In developing countries NGOs are busy with programs like women empowerment, care for children and fight against poverty. It is a general believe that NGOs are a backbone to support poor of the society, especially, women and marginalized people. Contrary to this general believe Fernando argues that NGOs reinforce the existing discrimination and marginalization against women in the name of women empowerment while working closely with the institutions which encourage patriarchy and engender the gender in society. To justify his argument Fernando makes the following claims.
Firstly, Fernando highlights the issues of gender and its expression in the process of development. He claims that the women empowerment programs subordinate the preferences of women. NGOs encourage the programs which can be supported by the mainstream institutions and the traditions in the society. Mostly these pre-existing norms in traditional societies abandon the priorities of women. Therefore, Fernando called it, “second subversion of an emancipatory project.” According to Fernando, NGOs are working similar to the “Public Associations,” in British colonies. The irony is that British themselves were on guilt to breach human rights and they were having programs like Public Associations for women empowerment. In the case of NGOs, apparently NGOs are supposed to work independently then government policies to ensure women empowerment and gender equality. But so called independent NGOs are working under state policies, which are already fail to ensure equinity.
Though there are few programs which have played a vital role in women empowerment such as, Women in Development (WID) has help women to deal with market affairs. Such programs change the role of women from food maker at a home to the food buyer for the family and give her power over decision making in investment projects over the quite long span of time. But this program is lacking behind due to fail to appreciate the complex social and economic relations of gender in society. Only empowering women economically without noticing their social position in society also cause problems for women. For example, if woman is provided enough money to start a small business but not allowed to have access to the market will not change her position in society. Therefore, NGOs need to consider not only the problems of individuals but they also need to consider the larger picture of society too.
Secondly Fernando claims that, the role of institutions is neglected in studies on empowerment programs by NGOs. Empowerment programs should secure all aspects of women rights to achieve economic, political, and social equality. NGOs are workings with the institutions without analyzing their role in gender equality. For example, NGOs working in male dominant society don’t take account of the decision making process and the power dynamic at household level. Most of the times in male dominant society women are use as a source to collect the resources from NGOs by man to fulfill their own needs. NGOs don’t have a proper feedback mechanism to deal with such problems. In this way empowerment programs strengthen the ideologies to promote subordination of women in society and make women more susceptible to inferiorities. Fernando says that only providing awareness about women-rights is not sufficient to achieve women empowerment. In other words to ensure women empowerment it is essential that women should be provided enough economic resources, freedom to use the available resources and allow to utilize their talent and skills. They should also be given the power to take control over economic plans and decision making regarding economic investments in household issues.
Thirdly Fernando argues that, micro-credit programs are successful in many countries but the irony is that this success is possible due to the collaborations of the institutions which are considered to be obstacles to women empowerment. Fernando’s field research in Bangladesh shows that, micro-enterprises were not helpful to create solidarity among women, which is one of the main aims of empowerment. Instead, women face peer pressure during repayments and were under constant surveillance by other group members regarding their everyday expenditures.
The proponents of NGOs argue that, non-governmental organizations work to overcome the limitations of government to support needy people. NGOs are able to solve the problems of poor because they have one to one interactions with people and can combat the handicaps from grass root level. Moreover, NGOs work is independent of government interference so they have much free space to deal with problems from various angles. But reality is totally different from the claims of proponents, Fernando field research shows that, “Bangladeshi NGOs, openly supported the Awami League government.” It is true in many other developing countries such as my own country Pakistan where many INGOs support government policies in order to have permission to work otherwise they are not allow by government. Therefore, expecting NGOs to be helpful because they are not influence by government policies is insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (Einstein)
NGOs that are concern about women empowerment should keep in mind that only providing awareness about women rights through sessions and educational programs are not sufficient enough to assurance women empowerment. Instead it provokes predicaments and underpins depression in women. For example, the suicide rates in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan are more common among educated women between 15 to 35 years of age. Though much research has not been done to know the reason behind increasing suicide trend among women, from my personal observation I assume that it is mostly because of the restrictions and expectations from women in our society which compel them to do suicide. Educated women are more susceptible to suicide because conservative social setup is not allowing them to practice their rights and enjoy their freedom, which elicits depression and suicidal thoughts. Sadly, awareness about women’s rights is doing more bad than good for women in our society, “ignorance is blessing” seems true in this case. Therefore, in order to empower women NGOs should come up with pragmatic programs with tangible results regarding empowerment. Since, women are more financially, socially and politically vulnerable in society. NGOs should provide them enough economic resources along with moral and political support which hopefully will lend a hand in women empowerment.