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Descriptive Analysis

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To the Well-being of Families
Under the Chairmanship of
The Vienna NGO Committee on the Family

Initial Analysis
Nina Mitts
London Centre of International Relations
Kings College London.
While the state continues to play an important role in family policy and its well-being, the role of governments in the advancement of family well-being has been transformed by the growth of civil society organisations (CSOs) globally. Scholte defines global civil society as “civic activity that addresses transworld issues; involves transborder communications; has global organisation; and works on a premise of supraterritorial solidarity.” Civil society organizations have representations in many different countries, come in all shapes and sizes, and range from single issue campaign groups, to volunteer-run networks, or large-scale charities with hundreds of staff. They have the ability to organize globally, with a driving effort to put pressure on national governments, corporations, and international organizations to meet community needs, defend interests or promote new policies. Some have no identifiable location and are of a virtual character. CSOs have begun to band together in common purpose, particular issues, and with efforts to “build linkages among citizen groups”.
Primarily, CSOs are dedicated to improving their communities and societies. Such collective endeavours have always existed in some form or another in every society owing to the endurance of civil minded individuals, but have fortunately gained strength and visibility through UN conferences, starting in with the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, but also through others such as the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna and the 1995 Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women. Family NGOs have been facilitated through all of these UN efforts, but also through specific conferences and programmes geared toward the family, such as the “International Year of the Family” in 1994 and subsequent annual “International Day of Families”. The implications of global civil society for the family are blurry, yet captivating. Will the family unit become strengthened through CSOs, and will CSOs become the leading vehicle of family well-being? How do we define family well-being? What contributions have there been within the last ten years? And what impact does government support have on civil society organisations? To examine how global civil society organisations have contributed to family well-being in the last ten years this chapter will address some of these questions with insights from the organisations that have participated in the Interactive-Internet-Forum of International NGOs.
A pessimist might well conclude that the last ten years has been challenging for most CSOs, but instead of looking at the negative aspects, that exist, and will always exist in every aspect of society, it is more constructive and motivating to focus on the positive impact that such organizations have had on families throughout the world; positive in the sense that families have been strengthened, that there is evidence of civilians making a difference, and that family interests are being defended and upheld through new government policies.
Families are units where values are learned, culture is transmitted, and children learn relationship skills. But what is family well-being and how is it defined? There are surely national, cultural, religious and socio-economic differences as to what constitutes family well-being, and it might range from “good communications” to “having enough to eat”. While each family might define family-well being differently, in general one might argue that love, health, education, economic security, and social development are the basic requirements for healthy families. Issues of reconciliation of work and family life, access of family members to employment, promotion of women’s rights, support for family and social cohesion, attention to the rights and responsibilities of parents and action to strengthen the role of families and family values are of special interest to family CSOs. Family support groups that have shown interest in the Forum can be divided into organisations that focus on different aspects of family life: 1. Poverty, 2. Women, 3. Children, and 4. General family well-being.
Group 1 ­ Poverty
One of the greatest challenges to family well-being is poverty. The Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 25 that
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
Issues of poverty must be addressed before people can meet the responsibilities to their families and enjoy their rights as citizens. Extreme poverty gravely affects the most vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals, families and groups, who are thus hindered in the exercise of their human rights and their fundamental freedoms. It affects all further issues that may hinder a stable family unit. Homelessness, addiction, or even inadequate housing may separate children from their parents and disturb the family unit. Poverty impacts children’s development, robbing them of necessary food, clothing, and shelter, and adversely affecting their health and education. Deborah Weinstein, director of Children’s Defense Fund's Family Income division warns, "When children fall into extreme poverty, they suffer significant increases in stunted growth, lower academic test scores, and lower earnings years later." Poverty also has particularly bad repercussions for women, who are an already disadvantaged group and traditionally hold the responsibility for taking care of the children and home. Organisations concerned with poverty issues conduct empirical research studies on problems relating to the development of the weaker sections of society, create projects to assist the poor and raise public awareness, collaborate with public authorities, organisations and institutions in programmes of relief, development and networking, as to ensure that the rights of people living in extreme poverty are respected. Many CSOs have had significant undertakings to combat poverty. International Movement ATD Fourth World recognizes the need for an improved knowledge of long-term poverty, its causes and its consequences for the enjoyment of human rights. Besides lobbying for the rights of the poorest, they have implemented the “Noisy-le-Grand Family Support and Development” programme, which provides low-cost housing units for families experiencing multiple difficulties. In agreement with the Housing Association and the Ministry of Social Affairs, ATD Fourth World runs a family support and development project, which enables families to achieve autonomy within two to four years. They learn to pay rent, clean and maintain their accommodation, develop parental skills, and their rights and responsibilities as members of a community. The aim of this programme is to help them assume their rights and responsibilities find and maintain mainstream housing, and reintegrate socially and professionally within a community. ATD Fourth World’s “Health and Education Promotion” project in Haiti offers reductions on consultation, treatment and medication for around 250 families, as well as a pre-school programme inviting children aged 2-6 to become involved with singing, gymnastics, co-ordination building, music, books and creative activities. The Development Promotion Group (DPG) engaged in urban development initiatives from 1994 to 1998 to bring about socio-economic transformation of poor communities in the adopted slums of Chennai, by providing opportunities to improve the quality of their life, which resulted in the construction of three community centres, taught 162 adults to read and write, improved the health status of the community, enabled 37 women to start their own business, trained people in vocational skills, and improved infrastructure facilities like roads, parks, and water facilities. DPG also engaged in the “Women Empowerment Programme” from 2000 to 2004, which aims at improving the status of women within the family and work force, providing women with information, knowledge and skills for democratic action and help, improving environmental sanitation problems, and establishing linkages with solid credit institutions instead of exploitative credit schemes. Seven slums and 1860 families of Chennai city benefited from this programme. The Association of European Railwaymen, headquartered in France with divisions throughout Europe, has made a wonderful contribution to family well-being in Eastern European countries, predominantly on a volunteer basis. From 1991 to 2001 they facilitated vacations for 30 poor Rumanian families chosen according to their income level. These vacations were held in France for a minimum of fifteen days and completely funded by voluntary host families. In another project lasting five years between 1991 and 1996 and funded by the German division, the Association of European Railwaymen transported medicine and drugs to specific villages of the Balkans where there was an urgent need for medical assistance, benefiting around 1000 poor families.
