The Spotlight Initiative’s work is rooted in research that amplifies the belief that the leadership and deep engagement of civil society is at the core of transformative and sustainable change in the elimination of violence against women and girls. Civil society, in particular women’s rights and feminist activists and movements, is therefore a central and paramount partner of the Spotlight Initiative. This includes those representing groups facing intersecting forms of discrimination.

Spotlight Initiative’s partnership with civil society is guided by:

  1. A human-rights based approach
  2. The “Leaving No One Behind” principle, and
  3. National ownership

Civil Society Reference Groups

“To be a part of this group has been an important space of learning and has enabled us to strengthen our links and relationships.” - National Reference Group member, Argentina

Civil society is systematically engaged at national, regional and global levels through the partnership with Civil Society Reference Groups. The Reference Groups represent civil society at the governance and decision-making bodies of the Initiative and aims to advise the Initiative, to advocate for the realization of its objectives and to hold the Initiative accountable for its commitments.  

At the Global level, the Civil Society Reference Group is comprised of 20 diverse members, selected by a civil society-led selection committee in April 2020. 

Toolbox: Reference Group members can find relevant resources, templates and guidelines here.

Community of Practice: Members are welcome to join the Community of Practice on Facebook, here.

At the Global level, the Civil Society Reference Group is comprised of 20 diverse members, selected by a civil society-led selection committee in April 2020. Please find the biographies of the Global Reference Group members below, and the biographies of the National and Regional Reference Groups here.

Investing in civil society

As one of Spotlight Initiative’s most critical partners, ensuring meaningful investments for civil society is a key priority for the Initiative. In line with Spotlight Initiative’s commitments, women’s organizations at national and local levels are the main partners of Spotlight Initiative across all outcome areas.

  • Spotlight Initiative has budgeted 50 per cent (USD 124 MIllion) of 2019 approved Spotlight Initiative programmatic funds (Phase 1) for civil society organizations.*

  • Approximately 82 per cent of the funds committed to civil society organizations in 2019 were invested in national, local and grassroots organizations, of which 88 per cent were women-led or women’s rights/feminist organizations.

  • Through its partnership with the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, the Initiative has awarded USD 24 million in direct grants to civil society organizations, of which 93 per cent has been awarded to women-led and/or women’s rights organizations.

  • In response to COVID-19, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence and Spotlight Initiative reallocated USD 9.1 million to core institutional support for 44 existing grantees in Sub-Saharan Africa and to establish a knowledge hub (under development).

  • Through its partnership with the Women's Peace and Humanitarian Fund, the Initiative has awarded USD 4.4 million to 31 grantees in Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda and the DRC. Additional grants are underway in Malawi, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and Afghanistan.

For a full list of civil society partners and budget analysis, please see here. Find more results and details in the 2019 Global Annual Report.

*excl. ASEAN Safe & Fair and programmes approved after December 2019.

Sign up for Email Updates
To sign up for Spotlight Initiative’s quarterly civil society updates, please submit your email address here.

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Civil Society Global Reference Group Members

Dr. Alaa


UN High-Level Commissioner on Health Employment and Economic Growth
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Dr. Alaa Murabit is a global peace expert and the UN High-Level Commissioner on Health Employment and Economic Growth, co-founder and CEO of The Omnis Institute and the founder of the Voice of Libyan Women. Recognized by the BBC, Forbes, the Nelson Mandela Family among others, she is also a trustee for the Women’s March Global, International Alert, and the Malala Fund. Dr. Murabit has brought an intersectional approach to ending violence against women and girls through her vast and various global efforts with youth and minorities. Her efficacy in security, health policy and sustainable development was most recently recognized as one of Canada’s Top 25 Most Influential Women in 2018 by Women of Influence. She also received the 2018 Nelson Mandela International Changemaker Award by The Nelson Mandela Family and PTTOW and the BlogHer 2018 Voice of the Year Award by Sheknows Media. In 2017 Alaa was named a Forbes 30 Under 30, Aspen Institute Spotlight Scholar, and Bay St. Bull Canada’s 30x30. Her leadership in global policy and in elevating the role of women, particularly young, minority women, on global platforms was recognized by Harvard Law who named her the youngest 2017 Woman Inspiring Change. Email:



