‘It started with a dream in 1974, a dream of having the efforts of local grassroots women, from various ethnic backgrounds, recognized and respected. We came to see that the enemy was isolation from others as committed as we are, discouragement, and a lack of attention to our own self-development. The complexity of community life today presents problems so difficult that we believe women need a special kind of network to empower and support us becoming strong, effective and efficient leaders.’
Founded in 1974 after the Washington Conference, grassroots leaders and their allies joined Neighborhood Women (NW) based on shared principles and common goals. Across the USA, NW created spaces where grassroots women leaders could link with each other, present their work and perspectives, and exchange peer successes and challenges. They caucused at conferences created a neighborhood college program and their own annual Institute on Women and Community Development. Committed to partnering across race, class, culture, geography, and other differences, NW:
- Encouraged low-income women to participate and lead in the development of their communities.
- Identified and shared the creative projects and methods developed by urban and rural grassroots women’s groups.
- Increased the opportunities for grassroots women to network locally, nationally and internationally.
- Focused national attention on the capabilities and successes of low-income women.
Since the global economy requires global allies, NW helped initiate the international grassroots women’s network, GROOTS, achieved consultative status at the United Nations in the mid 1980’s and became the global secretariat for the Huairou Commission in 1995. This relationships provide practical information and access to experienced community developers who insist that low income women co-design solutions to poverty and urban/rural decay and offer peer lending, sustainable agriculture, and other approaches that illustrate the successes that result.
NCNW’s history is one of successfully linking the community development work of grassroots leaders from around the nation, and through GROOTS and Huairou Comission, from around the world. Together they have created transformative situations where grassroots women leaders speak for themselves, enter decision making forums and demonstrate effective practices in arenas of land tenure, HIV Aids Response, Disaster and Resilience Strategies and Governance, among others. In three decades there has been a global shift in the visibility of grassroots women leaders, their self organization and input into decision making forums. NW, GROOTS and Huairou Commission, have been part of that shift and they are proud of it.
For a historical perspective on the NCNW after 30 years please visit the The Kathleen Ridder 2004 Conference at Smith College page.
The NW vision of grassroots women’s empowerment and neighborhood revitalization has been in place since the beginning, but in order for its diverse participants to get along and develop that perspective, NW needed to have a structure that would allow for a mutually agreed upon set of principles based upon the shared vision and strong values of many neighborhood women. The following principles were developed in 1982 by the NW National Steering Committee after its second large national meeting and amended in 1991 based upon ideas generated at the NW Training Institute.
In organizing and assigning women to improve their lives in neighborhoods, we are committed to processes which build individual dignity, mutual respect and trust, and which affirm the importance of spiritual values.
We are committed to building women’s consciousness of their power and potential, of their right to self-realization, of their right and capacity to define and solve their own problems, and to do this by stressing recognition of their strengths and by offering education and skill-building in a manner that does not alienate them from themselves and their roots.
We believe that freedom is a built on economic self-determination. We are committed to becoming economically self-sufficient as an organization, to helping women find ways to support themselves and their families, and to working with neighborhoods to promote economic development compatible with neighborhood values and with the continued existence of those neighborhoods.
We believe that women’s input and leadership are essential to the building of healthy community life, and we assert women’s responsibility to lead. We believe in supporting this leadership with public recognition and rewards. We accept the responsibility for developing new women leaders accountable to neighborhood women and believe that other women, including women leaders, have the same responsibility and accountability.
We affirm that ties to local institutions, places and people are important sources of personal strength, and we respect and promote the preservation of the neighborhoods of others as well as our own.
We recognize that families come in ever-changing forms, but whatever the form, we affirm the importance of families to the healthy development of adults and children alike. We are committed to strengthening family life and to helping families function well for all their members.
Because of multiple and conflicting demands made upon women which often lead to feelings of inadequacy, isolation, illegitimacy, and self-denial, we believe in the importance of women leaders’ support groups and supportive networks. We are committed to fostering these support groups and networks (local, regional, national and global) as sources of personal comfort and growth and as organizing tools for action. It is through a network, a congress of local groups sharing strategies, celebrating victories, gaining mutual support, that we can strengthen each of our organizations and gain a voice in the national arena.
We favor self-determination and self-help for ourselves and our communities, but we believe that government has a responsibility to assist people to help themselves. While we are a non-partisan and non-ideological organization, we encourage political involvement and the use of political activity to accomplish our goals.
We believe in working with other groups to accomplish our goals. Our participation in a coalition working on particular issues does not mean that we endorse the positions of other coalition members on issues different from the ones for which the coalition has been formed. However, we accept as affiliate organizations, only those groups that share our goals and principles and whose actions are consistent with our goals and principles.
We are committed to fostering understanding and respect for personal and group diversity and the use of education, training and structured processes to accomplish this. We are particularly concerned about the way gender, class, race, religion, culture, political ideology, sexual preference, and personal life choices divide people who need to cooperate to improve the communities in which they live. Women leaders and their followers have been attacked for centuries on the basis of narrow and fixed notions of who we are and how we should behave. We expect our allies to stand with us against such attacks when they are used against any one of us.
Whether we live in rural or urban neighborhoods, from an environmental viewpoint we are one people, the human family, in one home, planet earth. Whether it comes from so-called urban renewal, neglect, drug use, high crime, or pollution of the resources of land, air, and water on which human life depends, we are concerned with environmental blight upon our communities. We see the inter-dependence of all elements of life. We commit ourselves to including environmental concerns in our personal, family and community work.
“No women is required to build the world by destroying herself.” We are learning, sometimes the hard way, that a calm state of mind and physical well-being are part of a woman leader’s commitment to her own development. It takes discipline to develop healthy bodies through good eating, sleeping, mental and spiritual habits. It takes caring for and reverencing ourselves. We commit ourselves to pursuing our own wholeness and to encouraging other women to do the same.