26 September 2023

Women Arise: Australian women leaders spread their wings

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Lisa Cornish* says a diverse group of Australian women leaders is promoting a first-of-its-kind global fund for women’s leadership in emergency humanitarian response.

A new initiative from ActionAid Australia is putting the focus on women leaders in humanitarian response.

Lending their support are female leaders of Australian politics, media, and industry, who are promoting the first-of-its-kind global fund for women’s leadership in emergency response.

The launch of the Arise fund in Australia came with the backing of a leadership circle consisting of former Ambassador for Women and Girls Natasha Stott Despoja; General Manager of The Intrepid Foundation, Robyn Nixon; COO of Roadshow Films Group, Carole Brownlee; Founding Editor of Women’s Agenda, Angela Priestley; CEO of the LBD Group, Janine Garner; and former CEO of Brand Ethics, Kristina Stefanova.

Michelle Higelin, Executive Director of ActionAid Australia, explained to Devex that the idea for a fund for women leaders in emergency came from research on crisis-affected communities.

In communities throughout Nepal, Philippines, Ethiopia, Vanuatu, and the Palestinian Territories, the researchers found a range of challenges facing women wanting to take leadership in humanitarian action.

“These include access to resources, gender norms that restrict women’s engagement in public life, a lack of confidence, and limited understanding of the humanitarian system,” Higelin said.

“However, the research also highlighted many of the existing capacities, skills, and networks women bring to [the] table that can strengthen response efforts.”

Promoting women’s leadership to women

Within Australia, the leadership circle chosen to help direct and support the work of the Arise fund are inspirational leaders, who Higelin believes can not only steer the fund in important directions for impact, but also persuade Australians on the value of donating to the fund.

“This is about global solidarity,” she said.

“It’s also about making smart investment decisions.”

“We know Australians are incredibly generous in humanitarian crises, however, we also know that every dollar invested in preparedness saves seven dollars in losses when a disaster strikes.”

“Arise is a smart investment decision and it also resources those closest to the problem to drive response efforts.”

The leadership circle is drawing attention to the need of donor countries to commit to a greater investment of female leadership in humanitarian responses, ensuring that they are inclusive of the various needs during emergencies.

“ActionAid recognises that women are the first responders to an emergency, and show crucial leadership that tends to go unrecognised,” Higelin explained.

“Supporting women’s leadership in emergencies is part of ActionAid’s humanitarian programming, and for more than a decade we’ve been working to support women to prepare for and respond to crisis.”

“The Arise fund aims to scale up this work in 15 countries over the next five years reaching over 1 million women,” she continued.

“That’s what makes Arise a revolution in humanitarian response.”

“Arise represents a groundswell of women coming together on the frontlines of an emergency to protect their communities and in the process, build a new future for themselves and for women everywhere.”

How will the Arise fund work?

Arise will provide rapid response funding to support women’s leadership in response efforts within 48 hours of a crisis hitting, as well as support women to prepare for crises and protect their rights.

It’s a global fund, and ActionAid is hoping to draw on support from partners around the world to contribute to building the pool of money available to female responders.

“The women we aim to reach through the fund are women from crisis-affected communities that have been excluded from decision-making at all levels,” Higelin said.

“Many live in poverty, of which crisis deepens the impact.”

“By resourcing their leadership, we aim to stop disasters and conflict from further exacerbating poverty and gender equality.”

Funding will be directed through ActionAid country offices, and Higelin encourages any female leaders responding to a crisis and preparing for emergencies to submit requests for funding in response to fund criteria.

Projects supporting local women’s leadership and women’s organisations are high priority.

It will be the all-female leadership circle who will guide decision-making on the fund.

“We aim to direct 40 per cent of the fund into preparedness efforts, 40 per cent into rapid response and the remainder into capacity development and impact assessment,” Higelin said.

Aims of the fund

The fund has long-term targets to raise A$10 million over the next five years as well as impact global humanitarian leadership.

But there are shorter term ambitions for the fund to achieve over the coming year.

“In our first year we aim to get closer to our A$10 million target, plus with the resources we’ve already secured we plan to invest in at least five countries to step up efforts to support women to prepare for crisis and protect their rights,” Higelin said.

“We’ll be standing by to provide rapid response funding to support women leading crisis response, should any emergencies hit.”

Already the fund is ready to provide support to women-led efforts to protect women’s rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in response to the conflict in Kasai region.

In the limited time the fund has been in action, the response has been even better than anticipated.

“Those who are joining what we are calling ‘the humanitarian revolution’ recognise that it is a game changer,” Higelin said.

* Lisa Cornish is a Devex reporter in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. She tweets at @lisa_cornish and her website is lisacornish.net.au.

This article first appeared at www.devex.com.

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