Women and NGOs

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Women and NGOs


  • women and health
  • Women and NGOs

NGOs have been playing an important role in advancing the agenda of women at both the national and international levels. They have done this through working as advocates and pressure groups, as well as being involved in implementation and service delivery. However, it hasn’t been a continuous success story. The capacity of NGOs to advance a progressive agenda is shaped and structured through institutional architecture as well as larger structures of the market and the state. NGOs have had the most success in the area of violence against women.


The focus will be on understanding the functioning of NGOs as different levels within the international framework including the United Nations (UN), as partners with the state and as advocacy and pressure groups. The contemporary period is marked by change and change for the social movement field as a whole. One of the important changes has been the proliferation of NGOs in the field of social movement. NGO is an abbreviation for Non-Governmental Organization and is used to denote various types of voluntary organisations, organizations involved in service delivery, advocacy, programmatic intervention etc. Organizations as diverse as Rotary clubs, associations of professionals such as doctors, public service trusts use the moniker NGO to designate themselves. NGOs are not a new phenomenon, voluntary organizations in general have a long history, but scholars have noted a ‘boom’ in the period since the 1990s, with NGOs increasing in number and becoming more influential actors in their field. ‘ Has been observed. Policy formulation, program implementation etc. Thus, NGOs have emerged as powerful actors within civil society.


The question of women’s rights. It has been noted by scholars (Alvarez, 1999) that with



patterns, strategies, programs and as some have pointed out, even in their objectives. this is done


The local context of the movements needs to be examined to understand the apparent contradiction of the above observations. (Basu, 1995)


Scholars have pointed out how the proliferation of NGOs led to a wider restructuring of the political sphere. It also points out how the matrix of NGO-ization in India is largely non-feminist, as NGOs engage with state, donors, market and civil society actors through complex networks and relationships that span these boundaries. . (Sangri 2007) In the Indian context, during 2003–04, 14,700 groups were registered with the Ministry of Home Affairs and received foreign funds worth Rs 4,856 crore (Rs 48.56 billion), up from Rs 3,403 crore in 1998–99 and Rs 230 crore were over Rs. In 1986. It is then argued that the proliferation of NGOs should be understood as the result of simultaneous but contradictory processes of state imposition and co-operation of women’s issues.


However the debate about funding and autonomous politics is very old, rooted in the Cold War era, where funding agencies were accused of playing a ‘nefarious’ role, particularly by extreme left-wing groups. Scholars tell that every Ra

The increasing participation of NGOs in the National Women’s Conference reflects the fact that today the women’s movement is a highly funded affair. (Biswas 2006) It is therefore in this context that we are going to examine the role of NGOs in advancing the agenda of women at the national and international levels.


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In the first section we will look at the United Nations system and the role of non-governmental organizations in it, particularly in relation to generating development discourse and practice. In the next section, we will examine the ways in which women’s groups and non-governmental organizations have been part of the conceptualization and implementation of government programs and how they have tried to advance women’s agenda through this. We will examine the experience of Women’s Development Program (WDP) and Mahila Samakhya for these purposes. In the third section, we will look at NGOs as advocacy and pressure groups and how they have been instrumental in the formulation of new laws through cases on laws on domestic violence and sexual harassment at workplace.


Role of the United Nations System and NGOs:

The United Nations (UN), which came into being in the context of the devastation and human loss of World War II, has been an important reference point for debates around gender and development. It therefore becomes important for us to explore the ways in which the UN system has defined women’s rights issues and how NGOs have found avenues and spaces to advance their agendas within a range. have been created.


