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Gender equality is an issue that has taken hold in the Western World for quite some time. The concept of women having equal rights to men is a fact of life, and there is little opposition to be seen. This is due to a hard struggle by some very determined women, but there was at the time much reluctance by many in society. That same type of reluctance is being felt on many parts of the world, and with so many people in developing countries focused on simply trying to survive for another day, there is little attention given to women’s rights. NGOs in these countries are often occupied with issues pertaining to poverty and conflict, for example. In this essay, I will examine gender inequalities throughout the world and how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a role in gender rights. Various areas of gender rights are affected by NGOs, and in the following pages I will outline the most pertinent areas of society that are affected by the interaction of NGOs and gender in the nations where the NGOs operate. I use India as a case study, as it represents a government that has declared its commitment to women’s rights but not much has been done, due to the lack of NGOs in the country. NGOs are needed to move developing countries such as India forward, and to stand up for the rights of women.
Gender imbalance is a major issue that required the persistent force of devoted women for decades to achieve some semblance of equality in several countries throughout the world. That same struggle continues today and many nations haven’t been able to realize the equal rights that many western nations follow. It is clear that there is a lack of balance between the rights of women and men in many nations. India is one of the most interesting case studies on this topic. While India is rapidly becoming a force in the global market, and its economy is developing at a staggering pace, there is little being done about gender rights in the country. However, the Constitution in India set out in 1951 a statement that reads, “the State shall endeavour to provide within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years,” (Haq, 1999). Because the economy in India has been dismal, that right has never really been enforced, as women and children were required to work, in addition to their husbands. That means there isn’t the opportunity for women go to school.
India provides an example of a country where the government set out the rights of women, but there is a lack of NGOs ensuring the rights are upheld. In India, women should be given equal opportunity as men in the workforce. If India is to truly consider itself a democratic country, it should implement ways in which women can attain education that will lead to better living conditions. As the technology in our nation flourishes, many countries still use lanterns and candles. As our generation progresses towards education, there are girls who do not have paper and pencils. As we spend countless hours shopping for fur coats and sneakers, girls in other countries work in inhumane conditions to provide a day’s meal for their family. Aside from abuse, cruel working conditions, and the greed of merely $0.10 – $0.20 an hour, the most unfortunate part is that these kids see this path as their only option because they have no education and no other means of survival.
Many people believe India has a culture of poverty that can only be addressed by education and by the inclusion of women into roles that are traditionally associated with men, but the country lacks the NGOs that can make this a reality. By making primary education available and open to both women and children, the a future can begin to be forged, but there is a lack of involvement at the government level or at the non-government level, and the country is remaining stagnant when it comes to women’s rights.
Many Indians do not believe in the notion of education and they are unaware of the negative implications of harsh labor many women have to endure. This way of thinking separates the privileged from the poor and allows for inhumane treatment. Poverty deprives the women of quality education and of the opportunity to acquire skills for a better future. “Nearly 30 per cent of the Indian population is living below the poverty line and 41.6 per cent and 75.6 per cent of the poorest population is living under $1.25 and $2 dollars a day…” (Ahmed, 2011). Women in India are a financially viable source of labor for families and it is no surprise when one finds women from the poor villages recruited and forced to leave home and education to participate in cruel labor in harsh working conditions. Poor households in India with no savings, assets, or access to credit are most likely to send young females to work, rather than educate them.
Most often it is the poor, uneducated families who send the women to work. They are often unaware of their rights because they are illiterate and there are few sources available to them for education due to the lack of NGOs in the country. With the proper education and training, it increases their chance of becoming affluent and will potentially remove one from the circle of poverty. With this view, if the women in India were provided with the option to attend school, it could ultimately protect them from the labor force and protect them against families forcing them into the labor force at an early age.
