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The role of women's organisations in civil society building
Lida Zuidberg
November 2004

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Executive summary
Design and scope of the programme evaluation What is the role of women’s organisations in civil society building and how do the Dutch Co-financing Agencies Cordaid, Hivos and Icco contribute to this role? These were the key questions that were studied in this Programme Evaluation, commissioned by Cordaid, Hivos and Icco to EOS Consult. The evaluation was a follow-up to the programme evaluation of the Dutch CFAs on civil society building, finalised in 2003, and it was directed toward a more thorough analysis of the congruence between policies and practices of civil society building on the one hand, and the support to women’s organisations on the other.

The specific objectives were to assess: (a) the significance of women’s organisations in strengthening civil society, taking into account their objectives, strategies and activities in promoting gender equality; and (b) the relevance and quality of the support given to women’s organisations by the CFAs. Women’s organisations are not always (or not primarily or explicitly) supported by the CFAs for reasons of civil society building, but rather to assist women in their efforts to achieve equality or empowerment. That is why we had to analyse first the work of the women’s organisations in terms of its impact on gender equality, and secondly to examine their strategies in terms of civil society building. In line with this approach, the following six research questions were elaborated:

  • What are the objectives, strategies and results of activities of women’s organisations?
  • To what extent have their activities contributed to promoting gender equality?
  • To what extent have their activities contributed to a stronger civil society?
  • What are the policies and strategies of the CFAs underlying the support to women’s organisations?
  • How has the support by Cordaid, Hivos and Icco contributed to the effectiveness of women’s organisations in promoting gender equality and in strengthening civil society?
  • How do the partners view this support in comparison with support from other (bilateral and multilateral) donors?

The study was conducted in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Although the political contexts are quite different, the issues of gender inequality are more or less similar and women’s organisations seem to play an active role in civil society in all three countries. The evaluation was carried out from July 2003 to July 2004 and was organised in steps. The first step pertained to the design of the Terms of Reference and the methodological framework of the programme evaluation. Then, the policies of Cordaid, Hivos and Icco with regard to civil society building and gender equality were analysed on the basis of interviews and available documents. An inventory was made of the 42 women’s organisations supported by the CFAs in the three countries and the 26 organisations that are supported at regional or worldwide level. In order to get more information on experiences with civil society building and CFA support, an e-mail questionnaire was distributed among all of these organisations. In Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa 19 women’s organisations were visited to collect data about results and effectiveness. The national contexts of civil society and the women’s movement were studied on the basis of available literature. Each country study was concluded with a workshop in order to validate and share the findings. Finally, all findings were brought together in the synthesis report in order to arrive at overall conclusions and recommendations.

The contribution of the women’s organisations to gender equality was studied with the help of a gender analysis framework, which distinguishes four dimensions of gender equality: economic independence, political participation, socio-cultural status and physical integrity. The contribution of women’s organisations to the process of civil society building was analysed with the help of the dimensions of civil society building identified and used in the previous programme evaluation on civil society building. The dimensions refer to four broad fields of activity: strengthening organisational capacities, networks and alliances, capacities for (policy) advocacy, and citizenship with the aim of increasing participation of citizens in the public sphere.

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