Largely state-centric UN system. Scholars such as Jain (2005) have argued that the advancement of women’s agenda within the UN system was shaped through four levels of competition, alliance and cooperation: at the national and international levels; within the United Nations, between the ‘malestream’ and the ‘substream of women’; Within the ‘women’s stream’ – based on location and politics and between women’s movements and women within the United Nations. They argue that we need to conceptualize the journey of gender and development issues within the United Nations in the following stages:

  • Setting the stage for equality (1945-1965)

The first phase of the linkage between gender and development issues was inaugurated in 1946 with the formation of the Commission on the Status of Women. CS W was authorized to report and make recommendations regarding the political, social, economic equality, civil and educational rights of women. There was much debate within the United Nations on the need for a separate commission. At this stage, the issue of women came under the ambit of human rights. The women’s sub-section argued that rights are indivisible, they did not accept or apply the division of human rights into civil and political on the one hand and economic, social and cultural on the other. She argued that women’s issues concerned everyone and there should be accountability in all parts of the system. Thus, at this early stage, we see that the concept of right to equality has evolved in a way to emphasize equality of rights of men and women in terms of equal access to resources as well as other rights like universal suffrage for women. was taken for This period was marked by two trends: agencies worked together on women’s issues, collaborating on issue-based topics as well as creating women-only systems. The voices of Third World women who were increasingly visible in this period underscored issues such as the invisibility of their work as well as combating customs. These voices also expanded the concept of equality beyond legal equality to equal participation in nation building, social and economic development, civic responsibilities and overall improvement in the status of women. Thus, the issue of equality for women rapidly turned into a debate on development.

Working strategies included coalitions of women on the “inside” and “outside”, using informal methods to complement formal methods. Jain (2005) points out that this formed a triangular coalition of women representatives in UN bodies, women working in the Secretariat (or UN bureaucracy) and women working outside the UN. With regard to non-governmental organizations, this was an important stage as they were given a consultative status within the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).


Women working within non-governmental organizations and the United Nations began to point out gender issues within development. She argued that the UN’s approach to development was based on stereotypical notions of femininity and issues affecting women from the north, as well as the perception of funding agencies. For example, she pointed out how a USAID-supported community development program in India was based on a gender schema, which assumed that men were involved in agriculture, not women. Hence the program imparts agricultural knowledge for men and home science for women. Feminists pointed out how this was a problem with the American program with its implicit assumptions about race, class, gender, etc.

s the amount of exports.

  • Making development a right (1966-1975)

The second phase was marked by efforts to integrate women into the overall development effort, taking Women’s Issues and Perspectives in Development (WID) to the world stage. It was also a time marked by the creation of an institutional structure to promote gender equality. In 1967, the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (DEDAW) was promulgated, the first comprehensive legal measure on women’s rights. This signaled the acceptance on the part of the United Nations to deal with the phenomenon of discrimination from the perspective of women. DEDAW looked at legal and extra-legal barriers to equality and opened the private sector to scrutiny.

It was a period of learning to integrate women into development, questioning paradigms by drawing from empirical research, especially country-based research on women as workers. This led to the integration of women into overall policy making, including programs to generate employment, provide education and provide vocational training. The CSW also included the economic contribution of women in its concept of equality, which marked a clear departure from the principles of modernization that were dominant at the time. Hence this period saw the beginning of programs for women/programming for women as well as funding for projects targeted at women. Through the efforts of women’s non-governmental organizations, this period saw the rise of the “equity” approach in which women should be given equal status, equal privileges and rights with men.

In terms of expanding women’s rights, this was an important period, with the first World Conference on Women held in Mexico City in 1975. It marked the increasing visibility of women’s issues within the United Nations and the international women’s movement, and was the first conference devoted entirely to women’s issues. Women’s issues at the level of the United Nations As is well known, this conference and its preparations had a huge impact on knowledge production


Status of women at the national level. For example, in India, in preparation for this conference the government commissioned the Status of Women in India report. this document which


The report, published as ‘Towards Equality’, highlights that the status of women in India has not only improved since independence, but it has remained so for most of the time, with the possible exception of the spread of education among urban women. Worn out on the indicators. The report implicated the Indian post-colonial state for its failure to provide basic rights to its women and was in many ways the impetus for a renewed focus on women’s issues and the opening of ‘women’ as a subject of knowledge production . This institutionalized the agenda for the formation of Women’s Studies Centers and knowledge production by and about women. The report was also important because it helped challenge assumptions about development. The politics of the formation of the ‘women’ category and how the report was ‘allowed’ by the Indian state, which in the same year was suppressing democratic rights and civil liberties, political protest and dissent of any kind through the proclamation of emergency. , points to the ways in which ‘women’ were seen as a non-political, protected category of state benevolence. However, it is important to note that women’s groups were able to successfully press for the inclusion of the women’s agenda at the UN level.