Vice President of the European Women’s Lobby
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Ana-Sofia Fernandes is the Vice President of the European Women’s Lobby, the largest umbrella organization of women’s associations in the European Union and is Secretary-General of the Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights, the only umbrella organization of women’s human rights and gender equality organizations in Portugal. She has extensively monitored the UN Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Fernandes has brought an intersectional approach to ending violence against women and girls through her work with youth, migrants and refugees. Between 2010 and 2015 she worked at the European Institute for Gender Equality as Stakeholders’ Coordinator and Resource & Documentation Centre Officer. In 2000, she co-founded and was the first President of the Portuguese Network of Young People for Gender Equality. Certified gender equality trainer, she held positions as member of the consultative council of the Commission for Equality and Women’s Rights, President of the Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights, member of the General Assembly of the European Women’s Lobby and member of the Board of the Association of Women from Meridional Europe. Email:

Anne Marie

Blanche Manga

Psychologist and lecturer
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Anne Marie Blanche Manga is a psychologist, a Lecturer at the University of Yaoundé and a Facilitator of seminars and workshops on “Gender, Gender Identity and Gender Based Violence”. She has specialized on Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities & Expressions issues through her academic research on gender identities, clinical experience of accompaniment of LGBTQ persons and a good number of participations in workshops and conferences on SOGIESC/GBV issues. Anne Marie is currently working with two local organizations that provide mental health and human rights support: “Women in Front Cameroon “ which focuses on lesbians’ and bisexuals’ issues and women’s leadership, and “Humanity First Cameroon”, a LGBTQ association where she has coordinated the Gender Unit for 5 years. Anne Marie’s main interests are participating in workshops and conferences on Sexual Health and Rights including Women and LGBTIQ + issues; learning how to improve women and girls’ lives, promoting well-being and self-care, writing about African lesbian and gay lives, documenting ancient Black civilizations, and finally fighting for a better world. Email:


Arsène Kanyanduru

Training planner
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Of Congolese nationality, Arsène Basobe Kanyanduru is a training planner who received his bachelor’s degree at the Higher Institute for Rural Development ISDR/Bukavu. Basobe has been passionate about organizing since his childhood. In 2012, Basobe pursued his 3-month internship at the ADMR organization, where he worked in several projects related to the theme of women’s rights. In 2013, he had already participated in several multi-sectoral need assessment missions, seminars and forums on women’s rights. In that same year, Basobe was appointed coordinator of MOVULAC where he has worked until now. Thanks to MOVULAC, he has come to know several organizations and networks of the defense of women’s rights including ATD/Fourth World, IFE, FAP, UECOP, RACOJ, AWID. Email:



Co-Founder and Executive Director of CREA
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Geetanjali Misra is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of CREA. She has worked at the activist, grant-making, and policy levels on issues of sexuality, reproductive health, gender, human rights, and violence against women. She has taught as an adjunct professor on the intersection of LGBT issues, sexual rights and public health at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Before joining CREA, she was Program Officer, for the Ford Foundation in New Delhi and made grants in the fields of Sexual and reproductive Health and Rights, Violence Against Women and Women’s Human Rights. She is currently on the Astraea Foundation Board and member of the Amnesty International Task Force- Gender and Diversity. She has served as Co-Chair, President, and Advisor for many organizational Boards including Mama Cash, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) where she led a strategic planning and organizational development process leading to changes in leadership roles and structure, Global Fund for Women, and American Foundation for Aids Research (AMFAR) among others. In addition, Geeta is an author and regularly writes on issues of sexuality, gender, and rights. She holds master’s degrees in International Affairs from Columbia University and in Economics from Syracuse University. Email:



Founder of the Centre for Women’s Rights
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Being a feminist is part of the life of Gilda María Rivera Sierra. A survivor of state violence in the 1980s in Honduras, she is the founder of the Center for Women’s Rights (CDM), a feminist organization that fights for the exercise and enjoyment of women’s human rights and gender justice. Gilda promotes alliances and joint work that helps rethink the situation of the women’s and feminist movement in the country to effectively respond to violence against women and girls. From her feminism, she states that the recognition and exercise of women’s sexual rights and reproductive rights is one of the great challenges that are imposed in a society such as the Honduran. Gilda is part of different national and regional articulations, among them the National Network of Defenders of Honduras, the Mesoamerican Initiative of Defenders, where she was part of the driving Group of both initiatives. She is also a member of the Platform 25 of November and the Coalition against Impunity. Email:


Velasquez Nimatuj

Journalist, social anthropologist and international spokesperson
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Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj is a journalist, social anthropologist, and international spokeswoman. She has been at the forefront of struggles for respect for indigenous people. She is the first Maya-K’iche’ woman to earn a doctorate in Social Anthropology. In 2002, she played a key role in the historical process of setting legal precedent through a court case that made racial discrimination illegal in Guatemala. She is the author of numerous books and articles in academic journals. Between 2005-2013 she served as the Executive Director of the Mecanismo de Pueblos Indígenas Oxlajuj T’zikin, and she later became an advisor on indigenous issues for the Latin American and Caribbean office of UN Women (2014-2015). Velásquez has been a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Duke University and Brown University and she has served as an expert witness in cases of transitional justice related to the genocide, human rights abuses, and sexual violence committed in Guatemala. As a journalist, she continues to investigate and make public the long history of colonization, dispossession, exclusion, contempt and structural racism in her weekly opinion columns in elPeriódico. Through both her political and academic efforts, she seeks to support viable and realistic ways to create equality for indigenous people and a truly democratic and participatory democracy in Guatemala. Email:



Development practitioner
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Itumeleng Komanyane is an accomplished development practitioner from Botswana with over 25 years of her life devoted to social and gender justice work. The range of issues she has worked on includes gender equality and women’s empowerment, gender-based violence, HIV and AIDS, sexual reproductive health and rights, youth development and leadership, engaging men and masculinities, sustainable livelihoods and support for orphaned and vulnerable children. She brings experience in programme management, governance and accountability, movement building, advocacy, feminist organizing, and building the capacity of organizations to undertake gender justice work. Tumie has been engaged in the global HIV and AIDS field since late 1990s. She has served as Botswana’s focal point for Youth Against AIDS, the secretary of the Youth Advisory Committee for the African Youth Alliance and is a four-time scholarship recipient to various International AIDS Conferences. In her professional capacity, Itumeleng has served as the Deputy Chair of the Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Civil Society Advisory Group to UN Women. She managed programmes across Africa (e.g. for Sonke Gender Justice) promoting gender justice and ending violence against women and children through partnerships with the African Union, SADC, East African Committee and the Pan African Parliament. She has served as a board member of the MenEngage Global Alliance, and today, she works as a Programmes Lead for Frontline AIDS. Email:



Executive director and feminist human rights activist
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Krishanti Dharmaraj, executive director, is a feminist and human rights activist with over 25 years of experience working to advance the rights of women and girls. She is the founder of the Dignity Index, a human rights measurement tool utilized to ensure equity and inclusion to reduce identity-based discrimination. Previously, Ms. Dharmaraj was the Western Regional Spokesperson for Amnesty International USA. She is also the co-founder of WILD for Human Rights (Women’s Institute for Leadership Development) and the Sri Lanka Children’s Fund. Ms. Dharmaraj serves on the Steering Committee for the Feminist Alliance for Rights and the Board of Directors of IDEX; is a member of the Spotlight Civil Society Global Reference Group; a Trustee of THIRST and the North East Women’s Network in Sri Lanka; and is on the Advisory Boards of Amnesty International, the Human Rights Project of the Urban Justice Center, South Asia Democracy Watch, and Machik. She has also served on the Board of Directors of Amnesty International; Women, Law and Development; Horizons Foundation; and the Center for Asian Pacific Women. Email:



Director of Research, Knowledge and Advocacy at Mama Cash
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Lara has served as the Director of Research, Knowledge and Advocacy at Mama Cash, leading work to strengthen knowledge and evidence-based case-making for the sustainable resourcing of feminist activism. Lara was formerly the inaugural Director of Policy and Evaluation at Our Watch – Australia’s national foundation to prevent violence against women and their children, and has held a range of leadership, policy development and research roles in this field over the last two decades. She has worked with government, NGOs and various research bodies focused on women’s human rights. She provided strategic and technical leadership for the development of new initiatives to UN Women, and was appointed the Expert Consultant and Rapporteur on prevention of violence against women and girls in preparation for the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. Lara has undertaken design and advisory projects on prevention of violence against women and girls, at the global level and in the Pacific and South-East Asia, for the UN, AusAID, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the UK Department of International Development. She holds a master’s degree in Public and International Law from the University of Melbourne and a Doctor of Philosophy from Victoria University (Australia). Email:



Global Networks Manager at MenEngage
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Laxman Belbase is the Global Networks Manager at MenEngage. He is a social worker and gender justice activist, with Master of Science degree and more than 12 years’ experience in program development, implementation and advocacy in the field of gender equality, child rights and social justice at national, regional and global levels. Prior to joining MenEngage, Laxman worked for Save the Children Sweden for seven years as Global Gender & Health Advisor, based in Stockholm, and represented Save the Children on the MenEngage Global Governance Board. Laxman is a founding core group member of MenEngage Alliance in Nepal and has contributed to the strengthening of the Alliance in various capacities at national, regional and global levels, including by coordinating MenEngage Alliance in South Asia (2009-2013). Having worked with national, regional and global organizations, Laxman brings his multi-cultural experiences to the areas of gender equality, child protection, violence prevention, engaging boys and men for social justice, fatherhood, sexual and reproductive health & rights, comprehensive sexuality education and human rights advocacy across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. E-mail :



Secretary-General of the Women’s International League for Peace & Justice
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Madeleine Rees is the Secretary-General of the Women’s International League for Peace & Justice (WILPF), where she has served as Secretary-General since 2010. WILPF is one of the world’s oldest women’s rights organizations that consistently advocates for better protections for women in armed conflict and a greater role for women in peace negotiations to build peaceful societies. She began her career as a lawyer in 1990. In 1998, she started working as Head of Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina and as gender expert for OHCHR and between 2006-2010, she served as the Head of the Women’s Rights and Gender Unit. Her work involved describing and outlining how men and women can experience events differently, particularly in post-conflict situations. She plays an essential advisory role in Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace & Security, and focuses on ending violence against women and girls in the context of armed conflict. She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to human rights, particularly women’s rights, and international peace and security. Rees has brought an intersectional approach to ending violence against women and girls through her work on behalf of the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission. Email:



Senior Advocacy Officer at Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
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Nathalie Margi is Senior Advocacy Officer at Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights (UAF), where she makes rapid response grants to women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in urgent situations and advocates with partners for better protection and support for WHRDs. Before joining UAF, she advocated for women’s rights at the UN in NY, managed projects on LGBTI rights and women’s leadership in post-earthquake Haiti, launched programs in Lebanon to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in the context of the Syrian crisis, organized workshops in the DRC on UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, worked with the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, and taught a university course on the UN. Nathalie earned an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from Rutgers University and an LL.M. in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law from the University of Essex. Email:



