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What are human rights and what gives the human rights framework power?

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever their nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.”

But not only are human rights fundamental and universal, possessed by individuals simply by being human. Human rights can also provide us with a purpose and a framework for action, a vocabulary for talking about the need for structural change and a system of accountability. Human rights allow activists to get away from fragmentation, nationalism, fundamentalist dogmas, and an over-reliance on the courts and on judicial remedies. The human rights framework helps us to connect to counterparts around the world, facilitating collaboration and broad-based movement building.   Most importantly, since the human rights framework is holistic, it allows connection across issue areas and out of “silos”, and to address underlying root causes of injustice. Not only are human rights universal, they are also inalienable, indivisible and interdependent.

The human rights framework is articulated in several key documents –conventions, treaties and resolutions — which have the force of international law and provide the scaffolding for much of the work the Channel Foundation supports:

Why do you focus on funding women's human rights?

The movement to raise awareness that “women’s rights are human rights” recognizes that women around the globe suffer disproportionately from certain human rights abuses that are not always treated as such: for instance, domestic violence and rape during times of war and conflict. This movement has sounded the call for all governments to not only protect their citizens from these kinds of violations but also to demonstrate concrete progress towards the implementation and enforcement of the fulfillment of these rights – and to ensure that private actors and corporations also respect these rights. Women’s human rights include the full complement of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights but also include the recognition that freedom from violence and exploitation also includes reproductive rights, and that women have the right to equal access to health care, education, and job training.

Channel believes that only when women themselves articulate solutions to the problems they, their families, communities and countries face, will we be able to tackle the intertwined nature of oppressions and the disempowerment of marginalization.

Channel focuses on funding in women’s human rights because we believe it is a key leverage point for social change and because it is an area where we believe we can make a difference. Women’s human rights are greatly underfunded. While it is difficult to find disaggregated data on how much foundation giving goes towards global women’s human rights specifically, it is safe to surmise that the percentage is not enormous. According to research from the Women’s Funding Network, foundations earmark just 7{d8ef435b026a1093d72d8f9d2024c1ed44fbaa90aeef24943f83d77f6150b3d7} of grants over $10,000 for women and girls. While the field of women’s human rights has grown steadily, we need to continue to fight marginalization and the perception that those fights are “over” or no longer relevant.

Why are women's human rights so important right now?

The movement for women’s human rights and gender equality is strong and constantly growing and yet vulnerable to political backlash and to shifts in funding priorities and dependent on aid from governments. The focus on gender mainstreaming and on poverty frameworks and outcomes has meant, as AWID documented with their “Where is the Money for Women’s Rights?” Initiative on Resourcing Women’s Rights that many women’s human rights organizations lost out on funding even as more attention has been paid to “women and girls.”

The gap between rhetoric and reality has still not been bridged. Many years after the UN Conference on Women at Beijing in 1995 and the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1994 and its rousing declaration that “women’s rights are human rights” emphasizing that women’s rights are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights, activists are continually fighting to hold on to the gains they made.

After a flowering of civil society groups focused on women’s issues, with women at the helm, and after a shower of attention towards issues like violence against women and rape as a war crime, world attention, especially mainstream media attention has moved away from these issues and towards frameworks like human security that may or may not take women’s human rights as necessary.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which addresses the inordinate impact war and conflict has on women, mandates women’s inclusion and leadership at all levels during conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes but has yet to be truly implemented on the ground even as ethnic conflict, and wars over territory and resources escalate and the nuclear arms race expands.

Women and their concerns continue to be marginalized at all levels but the struggle for women’s human rights goes on – via legal strategies, grassroots activism, research and publications that seek to raise awareness – and needs support more than ever.

Why do you support leadership promotion and movement building?

Channel recognizes that women have often been excluded from positions of leadership in public life and supports women who demonstrate change and embody outstanding models of cutting edge work. We support non-traditional leaders who are using imaginative methodologies.

We support movement building because, as our grantee partner JASS/Just Associates puts it, “women are on the forefront of change around the world.  Yet women’s rights are embattled and, in many places, the very safety of women activists is at risk. [Movement-building’] strategies equip these women and build their organizations so they can better navigate and challenge shifting political dynamics. By strengthening women’s collective organizing power, we help increase their political influence while ensuring their safety as activists as they advance rights and justice for everyone in a risky world.”

