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Gender and Civil Society

Gender here contextualizes female engagement and representation in civil societies, which, according to Clark (2003:3) "comprises citizens collective activity for social transformation rather than individual gain." Citizens and groups in the public sphere, acting outside the government and bureaucracy, make up civil society. Civil society must support, criticize, and ensure that the government is transparent and responsible. It ought to behave responsibly towards disadvantaged, marginalized, excluded groups and communities and ensure human rights such as the right to education, health, employment, and dignity remains sustained. Its goal should be to secure civil rights and prevent any infringement from the administration and civil society.

For quite some time, there has been a discussion about gender and civil society. The debate has centered on whether or not the family should be considered a part of civil society. While there are many studies on civil society–state ties and even more on the interaction between states and families (particularly in the field of public policy), family–civil society interactions are under-theorized and under-researched.

'Civil society is not an important organizing category for feminists, and it rarely figures in the feminist taxonomy,' writes Anne Philips. The primary conceptual division for feminist philosophers is between the public (state, market, and civil society) and the private (family).

Because power and authority are associated with an abstract male figure, many women find it difficult to contribute constructively to decision-making processes. Sexual harassment and the existence of social systems that limit women's prospects exacerbate this numerical disparity.

Civil society is not immune to these problems. Women are frequently marginalized because of their gender, class, or ethnicity. Furthermore, there have been occasions where one gender has dominated civil society organizations. This demonstrates that exclusionary discourses, practices, and beliefs that embed gender discrimination are not limited to certain realms of governance but are prevalent, even at the local level.

Eradication of the institutionalized patriarchy involves fundamental reformation of civil societies. Civil society organizations are ideologically and financially independent of political parties, allowing them to criticize government policies, discriminating against women. They can also strive to strategically mobilize communities by ensuring seat reservations, appropriate implementation of social welfare policies, reporting gender-based discrimination in terms of unequal pay for equal work, and holding the government accountable for its wrongdoings.

Attempting to involve communities and individuals in specific efforts or projects can help to develop gender-sensitive participatory methods. Even with participatory procedures, extra measures should ensure that women and men may participate equally. Community discussions can sometimes result in voicing out few opinions if gender inequalities and power disparities remain unaddressed.

The role of civil society is to bring together the voices of people that get ignored by the decision-makers.

It needs to put up recommendations based on inputs from the grassroots level to design more effective policies. It can engage individuals to share ideas about gender equality as well as eradicate gender roles by empowering the people with whom these organizations interact. As a result, they can act as equality-seeking organizations. By adopting proper representation within their different organizations, civil societies should set an example and serve the goal of their very existence.

The analysis of the role of civil society and third sector organizations in gender equality articulate gender mainstreaming, related to the study of practices regarding equality between women and men, both inside and outside organizations, including governance structures, the labor force, and the volunteers, as well as activities and projects towards promoting gender equality in the wider community (Conselho da Europa, 1999; Ferreira, 2000). 

“By bringing gender into the debate, we also put back the politics into civil society.” Organizing by women does not happen in a vacuum. International, national, and local political contexts are required to provide a platform for women to engage in decision-making. By viewing civil society through a gender lens, there seems an enormous potential for civil society actors to occupy positions in the state or participate in policy-making processes. Increasing the number of female state legislators will increase policy responsiveness to women's issues, thus, strengthening democracy.

Civil society's functions are better acknowledged globally, as they attain accomplishments like amending erroneous government policies and working hard to promote women's empowerment. 

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) can work with the government to conduct surveys or report a lack of law and order at the local level, particularly when it comes to crimes against women (sexual harassment, rapes, prenatal sex selection, and harmful customary or traditional practices like honor killings and dowry violence), and assist the government in providing legal redress to the victims.

Through group talks or any other successful way of engagement, civil societies establish a platform that brings together women from all walks of life and makes their opinions heard by linking them with the social reality and forcing them to realize the current systematic gender prejudices.

Image Credits: The UN

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