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Grassroots NGOs by women for women

Book>> Grassroots ngos by Women for Women by Femida Handy, Meenaz Kassam, Suzanne Feeney, Bhagyashree Ranade

Published: Saturday 15 September 2007


According to a study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins University in the us, there are more than a million ngos in India. The popularity of these organisations has also found expression in the large number of studies on voluntary associations. However, attention often centres on the large and well-known organisations like sewa, Sadguru Foundation and cry. There is not much on grassroots organisations run by women either. In that sense this book under review is a departure.

It has biographical details on several women ngo founders, and pays special attention to the social capital used by these activists.The authors focus on small organisations. They ask critical questions. When organisations are led by women do they evolve in ways that are suited to women's needs? How exactly have women-led ngos contributed in empowering women?

The authors found that the ngos they studied had more self help groups (shg) organised for political empowerment than microcredit. This, however, does not imply that their women founders believed that one kind of shg was better than the other. Proponents of programmes limited to microcredit often overlook aspects such as literacy and political consciousness. The women leaders studied in this volume, in contrast, felt that financial acumen and political consciousness are mutually reinforcing. As the editors note, "When women earn economic resources through microcredit financing, these gains are sometimes dissipated through the patriarchal system...the male members of the family take advantage of a new-found access to capital. However such abuses may not result if women are aware of their rights."

They found that a female leadership which is grounded in a gendered perspective can easily empathise with needs of other women. This might be like stating the obvious but when demonstrated with well-researched case studies, the truism acquires greater weight. Its inter-disciplinary character is the greatest merit of this book. The analysis draws on fieldwork and on critical analysis of development theory literature. The editors also engage with feminist writings. The book could have, however, done with tighter editing. For example, in the section on Sindhutai--the charismatic beggar singer who set up orphanages--we learn little about the place she worked in.

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