19 January 2010
Michelle Bachelet Executive Director UN Women
Dear Ms. Bachelet,
UN Women is well positioned to help do justice to the countless on-the-ground grassroots groups in the developing world that are well-run and making real long-term impact for women and their families.
I’ve had the privilege of working with over 300 grassroots organizations in east and southern Africa in my career. Most were linked to local churches, schools, or clinics or were independent groups made up of countless local volunteers, mostly women, that assist other women and children by extending support and services into areas that are not sufficiently reached by government or international organizations.
WEM Integrated Health Services in Thika, Kenya is one such women-led, local grassroots organization. It was formed in 1998 by three committed Kenyan women who wanted to contribute to building a community-rooted response to HIV and poverty. WEMIHS offers care, educational support, and other services to vulnerable children, caretakers, and people living with HIV/AIDS.
This home-grown, grassroots-up organization is doing incredible work--not only reaching many families with quality services but also ensuring genuine community capacity and ownership of programs. I admire WEMIHS' founders very much and this organization is exactly the kind of local organization that transforming families’ lives in the long-term and is deserving of much more recognition and funding.
Larger-scale financial support of female grassroots leadership and small, often “informal” women's movements must be considered a key part of UN Women’s future. I have outlined this argument further in a virtual discussion on aid effectiveness from a gender perspective in which I participated last year, sponsored by UN-WOMEN, and on my blog in such posts as “Overlooking the Capacity of Local Organizations” and “Small is Beautiful…Grants, That Is.”
It's local women and activists that are the true heroes and the true experts about what's needed at the community level to fight poverty, or gender violence, or AIDS, or climate change. And it’s local women's organizations that are vital to supporting demand-driven development that can genuinely challenge power asymmetries and unleash social change.
UN Women is in a unique position to help hold donors and governments accountable to what proportion of aid funding directly reaches women, families, and communities and to ensure a smooth flow of funds to support effective, indigenous, community-level initiatives. Therefore, UN Women would do well to keep focused on getting existing and effective women’s groups like WEMIHS the resources that they need to address their own priorities.
Jennifer Lentfer Bruning, Nebraska U.S.A.
As the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women officially begins its work this month, World Pulse is asking women worldwide: What is YOUR vision and recommendation for UN Women? We invite you to raise your voice by writing a letter to UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet outlining your recommendation for how this new UN agency can truly affect change on the ground to promote gender equality and uphold the rights and needs of women both on a local and global scale. Learn more: http://www.worldpulse.com/pulsewire/programs/international-violence-agai...UN Women: Visions and Recommendations