Another defining moment was the inclusion of an NGO forum at the Mexico conference. This included not only established NGOs with consultative status but also smaller, newer groups. It ushered in a new kind of networking, using the UN site for greater synergy, thereby increasing the ability to respond faster. The World Action Plan that resulted from the conference pointed to a new perspective that informed the relationship between women and development, seeing women not only as recipients of welfare but as contributors to development and peace.


The declaration coming out of Mexico is also testament to the politics around women and development, there is no consensus in the declaration, which has three themes drawn from first, second and third world women respectively – equality, development and peace. Many NGOs, informal groups, networks and national and international events arose from the International Women’s Year (declared by the United Nations in 1975) and the subsequent decade was a jumping board for a new phase of the United Nations’ partnership with the constituency called women. .

  • Questioning Development Paradigms (1976-1985)

In the context of the new economic order, development came to be redefined in terms of well-being as well as equity. The focus was on meeting material and social needs of daily needs, which are seen as basic needs and an anti-poverty approach. On the other hand, this context was also marked by a resurgence of neo-liberal theories and structural


Adjustment. This period saw the continuation of the redefining of equality for women in terms of including developments in rights.

She was drawn. 1975–85, designated as the Decade of Women, also saw an explosion of knowledge that focused on inequalities between men and women. Much work has been done by activists and researchers in the field of women’s work, pointing out flaws in tools for measuring work that make women’s work invisible, measurement of unpaid work, time use surveys, labor force I focused on poor women and women. , All this highlights that women were deeply involved in the economy but were not recognised.

In the Copenhagen Conference that followed in Mexico, the harmful effects of globalization on women’s bodies and economies and issues such as Palestine and apartheid were brought to the fore and the links between peace and development were recognized. It declared on the participation of women in promoting international peace and co-operation.

Another important result of this time period was the emergence of new networks such as DAWN (Development Options with Women for a New Era), which emerged as part of the preparations for the 1985 Nairobi Conference. South She argued that planning needed to focus on the needs of the poor and that the work of poor women should be at the center of development planning. Dawn’s other focus was to create South-South reflections on development. It is a network of scholars and activists who continue to conduct research and advocacy within the United Nations system and in the various countries from which its membership is derived.

  • Development as a Women’s Affair (1986-1995)


The decade between 1986 and 1995 has been a decade of contrasts: on the one hand, it saw the increasing dominance of free market policies and liberalisation, referred to as the Reagan and Thatcher eras. This meant an impetus to structural adjustment policies (SAP) meaning less government spending and developmental loans with conditions to implement SAP. The end of the Cold War also meant an increasing role for the Bretton Woods institutions and a decreasing role for the United Nations and its agencies in the negotiations.

NG Economic Justice. On the other hand, this is also the period in which alternative measures of progress such as HDR emerge and the informal sector becomes an important sector of the economy. Scholars such as Jain (2005) argue that this period also saw the mobilization of women to influence policy and the emergence of women as leaders, as well as the growing importance of women’s NGOs at UN conferences. Went. It was also a paradox, as women activists, academics and policy makers worked to increase knowledge and change policy.


The pursuit of equality in the United Nations and at home was slow progress and female poverty was on the rise.






Participation in the economic and political spheres.


The contours of the global economy were also changing rapidly during this period, with the informal economy coming to center stage. The policies of liberalisation, privatization and globalization created a scenario in which women based in the Third World were given priority as workers. NGOs responded to these changes by creating more knowledge about women workers in the informal sector. This new knowledge and continued advocacy efforts led to changes in the visibility of domestic work and the accounting system for national accounts. For the first time, unpaid household work was counted and a





Workers in informal sectors.


Another major area in which feminist concerns were successfully pushed was the issue of violence against women. From the 1993 Vienna Convention on Human Rights, which coined the slogan ‘Women’s rights are human rights’, to the appointment of two Special Rapporteurs – one on sexual violence during war and the other on violence against women, NGO recognition of violence able to emphasize. as a major international concern. Prior to the Vienna Conference, women’s groups around the world networked to advance women’s rights. She organized speak-out sessions for women survivors of violence and used advocacy strategies to advance women’s rights, becoming a platform for the conference as a whole. This has led to greater awareness of the gendered nature of the conflict, as seen at the International Criminal Tribunals on Yugoslavia and Rwanda (the ICTY and the ICTR, respectively).

