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Positive Action on Behalf of Women in International Development Cooperation

Recent UN conferences, such as the Human Rights Conference in Vienna, the Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and the World Social Summit in Copenhagen, have demonstrated how important it is that women should participate as equals in the economic, social and societal developments of their countries. Focal points at the World Women's Conference in Beijing in September 1995 have been the war on want, education and more involvement of women in socio-political decisions.

The key role of women in the development process is also illustrated by the experiences of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in the projects for and with women which the Foundation has implemented in numerous countries since the middle of the 80s.

The gender specific projects of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung aim at improving the socio-political framework conditions, to ensure equal participation of women in political, economic and social developments. Special promotion of women and gender specific topics are integrated into all areas of activity, be it socio-political consulting, economic and social development or media cooperation.

In order to facilitate the integration of positive action programmes for women in the design of projects and to identify areas where more has to be done, guidelines on positive action have been elaborated in a dialogue between members of staff in Germany and the Foundation's offices abroad. They are to be used as tools to indicate how the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung can contribute to improving the status of women in the countries of the Third World with the instruments and financial means at its disposal.

Examples of women-specific activities of FES are:

improving the legal situation of women by providing legal advice, public relations activities, and drafting legislative proposals;
promoting social security for women who in many countries are increasingly affected by structural adjustment processes;
supporting income-generating activities by providing cosulting, training and assisting in the establishment of self-help organizations and lobby groups;
improving the participation of women in society in cooperation with political parties, trade unions, professional associations and women's organizations;
supporting the networking of women's organizations at national and regional level through conferences and study programmes;
supporting an equitable representation of women in the media in order to change society's awareness (consciousness-raising measures, support in formulating pro-women media policy).

Project activities are accompanied by an extensive programme at the Foundation's head office, including in-coming programmes which deal, for example, with efforts to ensure equal opportunities in the Federal Republic of Germany, and international women's conferences which promote the exchange of experience and networking between women from the developing world and Germany.

Preparation for the World Women's Conference

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung has contributed to the preparations for the World Women's Conference by holding an international women's conference in Bonn in June 1994 entitled "Women Acting for Change". Apart from numerous German women participants, 16 women from developing countries took part, representing governments, political parties, trade unions and non-governmental organizations.

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Project Example:
Promotion of Self-help Activities amongst Marginalized Groups in India

The aim of the FES project which was started in 1989 for "the promotion of self-help activities amongst marginalized groups in India" has been to improve the economic, social and political situation of women. The following topics have been identified as priorities:

  1. Political Participation of Women
    Women have little political influence in India. As a rule, only women from influential families and the upper castes have had an opportunity so far to participate in the political decision-making processes. The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung attempts to contribute to better political participation of women by analyzing their situation. The study "Political Particiption of Women in Delhi State Elections" has examined the voting behaviour of women and the specific difficulties faced by women candidates. The conditions under which Indian women members of parliament work have been analyzed and published under the title "Women Parliamentarians".

    More women may get a chance to get involved in local politics as a result of the reform of Indian local self-government, which introduces a 33% quota for women from the lower castes and indigenous groups. In the coming years, it will enable roughly one million women to be elected to local and city councils. Apart from supporting a self-help organization in training women candidates for the local elections in the State of Haryana in the North of India, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung co-organized a number of seminars with the National Commission for Women regarding, in particular, the question of implementation and training of women candidates. A workshop in Delhi evaluated the first local elections held under the new law and the initial experience of women with the new quota system; its conclusions were later made public.

    Activities in India are supplemented by international measures. For example, women participants from different Asian countries were invited to a regional workshop of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Bangkok for an exchange of experience. The discussion centred on the kind of strategies which would be most helpful in achieving more participation of women in politics.

  2. Social Security in the Informal Sector
    Traditional forms of social security frequently do not provide adequate protection against the risks, like illness, accidents and natural disasters, in particular amongst the families from the poorer strata of society. Even the existing formal social security system in India provides no or at best inadequate protection for women and workers in the informal sector. Thus new forms of informal social security must be established.

    FES organized national seminars on "Social Security for Women" or "Inclusion of the Informal Sector in Social Security" in cooperation, for example, with the National Commission for Women, the Social Security Association of India and the ILO. A study examined in particular the role of NGOs in developing innovative systems of social security in the context of state development programmes.

  3. Promotion of Savings and Loans Activities
    In the North Indian state of Bihar FES provided a revolving credit fund to the partner organization ADITHI to set up a savings and loans programme. The target group benefitting from the programme are women from the poorer strata of society; one of the greatest problems has been their dependence on money lenders and big landowners who demand usurious interests rates of up to 120% annually. By now more than 2.000 women have received loans of 50 to 100 DM on average. The savings and loans programme is intended not only as a financial instrument; it offers various forms of assistance to the women from the poor and socially discriminated families and gives them back their human dignity. In 1994, a FES partner organization assumed control of the fund. As a result of the encouraging experience that nearly 90% of the loans were repaid, the Fund could be topped up to DM 200.000 with grants from state banks and state promotion schemes. This helped a great deal in making loans available to women on a more sustainable basis. The Fund has a special pilot function because it demonstrates how important fair credits are for the social security of women.

    The experience gained in setting up the savings and loans programme is shared with other NGOs in a brochure "Guidelines for Field Workers on Management of Self-help Savings and Credit Groups".

  4. Contribution to an Equitable Representation of Women in the Media
    The selection of news and the presentation of women-specific topics at peak viewing times is often discriminatory and based on stereotypes. Topics dealing with development policies are increasingly being replaced by sports and entertainment programmes because of the competition by satelite television and private stations. The fact that there are so few women in positions of decision making who could influence the design of programmes is also contributing to a biased presentation of women in the media.

    Analyzing the news and information programmes of the electronic media has played a central role in the cooperation activities with the Media Advocacy Group, a group of professional journalists, representatives of women's organizations and media workers. Their conclusions were later followed up by discussions in a number of seminars. Until then feminist media research in India had dealt predominantly with the way women were presented in the media. As a result of the various studies and seminars, the Media Advocacy Group has been able to contribute significantly to India's country report on media policy for the World Women's Conference.

    At present the Media Advocacy Group is advising the state-owned station Doordashan in preparing a new news programme "Drishti" which will focus on women's affairs and will be broadcast as of January 1995.

    The study "Gender Differences in Employment Patterns of Doordashan and All India Radio", which has been compiled with the support of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the National Commission for Women and the Media Advocacy Group, is part of a worldwide UNESCO study about women and decision-making power in the media.

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©Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition mv&ola | August 1997