Women’s NGOs are changing the world
In contemporary global development circles, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are now performing many more roles and activities than they did a few decades ago.
NGOs work with governments, community groups and the private sector — to develop and implement programs, monitor and evaluate their progress and help train people working on those projects.
They’re considered more nimble than other institutions in accomplishing development goals, because they can reach the most vulnerable or disaffected people in a community and find innovative solutions to problems.
Although their funding streams and institutional decision-making structures are typically multinational, NGOs’ legitimacy, indeed, often rests on perceptions of them being “local” and “close to the people.”
NGOs are increasingly taking on the responsibility of implementing the gender equality and women’s empowerment agendas of the global development sector.
But very rarely have researchers tried to understand or document the specific challenges and opportunities that NGOs work- ing on gender equality, or those that define themselves as feminist NGOs or women’s NGOs, face — when participating in multiple-stakeholder projects like Canada’s new feminist international assistance policy.
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in 2015, and the Canadian initiative that includes $150 million in funding for advancing the rights of women and girls, will undoubtedly increase the engagement of women’s NGOs in a variety of activities.
That means understanding the opportunities and constraints faced by women’s NGOs in multiple-stakeholder projects is increasingly important.
Women’s NGOs in India and Tanzania
We’re basing our observations upon research conducted over the past decade in India, where women’s NGOs were involved in delivering urban basic services like water, sanitation and electricity, and in Tanzania, where women’s NGOs helped deliver community health and microenterprise development services.
In both contexts, we found that women’s NGOs played crucial roles in development projects, often mobilizing, organizing and building projects that otherwise would never have launched.
In India, for example, women’s NGOs in the state of Gujarat mobilized local communities to participate in urban development projects. They helped form community-based organizations to represent local interests and implemented community development projects — such as health services, adult literacy and child care.
Women’s NGOs also conducted research to determine whether local communities could afford to pay for basic urban services.
They negotiated subsidies, fair pricing and flexible terms of payment with utilities on behalf of marginalized people. They arranged access to loans from microfinance institutions for households that could not cover the cost of water or electricity connections.
And by insisting that water and electricity bills be issued in the names of female heads of households, women’s NGOs strengthened women’s access to property and housing.
The NGOs also educated stakeholders about the realities of life for the urban poor, and shared lessons learned in one urban area with NGOs in other cities in India.
In Tanzania, we studied the community partner role played by a women’s NGO in a project delivering health and microenterprise services across East Africa.
The project, which brought together the Tanzanian government, public research and medical institutions, international charitable organizations, community-based organizations and beneficiaries, envisioned the establishment of community kitchens across East Africa to produce probiotic yogurt.
The yogurt would be sold for profit and distributed for free to certain vulnerable groups, including children with nutritional deficiencies and people living with HIV/AIDS.