The Finish Federation of Graduate Women has send a letter to all national Federations, expressing their worries on the proposal of the GWI-dues. We post this comment to make sure all readers interested in UWE and GWI are able to take note of this reaction. We will – of course – not vote on this matter but it is important to realize that the founder of University Women of Europe wished for UWE to be independent from GWI to be able to participate in building a equal civil society in Europe by participating in the INGO conference of the Council of Europe and participating in the European Women’s Lobby. UWE has been doing so since 1981 and faces a challenge to do so if we continue losing members because of issues at GWI. At the AGM in Winchester we will propose to accept associated members to be able to fully represent European countries. Please find the letter of the FFGW below.
For the board,
President University Women of Europe
Finnish Federation of Graduate Women (hereafter FFGW) wishes to express its gratitude to the GWI board and office staff, who have presented us a valuable set of documents for the forthcoming General Assembly (hereafter GA), i.e. the 32nd General Assembly Agenda, Proposal for a Fully Revised GWI Constitution and the Action Plan for 2017 – 2019 and Triennial Budgets. With these detailed proposals from the GWI board, we will be able to discuss the direction to which we wish to develop the GWI. We are also thankful to the GWI board that it has set a lengthy time for consultation. Let us now all take a good use of these coming weeks and exchange our views and ideas already before the GA. This is particularly important for those NFAs who will have no official representation present in Cape Town in August. Now is the time to make your voices heard!
Due increase unacceptable
The proposals for the GA Agenda and the new GWI constitution are, in principle, acceptable for the FFGW. What we strongly oppose, however, is the proposed due increase, which for Finland would mean an increase from 16,48 euros (18 CHF) to 32,06 euros (35 CHF) per member.We do not have that kind of money. Our own national membership fee is currently 30 euros per member. Last year, we had 1 056 members and thus collected 31 680 euros. Of that sum, we paid over half, 17 360 euros, to the GWI this spring. With the remaining funds, we took care of our own administrative costs. Allowing that our membership remains the same this year, next spring we should pay 33 855 euros, i.e. 107 % of our annual budget, to the GWI. Indeed, it should be not be too difficult to fathom why we oppose the proposal.
The increase will not be accepted by our AGM. A member of the GWI personnel suggested that we should increase our own national fee, too. To us, it is an impossible task. Even with the current GWI membership fee, we face the same questions at our AGM every year: “Why do we have to pay so much to the GWI? Why cannot we spend at least part of that money to our own functions instead?” The criticism tells us that there is no momentum for the fee increase. It also tells us that our members do not feel that the GWI is fully representing them. To be frank, despite our volunteers’ best efforts, the GWI is not known in Finland. Those of us who wish to further girls’ better access to education in the developing countries, are already monthly donators in organizations such as Kiva, Plan International, UNICEF, UN Women, and World Food Program to name a few.
In this situation we feel that if a due increase is accepted in Cape Town in August 2016, we have no other alternative than to follow the example of Germany and Netherlands and leave the GWI.
Refocusing action, decreasing expenses
The FFGW board has pledged to Finnish members that before the FFGW will propose even a slightest increase to our national dues, we will make every effort to cut down our administrative expenses. We have successfully done so. We strongly advise the GWI to do the same. Especially now since it is clear that the spending done in the past three years has not resolved the main problem: decline of the GWI membership, especially the NFAs with the highest dues.
How to get more members
· 1. GWI needs a new focus
The GWI board and the office staff have done marvelous job in the past three years, but it seems that the GWI’s current agenda is over-stretched. We in the FFGW recognize the difficulty of being a global organization for almost 60 NFAs as the FFGW is struggling to remain relevant to our 20 local branches with their different needs. Yet, because of the impossible task of being able to offer everything to everyone, the FFGW board has been forced to critically evaluate what, with our scarce resources, we can offer to our branches and the FFGW has decided that until our membership grows, the focus will be in the growth of our local branches and not in our central office. After all, it is the local branches where the NFAs and thus also the GWI either grows or falls.
· 2. Low fee is a competitive advantage
The global GDP comparison may show that Finland is wealthy, but the GDP alone is not an adequate basis for the membership fee calculation. Gender mainstreaming is required as well. Especially so, as the bulk of Finnish graduate women are struggling in the current labor market, both in terms of full-time employment and equal pay. Also, despite of our best efforts to attract young graduate women, the current FFGW is, in essence, an organization for the retired graduate women. Especially for our retired members with small pensions, every euro does count.
In our opinion, the GWI’s current membership fee is a competitive advantage compared to other international women’s organizations, as we have also managed to attract members who belong to other NGOs, too. The FFGW board has figured that once our membership grows, and slowly but surely it has started to grow, we will get more resources, including fees, and only then shall we begin to contemplate whether we will e.g. hire more employees to our office or embark on a new project.
· 3. Less paid staff, more international interns
The GWI office has too many employees for its current incomes. At the moment the FFGW has only one part-time employee in our office in Helsinki. There would be plenty of work for others too, but we recognize our financial limits and try to do our best with the resources we can afford.
· 4. Reaching out for the old NFAs
GWI has been successful in recruiting new NFAs, but contact should be maintained also with those who, for one reason or another, have left the GWI in the recent years. These countries include e.g. Albania, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Netherlands, and Sri Lanka. We also hope for positive negotiations with the American Association of University Women. Associate membership might be a solution to the decreasing membership numbers, since it is better for the GWI to collect at least some fees from the NFAs mentioned above than nothing at all.
On the behalf of the FFGW board,
Marita Salo, CIR
Susanna Sulkunen, FFGW ombudsman
Marja Liisa Toivanen, former CIR