Black women across Latin America and the Caribbean contend with racism and sexism in their everyday lives. Systemic inequalities are present at social, economic, political, and interpersonal levels, and show up in multiple ways. A study conducted by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) found that in Ecuador, for example, “42% of the Afrodescendent population is below the poverty line, versus 27% of the non-indigenous, non-Afrodescendent population”. This same study noted a “pattern of inequality in which Indigenous women, Indigenous men and Afrodescendent women occupy the lowest rungs of the income ladder” in the Latin American region, which reflects a racialized and sexualized division of labor inherited from colonial times.
In terms of health outcomes, this study by the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) found that “discrimination by health service providers toward Indigenous and Afro-descendant women is a primary barrier to accessing health care in Latin America.” This results, for example, in a maternal mortality gap for Afro-descendant women that is nearly triple the overall mortality rate in Ecuador and 36% higher in Brazil. A study on obstetric violence in the Dominican Republic pointed to patterns of abuse and discrimination including disrespectful language, scolding and insults, public humiliation, communication barriers, and cultural insensitivity, among others. In Peru, Afro-Peruvians reported receiving discriminatory treatment, including sexual comments, at health facilities.
While there are significant gaps in data on the lived experiences of Black women in the regions, it is clear from what’s available that the structural realities they face need urgent attention from funders.
Despite their powerful contributions to feminist, human rights, and social justice work, Black women also contend with these racialized and gendered inequalities in the movements they are part of. The research mapped patterns of indirect and overt sexist behavior from male comrades; discriminatory and racist treatment from white-mestiza feminists; and erasures of their leadership and contributions. What results is the marginalization of Black women’s concerns across movements and the invisibilization of their leadership. This is intensely felt when seeking funding, resources, and support.
Black women need to be safe to act in the political system. A Black woman who takes a place in politics, with an agenda of confronting racism, will always be more threatened than white men or women. Black women experience institutional, political and digital violence, and threats and physical violence to their lives and their integrity – as occurred with Marielle Franco… [who was] murdered in 2018.
– Zelma Madeira, Brazil
WHAT CAN FUNDERS DO?
Black women-led initiatives reflect different political approaches:
Within their organizations and movements, Black women often move between or mix these approaches, either through choice or necessity in order to navigate the systems upholding the complex and intersectional oppressions Black women face.
All three approaches are classified as anti-racist. Anti-racism, however, is given different weight by research participants. Many see anti-racism as part of the formal rhetoric of equality established through the colonial system and not necessarily a transformative political priority.
The liberal approach centers political advocacy for the inclusion of Afrodescendent women into state policies. This approach is especially embraced by the more institutionalized Black women-led NGOs and networks. These organizations have the legal recognition and, while they are still underfunded, more financial resources to mobilize through the formal mechanisms of state governments, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN). These organizations and networks are more visible to funders and are a very important part of the Black feminist ecosystem, but not the only one.
In the liberal approach, Black women’s issues are often addressed by adding them to broader civil society demands. Advocacy campaigns that work within current legal and political frameworks can, however, sustain institutional racism as they do not take into account the diversity of Black communities’ needs and priorities. For example, in many of the countries studied, there is a lack of information on Black communities’ lived realities. Context-aware policy tools in areas such as health, employment, housing, education, and so on, can generate deeper transformations that go beyond the surface of the issues at stake.
In contrast to the liberal approach’s focus on formal mechanisms, the decolonial approach challenges modern colonialism. Collectives and networks that take this approach represent the majority of Black women’s organizing, but are less likely to access resources. Focused on self-governance and political autonomy, they dedicate much effort to political education, narrative-building, and actions that intervene in colonial power and white supremacy.
These groups often use art, social media, academia, and social mobilization to disrupt colonial and white-mestiza logic, such as the use of images of Black women to symbolize diversity in an organization when there are no Black women in positions of power within it. The decolonial approach also prioritizes ancestral healing and reparations. Such critical frameworks can create counter-narratives to liberal approaches; for this reason, these groups tend to be silenced within the liberal movement and the white-mestiza feminist movement.
