Girls are part of the movement
In contrast to the common practice in the women’s movement, from the beginning of the 1980s, Mama Cash understood that girls were part of the movement. ‘Mama Cash consciously wanted to be a diverse organisation’, founder Marjan Sax says. ‘She wanted to include people of different ethnic backgrounds and ages, and both lesbians and heterosexuals’.
In the beginning, money went to girls’ centres and girls’ helplines. Later on the focus shifted toward organisations engaged in defending and advancing the self-determination and economic empowerment of girls and young women. The Girls’ Radio in the Dutch city of Nijmegen received a grant in 1983. Mi Oso es Mi Kas, an organisation for teen mothers in the Bijlmer district of Amsterdam, received several grants between 1988 and 2000. Also foreign organisations focusing on girls could count on Mama Cash’s support. Near the end of the 1990s, Aers Jed in Burkina Faso, for instance, received money for training girls to be motorbike mechanics.
The Girls’ Year
From the beginning of the 90s, activist girls started to talk about girlpower, or grrrlpower instead of thinking of themselves as being disempowered. In order to motivate Dutch girls and young women to request support, the Mama Cash Culture Fund declared 1999 to be ‘Girls Year’.
The following year, Mama Cash organised a March 8th Gathering for Girls. The Amsterdam-based Chebba Girl Plaza received money to organise the Powerlady Festival and ‘Girlz talk’, an annual talkshow for and by girls.
In the new millennium, many projects for girls about reproductive rights and health were supported in the Global South. These projects were intended to inform and empower girls.
Girls and young women in charge
With the 2009 – 2013 strategic plan, ‘On the move for Women’s Rights’, the focus has shifted toward initiatives that are organised not just for girls, but also by girls. Groups and organisations set up and run by girls themselves are best able to voice the position of girls and to come up with plans to strengthen their position. In other words: self-determination starts with self-organisation. Since 2009, Mama Cash has been prioritising support for groups that focus on the rights of girls and young women and are led by girls and young women.
These have included the Pastoralist Girls Initiative in Northeastern Kenya which runs girls’ forums in primary schools to educate girls about their rights, build their leadership, and discuss sexuality, and sexual and reproductive health; Ponton in predominantly Catholic Poland, which conducts school-based sexuality education and lobbies for mandatory sex education in middle and secondary schools; and Nasawiya, a group of young feminist activists in Lebanon, organising girl geek camps and actions on topics like sexual harassment and marital rape.
Community of Practice
Together with the Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (Central American Women’s Fund) in Nicaragua, Mama Cash started a Community of Practice on girls’ agency and leadership in 2011. Being part of the Girls Grassroots Initiative, the Community of Practice is financed by the Nike Foundation. Women’s Funds, girls and young women worldwide gather on a regular basis to discuss the best ways to support girls’ organisations. They exchange knowledge and experience about grantmaking programmes and about how to identify and make contact with local girls’ groups. Girls and young women teach the Women’s Funds about which approaches will work and which ones will not. ‘While over half of the world’s population is younger than 25, in many places young women’s and girls’ rights have not been fully recognised’, says Annie Hillar, former Director of Programmes of Mama Cash. ‘Too often they have to deal with economic exploitation and various forms of violence. They are not taken seriously and their voices aren’t heard. A world of girls’ rights lies ahead of us, and the Community of Practice wants to make a contribution’.