We also support movement building because it has incredible impact. In a May 2013 Policy Brief Mala Htun and S. Laurel Weldon describe Why Autonomous Social Movements Hold the Key to Reducing Violence against Women that “the key to change has been autonomous feminist mobilization in national and transnational settings. Research reveals that broad transformations – such as economic development, political democratization, or changing societal attitudes about gender roles – do not, in and of themselves, push the issue of violence against women to the fore. Women in high office do not suffice, and mixed-gender organizations such as political parties or government bureaucracies may not recognize this priority – unless feminist groups organize on their own to push for remedies.” They came to this conclusion based on a 70 country study detailed in their American Political Science Review Study, “The Civic Origins of Progressive Policy Change: Combating Violence against Women in Global Perspective, 1975–2005.” (APSR 2012)

Why do you focus on getting support to grassroots groups?

Channel feels strongly that the best solutions to longstanding issues often reside with local grassroots groups that are working to overcome traditional hierarchies, exclusions and injustices. Given that knowledge, Channel is committed to ensuring that its support reaches women leaders and organizations grounded in the needs of their own communities.

Channel also believes strongly in international solidarity and many organizations we support recognize that their issues are shared with other marginalized communities around the globe.

Why do you believe in supporting advocacy?

Supporting advocacy is one of the most powerful tools available to foundations for creating change. Bolder Advocacy, an initiative of the Alliance for Justice, defines advocacy as encompassing a broad range of activities that can influence public debate and policy decisions. Through advocacy, people and organizations seek to influence the laws, policies, and systems that affect entire communities.

In brief, Bolder Advocacy summarizes that supporting advocacy:

  • strengthens the voice of the underrepresented and provides policymakers with information they need to know.
  • is a way to leverage the impact of available funds.
  • helps a foundation achieve its mission and helps nonprofits reach their goals.
  • bolsters a foundation’s unique role in bringing together diverse members of the community.
  • is an investment that can lead to systemic change.

How do you monitor, evaluate, and learn about the impact of your funding?

In terms of monitoring, evaluation & learning, Channel strives to document the ways women’s organizations are creating social change. Inspired by the Women’s Funding Network tool, “Making The Case” Channel asks some of the following questions: Have organizations created a shift in how a problem is defined? Enabled community behavioral change? Engaged the wider public? Shifted policy or changed an institution? Have they managed to maintain rights in the face of opposition?  Most importantly, are they embodying the change they hope to promote?

Channel is inspired by Srilatha Batliwala’s report, Capturing Change in Women’s Realities: A Critical Overview of Current Monitoring and Evaluation Frameworks and Approaches, published by grantee partner Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), which identifies feminist practices for engaging in monitoring and evaluation to strengthen organizational learning and more readily capture the complex changes that women’s empowerment and gender equality work seek.

What is feminist philanthropy?

Channel is inspired by our grantee partner Fondo Centroamericano du Mujeres (FCAM) who describe feminist philanthropy as “a concept proposed by women’s funds, which allows individuals and businesses from a variety of backgrounds to contribute with their resources to the strengthening and political sustainability of women’s groups, organizations, and movements that defend human rights.” FCAM further quotes that “feminist philanthropy is not a charitable act or an act of power. It is an act of solidarity and mutual empowerment, in which the solutions to the problems that women face are seen as a matter of mutual responsibility. Feminist philanthropy is about commitment —made concrete through financial donations and other resources— and eliciting discomfort with gender inequity”.

FCAM also write that they agree with the declaration of the Fondo Alquimia (a Chilean women’s fund), which states that, “feminist philanthropy seeks to redefine philanthropy as a conscious political act, in which the donations are made from a peer to peer perspective. The goal is to collectively contribute to social transformation through actions taken by feminist and women’s organizations in order to improve the well-being of women and their communities. Feminist philanthropy proposes a horizontal model of social relations, inspired by solidarity and based on the trust between donors and activists.”

Channel is also inspired by the “Five Principles of Global Feminist Philanthropy,” a 2012 article by Kellea Miller and Caitlin Stanton, with Esther Lever for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).


“The human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights. The full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life, at the national, regional and international levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex are priority objectives of the international community.”

— Declaration and Programme of Action,
Vienna Conference on Human Rights, 14–25 June, 1993