Mama Cash’s five founders decided to focus on women’s activism. They were determined to bring about worldwide change from a feminist perspective. Mama Cash’s Articles of Association declared that the organisation would promote worldwide ‘women’s empowerment and feminism’. The first annual report stated: ‘To Mama Cash, feminism is a radical strategy for change. Therefore, it follows that she focuses more on change than on maintaining the status quo’. This also meant challenging the white, Western, heterosexual norm. Organisations qualifying for a grant, loan or guarantee would have to be run by a woman or a collective of women. Founder Marjan Sax: ‘What made Mama Cash special is that we were all active members of the women’s movement’. (watch interview)
The right to own your body and sexuality
Mama Cash supported Dutch women’s initiatives and those of women in the ‘Third World’ (as many countries in the Global South were then called). The autonomy of women and the right to make their own decisions about their bodies and lives was a central issue within the women’s movements of the 1970s and 1980s.
This was also true for Mama Cash. During those first years, her lesbian founders focused mostly on the right of women to own their own bodies and sexuality. Lesbian women should be visible, and the heterosexual norm should be challenged. Sex workers should have the same rights as any other women. Women should have access to safe abortion. In cases of violence, women should have access to a safe place to stay and violence prevention measures should be taken. Women fighting against female genital mutilation could also count on Mama Cash for support. In the Netherlands, projects run by and for black women were also prioritised.
Mama Cash mostly gave start-up money. Marjan Sax states: ‘No maintenance!’ New and unconventional proposals were preferred. Unknown and imaginative projects were seen as more exciting. ‘We had heated discussions about whether a grant proposal was feminist or not,’ says founding Mama Lida van den Broek. (watch interview)
In the Netherlands, Mama Cash also supported new entrepreneurs by providing loans or guarantees. During the 1980s in the Netherlands, women entrepreneurs were few. Prejudiced financial institutions doubted women’s entrepreneurial skills and were reluctant to do business with them. ‘Women and money’ was a taboo subject within the financial world, as well as in the wider social context. If women started their own businesses, it was usually a small undertaking. And financial institutions were mostly uninterested in providing small loans.
Tight purse mentality
Mama Cash was determined to get banks and women to think of each other as business partners. She wanted banks to overcome their reluctance to work with women entrepreneurs, and she wanted business women to get comfortable with money and loans. She also motivated women to get rid of the ‘tight purse mentality’ rooted in their historic lack of access to financial resources. ‘When the money runs out, women stop spending it,’ the first annual report noted (meaning that women were not accustomed to take on debt or live beyond their means).
Banks needed to adjust their stereotype of the standard entrepreneur: a white, 30-something middle class man with a wife and children. Instead, they needed to also think about the divorced woman, single mother and middle-aged woman as possible clients.
In co-founder Patti Slegers’ opinion, Mama Cash could have taken an even more radical approach. This was a time when creating a separate women’s political party and a women’s labour union were hot topics. Slegers: ‘At first we also wanted to establish a women’s bank and a women’s pension fund. I was paying one third of my income to a pension fund. This money would eventually be used to support the ‘cornerstone’ of society, in which the standard family occupied a dominant position. I preferred my share to be invested in women who chose a different life, like me’.