Sunday, November 5, 2017

Women’s Empowerment - Do NGOs help? By Jimmy Dabhi

Women’s Empowerment - Do NGOs help? By Jimmy Dabhi 
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are not a coherent category of organisations. Literally, NGO would mean any organisation, which is not governmental but directly under the government control. This would include profit and non-profit organisations, religious and political organisations and organisations with right and left wing ideologies. Therefore, not all NGOs are capable of or/and are interested in empowering the marginalised and women in particular. The reasons for NGO existence, the mindset of people within the organisation and the development discourse that exists therein become important because it determines their commitment, the approach and the engagement. 
For our purpose the non-governmental organizations are not-for-profit agencies, not affiliated to any government or private sector entity, devoted to managing resources and implementing projects with the goal of addressing social problems, development, empowerment and human rights issues. They may receive some public funding (see
In the following section I have dealt with roots and orientation of NGOs at some length and at the risk of being unfair to my treatment of core subject – women’s empowerment in terms of space allotted. I take the risk because for understanding the NGOs, their inspirational roots and approaches is crucial in the era of privatisation where some NGOs are willing to play the godmother and letting off the government of its constitutional responsibility.
Roots of NGOs
The ambiguity of roots and motives exists in NGOs. For example, in India one finds NGOs, which are not for profit and promoted by various political parties or leaders. There are NGOs, which are promoted by retired bureaucrats and who continue to use their influence for resource mobilisation from government agencies. Yet there are NGOs, which are promoted by the private sector and involved in community development. There is a critique that some of these extended social service NGOs affiliated to corporate sector are often for tax evasion besides adhering to demanded social responsibility.
The historical reasons of mushrooming of the NGOs in the past three decades or so are many. For example - the freedom and social reform movements, Gandhian tradition and the tradition of civic action in India, which goes back to more than a century, various religious traditions such as the liberation theology and the 1970s Jesuits inspired NGOs (Dabhi, 2003).  Other reasons include unemployment among the educated middle class, high castes, delusion from political process and promises, government development programs (Sen, 1992; Sheth & Shethi, 1991; Fisher, 1993; Dabhi, 2004). The new economic policy, liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation have reduced the role of the government and NGOs are encouraged. Many NGOs, network, research institutes and centres have emerged due to funding opportunities from the government, UN agencies, foreign donors, World Bank and other Foundations. Some suggest that in India, the element of availability of government as well as foreign funding plays an important role in the establishment of NGOs (Pandey, 1991; Tondon, 1989).
Failure of market especially in terms of people having no buying capacity for their basic needs and government failure in terms of ensuring basic human needs (stipulated by the country) and welfare services (Bhatt, 1987; Sheth and Shethi, 1991; Sen, 1992) may be considered yet another factor in the creation of voluntary agencies, as "market-government theory suggests that when both market and government fail to provide needed services, the non-profit sector develops" (Winkle, 1990). The failure of the State in protecting basic needs and human rights of its citizens lead to the formation of NGOs. For instance - the Constitution of India has abolished untouchability but in practice it exists all over the country, the land reforms have hardly been implemented in the absence of ‘political will’ (see Baxi 1994, Khan, 1995, Dabhi, 2004).
The other major factor in the establishment of NGOs in some of our Third World countries including India as I have argued elsewhere (Dabhi, 2003) is the charismatic leadership (Bhat, 1989; Pandey, 1991, Sen, 1992; Fisher, 1993; Clark, 1991). Their previous experience, political, bureaucratic and caste, class association, enthusiasm, commitment to the objective, public profile (Connor, 1992; Sills, 1980), and their ability to mobilise domestic and foreign funds matter a great deal in the establishment of a new organisation. I have argued elsewhere (Dabhi, 2005:28) “There has been an emergence of a great number of NGOs headed by people with various ideologies and needs, finding this platform to fulfil their needs and aspirations such as power, employment, a mass base to enter politics …”. This leadership has often emerged from various kinds of people and professional groups, playing a significant role in establishing some of the NGOs. In India such leadership has also helped in setting up a chain of NGOs all headed by husband, wife and other family members. Some of them in some way are like the private sector - family owned and managed organisations.
Natural and manmade disasters (Bhopal gas tragedy, Latur, Kutch and Kashmir earthquakes, Tsunami), a number of communal riots, and the recent State sponsored carnage like that of Gujarat, have in the last three decades cost India many lives and much property. Human response to these situations and circumstances has exhibited the goodwill of people from all walks of life.  But unfortunately, it has also revealed the social discrimination and biases that exists in our society. However, amidst all  this, some groups have transcended  their religious differences and established informal groups  with formal NGOs to help the victims, create awareness, work for human rights and bring harmony (not without justice) among all communities in different states of India.
Yet another factor is the availability of required resources like committed people to give their time and energy for the cause, finance, infrastructure like office, and technology. An altruistic motive of enhancement of one's country and its people has motivated many individuals and groups to do something for the people who are economically, socially and politically marginalised (Dabhi, 2003).
Last but not least, there is realisation that a systematic organisational response is needed, beyond individual and family, in order to meet the need effectively. It is argued that the "needs and aspirations of human beings are the reasons for organised effort in the society" (French and Bell, 1990:49).
It is difficult to gauge which factors are strong and which are not but they do colour the nature and approach of the kind of work that NGOs do and also how they will do.
Orientation of NGOs
The orientation, the direction and the goal (mission) of any organisation is determined by its needs and the needs of the communities/service users/consumers that the organisation wants to satisfy or/ and work with. The social needs of the people will depend on the historical context and in return influence the role that the NGOs  can play - "The NGO sectors in different countries have developed widely differing characteristics according to the history of the state, the amount of development assistance received and the gap perceived in public service provision" (Farrigton & Lewis, 1993:30). It is suggested (Singh, 2005:229), “Strictly speaking, the NGOs are more involved in the welfare and development work, but the social action groups are more interested in social action”.
The NGO leadership, its staff and volunteers look at and interpret reality, social problems differently; and attribute different cause-effect analysis to the situation that exists and is evolving. The development discourse of NGOs is not the same even if they are called development and empowerment NGOs. It is suggested that the NGOs and even action groups do not have the same  or similar kind of ideology and work ethics (Singh, 2005). The NGOs have different approaches to development often depending on their top leadership (see Dabhi, 2004) leaning towards ‘right’, ‘centre’ or the ‘left’. The discourse and the ideology do not necessarily translate into matching action as there is always a disparity between the stated and actual goals among organisations and NGOs are no exception.
The inspiration, the historical roots, the context and motives of the founders of NGOs and top leadership are the determinant factors in the involvement and interventions of these organisations in the lives of the people/community they work for or work with.
Some of the NGOs, which have emerged with a clear vision and mission of empowering the downtrodden and taking a stand for them, have responded to the violation of human rights against the vulnerable groups and communities. For others, any engagement and intervention that demands confrontation with the establishment and powers that are, do not fall in their purview of involvement Many NGOs are fully involved   in activities related to the development  of the poor and  marginalised but shy away in taking a clear stand against violators.  Very few will condemn openly the crimes against these communities or take a stand against the people concerned. It is common knowledge that a couple of internationally known NGOs chose to be silent even in the face of violence against the minorities in Gujarat in 2002.–SEWA was one of them.
Some NGOs raise a lot of hue and cry in the wake of violence and atrocities against the marginalised communities, in preparation and during various events, parliament sessions, etc. Take for example our ‘morchas’ — (protest marches), their leaders make emotional speeches, which may be useful, temporarily but unless they are followed through, one fails to respond to crimes and atrocities adequately (Dabhi, 2004).The NGOs that are involved in welfare or just development activities with no intention of changing the power structure and social order in favour of the poor will not easily respond to the crime and atrocities and related issues. Conflict with the government, donors and vested interests whether caste, class, or/and religion is something they would like to avoid, of course with due justification.
It is argued that organizations including social organisations like development NGOs are not totally autonomous entities pursuing desired ends at their own discretion. Rather, organizations are constrained by the environment as a consequence of their resource needs. The resource dependence perspective of Pfeffer and Salancik (1978), maintains that organisations depend on external organisations for resources. It is, therefore, argued that a potential side effect of goal displacement occurs when goals and activities are modified to satisfy the wishes of contributors, individuals and organisations. Goal displacement is an obvious danger that NGOs face. Those NGOs, which enjoy the government, caste, religious and political patronage, would hardly get involved in issues, which would jeopardise or threaten their relationship to financial resources, and their survival.
If we look at organisations as problem solving (Billis 1984),  then what Fisher (1993) indicates seems appropriate. He suggests three main problems round which the development of NGOs' role rotates --- poverty, environmental degradation, and population growth. We can add to the list of problems today – human rights violation, growing intolerance of other religions, cultures, fundamentalism, socio-economic discrimination of various communities and groups based on caste, sex, religion and regions, conflict and violence, criminalisation of politics, etc. We must note that these problems are interlinked but the directions of causality are complex and multidimensional. Now the response to each of these problems will determine varied roles for the NGOs working in that direction. However, I would like to argue that responding to the problems is not the only motive of the NGOs. Survival, legitimacy, publicity, visibility, conflict avoidance and funding opportunities, orientation of the leadership are other factors that influence the kind of roles  that NGOs play and the responses they make.
Expansion in size and the diversification has led NGOs to move to what may be called the ‘non- controversial’ areas of operation- like ‘education’ and ‘health’. In a study of NGOs (BSC, 1998) the percentages of organizations, which have cited general or non-controversial activities, are much higher than those, which have cited ‘specialized’ or controversial activities. Education and vocational training (73.96%), health (73.49%), alleviation of poverty (61.19%) and environment action (66.67%) are the ‘general’ and ‘non-controversial’ activities that engage the highest number of NGOs.  When it comes to controversial activities like countering injustice and atrocities or gender issues based action or advocacy, the percentage of organizations is reduced.
In the complex civil society and development NGO scenario, it is not easy to understand the role of NGOs and women’s empowerment.  There are many NGOs including women headed NGOs, which are engaged in the process of women’s empowerment. The reasons could be many and often missed. After the Sixth Five Year Plan the Indian State has provided greater scope for NGOs to implement various social development plans including National Policy of Women 2001. Another reason cited can be  what is called ‘NGOisation of feminism’ (see Chaudhari, 2004:xxxviii), where gender studies and work related to gender justice is often projected as a viable professional and well paying option, especially in some big NGOs or funding NGOs. Like the large number of development NGOs headed by men in India these NGO heads are also women from so called high caste, high class and from so called ‘majority religion’ community (also see BSC, 1998).
There are a number of networks of NGOs that have emerged in the last decade especially based in Delhi. They are either issue based or focused on a particular group or community such as women, Dalits, Adivasis, children, unorganised labourers, slum dwellers, etc. These networks are often managed by the Delhi based NGOs and leadership coming together for some events. A few of these networks are very participatory, democratic and down up while others are very top down and Delhi based leadership and NGO driven. The issues these network advocate for and follow up, often depend on the leadership of the network and their rootedness in people’s struggle at grassroots. Some of the networks and NGO efforts are fragmented for various reasons weakening the struggle for empowerment of weaker sections especially women.
The above discussion makes it amply clear that NGOs have their own inspirational and existential roots and reasons and these roots and reasons often personalised in their leaders influence the approach and the orientation NGOs have. Therefore, gender justice, equality, and empowerment may not be the direct  or indirect focus of many of the NGOs.
The following section highlights two aspects of development and empowerment, which contribute to women’s psycho-socio and economic disempowerment and enslavement. Ideological underpinning and development discourse of the NGOs become important consideration to be engaged in women’s empowerment. 

Women’s empowerment

A word of caution – no one empowers   anyone, we empower ourselves. Many years ago, Julius Nyerere said, "People are not developed, they develop themselves" (The Hindu, 27th April 2003). Unfortunately this wisdom  bypasses many of us and we become saviour and messiah of people,. Empowerment, therefore, is closely associated with humanisation, values and attitudes, which enhances human life within and around. Therefore, it seems to me that empowerment must be understood as a process of facilitating or accompanying others and not as an act of supplying power. Otherwise, it would appear like ‘banking’ education’ to use Freire’s terminology where imparting knowledge is an act of charity to those who are considered ignorant - where an “i know everything, you know nothing” attitude is exhibited (Dabhi, 1999). If we agree that empowerment is a process then we must accept that a process cannot be static; it has to be dynamic. This consideration may have a significant impact on the empowerment pedagogy. The static understanding of empowerment has the danger of overlooking the significance of historical changes in the factors that determine social, political and economic power. It is, therefore, more accurate to consider this a dynamic process - "in relative terms as a variable position upon a continuumneously empowered and disempowered in relation to various other groups or individuals" (Meintjes, 1997).
We, the civil society therefore create and promote an environment which facilitates empowerment of those who have been robbed, deprived and excluded from the processes of development and empowerment. Women do not need  others to empower them. They have been objectified enough, they are subjects and an environment is required where their subjectivity is enhanced and affirmed.  The idea and concept of empowering others especially the Dalit and Adivasi women invites and endorses patriarchal and varna ideologies and the mindset of higher and lower, givers and receivers, superior humans and lesser humans.
Therefore, we will attempt here to highlight areas and issues that hinder the process of empowerment.

Enslavement – psycho-social and economic

“Without going into either the ethics or the necessities of the case, we have reached so much common ground: the female of genus homo is supported by the male. Whereas, in other species of animals, male and female alike graze and browse, hunt and kill, climb, swim, dig, run, and fly for their livings, in our species the female does not seek her own living in the specific activities of our race, but is fed by the male” (Gilman, 1998). [1]
Empowerment becomes necessary because human beings are enslaved in spite of the desire and aspiration to be free, to live a meaningful, dignified and healthy life. Enslavement can be described in various terms and contexts – political (colonisation), economic (employment dependency), social (domination and followership), psychological (low self image/ esteem), ideological (dogmatism), physical (imprisoned, prevention of movement), etc. Enslavement does not only affect the external, the physical but it impacts the internal, the psyche, and the human mindset. Enslavement dehumanises the enslaver and the enslaved, the exploiter and the exploited. Therefore, both are in need of empowerment and humanisation – the approach, emphasis, priority and preference will differ. We shall look at a few of the phenomena, which enslave women.

Social enslavement - ideologies, mindset and socialisation process

Meaning system is important for living meaningful life. In many ways ideologies provide meaning, motivation and ways to behave and live in society. In India, caste we are born into, sex difference we are born with, and certain religio-culture beliefs and environment we are brought up with. It may be difficult to alter your birth or the sex you are born with – it is given, i.e. biological. But what follows is social construct, human made to be more precise man made.
Ideologies such as caste, gender, patriarchy and class influence and shape the individual and groups’ worldview, perception of self and others, the way they relate and the behaviour including work place. These ideologies are discriminatory and discrimination is based on the assumed superiority (along with privileges) of the one against the inferiority of the other. For example woman being inferior to man, Adivasi, Dalit and poor Muslim inferior to the socalled high caste Hindus. On this is built the edifice of inequality, injustice, and oppression. I have argued (Dabhi, 2005b) elsewhere that ideologies are discriminating, falsely defining who is and who is not a person (a white man, a high caste is person; a woman, a Dalit, an Adivasi or a Muslim woman is not), what is good and what is not good (what men, so called high caste do is good, the others cannot do anything which is good); what is possible and what is not (therefore Dalits cannot become high caste, women cannot become men, the nearest thing they can do is to imitate the behaviour of those who are superior to them - so sanskritistion and women behaving like machos but remain in their boundary in their dharma, apni aukat nahin bhulna hai).
These ideologies place people, communities in hierarchical order and maintain these harsh and oppressive hierarchies by means of a complex combination of custom, functionality and religious belief (Chitnis, 2004). The religious discourse of karma and dharma applies to both caste and gender. The scriptures (Manu-smriti) distinguished between the twice-born castes (the so called upper castes) on the one hand and women and shudras (including the ‘avarna’ - the ‘atisudra’) on the other. Women and shudras were regarded as life-long slaves from birth to death, with slavery inborn in them (Franco and Sarvar, 1989). These ideologies with backing of tradition (glorified past) and religion have promoted and perpetuated gender discrimination. It is always the poor, children and women who face the brunt of discrimination and not the top class and top castes. People like Buddha and Guru Govind fought against some of the anti-women, anti-poor and anti-human elements in these ideologies and practices; unfortunately some of the followers of these noble human beings practice the opposite. Let me cite an example of how evil these ideologies can be for those who face triple exploitation and discrimination because they are poor, they are avarna (outcaste) and they are women. The scriptures claim, that for a ‘low’ caste woman to be sexually used by a ‘high’ caste man is the equivalent of going on a pilgrimage and bring her a step closer to moksha (see Franco and Sarvar, 1989).
A mindset has to do with the way we perceive and respond to people and environment. The mindset of a person or people is associated with the process of socialization which is learning values, norms, language, and behaviour needed to function in a group or society. Socialization agents often include mass media, parents, peers, school, places of worship, and festivals. Socialisation of a kind promotes a mindset; a bias against women in the form of symbols (words and action) to perpetual male domination. Bourdieu, the French sociologist arguing that capital underpinning of all forms of power, whether they are material, cultural, social, or symbolic suggests, “Individuals and groups draw upon a variety of cultural, social, and symbolic resources in order to maintain and enhance their positions in the social order” (Swartz, 1997:73).
Empowerment is closely related to women’s autonomy and her rights as an individual person and not as wife, daughter, in-law or just another woman of the community, clan and caste. It is rightly argued that “the questions of women’s autonomy were historically subsumed within question of religion, community, and personal law and hardly ever treated as a matter of either individual right or justice. Autonomy for women thus remained hostage to community rights (Banerjee, 2005:49).
Girls and women continue to be killed before they are born, immediately after birth or through neglect in the first few years of their lives and after marriage if they do not fetch fat dowries, thanks to the ideologies and mindset that we have developed over the centuries. 
Number of Suicides by Women (Dowry Dispute) in India (2002 and 2003)

Source: Rajya Sabha Starred Question No. 326, dated on 17.08.2005
As many as 100,000 Indian women die each year from pregnancy-related causes. The use of medical technology to determine the sex of a fetus is on the rise in India, and over 90  per cent of fetuses that are aborted are female (The world Bank, 1996). More than 10m female births in India may have been lost to abortion and sex selection in the past 20 years, according to medical research (BBC News, January 9th 2006). Researchers in India and Canada for the Lancet journal said prenatal selection and selective abortion was causing the loss of 500,000 girls a year.

Number of Bodies Registered, Court /Police Cases and Machines Seized/ Sealed under Pre-conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act 1994, in India (As on 31.3.2005)

No. of Bodies Registered
No. of Court/Police Cases
No. of Machines
Source: Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 5899, dated on 4.5.2005.
Year: Period of fiscal year in India is April to March, e.g. year shown as 1990-91 relates to April 1990 to March 1991.
The sex ratio has improved marginally, from 927 women to 1,000 men in 1991 to 933 women to 1,000 men in 2001. But this is nothing to get excited about; in 1981, there were 934 women. And at the turn of the century, there were 972 women to 1,000 men. So we still have not caught up (The Hindu, April 08, 2001). Another area of focus is suicides. Housewives accounted for 52 per cent of the total female suicide cases. Married women account for 66.6 per cent (The Hindu, September 01, 2002).
Consider for instance an incendiary argument made by the economist Amartya Sen in 1990. In an essay in the New York Review of Books, Sen claimed that there were some 100 million "missing women" in Asia. While the ratio of men to women in the West was nearly even, in countries like China, India, and Pakistan, there were far more men than women.  Sen charged these cultures with gravely mistreating their young girls—perhaps by starving their daughters at the expense of their sons or not taking the girls to doctors when they should have. Although Sen did not say so, there were other sinister possibilities. Were the missing women a result of selective abortions? Female infanticide? A forced export of prostitutes?[2]
“Women's bodies have become part of the terrain of conflict”, according to a new report by Amnesty International. Rapes of women whether during war, caste violence, is in some way articulation of these ideologies affirming the domination of men of victorious armies, high castes and elite over the communities by humiliating the communities and women. Gita Sahgal of Amnesty International said “Rape is often used in ethnic conflicts as a way for attackers to perpetuate their social control and redraw ethnic boundaries”. (BBC News World Edition, December 8th, 2004).
Month-wise Atrocities Complaints Received Against
 Women by National Commission for Women in India

Source: Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 49, dated on 01.03.2005.
Year: Period of fiscal year in India is April to March, e.g. year shown as
        1990-91 relates to April 1990 to March 1991.
Two major responsibilities subscribed to women and which also cause difficulty to women are child bearing, child rearing and other household work combined with work other than production processes and responsibilities. This accounts for the great length of a woman’s non-paid working day. Part of these responsibilities has to be shared by young girls. The other difficulty is women’s lack of access to and control over property and income. This makes them very vulnerable when their husbands/partners leave them.  Dietrich (2001), argues that these difficulties are ideologically sanctified and by social conventions which maintain that women ‘belong’ to the house’. The ideology and socialisation also reinforces the belief that women need men’s protection, women are not complete without men in their lives and that women are women’s worst enemies.
Therefore, ideologies and the mindset supported and furthered through socialisation of individuals and communities enslave women and rob them of their dignity, status and power.

Economic enslavement

History has shown us that those – communities and nations, who are enslaved, are an easy prey to economic exploitation. Colonisation and enslaving the natives under their rule of thumb had robbed people and nations of their human dignity, and resources for the benefit of the colonial empire be that British, Portuguese, French or Italian. Psychosocial enslavement is also fostered through economic dependence.
The majority of the 1.5 billion people living on one dollar a day or less are women. In addition, the gap between women and men caught in the cycle of poverty has continued to widen in the past decade, a phenomenon commonly referred to as "the feminisation of poverty". Women worldwide, earn on an average slightly more than 50 per cent of what men earn[3]. “Poverty is not only about shortage of money. It is about rights and relationships; about how people are treated and how they regard themselves; about powerlessness, exclusion and loss of dignity. Yet the lack of an adequate income is at its heart” (ILO, 2003).
Gendered poverty affects household as a whole, and strengthens gender division of labour and responsibilities for household welfare. Women bear a disproportionate burden, attempting to manage household consumption and production under conditions of increasing scarcity. Women's poverty is directly related to the absence of economic opportunities and autonomy, lack of access to economic resources, including credit, land ownership and inheritance, lack of access to education and support services and their minimal participation in the decision-making process. Poverty can also force women into situations in which they are vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
In India, those who are poor are also those who are socially marginalised and excluded – the tribals, dalits,  other backward castes and communities and in particular women from among these groups. Basic education and health help create an environment to promote self-esteem, awareness, and human resource capacitating livelihood opportunities as well as assessing the opportunities available. The poor and women among them are deprived of basic education and health making them vulnerable to not only psychosocial but economic exploitation as well.
Women are not excluded from economy or market-economy but  do not benefit from either  though they contribute much. Women are integrated into ‘trade’ physically when it comes to marketing consumer goods or marketing the female body as a consumer item (Dietrich 2001). Poverty compels both women and men to take up any available worm even when it is demeaning and discriminating. Helplessness and economic dependency makes women’s position very vulnerable at workplace and with employers often giving into the exploitative demands of the employers and men around. Even when they are in organised sector the trade unions are relatively insensitive to women’s needs (Chitnis, 2004).
Most of the adults spend almost one-third of their working lifetime in organised or unorganised sectors. Women often spend more time at workplace than men because of their social (single, divorced, abandoned) and economic status (economically poor, bonded labourer,  being the only source of income as the husband/partner is alcoholic, sick).The study suggests there are 40 million bonded labourers of which many are children and women (National Human Rights Commission, 2004).  Ninety-six per cent of children who work and sleep on the streets are migrants, about half of them are girls aged between 8 and 14 (WCAR). The gender disparities in economic powersharing whether within the house, at workplace or at the places and in institutions of policy- making, governance and implementation are also an important contributing factor to the poverty of women.
Caste system and patriarchal traditions have socially and economically deprived women of their rights over property and income in spite of their share in it. In India most women are unwilling to assert their rights in a way that estranges them not just from their family but also from their larger kinship group and community (Chitnis, 2004:31). The fear of isolation with one’s own paralysis women from struggling for their right and keeps them enslaved. Globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation have opened up opportunities for some through the market economy but a large section of society including women have to face the brunt of the evils of this economy where the State becomes subservient to profit oriented market.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) style and World Bank supported economic adjustment to curtail public spending has an adverse effect on the poor in developing countries like India. ‘The reduction of subsidies to basic amenities such as sanitation and water supply, public health facilities has not only reduced wage-earners’ household incomes, but has put an extra burden on women’ (Gosh 2001: 90). Liberalised economy has not liberated women. On the contrary, data suggests that it has further enslaved them – growing disparities seems to be the hallmark of globalisation (John, 2004).
In the era of globalisation and liberalisation the Indian economy is being opened up to the international market leading to ‘jobless growth’, a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor The role of the state has been reduced and the 350 million poorest people of India and a large majority of women among them are unlikely to benefit from the reforms ( see PISA, 2003; Dabhi, 2005). Gosh (2005:296) argues “greater integration of national economies through trade and investment organised along capitalist lies has dramatically decreased the bargaining power of workers across the world” and thus women workers are further made powerless economically. Theories and critique of Karl Marx and Max Webber still hold relevance to our work place; labour and organisation as they alienate and discriminate women (see Fincham and Rhodes, 1992). Further, “Labour and division of labour in almost all sectors - agriculture, industry (machine, chemical, knowledge, information, transport, navigation, aviation, etc), service, defence, education, health, finance, etc is gendered” (Dabhi, 2005). It is also argued that globalisation of trade (not labour) is basically a takeover of the rights of citizens by multinational corporations through dismantling of the structures of the state that protect people. He goes on to say, “It is, therefore leading to less freedom for people, but more freedom for capital” (Kumar, 2004:79).
The increase in migration is closely related to employment opportunities and lack of it.  It is considerable, from 1991 (232,112,973 persons) to 2001 (312,735,593 persons). The increase has gone up by 34.7 per cent, of which 14.7 per cent is for work and employment (Census of India 2001). Along with development and wealth creation for a few, these ‘development projects’ have displaced millions of people. The kind of life of the people who have migrated to towns and cities is appalling. A large number of those who have migrated and are staying in the slums live in huts which does not protect them from rain, winter and summer heat leave alone providing some privacy to the parents and grown- up children. Women and children victims of migration and displacement are not only displaced from their habitat, but also become vulnerable to exploitation of all types. Further, migration and consequent changes in family structures have placed additional burdens on women, especially those who provide for several dependants.
An economic growth is not a sufficient statistic for evaluating welfare or human development precisely because it ignores the distribution of income generated by growth (HDR, 2005). Therefore, it does not in itself guarantee social justice. Women are the worst victims of social justice violation. The Human Development Index (HDI) encompasses the three important dimensions of income, education and health. Reduced
state interventions and lack of money to buy these services makes empowerment of poor women a distant dream.
Literacy Rates (%) of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in India
General Population
Scheduled Castes
Scheduled Tribes
Source: Census 2001
Economic growth in India has often gone hand in hand with caste and class domination and discrimination and further reinforced social discrimination. A study carried out in Sultanpur district of UP (Haq, 1991:254) highlights that, “since the higher castes have almost total control over the educational structure, it tired to perpetuate itself by making the entire educational machinery instrumental of their influence. For example, it controls and affects election of the members of managing committees, recruitment of teachers, administrative staff, admission of students and their socialisation, distribution of various types of patronages and facilities, etc. It is through the educational structure and educational process that the values pertaining to caste like untouchability, caste feeling, casteism, parochialism, caste superiority, caste hatred, discrimination, etc. are transmitted and, thus, education becomes a mechanism of traditionalisation of modernity. It is constrained to provide a conducive environment of social and national integration and modernisation by uprooting traditional values.”
“The trafficking of human beings has burgeoned into a multi-billion-dollar industry that is so widespread and damaging to its victims that it has become a cause of human security” (The Human Security Report, 2005:86). Social and economic exploitation and dependency make women and children the first and worst victims of trafficking.
One can discuss the political enslavement of women – enslavement that has to do with the power to decide and to govern whether it is one’s own self or one’s body, power to decide within the house, at the workplace or in society at large. Power is the key to politics and through politics a place and position in the system of governance. In the given scope and time it is not possible to elaborate on that.
Having discussed the core issue of empowerment let us briefly examine the options and the responses given by   NGOs.
Options NGOs have made
In the forgone sections we discussed the situation of women especially those who are from the marginalised, socially discriminated and excluded communities. They are in many ways enslaved and bonded. There is no doubt that interventions are required and are made at various levels and of various kinds for women’s empowerment. There are efforts by women for themselves (within) and some others have joined hands to work towards freedom, dignity and equality. The greater assertion by women, violence against them and denial that the problem exist, are all signs that situation is changing in favour of women, slower though than many of us would desire. The following section will briefly highlight some of the options taken by NGOs.
The NGOs can take some credit and some blame for the empowerment of women and lack of it. It must be noted that the usage of the term ‘empowerment’ as a mere jargon has diluted the meaning of the term and has discredited those Voluntary Organisations/NGOs who are genuinely committed to the process of empowerment of the powerless,  marginalised,  tribals, dalits and women.
We argued at the onset that NGOs have different roots and inspiration to come into existence. Also, they are shaped by various factors and one of them is their leadership, which is responsible for major decision in the NGOs. The caste, class and sex they belong to, the ideological underpinning they have and the development discourse they adhere to are some of the important factors to look at while discussing women’s empowerment and NGOs. It is not reasonable to expect some of these people from NGOs and NGOs they represent to take options in favour of women’s empowerment. It is like expecting people grounded in Taliban and Hindutva ideologies to work for secular, secure, non-violent and equalitarian State. This is almost contradicting in terms.
Therefore, not all NGOs take challenging and critical options and direction. Challenging would mean options and approaches, which will often bring them in conflict with the establishment in the area and the state they are working. It will mean that NGOs will work with and not work for people and in areas which demand rigorous and sustained efforts to understand the situation and social dynamics. Often it is observed that soft options are taken whereas the hard work, soiling hands and feet is done by some other groups and the NGOs remain at the coordinating, networking and non-street advocacy work.
There are NGOs, which do take hard options and are willing to forgo publicity, limelight, awards and rewards, the so-called elite, middle- class and civil society bestow upon the so-called NGO leaders. Remarkable work is being done in favour of people in Jharkhand, Gujarat, Chhatisgarh and Orissa by some of the community- based organisations of the Dalits, Adivasis and women.
The trend of career seeking professionals aspiring to climb the ladder coming into the NGO sector does not always help the NGOs to take hard and challenging options. They prefer softer, non-confronted options, projects and programme often sponsored, supported by World Bank, related foundations, and some of the government agencies. The family- based unchanging or rotating within the family leadership in the form of directors, managing trustees, secretaries and presidents in the NGOs often hinder younger women and men to take leadership and provide new energy and dynamics.
The option the NGOs have taken may be viewed in term of the roles they have played. The initial role was that of social relief, reforms, and health (India), relief and house construction in disaster prone areas (Bangladesh). Later on, the NGOs began to work with different communities of poor farmers, or landless labourers or slum dwellers, with a view to providing them some aid to improve their situation. Only recently the thinking has moved towards integrated development of these people. This developmental role, which the NGOs have taken up include not only - agriculture, social, medical, education, etc (OECD 1988 p.15), but also advocacy, assisting the government, dealing with fundamental sources of poverty, long- term involvement in development activities like promotion of income, self-employment, fighting social injustice, gender and caste discrimination (Heredero, 1989), for environment protection and working for human rights.   
Sen (1992) suggests two main roles the NGOs have taken up, first, concentrating on development while acting as intermediaries between the donor agencies and the poor. Second, concentrating on empowerment and taking initiative to form network around popular social issues and campaigning. However, the network advocacy is not without its criticism. Some networkings are top down, funding oriented, selective clique-NGOs dominated, jetsetter-NGO leaders centred. Well, it is difficult to pigeonhole the roles that the NGOs have taken upon themselves in these last few years. Some of the roles claimed are not clear or understood differently.
Therefore, the degree of commitment in terms of human and financial resources and the time and energy to nature of social issues/problems will vary from NGO to NGO. Working for the empowerment of vulnerable, marginalised and excluded groups/communities and various sections of people and women in particular from these communities is not easy. 
Having said this one must not lose faith in the voluntary sector as long as there are a few well meaning, intended, and committed NGOs in the civil society. They do make a difference.
We discussed the roots and approaches of NGOs and the situation of slavery and disempowerment, the marginalised communities especially women among them face. We also discussed the options NGOs take in response to the reality of women.
As we conclude we need to emphasis that equity (distribution of wealth and assets) and social justice (equality) are at the heart of development and empowerment of people. Women's empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace (Fourth World Conference on Women Beijing Declaration, 1995) and for this the governments of the world, the global market, civil society and NGOs within them need to be committed.
As endorsed in the Beijing Conference, women’s empowerment has to do with the eradication of poverty, doing away with social discriminations, which cannot be accomplished through anti-poverty programmes alone but will require democratic participation and changes in the economic structures in order to ensure access for all women to resources, opportunities and public services.
Poverty has various manifestations, including lack of income and productive resources sufficient to ensure a sustainable livelihood; hunger and malnutrition; ill health; limited or lack of access to education and other basic services; increasing morbidity and mortality from illness; homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environments; and social discrimination and exclusion. It is also characterized by lack of participation in decision-making and in civil, social and cultural life.
Collective, organised and organisation-supported actions are important and make a difference but not without the right kind of people in these organisations, and understanding of the issue/s, commitment, motivation, development and empowerment approaches.  Not all but a few genuine and authentic voluntary organisations and NGOs will work or support this mandate of empowerment of women and will be ready to take hard option of finding out the actors and factors which perpetuate the enslavement of women and are willing to confront these people and structures that allow and perpetuate exploitation of women.
NGOs interested in women’s empowerment themselves will have to be geared up to ensure that the organisational structure, work environment and leadership are gender sensitive and gender just. The NGOs working with women for their empowerment will have to examine the kind of leadership and the development discourse that these leaders promote within the organisation. It might be crucial that the NGOs revisit and critique their roots, foundational inspiration, development, empowerment discourses and enhance their understanding and analysis to face the human development challenges India faces and effectively respond to them. Committed NGOs may have to develop a critical consciousness and awareness among members within and with people they work with, realising that sustained and sustainable development; economic growth and women’s empowerment are possible through facilitating improvement in the economic, social, political, legal and cultural status of women. For this, however, “an awareness of women’s oppression and exploitation in society, at work and within the family, and conscious action by women and men to change this situation” (Bhasin and Khan, 2004:4) is essential.
The NGOs and their leadership will have to seriously look at their collective and individual religio-cultural baggage, development discourse, and align them with the work of gender justice and women’s empowerment. No NGO can boast of working for women’s empowerment and ignore caste, class and religio-cultural discrimination that exist in our organisations, institutions and country. Working for women’s empowerment then would mean working for it within the organisation and society at large, willingness to change and be changed.
NGOs will have to work more collaboratively to create opportunities and environment for women’s empowerment. Experience suggests that networks, seminars and workshops in themselves do not ensure collaboration, cooperation and committed action. Ego, personality clashes, competitiveness for publicity, funding and political patronage are some of the dangers NGO networks will have to recon with.
Many NGOs will have to clean their house first to bring in fresh air of women’s empowerment before they address the same issue elsewhere. The story of Buddhist monk is an apt example, giving up eating sugar himself before advising the mother of the lad who wanted her son to give up eating sugar.
Equitable social development that recognizes empowering the poor, particularly women, to utilize environmental resources sustainability is a necessary foundation for sustainable development. The Beijing Women’s Conference and the issues discussed therein must reflect in their discourse that the success of policies and measures aimed at supporting or strengthening the promotion of gender equality and the improvement of the status of women should be based on the integration of the gender perspective in general policies relating to all spheres of society as well as the implementation of positive measures with adequate institutional and financial support at all levels.
There is a need to work not only against discrimination but for emancipation of women and liberation from all forms of oppression by the state, by society and by men. Since women are victims of exploitation (e.g. unequal pay, low wages); subordination (e.g. under male domination); oppression (e.g. violence against women), women may be in a slightly better position to initiate the struggle (Bhasin and Khan, 2004:5), not that it is their responsibility alone. As experience suggests the struggle will have to include changes in women's mobility and social interaction; changes in women's labour patterns; changes in women's access to and control over resources; and changes in women's control over decision-making.
Let me end with the words of Mahbub ul Haq, the Economist from Pakistan and an architect of the Human Development Reports,
`The basic purpose of development is to enlarge people's choices. In principle, these choices can be infinite and can change over time. People often value achievements that do not show up at all, or not immediately, in income or growth figures: greater access to knowledge, better nutrition and health services, more secure livelihoods, security against crime and physical violence, satisfying leisure hours, political and cultural freedoms and sense of participation in community activities. The objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives’ [4].

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