People take change into own hands – the role of civil society in development

Tue, 11/15/2011 - 00:00 -- webadmin

Post from Olga Kozhaeva, Open Forum, and Phoebe Simon, GCAP, published on 15/11/2011.

The upcoming 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4), 29 November – 1 December in Busan, South Korea, will be the first time that Civil Society Organizations will take full and equal part in important negotiations on development cooperation alongside governments and donors.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) have traditionally served and represented the very people who aid and development programs are meant to support.

The work of Dalit grassroots organizations in India provides an insightful example of how mobilization of the people can bring about positive change for entire communities.

Despite forming 1/6th of India’s population, the Dalits face societal exclusion based on their birth into castes that are traditionally considered ‘untouchable’. This stigmatisation was finally declared illegal when the Indian constitution was adopted in 1950. However, casteism being so deeply entrenched in the social fabric of the country, discrimination faced by Dalits continues.

The largest number of Dalits (more than 50 million) live in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, part of the Bundelkhand region. Drought prone Bundelkhand region, which is spread over both these states, has a particularly concentrated Dalit population of approximately 4.6 million (2001 Census, Government of India).[1] Huge differences are observed in most of the development indicators of the Dalits when compared with the non-Dalit population. Education is one field where this difference is particularly felt – Dalits have significantly higher illiteracy and dropout rates and face segregation and hostile attitude from teachers and peers.

Rampant examples of discrimination against Dalit children include demands of carrying out household chores on the school premises (girls especially are affected), separate seating arrangements, and even denial of admission to basic education. Their parents, mostly being illiterate and subjugated under local tradition, are unable to assert their rights effectively.

Change came about when two grassroots organizations representing the Dalit community - The Centre for Alternative Dalit Media (CADAM) and National Confederation of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR) – began their work in the region in the year 2009. Following an observation of the discriminating practices, CADAM/NACDOR initiated a community based intervention in 200 villages,under the campaign banner Bundelkhand Shiksha Abhiyan (Bundelkhand Education Campaign).

The organization has facilitated the formation of 160 community committees called the NACDOR Village Dalit Education Committees (NDVECs). These NDVECs have been instrumental in addressing cases of discrimination at school and petitioned before politically elected representatives. Meanwhile, to enhance the economic conditions of Dalit families, interventions were made by CADAM/NACDOR towards accessing wage work opportunities. Increased family income has in turn increased the retention rates of children in school. Furthermore, building self-esteem through community mobilisation has enabled Dalit children and their parents to mount pressure on the school management to improve teaching practices.

Since the year 2010, Bundelkhand Shiksha Abhiyaan has proved to be instrumental in increasing the enrolment and retention of Dalit children, especially girls, in the government primary school.  Indeed, 824 new student have been enrolled in over 200 villages, and the retention rate of the children has improved by 20% (now currently 70%). Only one year into the activities, these tangible and empowering results are very encouraging for both CADAM/NACDOR and for the Dalit community and provide an inspiring example of civil society organizations taking initiative to achieve development and combat discrimination.

[Source: GCAP (Social Exclusion Taskforce)]

The previous 3rd High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness has officially recognized the role of civil society as a development actor in its own right and committed governments and donors to provide an enabling environment for our work.

Through a CSO-driven fully inclusive global process known as the Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness, civil society was subsequently tasked to define our own development effectiveness standards and criteria for enabling environment. This was accomplished through over 70 national consultations with thousands of civil society organizations worldwide, now consolidated in the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness.

The International Framework is a statement by global civil society on the standards that guide our development work and the requirements from governments and donors on what constitutes an enabling environment for civil society. The International Framework is part of the globally consolidated CSO Key Messages and Proposals for HLF4.



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[1] Bundelkhand region comprises of 6 Districts from Madhya Pradesh (out of 50 Districts) and 7 Districts from Uttar Pradesh (out of 75 Districts). As per Government of India’s 2001 Census, the average Scheduled Caste (Dalit) population in this region is higher than the state averages. State population of the Scheduled Castes (SC) in MP is 15.2%, while in Bundelkhand region of the state is 22.1%. Similarly, while in UP state the SC population is 22.1%, the same in Bundelkhand region of the state is 25.11%