How IWDA is at the forefront of women’s rights globally

by Women’s Agenda
Wednesday 1 February 2023

Three women from Bougainville grasp hands together in solidarity

Fighting to defend and advance women’s rights globally requires urgent focus, particularly as ongoing political conflicts and the lasting impacts of the pandemic continue to thwart gender equality efforts. 

Thankfully it’s this very objective that lies at the heart of the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA), a 37-year-old organisation partnering with no fewer than 23 women’s rights organisations across nine countries of our region. 

Below, we take a closer look at IWDA’s impressive footprint and vision-statement. 

Resourcing and contributing to the work of women’s rights organisations
Resilient and vibrant feminist movements are critical forces in defending and advancing the rights of diverse women and girls.

And IWDA has been there to provide such movements with much-needed resources over the past years in areas relating to power, leadership and civic space, freedom from violence and gendered climate justice.

In Bougainville, in partnership with an organisation called Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation (NCfR) for instance, IWDA supported  the prevention and response to gender-based violence, reaching 7,914 people across 40 communities this financial year. Seventy-seven percent were women and children.

With other organisations in Myanmar – the Women League of Burma (WLB) and the Shan Women’s Action Network- IWDA supported women’s rights movements after the Myanmar military coup that overthrew the country’s democratically elected government.

While women’s rights advocates were putting their lives on the line, literally, IWDA provided critical support through the regular collation of data documenting human rights abuses against women, and facilitation of briefings with partner organisations and connections to relevant international agencies.

Promoting systemic change towards gender equality
IWDA recently launched the Equality Insights Rapid tool to collect gender-sensitive poverty data through phone surveying. This accessible data will help decision makers target and support those in need by better understanding how different people experience poverty and inequality.

Looking at the pathways different countries have taken to adopting feminist foreign policies, IWDA also launched the Australian Feminist Foreign Policy Coalition (AFFPC) to transform discourse and engage with political leaders.

When challenges from the pandemic arose, IWDA quickly began work on a project called Imagining Feminist Futures After COVID-19. Key workshops were held with over 200 participants from around the world on themes including centring racial justice, First Nations justice and finding creative ways to subvert capitalism.

The agency also developed and refined a range of intersectional feminist workshops and training offerings based on two of their toolkits: Plan Your Power (PYP) and Feminist Organisational Capacity Strengthening (FOCS). 

Building a resilient and relevant feminist organisation
Shaping IWDA’s journey is their River of Change plan – implemented in 2021 to help guide IWDA to become an explicitly anti-racist feminist organisation and create a space where all staff feel a sense of belonging and that they can bring their whole selves to work.

Intersectionality is core. Contributing to progressive change towards gender equality this year, the organisation resourced divers women’s rights organisations primarily in Asia and the Pacific. This recognised that divers women deeply embedded in their local communities are the best placed to drive transformative change.

IWDA also joined the Advisory Group for Women Deliver 2023 and made several commitments under the Generation Equality Forum, including flexible funding for core support for diverse women’s rights organisations of at least $4.5m annually, a commitment to improving data through their Equality Insights program and convening diverse feminist organisations to advance an Australian Feminist Foreign Policy.

Continually improving and learning from evidence-based practice
Committed to evidence-based practice, IWDA produced their annual organisational Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) report.

This year’s report showed that IWDA made significant progress against the objectives in their three-year Strategic Plan, despite the ongoing challenges and effects of COVID-19.

Many partners and external stakeholders recognised them as a “high-performing organisation” but also gave feedback wishing for more communication about the breadth of IWDA’s role and evolving focus in areas of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

IWDA improved their governance with the implementation of a Co-Chair model to expand diverse perspectives on IWDA’s board, which have been shared through informational webinars.

Communicating critical work with the public
In 2021, IWDA introduced a new webinar series called, “Troublemakers: Courageous Conversations with Fiery Feminists”. The series was designed to inform IWDA’s feminist practices and contribute to critical debates within the development and international, intersectional feminist sectors.

The first webinar was a conversation on feminist co-leadership and power sharing, followed by the next webinar on an exploration into the tensions between feminism and capitalism. The third was a webinar focused on resourcing unregistered feminist collectives and lastly, a discussion exploring the meaning of ‘wellbeing’ for women and LGTQIA+ activists.