UK Women’s Fund to launch

“If people join us now, they will be in at the beginning of something potentially revolutionary,” says Maggie Baxter, talking about the upcoming launch of the new UK Women’s Fund. Maggie Baxter is one of those rare people who combine inspiration with pragmatism; she has spent more than 30 years in the voluntary sector, from grants director of Comic Relief to director of Womankind Worldwide; yet she has never lost the idealism that has driven her from the start of her career. “When you see the difference that actually quite small amounts of money can make, in well run and well led projects, then you do feel optimistic about how funds like this can change lives.”

There are more than 200 women’s funds in the world, stretching from the Ukraine to Ghana, from India to the USA, where there are dozens – while we are still waiting for a national women’s fund in the UK. Elsewhere, these funds – which include well known organisations such as the Global Fund for Women and MamaCash, through to community funds such as the Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee – are successful in channelling money towards women’s organisations.

In doing so they fill a real need, because grant-making is often blind to the fundamental inequalities between men and women, which means that women’s organisations lose out. “I was first really aware of this when I went to Africa for Comic Relief in the 1990s,” says Baxter, “I saw how women do all the work and yet are so unrecognised. In a less obvious way, the same is still true of the UK – the work that the women’s sector does, whether it’s in protecting women from violence or campaigning for political equality – still tends to get sidelined, which means that women’s organisations remain horribly underfunded, despite superficial equality elsewhere in society.”

Alice Hooper at the branding agency Rainey Kelly, who has been working on the launch of the UK Women’s Fund, was struck by the response of the women in the focus groups they talked to: “At first women said that they didn’t see the point of a special women’s fund, but when we presented them with the real needs on the grounds for many women, particularly around sexual violence – how rape crisis lines are being cut, how women who flee trafficking can’t find support – we saw a change in the room. Women began to join up the dots. They saw the connections between these issues and issues such as a lack of political representation.”

The fund will aim to draw in new money from people who may not have been attracted to philanthropy in the past, as well as influence existing funders to invest in women. In other countries where women’s funds have taken off, Baxter has noted that they foster a spirit of sisterhood and solidarity, which she is keen to see take off in the UK too. “There is a strong sense of self-interest in our society at the moment, a sense that ‘if I’m all right I can ignore those who aren’t’. But I think when you encourage people to realise that they can be part of a movement to grow a better society, they are drawn to that.” Hooper agrees: “There is the potential for a huge leap here. Just recently it wasn’t at all cool to be green, and that has turned around. I think the same could happen with women’s issues – that it could become cool for women to get involved in empowering other women.”


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