As grassroots women we learn from one another in solidarity. Let all policymakers recognize for once and forever that our concerns are part of increasingly larger agendas- so that our vision will positively impact the effects of development on the lives of everyone.’
GROOTS International Network News, Vol. 1 Issue 1, June 1992
The vision of GROOTS emerged in 1985 at the Third U.N. World Women’s Conference in Nairobi when the National Congress of Neighborhood Women and five other community organizers from India, Kenya, Cameroon, and the Philippines discussed how absent grassroots women were from this and other agenda setting arenas where policy makers and government officials gather to debate how to reduce poverty and social exclusion.
Four years later, GROOTS was launched by 20 community leaders from around the world who planned a global network to support grassroots women’s organizations working across national and regional boundaries, sharing resources, information, and experiences and collectively forging and consolidating a grassroots women’s presence and perspective.
GROOTS’ founders created a strategic plan that targeted two United Nations conferences: the 1995 Fourth World Women Conference of Women’s (FWCW) Equality, Development and Peace (Beijing) and the 1996 Habitat II: City Summit (Istanbul). Outreaching, sharing information and organizing regional events, women’s groups came together to prepare presentations and priorities reflecting their bottom up solutions to reducing poverty, improving their communities quality of life, and supporting women’s long term involvement in planning and local political decision making and inputted them into the regional and international platforms (and plans) for action.
The network’s efforts culminated in China in a Grassroots’ Women’s Tent hosted by GROOTS representatives from each region–Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, South Pacific, Europe and North America–that attracted a thousand women to exchange workshops, informal information sharing, and leadership support circles. With the United Nations Development Program, GROOTS co-published: Restructuring Economic and Social Policy: Cross-Cultural Gender Insights from the Grassroots (a report featuring three case examples of GROOTS members who had created pro-active economic alternatives to the pressures of economic reform) that was launched as one of six UNDP sponsored conference workshops in Huairou. At the Istanbul U.N. Habitat II meeting, GROOTS had gained the capacity to offer a three day exchange workshop, host a series of topic specific panels, operate the first UN conference childcare center, place a number of grassroots leaders on their countries national delegations, and persuade government officials to sponsor Plan of Action commitments to include poor women’s groups in human settlements planning and implementation.
In 1996, Steering Committee members met and evaluated GROOTS’ seven years and agreed the network had: helped increase the respect and recognition for their local work, connected them to groups with similar goals (in and outside their region), and exposed them to information, support, and resources that reduced isolation and expanded longer term opportunities for their groups and networks. A decision was also taken to shift GROOTS’ international networking approach from regionally-centered organizing (appropriate for global conferences) to inter-regional cooperation on specific programs (which strengthens capacity and relationship building). The priority issues, relevant today, are summarized in the Network Focus section, and the networking methods chosen include: peer learning exchanges, documentation, leadership support, group-group technical assistance, as well as ongoing regional communication and workshops.
Sandy Schilen is the Global Facilitator of GROOTS International.