Comment: Small grants can transform womens’ lives

Funding can change lives, writes Fiona MacLeod. Picture: Contributed

Funding can change lives, writes Fiona MacLeod. Picture: Contributed

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THE best funding can transform lives, says Fiona MacLeod

There is strong evidence to suggest that if you invest in women everyone benefits due to the positive impact funding can have on families and the community in general. Projects that receive funding from The Women’s Fund for Scotland are playing a crucial role in Scottish communities.

Research by the Women’s Resource Centre found that for every pound invested into their services, women’s organisations can generate, over five years, between £5 and £11 worth of social value to women, their children and the state. It is accepted worldwide that investing in women and girls means everybody wins due to the fact that women are at the heart of development. The key is providing grassroots funding to projects run by and for women. Examples of projects the Women’s Fund for Scotland supports include helping unemployed women to take their first steps back into work, offering motivational and confidence-building workshops for women with mental health issues and supporting women moving on from violence.

Our mission is to make small grants to projects across Scotland that support women’s growth, self-sufficiency and social and economic equality. We do this by awarding funding around four themes: building skills and confidence, creating social networks to reduce isolation, improving health and well-being, and moving on from violence. We have found that small grants can make a huge difference.

Successive evaluations have highlighted this approach really works. The Fund is not only achieving its initial aims but groups often go on to secure further resources to develop their programmes making them more sustainable. A constituent fund of Foundation Scotland, WFS has itself become more sustainable, having evolved from years of government funding to now being wholly supported by private donations and a dynamic board.

The introduction to the UN Women’s Strategic plan states that “the pursuit of gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment is the defining challenge for the twenty-first century. Its achievement would unleash the full potential of half the world’s population. It is a prerequisite and driver for sustainable development, poverty eradication, peace, security and human rights.” Yet the reality of gender discrimination touches the lives of every women and girl in the world.

Some of the statistics on women’s inequality in Scotland make startling reading – twice as many women as men rely on benefits and tax credits. Ninety-five per cent of lone parents who receive income support are women. Every 13 minutes a women in Scotland experiences violence. Women earn 13 per cent less than men as full time workers and 34 per cent less than men in part-time work. Female-dominated occupational and industrial sectors are low-paid and undervalued. Just 8 per cent of Directors of FTSE 250 companies are women and just 15 per cent of senior police. Whilst the First Minister has pledged to tackle the problem, only 36 per cent of MSPs are women, so we have a long way to go to address the balance. The figures are worse at council level: less than a quarter of councillors are women and a mere 3 per cent of council leaders.

Despite progress towards greater sexual equality in recent decades, women continue to face a variety of barriers to their full and equal participation or engagement with opportunities and there are signs that today’s economic context in particular is making things even worse. For instance, while overall unemployment in Scotland is falling, it is increasing for women. Women in the most deprived communities in Scotland have a life expectancy 7.5 years lower that women in the least deprived areas and the gap is widening.

Since 2002 the WFS has distributed over £1.5m of government and private funding. This has resulted in grants to some 600 small women’s community groups across the length and breadth of Scotland.

One group the WFS funds is Dress for Success, which provides free interview and work clothing to unemployed women in Lanarkshire who are from disadvantaged backgrounds and looking to return to work. This, in turn, has had a significant effect on women’s confidence both in getting work and staying in work.

Another beneficiary is Home Start Majik, a vibrant volunteer- led organisation based in Argyll and Bute that makes a real difference to children and families in the community. Its inclusive, supportive and non-judgmental approach makes it a much-appreciated community resource.

We are committed to a Scotland where women are safe, healthy and have the confidence to get out, meet others and access development opportunities. Women around the world, as well as here at home, play a crucial role in creating and sustaining strong communities. We believe that when we support them everyone benefits.

Global initiatives such as Women Moving Millions and their campaign “All in for Her” is creating a new culture of breakthrough philanthropy. In Scotland, you can play your part by supporting the WFS.

Funding is available for groups now, and applying is quick and easy.

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• More information on becoming a Friend of The Scotsman

• Fiona MacLeod is chair of the Women’s Fund for Scotland board. To find out more about grants from The Women’s Fund for Scotland and how to apply visit womensfundscotland.org today.

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