Living at the intersection of gender, economic, and racial oppression, Black women use many tactics as they work for liberation. Hybridity occurs when organizations adopt multiple pathways and approaches to achieve visibility or specific goals, or even to survive within a colonial framework. Hybridity itself can be a radical strategy. It can also take the form of discrete, time-bound campaigns where both decolonial and liberal groups mobilize around shared demands for Black communities. Social media, political education, social mobilization, and art are common organizing tools across the political spectrum.
Black feminism is about intersection and decolonization, about the ability to think in a kaleidoscopic way, more so as Yemayá or Santa Marta, as a principle that springs from the sea that makes possible the sustaining, cleansing, and creative force.
– Jeannette Tineo Durán
Black feminist groups work on every issue of relevance to philanthropy – territory and land defense, civil and political rights, anti-violence, natural resource rights, entrepreneurship and community economies, LGBTQI rights, healing and spirituality, collective care and protection, and so many more – and they do so in deeply intersectional ways.
Black women’s organizing is diverse and fluid. Young Black women’s activism is particularly dynamic, flowing across all the different political approaches and organizing formations. Explore the diverse issues and ways of organizing below.
Black women-led collectives work at local and national levels on a wide range of issues. Groups in the Andes, Brazil, and Mesoamerica are working on issues as diverse as territorial defense, healing practices, and migration. In Brazil, for example, Rede Fulanas (the Amazonian Black Women’s Network) act as mobilizers and connectors for Black and Afro-Indigenous Brazilian feminists across Amazonia. There are remarkable experiments in Colombia, Ecuador, and Mesoamerica in areas such as arts and culture, cooperativism, entrepreneurship, care economies, and political participation. MUAFRO (Mujer Afro) in Mexico, for example, worked with the group of civil society organizations that pushed for the 2020 Mexican census to include Black populations for the first time; they also helped organize the first Afro-Mexican Feminist Encuentro in 2022. Asociación Cultural Casa Chontaduro in Colombia is a central meeting space for the Afrocolombian community that promotes peace and territorial defense through community building, arts and culture, and policy advocacy. There is great potential in linking together these initiatives and experiments for exchange and mutual support.
Black women are leading a notable strand of work that seeks to reclaim their histories within the broader historical narratives of Cimarrona, Garifuna, Raizal, Palenqueras, and Quilombola resistance. They are activating Black ancestral memory, engaging in collective healing, and producing political education that situates their experiences as part of a global resistance. For example, Octubre Cimarrón is a time of celebration and resistance by Black communities in the Caribbean Basin (the Greater Antilles, the Yucatan Peninsula, the Lesser Antilles, Central America, Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela). At these events, activists, artists, cultural workers, and academics have produced collective actions such as the Junta de Pietras and Afritude. Kasimba de sueños is a Palenquero women’s organization that sells products with symbols of historical Black resistance, and Nègès Mawon carries out memory work and ran a festival that promotes the historical leadership of Haitian women. Often developed in alliance with Afro-Indigenous women’s movements, these projects are cross-border and cross-movement in nature.
Black feminism incorporates strategies to connect and transform the pain that is a result of inter-generational experiences of racism. For many participants, this work on Black histories, ancestral memories, and collective healing is core to building Black feminist narratives and movements.
In Black feminism, our experiences as Black women are central to our narrative, because in the discourse and practice of feminist homogenization, our experiences are denied. Oral tradition influences the empowerment of Black women by creating knowledge of our own truths… transmission and exchange of knowledge, feelings, pains, [and] experiences of Black existences, which transcend through time, space and form.
– Jazmín Reyes, Peru
Coalitions and networks meet periodically, either in Black-only spaces, or with and as other movements. These include: the Latin America and Caribbean Feminist Encuentros, a series of gatherings taking place every few years since 1981; convenings by the Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (IM-Defensoras); Black youth networks; forums or convenings at national universities; and Black women’s marches (Brazil and Colombia), among others.
