Women’s NGOs in Kyrgyzstan: international funding, and social organization of gender, 2007

Marie Campbell, PhD, Professor Emerita, University of Victoria, Canada, has received a grant fromSocial Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s International Opportunities Fund for this research which began (in Kyrgyzstan) in June 2007. Co-investigator is Elena Kim,American University of Central Asia. Research collaborator is Dr. Sharon Horne, University ofMemphis. The research will be housed in Aigine Cultural Research Centre, Bishkek, through the cooperation of its director, Dr. Gulnara Aitpaeva who is cultural consultant to the project. Research assistants are Gulmira Aldakeeva, Guljan Kudabaeva and Zemphira Inogamova.

Project Summary
The Kyrgyz Republic is said to be a transitional state, meaning in transition from a soviet form of society to a market economy and democracy. Trans- and international donors have begun to recognize the importance of women’s participation in the transition to democracy. In the context of development, the word “gender” has often been used to mean “women”, but it may now also refer to specific institutional technology – such as gender mainstreaming – that embeds equity-oriented accountability in development efforts. Building on the United Nations’ official follow-up of the 1995 Beijing Women’s Forum, internationally-based development organizations operating in Kyrgyzstan have helped to put gender on the agenda of the Kyrgyz state, too.

The proposed research addresses the important role being played by local women’s organizations as they mediate, in Kyrgyzstan as elsewhere, the everyday actualities of women’s lives and the gender equity goals of the international organizations operating in the country. The analysis is not evaluation of the effectiveness of gender mainstreaming practices, but the more complex question of how organizations carry development policy into local settings, translating those ideas into specific action on the ground – reportable as “impacts” or “results”. In this research, our attention is drawn to the implicit narrative of accountability played out as certain people generate policy, design its implementation, fund projects and account for what happens; and others, located in project sites, take up the institutional technologies of projects and enact them – within the particular conditions of their own lives.

What is being accounted for and to whom?
The research approach used in this project, institutional ethnography, makes it possible to bring together, analytically, the different sides (and sites) of international development work. We will analyse program intentions, and what they actually come to, in two projects in Kyrgyzstan: first, UNIFEM’s Advocacy for Women’s Land Rights and then, The Association of Crisis Centres of Kyrgyzstan. Central to our methodology is recognition of the powerful role of institutional texts in organizing and representing development work and its achievements, and especially in our research, its gender impacts. Gender, rather than being considered a binary variable – male or female, is understood as socially constructed relations of power and hierarchy that are differentially accessible to differently-sexed individuals or groups, but that are shaped by culture, ethnicity, age, class or religion. These relations are “in play” in development projects, as elsewhere. Gender inequity is a major problem around the world, but according to the statistics of the Kyrgyz Republic, in spite of much international aid targeted to women’s empowerment since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the status of women there is in sharp and continuing decline.Kyrgyzstan thus offers a useful site for systematic reflection on and analysis of the workings of internationally-funded projects aimed at empowering women, including those projects that employ gender mainstreaming strategies.

The findings will be generalizable to other development activities that are structured similarly. The goal is to build new knowledge about what is actually happening that will engage donors, policy-makers, international development professionals, and feminist academics and activists in reflective dialogue about their own efforts to advance women’s rights and capacities, and build gender equity. Through this international collaboration we plan to establish Crisis Centre a network of researchers for whom our analysis can act as the catalyst for further research into the social relations of gender occurring at the intersection of institutional and experiential action.

For more information visit the project’s website  http://web.uvic.ca/~mariecam/kgSite/welcome.html