Thus, as far as NGOs were concerned, this period meant an expansion in methods of engagement including conferences, networks, caucuses. many new networks emerged in


This period and networking emerged as a conscious form of organizing, with a sharp focus on differences among women based on caste, class, caste, location and preferences.

  • Contemporary Period (1996 onwards)


The contemporary period has seen great debate over the role of the United Nations, the harsh effects of SAPs, the convergence of militarisation, globalization and conservatism, and the limited nature of the UN’s response to the growing crisis. Women continue to be excluded from the corridors of power within the United Nations and are struggling to move into decision-making roles. Although the rhetoric is mainstream, women and women’s issues have remained in the ghetto. The success of the policy in this phase was largely due to women.

The conflict with women’s groups manages to pressure the Security Council to adopt Resolution 1325 which recognizes sexual violence against women as a war crime.

NGOs have used strategies such as shadow and alternative reports to highlight non-compliance and non-implementation of obligations by nation-states that have been signatories to various United Nations conventions. The idea is to ‘name and shame’, so as to motivate nation-states to take necessary steps to promote and fulfill women’s rights.


Thus, we see through this overview that advocacy and mobilization by women’s NGOs and other networks has brought gender visibility but complex issues remain.

NGOs as facilitators of government programs


An important way for NGOs to advance the women’s agenda has been to implement and facilitate government programs that aim to serve either women’s practical, daily interests or their strategic, long-term interests. One of the key roles of NGOs in this regard has been to push to serve more strategic interests even in programs that have very limited goals. We will try to understand the possibilities and limitations of NGOs working in tandem with government programs in the case of the Mahila Samakhya programme.

Mahila Samakhya has prominently discussed the relationship between women and empowerment, the women’s movement and the state as well as understanding the possibilities and limitations of government-civil society partnership, of which MS is an important and prominent example. It is carried out by the state and feminist groups in partnership with each other and is structured as a hybrid “state-organized non-organized”.


government organization” aims to collectively empower and mobilize low-caste, rural Indian women.









Empowerment remains political.





How some development initiatives in India align with neoliberal principles.


The relationship between the women’s movement and the state has always been a two-way street. Formal policies and programs have attempted to project the postcolonial state as the primary agent of development and change (Gupta and Sharma 2006; Ray and Katzenstein 2005) and as the custodian and promoter of the welfare of marginalized people, including women . The women’s movement along with many other social movements and organizations have demanded affirmative action from the state and sought to protect the interests of the underprivileged.


They have done so in the hope that the state can and should have the necessary resources and opportunities to bring about change which they may not be in a position to do (Agnihotri and Parliwala 2001). This is clearly visible in the use of legal amendments as a major tactic by the women’s movement, as well as ancillary criticism of the movement’s ‘statism’ (Agnes 1994).

However, scholars point out that the decade of the 1990s represents a turning point in this expectation, mainly because of the changing character of the state in this period, moving away from its initial socialist outlook (Ramachandran and Janadhalay 2012). Is. they


argues that the Indian state increasingly recognizes that it has no choice but to liberalize finance and privatize the economy, promoting NGOs to do work that the state is unable or unwilling to do Is. They also point to the country’s changing political landscape, where institutions of local self-governance have been revived with constitutional amendments in the name of decentralization and enabling local governance and people’s ownership of the development process, and promoting women’s participation. has given.


It has been pointed out that attention to the particularities of the Indian case, allow us to question the general description of neoliberalism as “de-sulfurization” or “roll back”, as it reflects the troubling travels and contradictions of neoliberal ideologies (Sharma). points to effects. , 2010). The Mahila Samakhya program has been studied as a venue through which the expressive nature of neoliberalism and its ambiguous, unequal effects can be demonstrated. This formulation asserts that MS cannot be viewed as a specific neoliberal program, but is rather an overarching product of multiple forces and ideologies not limited to neoliberalism.


An initiative focused on collective empowerment, it borrows from diverse frameworks, yet operates in a context where empowerment of individuals and communities is widely promoted as a mainstream technique of neoliberal development and governance. Thus, the programme, with its accidental and curious ideological fusions, appropriations and inconsistencies, overturns any preconceived notions about what empowerment might mean or what its consequences might be (Sharma, 2010: 189). . Thus, in terms of engagement of women’s movements with the state, the critical question in the context of neoliberal globalization is not whether they should engage with the state, but how.

However, it is important for us to note here that

It will be noted that this entry has to be scrutinized carefully, as studies indicate that women (feminized and politically passive) tend to identify their public roles within the realm of ‘social service’ (Ghosh and Lama). -Revel 2005; Strulik 2008). As explained in the context of Kerala, there is a clear distinction between the degree of activity and autonomy, the mode of governance and the relationship of each domain to capital (devika and local administration) between the realms of ‘high politics’ and ‘local governance’. There is a difference. Thampi 2012). The sphere of ‘local governance’ where women are located is seen in this classification as governance-by-rules-and-process, with more leeway for consensus-building. Thus, scholars have argued that in many ways this meant that acute feminist challenges to the distinction between politics and development/the public and the private were ignored, even in the context of women’s access to public. The question was partially adapted, the tool was created for Community Welfare. and local development. In a sense, can it be argued that the entry of women





political for women. But it has also interrogated in important ways the nexus between knowledge and power.


Thus, we look through this discussion to what extent it is possible for NGOs to advance the agenda of women and gender equality through facilitating and implementing government programmes. This has not been an easy task given the complex nature of the state in neoliberal times. The rhetoric of empowerment has opened up space for feminist engagement, but The agenda has often been a contradiction.


NGOs as Advocacy and Pressure Groups

NGOs have played an extremely important role in bringing about changes in legislation and policies, acting as advocacy and pressure groups. those eggs

Studying existing laws and policies, pointing out deficiencies, and engaging with the state to bring about changes in policies and laws. A good example of this would be the law related to domestic violence and the campaign run by women NGOs for this.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (henceforth DV Act) came into force in 2005. It is an important piece of legislation as it makes domestic violence a legally recognized category while also providing a range of civil remedies for domestic violence survivors. , As pointed out by Jaisingh (2009), it is also important to apply the principles of constitutional law to the ‘private’/domestic, long-contested realm. The law came as a result of a sustained campaign for more than a decade, but it also has its roots in a long-standing movement on the question of violence against women.


women. In the 1970s, the women’s movement first brought to the fore the question of violence within the domestic/intimate sphere, initially referred to as ‘dowry deaths’. The movement underlined that violence within the private/intimate space cannot be seen as a personal tragedy and should be viewed as a political issue, part of a larger structure of unequal gender relations. Through this campaign two important amendments to the Indian Penal Code 304B (dealing with dowry deaths) and 498A (which addresses cruelty to wife by husband/relatives) were introduced. Cruelty was made a cognizable, non-bailable offense under 498A. However, once the matter came to court, it became clear that there were several problems with the clause. On the one hand, it focused on married women, leaving invisible a range of violence faced by unmarried/older women within the household; on the other hand, the definition of brutality was such that it covered a spectrum of daily, sexual, emotional violence. Spectrum left out. scope of the law. The law recognized cruelty only if the woman could prove that she was forced to commit suicide or hurt herself. This limited the law in terms of its application.


Should it be made gender-neutral and can women be made defendants? NGOs such as the Lawyers Collective continued to undertake advocacy efforts, including submissions to the Joint Parliamentary Committee and other fora, to advance the bill, and it was finally passed in 2006.

NGOs are working to monitor the implementation of the Bill even after its enactment, push for the appointment of conservation officers, and submit monitoring and evaluation reports for better and more effective implementation. Studies indicate that while the DV Act has the potential to be highly useful, its effectiveness for survivors of violence is constrained by the patriarchal framework through which courts and other law enforcement agencies operate, where families are less able to sustain Seen as an entity and protected at all costs. The ability of NGOs to advance a feminist agenda within an institutional framework faces this major obstacle.



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