Politics of Funding, Philanthropy & Women's Rights Movements in India: An Ethnography
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This dissertation seeks to answer the following questions: How does the politics of funding impact contemporary women's rights activism in India? How are women's rights activists either adapting or not to shifts in both local and global sociopolitical conditions? This dissertation searches for the answers to these questions by concentrating on the everyday functioning of women's rights organizations, in which the perceptions, dilemmas, struggles and insights of activists engaged in furthering women's rights serve as the privileged lens through which questions of women's rights work is approached. This dissertation gives a detailed account of five different women's rights organizations. These organizations were founded between 1980 and 2005, based in either Delhi or the state of Karnataka, and they work with a diverse set of constituents, ranging from urban, middle-class women to dalit and rural women. By covering organizations founded in the last two decades, this dissertation focuses on a critical phase of women's rights activism. In the wake of a series of political crises, the women's movement re-emerged as an autonomous movement in Independent India during the 1980s, before giving way to the ‘institutionalized activism’ of the early 1990s. Now transformed into feminist NGOs, these organizations depend on external funds to sustain their day-to-day functioning and are faced with the following dilemma: Must the organization compromise its feminist mandate in order to receive continued funding? In the course of ten months, through the use of numerous methods - including both semi-structured and unstructured interviews, archival research, and participant observations – this dissertation brings together a variety of angles on every question in order to determine the precise role of funding politics in agenda setting, the obstacles to accessing funds and larger questions concerned with the framing and dynamics involved in prioritizing certain issues over others. By mapping these responses, this dissertation also attempts to draw out some of the potential implications for the women's rights activism of respective organizations. Although the questions posed in this dissertation have been debated among feminists and scholars elsewhere, this dissertation makes a specific contribution to the existing body of knowledge through the way in which its empirical findings illuminate the impacts of funding politics and new philanthropy trends on women's rights work in India. This dissertation's findings indicate that increasing globalization and market-led growth in India has begun to dominate donor policies. In contrast to the 1980s, when donors were often times committed to strengthening the politics of women's rights activism over a long period of time, current donor priorities demonstrate a marked shift to the short-term support of specific issues. Moreover, those larger and professionally managed organizations based in urban areas appear to find favor with funding agencies, while smaller, rural-based women's rights organizations are plagued by both a lack of funds and the difficulties involved with attempting to fit into the larger framework of the donor's preferred agenda. Additionally, women's rights organizations have been forced to develop a pragmatic relationship with the state since the state has re-centered itself as the locus of funding politics. As India continues to present itself as a self-reliant economy, the flow of international funding has been diverted to poorer states, thus decreasing the availability of funds for women's rights organizations located outside these privileged states. The changes of the last twenty years have not only affected women's rights organizations' access to funds, but have also changed the very terrain on which women's rights activism is shaped, agendas are framed and politics is debated. For example most of this study's respondents agree that, for example, over time the radical edge of women's rights activism has been blunted. Pragmatic women’s rights organizations, dedicated to bringing about pro-women change by treating the state, not as an enemy, but as an ally, have taken their place. Although the question, "Where will women's rights activism go next?" is a question of paramount importance, it is equally necessary to ask, "Where does it stand today?" This dissertation is an attempt to answering these lingering and critical questions.