By Emily Bove —

Women Thrive Alliance members are grassroots organizations who, every day, work to make gender equality a reality in their communities. One step at a time, they dismantle patriarchal structures, change gender norms and attitudes, build support for their vision for an equal society, and expand opportunities for the women and girls they work for.

These change-makers – women, girls, men and boys – are united by the belief that when women and girls get a seat at the decision-making table, policies and programs are better shaped to successfully eradicate violence against women, increase women’s economic opportunities, and ensure equitable access to education for all.

Our members are powerful, fearless, impactful, and highly skilled change-makers. But, they often feel like the rest of the world does not see them that way. Last week, one of them told me “We need to change the narrative.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Grassroots women and girls are the most untapped resource in the world.  They are not a powerless social group needing to be saved.  Their determination, innovative problem-solving, and ability to mobilize for change continue to make an impact every day in lives of millions.  

In almost every rural community in sub-Saharan Africa, you will find networks, support systems, and/or associations of women leading their communities’ development. These women don’t meet once a week to check-in. Rather, they build infrastructure, create revolving funds, provide schooling and after-school services to children in their communities, and advocate for their rights within their households, villages, districts, and countries.

In Zimbabwe, Alliance member ZuboTrust managed to integrate women into the male-only fishing industry by advocating with local leaders, government officials, and their families and communities.

In DRC, Alliance member CFAD self-funded a 6 month program to find female candidates for local elections, and created a voter education program for women.

In Afghanistan, Alliance member AWSDC conducted a three-day national conference on “Women’s Status in Islam”, bringing together 300 religious scholars and civil society representatives to discuss how they can join forces to eliminate violence against women in Afghanistan.

In Madagascar, Alliance member Youth First organized the first national girl’s assembly to ensure young girls had a role in the planning of the country’s gender action plan.

These are just a few examples.  Around the world, our Alliance members work tirelessly for gender equality. 

Grassroots women and girls don’t need us to teach them how to raise their communities out of poverty. Rather, the development community needs them to implement locally owned, relevant, and gender transformative development initiatives. Their leadership is alive and well, but it is often invisible to an outsider’s eye.

When development practitioners set foot in new locations to implement programs, they rarely connect with the local change-makers because they don’t take the necessary time to identify these change-makers, interact with them, and build their trust. Dialogue with these women’s groups usually starts after a project launch, leaving women and girls on the outskirts of the development processes they should be leading.   

Grassroots women and girls can and should set the agenda.

When women and girls have a seat at the decision-making table, policies and programs are better shaped to successfully eradicate violence against women, increase women’s economic opportunities, and ensure equitable access to education for all. Over the past three years, Women Thrive leveraged its convening power to bring together a formidable coalition of members.  As an alliance, we pushed the agenda on quality, inclusive, equitable education and secured the adoption of desired language on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 4. Members were able to participate substantively and successfully in global policymaking.  Their voices were heard.

How do we change the narrative?

  • We build grassroots advocates’ skills so they can reach new audiences and supporters.
  • We collaborate directly with grassroots women and girls, rather than inviting them to join unequal partnerships. Having grassroots advocates personally meet decision-makers, speak at panels, and give interviews makes a difference.  The messenger matters.
  • We let women and girls lead their way – the way that works in their communities.
  • We collect data that proves their solutions and leadership make a difference.

In the coming months, Women Thrive Alliance and its members will be doing just that.

Together, we will change the narrative.