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Feminist research grantmaking as a tool for social change

Blogs Stories Conference 2023 Funding Ecosystem

Lily Brent, American Jewish World Service (AJWS).

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) funds grassroots human rights programming, advocacy, and research in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. For us, who does the research and how they do it matters. Our grassroots grantee partners are thought leaders who identify the most pressing issues for investigation, are equipped and accompanied to play an active role in the research, and are supported with additional resources to implement findings in their programming and advocacy.

In India, an art installation called “Bird Box” plays girls’ uncensored voices discussing topics such as representation, sexuality, bodies, pleasure and violence. Program partners used the installation to help communities begin conversations on adolescent sexuality, something they had previously struggled to initiate.

We support our grantee partners to actively shape and maintain ownership over the research process. Doing so enables partners to fill knowledge gaps that improve program relevance, reach, and outcomes, and generate evidence for more effective advocacy. Moreover, partners build new skills related to conducting, interpreting, and making use of research findings. The research we have funded has gone beyond serving the organizations that led it. Instead, it has also unified and galvanized diverse social movement actors, served as a platform for increasing attention to and legitimacy of the work at the grassroots level, and changed how we think and talk about the lived experiences of marginalized people and communities.

AJWS’s research grantmaking is guided by these core principles for gender-transformative research (read more about them here).

  1. Meaningfully include and empower marginalized voices.
  2. Understand diversity and context.
  3. Challenge power and promote equality.
  4. Inform purposeful action.

To illustrate these principles in action, Shari Turitz and Sarah Green of AJWS brought three case studies from our feminist research grantmaking to HRFN:

  • In India, research led by grassroots feminist organizations has helped shift the perspective and discourse around child marriage at the national and global level, surfacing control of girls’ sexuality as an under-addressed driver of child marriage. This has helped turn prevention efforts away from a focus on age of marriage to girls’ agency and opportunity. Organizations are funded to share their research back with girls and communities in creative ways (see photo).
  • In Kenya, research created a roadmap for LGBTQI+ advocates from several organizations engaged in social norms change work. The research process provided a focal point to rally fragmented movement actors. Key to this success was ensuring a representative advisory board and engaging a queer-identifying research firm committed to feminist research principles.
  • In the Dominican Republic, a grassroots organization proposed a research project to identify the unmet needs of younger adolescents. Older adolescent girls and young women from the organization were trained to do the data collection. They used the findings to create new programs for this population. AJWS gave additional support to develop a joint strategy across four other grassroots organizations serving adolescent girls. The organization also leveraged the findings to raise money from another donor to start new child marriage programming.

Funding grassroots-led research and research utilization has deepened and expanded the reach and impact of our grantmaking and our grantees’ work. Want to learn more? Contact Margo Mullinax

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