Black women are connecting across borders, building solidarity and organizing for political action. Grupo Latinoamericano de Estudio, Formación y Acción Feminista (GLEFAS) is a cross-border network that provides one of the few regional spaces for decolonial feminists to develop agendas, research, and collective action. For example, GLEFAS offers workshops, seminars, and classes on decolonial feminisms; its members write and publish academic and non-academic books on feminism from their own positioning as Black, Indigenous, and lesbian activists from Abya Yala; and they respond to the regional contexts of war, militarization, closing space for civil society, and violence through public statements and actions across the region. Another network, the Red de Mujeres Afrolatinoamericanas, Afrocaribeñas y de la Diáspora, operates within institutional frameworks like the Beijing Platform for Action, the International Decade for People of African Descent 2015-2024 (Decade agenda), and the Quito Declaration, and helps connect Black feminist activists from across the regions to advocate for inclusion in public policies. They organize at global and regional levels within mechanisms financed by the OAS, UN, and the Spanish Cooperation.
Globally, the emergence of Black feminism is linked to the diaspora and the connection between different struggles. The cross-border and international dimension is part of the very reason for the movement, because its multiple expressions deal with the (re)connection of histories, claims and memory processes that are intimately related to the modern colonial structure of racism.
In other words, the internationalist and intersectional nature of the movement has always been a mark of political action that connects anti-racism with anti-capitalism, feminism, LGBTQI, environmentalism, and youth movements, among others. The struggle of Black women occurs in simultaneous connection with all these forms of organization.
– Jeannette Tineo Durán
While these networks are doing critical work, much more is needed. Participants identified cross-border organizing, both within Latin America and the Caribbean as well as with the wider diaspora, as a strong funding priority.
Many of the organizing formations above have much in common with, but are only tangentially related to feminist movements. With the notable exceptions of Brazil and Honduras, there is a general sense that mainstream/white-mestiza feminism is not a safe space for Black women to express their fundamental concerns. Black women are often invited to “join” feminist actions that do not necessarily respond to their needs or demands.
This disconnect from feminist movements was a common experience for participants. An Ecuadorian participant shared that a “great majority of Afro-descendent women and/or Afro-Ecuadorians don’t identify as feminists or position themselves politically around feminism.” This is due in part to their view that “feminism [as portrayed by white-mestiza women]…focuses exclusively on the subject ‘woman’ and leaves out both the joint struggle of ‘men’ and ‘women’ as well as Afro-descendent conceptions of family.” Despite the challenges Black women face in organizing in all-gender spaces discussed in the section to follow, Black men are seen as inseparable partners in efforts to improve the lives of the region’s Black communities – particularly around territorial defense and land rights.
In general, creating space for Black women’s participation in social movements across all countries is vital because of the possibilities for voice, reclamation, and rootedness that they generate. This effort is seen as constant and difficult, however, because of the racism and sexism they face.
White-mestiza priorities dominate the women’s rights agenda – and in the process, delegitimize others. White-mestiza feminists invite Black women to “join” hegemonic feminist actions, which often do not address their primary demands. Notably, the word “feminism” itself can be a bad word due to Black women experiencing it as an exercise in white-mestiza privilege. For many, if not most, participants, that version of feminism is neither liberatory nor safe.
There is an urgent need for white-mestiza feminists to recognize Black women-led organizing as it is. This means not seeking to “colonize” it with pre-formed ideas or absorb it into white-mestiza organizing. Given existing power imbalances around resources, the priority is to build strong and resilient Black women-led organizing and support the articulation and funding of Black women’s own narratives and agendas.
The big ones eat the little ones … Those that have the capacity and the relationships to be at the United Nations or in Mexico City… [All] the resources stay there and they come here to give us nothing. Little meals; a little workshop; transportation – and [then] they take all of our results. They make a book and benefit, and bravo! See how they’re supporting marginalized women! [They say] ‘We are preparing Black women.’ Lies! We were already prepared.
