Lofty ideals and ground realities: Feminism, activism, and NGOs in Pakistan
In this dissertation, I explore women's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Pakistan. NGOs in Pakistan offer an opportunity to study activism in action and analyze the various strategies and modes of argumentation used by women's NGOs to advance women's rights in a conservative environment. This study is an attempt to break down some of the dichotomies that often characterize the debate on NGOs---civil society vs. the state, democratic vs. non-democratic, feminist vs. non-feminist---and instead place the activities, visions and agendas of women's NGOs in their historical, political, cultural, and social contexts.
Between January and June 2004, I collected data in Pakistan by (1) engaging in participant observation with three NGOs ranging along a continuum of advocacy and feminist agendas, (2) personal interviews with NGO employees all over Pakistan, government officials and some senior officials at international donor agencies, and (3) analyzing published materials produced by NGOs such as mission statements, reports, strategy papers, posters and calendars as well as newspaper articles and reports on NGOs. I address the following questions through my research: What factors influence whether NGOs follow feminist agendas or more conservative ones? What kinds of strategies do they employ to ensure their survival in a conservative environment? Do these strategies involve compromises that undermine a feminist agenda?
At the core of this study are some lingering questions about feminism and activism. How do we and should we define feminism? What are the consequences for NGOs, and activism in general, of compromising on feminist ideals? How should we understand these compromises given the "ground realities" of activism in a country like Pakistan? How does the position of NGOs within a larger social, cultural, and political context shape and/or constrain their visions and activities? I argue that the ground realities (which differ from place to place) often dictate to a large extent the scope, nature, and strength of activism and feminism in a given context. This is an important step in furthering the debate and filling some of the theoretical gaps in the scholarship on the role and nature of activism, NGOs, and feminism.
0703: Organization theory
0453: Womens studies