Advisor and human rights lawyer
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Nicolette Naylor is a thought leader and advisor within the global philanthropic community and a human rights lawyer in South Africa and the international human rights system, specifically the UN, European Court of Human Rights and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. She is the Regional Director of the Office for Southern Africa at the Ford Foundation, working for gender, racial and ethnic justice with a targeted focus on eradicating violence against women and girls. Naylor has brought an intersectional approach to ending violence against women and girls through her work with minorities, men and boys, and LGBTQI+ groups and supports regional networks of sex work organizations.Before joining the foundation in 2007, Nicolette worked as a lawyer in the equality program at the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights (Interights) in London, focusing on international human rights and litigation, specifically women’s rights. Previously, she served as a public interest lawyer at the Women’s Legal Centre in Cape Town. Nicolette has been appointed to several advisory bodies, e.g. the Committee on Gender Equity set up to review draft legislation on violence against women in Nigeria. She has also served as a member of ACHPR’s expert committee for the protection of the rights of people living with, at risk for, or affected by HIV in Africa. Email:

Ofa Ki-Levuka

Guttenbeil Likiliki

Director of Tonga Women and Children’s Crisis Centre
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Ofa Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil Likiliki is a women’s rights activist from Tonga and is the Director of Tonga Women and Children’s Crisis Centre and also an Advisory Board Member of the Pacific Women’s Network Against VAW, along with numerous other affiliations. Likiliki has urged equality in women’s economic and educational empowerment, in their political involvement and representation, in land reform, protection from violence, and has advocated for the ratification of CEDAW for over a decade. On 9 March 2015, her advocacy came to fruition when the Tongan government agreed that it was prepared to ratify the convention. Ofa has a B.A and M.A from the University of Auckland in Film, TV, Media Communications and a post graduate Diploma with the Thomson Foundation (Cardiff Wales) in International Broadcast Journalism and an LLB from the University of the South Pacific. She is currently pursuing an LLM in legal reform required to enhance women’s participation in Tonga’s parliament. Ofa is also a filmmaker, with her most recent film VAI about women’s empowerment through culture, written and directed with 7 other female writer/directors, officially having its World Premier screened at Berlinale Film Festival 2019 and its American premiere at SXSW 2019. Her goal is to become a writer of stories that breathe the lived realities of women and children’s journeys towards building a more just world! Email:

Salima A.


Gender and Development Specialist
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Salima Bacchus-Hinds is a Guyanese feminist, and an advocate for the full realization of women’s rights to live free from structural and interpersonal violence. Salima is established as a Gender and Development Specialist, with over ten years’ experience within the civil society sector. Her work has spanned issues around empowerment of women and girls, domestic violence, community violence, and reproductive rights and justice. She’s led a number of projects across Guyana, aimed at raising awareness about VAW, connecting women and families to important resources and encouraging community dialogues about gender and rights. Salima holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of the West Indies (St Augustine), and a Masters in Gender Analysis for International Development from the University of East Anglia (UK). Salima is a recipient of the Chevening Scholarship, a Women Deliver scholarship; and she won the Paula Kantor prize for her Master’s dissertation: ‘Gender & Decolonization in Guyana: Nation’s Interests vs Women’s Interests’. Email:



Public speaker and human rights defender
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Shamah Bulangis, born in Dumaguete and raised in Surigao, has always had a passion for advocacy and education. Coming from a family of public-school teachers she found herself quite at ease when she was selected as an Adolescent Female Health Peer Educator specializing on Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children for Northeastern Mindanao. There she was able to find a passion in fighting for girl’s rights, even starting a support group of her own for girls who were victims of abuse. This was the catalyst to where Shamah is today, a well decorated public speaker and fierce defender of human rights. A decade later, now a 25-year-old lady, she has lobbied in front of the US Senate, been a community organizer for projects involving women’s rights, LGBT rights, farmers, drug related policies, and economic mobility, and has been invited to panel for international conferences for her work. She has worked with a diverse set of activists all over the globe. After dropping out of school to dedicate her life to activism, she now studies Foreign Affairs at Silliman University with a special interest on Feminist Foreign Policy and is maintaining an active role in community advocacy, believing the most impact made is by going local. Email: