Empowering the MillenniumDevelopment Goals: Grassroots Women Meet the Challenge – Women’s Lives, Women’s Decisions
Organized in cooperation with the Huairou Commission
The round table was organized by the Huairou Commission, a global partnership of grassroots women’s organizations devoted to attaining the Millennium Development Goals.
The discussions were chaired by Ms. Erna Witoelar, United Nations Ambassador for the Millennium Development Goals in the Asia-Pacific region.
Ms. Violet Shivutsa, a community leader supported by GROOTS Kenya, represented 1,200 home-based women caregivers who worked with HIV/AIDS-affected families in her village in Kenya. They had begun in 1996 by training traditional birth attendants in maternal care and linking them to hospitals, and had initiated savings schemes that allowed pregnant women to pay for maternal health-care services. With the rise of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, women were trained in home-based caregiving. They had begun to work with men too to raise awareness of women’s property and inheritance rights. Ms. Shivutsa urged governments and international agencies to recognize and support the volunteer work of grassroots women, and enable them to scale up their innovations.
Ms. Andrea Laux, a founder member of the Stuttgart Mother Centre, Germany, which had started with women reclaiming public facilities to address the isolation and impoverishment of mothers in Stuttgart, represented a movement centring on caring community development that had grown to 800 mother centres across 15 countries. They had created a public living room where women had trust, learned how to manage child care, how to change policy about child care and promote family-friendly cities. The Stuttgart Mother Centre, in partnership with the local authorities, had built an intergenerational house.
Ms. Penny Irons of the Aboriginal Mother Centre, Vancouver, had learned through a peer exchange with the German mother centres about claiming public space for the aboriginal indigenous women who made up a large proportion of the poor and homeless population in Canada. She noted that the Millennium Development Goals also applied to the poor in Canada. The Mother Centre represented an inclusive, safe space where women did not have to make an appointment to come. The Aboriginal Mother Centre had a social enterprise programme called Mama’s Wall Street Studio, which had manufactured the conference bags for the Third Session of the World Urban Forum.
Ms. Arlene Bailey, Fletchers Land Parenting Association and Sistren Theatre Collective, Kingston, and a founding member of GROOTS International, had organized parents against crime and violence, which were major issues in Jamaica. They had organized a peace walk and appointed street mothers and street fathers to ensure children were off the streets at night. They had partnered with government and with United Nations programmes to reach out to 12 inner city communities. Community leaders volunteered their time.
Ms. Marlene Haydee Rodriguez, Director of Unión de Cooperativas de Producción Agrícola Las Brumas in Nicaragua spoke of how Nicaraguans were rebuilding their communities after years of conflict. Partnering with the Government of Canada, women had been able to construct their own homes for 40 families in a number of municipalities. Of the 30 women organic coffee farmers, eight were being certified in organic coffee production. Emphasizing the contribution of women in rural communities and calling for public policies that benefited rural women, she said that women cultivated the land and it was necessary to get support: if women did not cultivate food there would be no food in the cities.
Ms. Chandrasekaran Kasthuri, President of the Mahakalasm Self‑help Group Federation linked to Covenant Centre for Development in Tamil Nadu, India, represented 16,000 women in four districts. The federation acted as a community-owned bank for women, as neither banks nor the government provided credit for women. They had now saved and given loans worth 3 million rupees and leveraged over 10 times that amount from local banks. Since most loans were taken for health problems at home, women started kitchen gardens to grow medicinal herbs. Women became healers and promoted a green health programme assisting 1,700 families. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002 they had been given a best practice award for their work on herbal medicines. The Federation had created a company of women to scale up that enterprise, which now marketed 600 tonnes a year of semi-processed medicinal herbs.
Ms. Srilatha Batliwala, Senior Fellow at the Hauser Centre for Non-profit Organizations at Harvard University, United States of America, emphasized the scale and huge impact of initiatives that countered the myth that grassroots initiatives were small and with minimal impact. Grassroots women bore huge opportunity costs in overcoming the odds and barriers they faced in their daily lives. She proposed that development economists should find a way to cost grassroots women’s contributions to development and ensure that they got 50 per cent of the resources.
Ms. Lisa Jordan, Deputy Director, the Ford Foundation, said that women were directly concerned by each of the Millennium Development Goals. She recommended scaling up and scaling across grassroots practices to influence policy at the local, national and global levels. She also pointed out how the experiences discussed had evolved from local to global and then back to local, thus emphasizing the importance of peer learning and women participating in global forums, which had a direct impact in terms of raising awareness of the challenges grassroots women face on the ground.
Dr. Janine Haddad, Chair of the UCLG gender equality committee, said that the experiences recounted must not remain on the ground but must be transformed and reach out to men, women and children everywhere in the world, and expressed the conviction that women, being more pragmatic than men, had been implementing Millennium Development Goals well before the formulation of those Goals. She expressed the view that one of the principal ways to reduce poverty was to provide day care centres to enable women to work and to train women for jobs. Access to credit, and to food, were all means to fight poverty. She recommended that grassroots women’s initiatives be translated into policy.
- The actionable ideas emerging from the round table discussions were:
- That grassroots and indigenous women should be consulted as key experts;
- That new funds for grassroots women’s peer exchanges, public spaces and organizing should be established;
- That international aid agencies should schedule dialogues with grassroots women leaders and local authorities to redirect funds and programmes;
- That grassroots and local authority collaborations and local-to-local dialogues to sustain women’s participation in local decision-making should be supported.