But India, a self-declared democratic country falters in its delivery of education, even to those who are given an opportunity to be educated. Some, mostly women, politicians have taken up the duty of bringing education to villages, where it was otherwise nearly impossible to get education. This is done with the absence of NGOs. Even though this is happening more, there are also not very many people allowed to participate because there are more people wanting the education than there is room for (Knowledge, 2012). But there are a lot of poor policies in delivering the education to the rural communities. For example, school teachers are hired from a selection of state-wide candidates and are selected by the state. Some believe that making the selection process this way makes it subject to bribes and other forms of corruption. Those that do come to teach make efforts towards things like making sure there are separate bathrooms for males and females. This could lower the number of female drop outs after puberty (Knowledge, 2012).
The promotion of education, at any level, will allow for future opportunities and it will provide steps to reduce sending young women to do labor. Unfortunately, India does not hold this view, “Primary education in India is not compulsory, nor is child labor illegal. The result is that less than half of India’s children between ages six and fourteen – 82.2 million – are not in school,” (Weiner, 1991). Young women who are forced into working condition risk their chances of living to their fullest potentials. Indians reject the promotion of education with the argument that schools do not train women belonging to poor families how to work. Indians also hold the belief that poor female children should refuse attending a primary school and work in “service” or white collar occupations because if all these females attended school, the poverty rates would increase and make it harder on the already poor parents.
Further to education, in the effort to end female labor in India, women need to be included more in the regular workforce. This will decrease the reliance on young females. The situation for women is dire and there needs to be steps taken to create education and ways that women can make money. Even when women are given equal rights to employment and other things, there is a constant fright that they may be raped or beaten: “The fear of sexual violence has been a powerful factor in restricting women’s behavior and sense of freedom,” (Purnima, 2010). This struggle against violence represents a battle that has women faced with a fight for equal rights for power that is physical and economic. In the United States, however, woman don’t have to be as afraid as they are in India about being attacked, because law enforcement in the western nation is more stringent and takes protecting women much more seriously than its Indian counterpart. This is partially become NGOs have helped petition for women’s rights, and this is something that needs to be more established in India, for the betterment of the nation’s women.
Not knowing the consequences, many poor, illiterate Indian women have many children. With proper education, these women would learn about ways to protect themselves from childbirth. This decrease in births would limit the financial drain it takes for families to survive, and children wouldn`t be sent off to work – because unfortunate children are forced to work to help support their families. Some children are sold into bonded labor by impoverished parents who receive payments from their child`s employer. Bonded labor is slave labor, one of the worst types of labor for children and adults. The children put long hours making beedi (hand-rolled cigarettes), hand-woven wool carpets, silk, and precious gemstones and diamonds. This type of work is usually tiresome and very dangerous to their health and safety. There are approximately 10 million bonded children laborers working as servants in these types of jobs. “Children sold into bondage work long hours over many years in an attempt to pay off the debts that bind them. … due to the astronomically high rates of interest charged and the abysmally low wages paid, they are usually unsuccessful,” (Tucker, 1997). So as we can see, a lack of NGOs to stand up for women’s rights means there is ripple effects. The lack of education is causing an influx in children, which leads to more expenses for families, and then finally the last option – sending the children to work in labour camps rather than attain an education that could end the cycle.
Many women are also forced to the streets to work as beggars, sometimes the only alternative to working in labor. These young and old girls are abused, mutilated, and starved so bad by families or their employer that they are forced to take up jobs like prostitution or shoe shining. Some are forced to sell various items in all weather conditions for long, exhausting hours for very little income. Others are recruited and forcefully taken from their villages to work in glass factories, matchbox factories and other industries, (Jafri, 2010). There is no doubt that all these women are frequently exposed to hazardous working conditions, high risk of injury, unpredicted weather and other forms of inhumane treatment. This issue isn’t just affecting these females but future of the whole country, something that could be prevented by good NGOs.
Gender inequalities are evident throughout the world and the NGOs are key in development of gender rights in places like India. NGOs are supposed to be gender neutral, which makes them an important force in lobbying for women’s rights. But in places like India. NGOs aren’t always fighting for the rights, according to “Gender and organizations: The (re)production of gender inequalities within Development NGOs,” (Dema, 2008).
