funders who are rooted in and part of the global women’s movement. Women's Funds mobilise resources to support the agendas and priorities of women’s rights and feminist organizations to advance women’s human rights and gender equality in responsive and flexible ways. I continue my work in network building and feminist resource mobilisation because I know that it is not only important, but necessary, for people like me to take up space in the philanthropic world. 

JB: FRIDA (an acronym for the Fund’s core values: Flexibility, Resources, Inclusivity, Diversity and Action) is an organisation led by young feminists for young feminists under 30, to support and transform local communities. How did you and your colleagues found FRIDA? And how has its presence help grow a global network of young women, girls and trans youth activists?

Almost ten years ago, I was fortunate to share space with a group of young feminist co-conspirators from around the world and to collectively create a Fund and a funding mechanism that would center the voices and needs of young feminists. We chose the name FRIDA: The Young Feminist Fund, because it reflects our values of Flexibility, Resourcefulness, Inclusivity, Diversity and Action. As a community of young feminists, we recognized the dearth of funding available for young feminists to experiment and be creative in establishing new ideas around organizing, as well as new ways of helping to build a sustainable, well-connected, powerful global feminist movement. 

In creating FRIDA, one of our core missions was to change the game in global human rights philanthropy. A challenge we faced at the time was figuring out how to step into the conversation. How could we, as young people, convince those who held the power that our voices, our perspectives and our needs were valid and required representation at the decision-making table? We decided that in order to shift the power and to put resources in the hands of young feminists, we would need to turn the traditional funding model on its head. This meant that we would need to make space for feminist perspectives, methodologies, ideas and demands—as well as for our physical selves—in the philanthropic world. We introduced new grantmaking practices such as participatory grantmaking, which encouraged more youth leadership in donor spaces and decision-making structures, and emphasized the importance of physical and digital care in philanthropy at the local, national and international levels. 

FRIDA’s success is owed to young feminists who have been bold and creative in building strategies to challenge and reframe philanthropy. Above all, FRIDA has grown and flourished because it has been held by its community. What started off as just an idea has become what it is today because of an unquantifiable amount of time, love, support and solidarity from its feminist community. Everyone at all levels has had an important role to play. The support provided by sister funds like Mama Cash (who gave FRIDA one of our first grants), the Central American Women’s Fund (FCAM), The Global Fund for Women (who provided space to dream) and the whole community of Women's Funds housed under the Prospera umbrella; organizations like AWID that committed time, resources, skills, capacity  and opportunity, and the numerous people who have in their own small way held a bit of the dream. 

Solidarity as a strategy of resistance reminds us that we are the sum of many parts and, as bell hooks reminds us, “Solidarity is different than support.” Solidarity is about showing up and sticking with things for the long-run. It is about being committed and making bonds with each other in real and deeply personal ways. It is about standing at the intersections and bringing everyone along. Solidarity, community, friendship, love, relationships and accountability are all important in holding our movements together, grounding us while giving each of us the capacity to dream big and fly. The work we do together as Women’s Funds and as a women’s funding community centering feminist philanthropy is, and should continue to be, about kinship and collective liberation. It should be about working together so that all boats rise together.

JB: Your current role is at the MATCH International Women’s Fund - a non-profit, non-governmental organization - the only one of its kind in Canada that works with grassroots women’s rights organizations in the Global South. How are potential partners identified? And how does MATCH navigate the North/South divide in its work?

Over the last two years, MATCH has worked with 47 partners in 28 countries around the world, disbursing over $1 million in grants and additional support. Today, I am leading work with the MATCH International Women’s Fund through an initiative called Women’s Voice & Leadership (WLV) to support women’s movements, organising and movement building specifically in the Caribbean. 

Women’s Voice & Leadership is a five-year initiative for the region supported by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada (GAC) to strengthen women’s organizations and movements in about 30 countries around the world. In the Caribbean, the initiative is being implemented alongside women’s rights organizations by The MATCH International Women’s Fund (The MATCH Fund), Canada’s sole global fund for women, girls, and transgender people, in partnership with the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice (Astraea), the only philanthropic organization working exclusively to advance LGBTIQ human rights globally. For forty years, both organizations have been exclusively investing in grassroots organizations advancing their own solutions to improve women’s human rights in their own contexts. In my work with WVL (Caribbean), I am putting Caribbean Feminist voices at the heart of the design. 

Although we haven’t yet started actively disbursing grants in the Caribbean, we plan to launch a call for proposals at the end of 2019. Before we begin, we are taking an intentional approach to learning and building on the insights of regional activists, women’s rights organizations, partners like Astraea and other donor entities. We believe that spending this time getting to know our partners and listening to the needs of groups doing work on the ground is essential to the process of successful network building and feminist resource mobilisation in the Caribbean. By ensuring participation and leadership from folks living and working in the region, we are building processes that allow for the collective ownership of the work. As we navigate the North/South divide, it is crucial for us to acknowledge the power dynamics at play, and to figure out how to create a model of grantmaking that shares that power. Ultimately, WVL (Caribbean) is centering a movement-building approach—one which seeks to ensure women’s movements are better connected, more sustainable, more creative and more responsive, in order to disrupt the status quo and advance women’s rights and equality.

JB: Alongside your focus on women’s economic participation, your work focuses on creative arts for advocacy. How important is the relationship between activism and creativity? And how do you practice ARTivism both collectively and as an individual?

The relationship between activism and creativity is absolutely central. I believe that recognizing the unique and strategic value of cultural and creative strategies in the fight against oppression and injustice is key. As feminists we must integrate the arts and creative expression across all of our organising work and partnerships. It is important for us to work closely and collectively with artists and artist communities to build a network of engaged feminist actors using art and creative expression as a tactic for change. I practice ARTivism by creating spaces that bring artists and activists together. As a painter, photographer and writer, I also practice ARTivism by making space and time for my own artistic practice. 

JB: When discussing your definition of feminism, you mentioned your practice is ‘earth-based, heart-filled and spirit-centered’ that ‘inhales liberation and exhales freedom’. I’m reminded of bell hooks’ essay Love as the Practice of Freedom and the importance of choosing love when fighting ‘systems of domination’ to build stronger communities. Can you speak to this a little more?

I came to an understanding of feminism by reading the words of feminist writers—like bell hooks and others—poets, and artists who painted a picture of a world where I could see myself. Over the years, I have come to see feminism in practice through the relationships we built and maintained, as well as through the ways we treat people and help to create space for each other. I have come to see my own feminism as an intersectional praxis that is always listening deeply, adjusting and making room. My feminism is one that is heart-centered because it understands that the path to liberation is one that is genuinely love-filled and one that ensures that all folks—regardless of who you are and where you come from—deserve full, fair, happy and just lives.

JB: Finally, what would a feminist foreign policy look like to you?

In my eyes, a feminist foreign policy must be radical, innovative and intersectional. It moves beyond the notion of “add women and stir” and seeks to be transformative. It challenges power by paying attention to and challenging the systems and institutions, such as governments and corporations, that benefit from the oppression of women. A feminist foreign policy is one that moves beyond limiting language, and centers women and all marginalized voices, including trans and intersex folks. A feminist foreign policy must be responsive to the needs of women’s and gender justice movements, and it must create spaces and opportunities. It is paramount that a feminist foreign policy allocates resources to support feminist leadership and organizing.

This article was created and published by our friends of the Centre of Feminist Foreign Policy, CFFP. You can read it and other interesting articles on the topic here.