– Mexico participant
Black women-only spaces are viewed as hopeful, safe and restful. But their relative disconnection from the Black feminist diaspora, as well as competition for resources, compromises movement-building. Participants were unanimous: Black women-only spaces must be protected and expanded. These spaces should nurture their own articulations of Black feminisms as well as foster regular exchange with Black feminisms in the diaspora. For instance, Brazil participants’ diasporic exchange with North American Black feminism has deeply inspired them. At the same time, they and other participants want to foster Black feminisms that are derived from their own linguistic and socio-political contexts.
There is a need to bridge and weave connections among Black feminist organizing in Latin America and the Caribbean and Black diaspora activists in the North and South. Tighter links between global and regional anti-racist movements can be made through platforms for action, networks, working groups and other strategies that support Black activists to develop and amplify shared narratives.
On the bus, in the academy, at a meeting, in the demonstrations. It’s a lot, the violence that we have to digest every day, and so we come together to share how we feel.
– Costa Rica participant
One-third of the mapped initiatives are all-gender, meaning they are not Black women-only spaces. Participants highlighted all-gender initiatives as spaces of “constant sexist violence against Black women” in three areas: leadership, sexual harassment and assault, and the control of women’s autonomy within the organization. These concerns may be doubly relevant in Argentina and Uruguay, the two mapped countries where Black women-only initiatives are in the minority.
Autonomous political and economic spaces must be fostered to allow Black women to use their energies on their terms. From their own defined spaces, Black women may be able to negotiate the inclusion of Black men – again, on their own terms.
In creating and sustaining the Black (all-gender) struggle, Black women live with multiple tensions concerning patterns of sexism by cis hetero men. Managing the complexity of these types of aggressions is remarkable, given that, for many Black women, it means calling out those with whom they simultaneously fight racism. This tension is deepened because white-mestiza feminism often directly or indirectly delegitimizes or rebukes Black women and the anti-racist struggle they sustain with Black men. This is due to a lack of frameworks for addressing violence from a Black feminist perspective. Interviewees agree on the urgency for anti-racist support systems to combat sexism and heterosexism in Black activist movements in the region.
– Jeannette Tineo Durán
An example of a Black all-gender initiative with strong Black feminist leadership is the Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH), a grassroots organization representing forty-six Garifuna communities along the Caribbean coast of Honduras. OFRANEH believes in ending discrimination against Garifuna women, girls, youth, and LGBTQI people, and protecting Garifuna ancestral cultural identity and land.
Historically, a feature of the global Black movement is its heteronormative ideal. At the same time, the (white-mestiza) LGBTQI movement is considered racist. Black women-led initiatives, if they do not practice intersectionality, reproduce the same othering, resulting in Black LGBTQI activists experiencing a sense of “being triply out of place.”
There is an urgent need to resource Black queer and trans spaces where activists can articulate and pursue their own agendas. For example, Fundación Afrocolombiana Arcoiris LGBTI addresses the particular needs of Black LGBTQI people in Tumaco, Colombia, including providing mental health and healing support to address the depression and anxiety that results from marginalization. In northeast Brazil, Tambores de Safo organizes Black feminist lesbian and bisexual women to combat sexism, racism and homophobia. Through music, art, street protest, and participation in diverse social movements, the group gives public visibility to the specific demands of Black lesbian and bisexual women. Máquina Púrpura Editorial Fanzine is a Black trans collective in Ecuador that resists patriarchy, racism, and heterosexism by organizing community spaces and publishing zines by and for Black trans, non-binary, and queer communities
The Black feminist movement’s greatest challenges and needs are concentrated in five areas:
While the landscape is rapidly changing, a funding ecosystem for Black women-led organizing in Latin America and the Caribbean does not yet exist. Across both private and public philanthropy, funders are not meaningfully reaching Black feminist groups. This means that we are missing out on Black women’s perspectives, expertise, and leadership in a time when the regional and global challenges we face require our sharpest and most innovative strategies.