However, other NGOs have been successful in the world, at establishing gender rights, and increasing the amount of education that is enjoyed by the country. Much devastation can be caused by some countries’ lack of NGOs to provide a much-needed voice to those who are in need. Some countries aren’t performing their duties, because many of these organizations can become corrupt and let down the people that they are supposed to support.
The Ugandan government and the NGOs that are engaged in the gender rights is an important component in outlining the global situation. Uganda is just one example where the NGOs are established, unlike India, but they are failing, (Nabacwa, 2010). The NGOs in four African countries are also failing the women. In these countries, some NGOs have good intentions, but are facing rebellion from the population, (Wendoh, 2005).
In “Re-thinking gender mainstreaming in African NGOs and Communities,” Senorina Wendoh and Tina Wallace discuss the gender mainstreaming initiatives that are being spearheaded by NGOs in the four African countries. But as the text points out, there is a lot of resistance to this help that is being offered. The authors state that NGOs need to address the various complex situations of the people in the countries. As we saw in the India example provided earlier, the lack of education causes women to have many children, and this triggers the type of complex situations referred to by these authors. Therefore, NGOs need to pay careful attention to how their operations affect the values of the communities in which they are operating. The NGOs that the authors refer to is called “Transform Africa.” This is a network of organization development and training NGOs. “It supports local African NGOs to develop their skills, and helps them to address some of the inequalities in their relations with NGOs from the North,” (Wendoh, 2005). The hostility towards gender equality in these African countries was a key point of research, as the Transform Africa wanted to find out why it was there was so much resistance to gender equality. The four countries in question – Rwanda, Zambia, Uganda and Gambia – all had various elements to their culture with varying religious, political, economic and cultural contexts. When asked, officials from the NGOs within the network all said they were attempting to sort out gender issues, but there were few women-focused NGOs. What was discovered was that there was rapid change occurring in various areas, including altering employment patterns, environmental degradation, spread of HIV/AIDS, poverty and growing conflict. “It quickly became apparent that much work to address gender inequality is reaching a local people through government initiatives,” (Wendoh, 2005). Those initiatives, the research discovered, are usually funded by donors. However, even though there is some government initiative behind this, gender mainstreaming is still seen as being an external concept. While governments have adopted the idea, as well as some NGOs that are headed by women, there is still the perception that the gender mainstreaming only benefits the donors, instead of the communities. The communities themselves are more set in their traditional ways and are struggling with the idea of women having equal rights as men. The ideas, many of the locals feel, are being imposed by those who have power, but who are from outside their communities. This is a form of what the locals believe to be ethnocentrism and they are reluctant to participate. This leaves women in these countries still struggling to find equality to men.
In order to have the type of progress that women in the U.S. have experienced particularly in the last half of the 20th century, women in countries throughout the world will need to have greater participation from the populace and this needs to be facilitated by NGOs if the government isn’t making progress. There is currently a large gap in the way women in the Western World are treated and how women in many other countries are treated, and the only way to create change is for women to speak up. Women in developing countries are so often oppressed and made to believe they can’t be anything more than maids, that there aren’t enough powerful voices for women. After all, it is the squeaky wheel that gets the oil and if women aren’t throwing their arms up in protest about the way they are being treated, then little change will happen for the gender.
It seems that each Indian election has high hopes of generating a lot of change for women, which never really comes to happen. But as more women come into power in parliament, there is a greater ability to pass bills which benefit the overall well-being of women throughout the country and in similar countries. If this type of progress is made, and if women play a role outside of office as well, then there could be a lot of progress made towards making the situation for woman throughout the world more equal to the treatment they receive in the West. But in order to generate the kind of change that will do anything, the people in office need to work hand in hand with NGOs. There needs to be a combined effort to make the country something that other nations can follow. The essay has proven that funding in the U.S. for programs such as women’s rights NGOs like the National Organization of Women that was established in the 1970s will help improve not only the health and education for women in throughout the world, but also their protection. With funding, health care could improve, education for women could improve various forms of law administration would also begin to stand up for women in these countries. Until that happens, many women throughout the world will continue to fall far behind the Western World in women’s rights.
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