NGOs can play a crucial role in alerting States to their obligations, collaborating with States on their programmes where NGOs are better placed to forge links with communities and households, developing alternative models to State models of intervention, and monitoring State activities and their impact. Importantly, NGOs can serve as a facilitating link with communities and individuals, and feed information to and from State institutions to citizens.
NGOs become particularly vital centres of advocacy around women's interests and rights given State resistance to implementing change. This may arise in different contexts from a combination of factors: the ideology of governing parties or rulers, the resources that a State has and how it chooses to distribute them, the people who staff state institutions and their biases and prejudices, their distance from communities and field realities, the size of implementing agencies and so on. NGOs offer a viable organisational alternative, particularly where they may be smaller in size, and located within communities. NGOs, particularly where staffed or influenced strongly by feminist agendas, can play a particularly effective role in addressing issues of women's rights and empowerment at local levels, and feeding insights from the field into national and international advocacy.
NGO interventions and advocacy in relation to specific processes of the CEDAW Convention can have several spin-off effects. At the international level, NGO involvement in the CEDAW Convention reporting process can help to feed important information to other bodies of the UN and ultimately influence international processes, policies and programmes. It can also work its influence domestically, where it helps to bring NGOs together to discuss important aspects of State action, emphasise collaborative work in expanding ideas and activism around rights, create greater media awareness, and ensure that state interventions are being monitored and assessed for effectiveness. NGOs can also publicise State reports and the concluding comments of the CEDAW Committee to a wider national audience, where States may avoid doing so. At the local level, discussions around concepts and practice of women's rights can provide a very sound basis for influencing policy and creating spaces for change.
Benefits and Risks of working with governments on the implementation of CEDAW
There are different ways activists have worked or engaged with governments on CEDAW.
Levels and Areas of work with Government and NGOs
There is a very wide range of areas that NGOs may be called on to work with governments. The participants identified areas where they or other NGOs were involved with government:
- Participation in government committees or commissions
- Membership in advisory councils (in a consultative capacity)
- Organisational participation in providing technical assistance to government programmes
- Participation as an NGO member of government delegations to world conferences, CEDAW
- Bill drafting
- Preparation of state party reports to treaty bodies, particularly CEDAW. This could take place in several contexts:
- Participation in the drafting committee set up by government to which NGOs are invited to sit as part of the committee.
- Individuals with expertise on CEDAW are contracted to write the report/ facilitate the process of writing the report as consultants.
- Consultation process where NGOs are brought in to give feedback and recommendations.
- Service delivery projects
- Provision of capacity building and trainings
- Support for national human rights institutions
- Drafting policy/ plan of action formulation
As there are many ethical and strategic implications of working with the state we include here some point to ponder when considering working with governments:
The following questions were highlighted as concerns that one has to bear in mind when considering working with governments:
- Why do governments want to work with NGOs? Why do they seek these kinds of collaborations?
- Why do NGOs work with governments? What is the impetus (globally)?
- What are the dilemmas, benefits and costs? These will of course differ according to the category of work.
- On what basis should NGOs make a decision when they should participate, withdraw and refuse? Some suggestions for consideration are:
- Who is the NGO is accountable to? How should it work out its position on things and where to draw the line?
- If governments ask for a coalition of NGOs, how does one position oneself with other groups? What if there are right wing groups within the coalition? How does one retain one’s own agenda?
- To consider situations where a conflict of interest might arise - where there is a demand of confidentiality on the one hand, thus that NGO is unable to disclose/ share vital information with other NGOs.
Technical Assistance to Governments
- NGOs are increasingly being seen as a resource group which is able to provide technical assistance to governments. We however need to be able to draw the line between showing governments how to do something and taking over the government’s work (i.e. getting coopted). We need to know how to move between these distinctions without getting compromised.
- Sometimes IWRAW Asia Pacific is asked to recommend a local activist and sometimes to recommend someone from outside the country. There is a diference between NGOs getting involved in their own country and NGOs going to another country to work with the foreign government (and consideration needs to be paid to how the national groups and NGOs in that country feel about that having external NGO resource persons advising their state on CEDAW.
Writing of the government’s periodic report to CEDAW.
In working with the government on its CEDAW country report, it is important to identify the dilemmas that needed to be worked out, modes and lines of engagement clearly drawn and long term considerations before embarking on the endeavour. These include questions around who works with whom, what forms of advocacy do we take up, at what levels do we engage in advocacy and using what methods? Individual and institutional identities and potential identities with the state should be clearly defined beforehand.
Resolving these dilemmas is an individual process grounded in the realities of the national women’s groups experience. It helps to ask, to what end are we engaging in such a fashion? What is the objective of the partnership with government? In situations where we do not see it as conflicting for us, it is an easier decision to work with the state, for example, on the implementation of a programme, to be on a government committee or commission. These are not conflicting and we will do it. When NGOs are involved in the drafting of the country report, there is also a level of comfort, because you are in there as a group. But when one is invited as an individual, then the comfort level becomes difficult to handle.
Sometimes reasons given by the state about why an NGO/individual is selected is that they have done advocacy from within the state on issues of political participation, have strong research backgrounds (from a research organisation), are apolitical, and someone recommended our names. This is alright to some extent, but there is still a dilemma.
There are also some benefits from this process:
There are also some benefits from this process:
- Providing NGOs one small space to expand out advocacy.
- Opportunity to work on setting up a mechanism within the government.
- Brings NGO experience and ideology to influence and advocate with the state to look at every programme, policy and law through the lens of CEDAW. This can help break resistance.
Some non-negotiable terms with the state are a good idea.
From the experience of an NGO who had written the state report, some of these non negotiables included
- Requiring cooperation of the Department of Women and Children (WCD) and it is important that all departments come in as part of an interdepartmental committee.
- Requiring involvement of senior officials not less than the secretaries of the ministries should be on the inter-ministerial committee.
- Commitment of the interdepartmental committee to be vibrantly engaging in the collation and analysis of information. The members of the inter-ministerial committee will go through a training session on CEDAW, how to collect and analyse data. Most do not know about CEDAW and we have managed to get all departments in for training.
- This report will be owned by the state, not by the writers who would only work on the analysis of the data, putting it into perspective. They can suggest action plans but the onus of committing to action is that of the state Commitments have to be made by the inter-ministerial committee.
- The report has to be shared widely, regionally with NGOs and the state governments (which have not been actively engaging in the process of writing the report). There is a need to hold consultations to disseminate information before submitting the report - this is mandatory. The facilitation of the consultations will be by the state government and they will finalise the report based on the consultation.