This research is an appeal to funders to deepen knowledge about the powerful work being done by Black women organizers in Latin America and the Caribbean and to resource mechanisms that facilitate trusted partnerships and abundant funding.
Promisingly, many funders express significant interest in deepening support for Black feminist organizing in the regions. Since this research began in 2019, a number of women’s funds have released dedicated calls for proposals for Black feminist groups, such as the Central American Women Fund’s call titled “Afropoderosas.” New funding mechanisms dedicated to Black feminist movements have also emerged. The groundbreaking Black Feminist Fund (BFF) was launched, with a mandate to grow the resources available to Black feminist movements in the Americas, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Country-based Black feminist funds have emerged in Brazil and Colombia, and Caribbean activists are exploring the creation of a Caribbean regional fund for women’s and LGBTQI rights.
The opportunity before us is to help transform these emergent springs and ripples into the powerful flows of funding that Black feminists need to resource their agendas. The most effective and enduring solutions are grounded in the lived experience of people who face the greatest injustice. As funders, our work will be more strategic and effective when we provide the resources needed for Black feminists to advance change and transform their societies.
Direct investment in Black women-led organizing is rare. Many participants were unaware of the existence of women’s funds in their countries, and shared that the processes for accessing funding from both national and international funders were inaccessible to them. For the few that received institutional grants, they tended to be short-term and one-off. The vast majority of Black women-led initiatives rely on self-generated resources to enable their work.
In the philanthropy sector:
Among Black feminist movements:
Conversations with funders and participants reveal a gulf: gender-focused resources tend not to account for the needs or insights of Black women-led organizing in the regions. While certain issues more central to white-mestiza agendas tend to be prioritized in calls for proposals, many Black women-led groups are working on issues as diverse as land rights, economic justice or peace-seeking. This work may not be recognized as gender-specific despite its feminist orientations. A further barrier to accessing gender-focused funding is that many Black women-led groups do not use the word “feminist” to describe themselves, making them less likely to be on the radar of funders with that expressed interest.
Participants report that leadership, power, and resources are skewed towards those who are well-known in political and philanthropic circles. White-mestiza organizations and those working with liberal approaches have greater representation in national and international spaces and stronger connections to funders. Black decolonial feminist initiatives are less represented, which affects future funding decisions and sustains the imbalance. These dynamics not only contribute to the lack of funding for Black women-led organizing – particularly for decolonial feminist work – but also influence leadership and agenda-setting within feminist movements.
There is notable inequality in the access to funding between White women’s organizations and Black women’s organizations since the former have more experience, manage the discourse of gender technocracy and have greater technical skills to apply for national and international cooperation grants, which means that these organizations are the ones that monopolize the majority of these resources […] [It] is also not a minor fact that the problems that are central to the agendas of white-mestiza women like the right to safe and free abortions, sexual harassment, sexual and reproductive rights, among others, are the issues that receive the most funding from national and international funds and cooperation agencies. Problems like racism, ethnic discrimination, hypersexualization, the murders of Black women, environmental rights, defense of territory, and preservation of material and immaterial Afro-descendant culture do not constitute the central claims of the hegemonic white-mestiza feminist organizations, nor do they form part of the priority issues to be financed by funders.
– Mesoamerica participant
Given their lack of visibility and funding, Black women-led initiatives also appear to fall through the cracks among funders working on the issues they do prioritize, from environmental rights to economic justice. Black women hold a wide breadth of knowledge and movement practice in the regions. This wisdom should be acknowledged and resourced by the broad range of public and private social justice and human rights funders working on the multiple issues of relevance to them.
