Negotiating A Neoliberal Funding Regime: Feminist Service Organizations and State Funding
Boucher, Lisa Mae
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ABSTRACT This dissertation examines shifts in state funding for feminist service organizations in Canada. Specifically, it focuses on the implications of a neoliberal funding regime for these organizations. I argue that feminist service organizations should be understood as both social movement and nonprofit organizations. Examining their connections to both the nonprofit sector and the feminist movement provides deeper insight into the ways feminist service organizations’ are impacted by changes to funding. I contend that because of their dual positioning, feminist service organizations experience a neoliberal funding regime in multiple and complex ways. Under neoliberalism, nonprofit organizations have experienced cuts to core funding, an increase in short-term project based funding and a strict accountability regime. The democratic function of the nonprofit sector is no longer recognized as legitimate. This has been especially significant for feminist service organizations because their role as advocates for women was historically acknowledged by provincial and federal governments in Canada. However, this work has become increasingly stigmatized. I undertook a comparative analysis of two feminist service organizations in Ontario, Elizabeth Fry Toronto and Interval House Hamilton, to explore how these organizations experience a neoliberal funding regime. In particular, I considered how the funding relationship affects daily organizational work, advocacy and anti-racist, anti-oppressive (ARAO) practice. I also examined how feminist service organizations respond to the challenges posed by their political and funding climate. In addition to my research with these organizations, I examined policy documents produced by Status of Women Canada (SWC) and the Ontario Women’s Directorate (OWD), as well as the provincial and federal Public Accounts. This allowed me to analyse shifts in approaches to the nonprofit sector and government priorities. My research indicates that there is a shrinking space for social justice work. In particular, it is increasingly difficult for organizations to advocate, build community and engage in the more radical aspects of an ARAO framework. Despite this, my findings indicate that feminist service organizations can find ways to negotiate the challenges in their environments.