When asked to name some of the barriers faced when attempting to resource Black women’s organizing in Latin America and the Caribbean, private funders shared multiple challenges: known or referred groups were too small, not registered, or had limited capacities; lack of knowledge about and relationships with Black women-led groups; and lack of dedicated pools of funding. There is a clear need for stronger relationships, knowledge, and funding mechanisms to connect Black women-led initiatives with philanthropic resources.
A key theme in consultations with funders was a lack of data. This is due to multiple, intersecting issues that are only just starting to be addressed in the sector: disaggregated data is not collected; data is not publicly available or is difficult to access and understand; funding and data are siloed and do not reflect intersectional movements; and funding cannot be tracked to see if it is reaching Black feminist organizing. None of the funders we interviewed were tracking data for Black women as a population. And when institutions do create their own data collection systems, aggregating data is very challenging, if not impossible.
As a result of these funding realities, the research found that most Black women-led initiatives support their work through volunteer staff and within a subsistence economy in the following ways:
As part of the heightened focus on racial justice and equity in philanthropy following the racist violence and global racial justice uprisings of 2020, funders are making greater efforts towards internal education as well as responding to the specific demands of Black women. We note increased interest in learning about Black feminist movements in Latin America and the Caribbean and a willingness to challenge preconceived notions about thematic priorities and types of organizing.
As more funders take steps to examine their grantmaking and operations in order to better reach Black feminist groups, including identifying ways to make direct connections with groups they don’t know, there are good practices and learning to be shared.
One key practice is explicitly naming your commitment to Black feminist groups if you want to be successful in reaching them. Lessons learned by the Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (FCAM) and shared in the Black Feminist Fund’s research underscored this point: FCAM had received very few proposals from Black feminist groups over their 18 years of grantmaking until they did their targeted “Afropoderosas” call. They also used the mapping of groups in this research to conduct targeted outreach to groups, resulting in funding to 10 Black feminist organizations in five countries working on issues including sexual and reproductive rights, violence against women, and environmental justice.
A funder in the region who is recognized for its meaningful support for Black feminist groups is Fundo ELAS, the Brazilian feminist fund. Participants described ELAS as notable for its commitment to “the Black lesbian, trans, and queer agenda” and as a “pioneer and leader with best practices for anti-racism that can be [documented and replicated] for [others] to learn from.” With a commitment to racial justice since its founding and Black women in leadership across its decision-making bodies, ELAS provides a majority of its funding to Black women-led groups. ELAS operates and funds with the understanding that for Black feminists, it is impossible to separate out “women’s rights” issues like abortion, reproductive rights, or violence against women from environment, land, territory, lack of protection by the state, political participation, and more.
A lesbian feminist activist from another country described her participation in an ELAS-funded regional event:
“It has been a significant change for me to see how the forms of management, collaboration, and debates that take place there work. It is very different from what I observe or live here in my country, where it is very difficult to discuss or talk about race, where I myself haven’t carried out significant activism from that stance, precisely because there are limits to the ways in which this can be discussed within spaces. Here the [women’s fund] has not operated this way. I think they have focused a lot on issues regarding young people, sexual rights, and abortion… but race issues are not addressed. It’s not like what I’ve seen ELAS support in Brazil. To me, it’s another way of understanding or carrying out funding.
We too at FJS and Wellspring are on our own journeys to deepen funding for Black feminist organizing in the regions. Rooted in our strategy that prioritizes support for Black and Indigenous feminist movements in Mesoamérica, FJS aims to increase our resource allocation to Black feminist groups from its current level of around $1 million per year of our $10 million regional portfolio. Wellspring also aims to increase investment in Black feminist groups across our Women’s Rights program’s multiple portfolios, as part of our commitment to supporting the leadership of historically marginalized communities that are advancing gender justice. We know we have to get creative as US-based private foundations to support groups that haven’t accessed institutional philanthropy before. As we work to increase our direct support for Black feminist groups in the region, we also hope to nurture more robust philanthropic infrastructure and stronger resource pipelines for Black feminist organizing, with multiple mechanisms for groups to access resources.