Group 2 ­ Women
Although every one is the recipient of basic human rights, women have traditionally been excluded from many issue surrounding human rights and are to this day in many parts of the world hindered from activities, which could improve their lives and the lives of their families. Women are faced with fewer resources, less training and reduced opportunities. Although the woman is recognised to be equal to man in rights and responsibilities in various universal and regional human rights instruments, such as the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the 1952 Convention on the Political Rights of Women, discrimination in political, economic, social and cultural life remains a fact of life in many areas throughout the world. The CEDAW, often described as the international bill of rights for women, provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men through ensuring women's equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life and defines what constitutes discrimination against women. For many women working is deemed necessary to meet basic family needs and their wages are likely to be used to acquire goods that will improve the life of the family and therefore its well-being. Family organisations concerned with women ensure that these rights are understood and accepted by the public, and wish to strengthen women’s roles in society, in particular as mothers and care-takers, by, among other things, lobbying for legal protection. They represent and aspire to protect women's rights and interests, and to promote sexual equality in all spheres of life, ensuring women’s full and unfettered participation. The majority of CSO respondents whose target groups were women, engaged in women-oriented programmes promoting the equality in the fields of Health, Economics, and in the Social Fields. The Centre for Social Research India (CSR) has implemented the “Step Towards Self Reliance Programme” (1995-2000 and 2000-2005), which has contributed to the autonomous development of the women by strengthening their economic, social and political position. Their “Non-formal Education for Adolescent Girls” programme allowed for girls and adult women from socially and economically backward sections of society to be educated to gain skills for economic empowerment, which resulted in the education of almost 300 children, some of which have gone on to a formal education system or formal vocational training. MO.I.CA. Movimento Italiano Casalinghe address the lack of attention to child-care labour (and other forms of caring labour) due to the undervaluation of such labour, and aim to overcome the inequality experienced by women, by lobbying for laws aimed at their protection. They urge the Italian government to recognise the reality and demands of unpaid work that is socially assigned to women and represents a discounting of the contributions made and the costs experienced by women as a group. Another issue that hinders women in becoming equal participants in their community and breaks down family units is violence. The 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which affirms that "...any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty…" impairs or nullifies women's fundamental human rights and their exercise of these. In many cultures, violence against women is accepted and becomes destructive of the social, emotional, and family well-being. Because of the interdependence of the lives of women and children, violence that targets women will inevitably affect their children. Many times this violence is also directed at children. The International Alliance of Women’s “Action Programmes” urges governments to observe the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence and adopt measures to combat rape and other violence perpetrated against women and children, to work towards the implementation of concrete and specific action to eradicate and prevent all forms of cultural, state, societal and family violence or exploitation against women. They support initiatives that provide shelters, safe houses, and crisis centres for battered women, the establishment of rape and crisis hotlines, and urge governments to join in the efforts to eradicate female genital mutilation everywhere. The projects of the International Alliance of Women also urge governments to take action against sex tourism, forced prostitution and other forms of slavery and is engaged in extensive research into all aspects of sex trafficking. CSR’s “Violence against Women Programme” provides direct services to women victims of violence and facilitates their social rehabilitation. Six centres handle cases of domestic violence against women and provide family and legal counselling, reaching over 30,000 women.
Group 3 ­ children
Unfortunately, too many children are exploited, abused, victims of violence, or forced into various forms of labour. Children must have special protection, for they are an extremely weak group of society, and protection is crucial to their survival, health, and well-being. Families play an important role in the growth and development of children. Article 19 of The Convention on the Rights of the Child affirms that states
“...shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”
Fortification of children around the world should include their unobstructed access to education, especially for girls, HIV/Aids prevention and care, children’s immunization, early childhood care, and work with adolescents. Healthy, nurturing surroundings allow children to resist abuse and avoid exploitation. Loving and supporting environments protect children against harm in the same way that proper health care protects them against disease. CSOs concerned with these issues are eager to promote children’s rights to ensure special protection against all forms of discrimination, neglect, cruelty and exploitation. They work with individuals, civic groups, governments and the private sector to help create protective environments for them. Programs targeted at older children include sex education and the promotion of sexual health. Indirect beneficiaries of programmes targeting children and adolescents include families and communities (including school communities) where targeted adolescents and youngsters belong. Special programmes in this area include BEMFAM’s Youth Program (PROJOVEM), a permanent institutional program since 1993, which promotes the reduction of sexual and reproductive health vulnerabilities amongst adolescents and youngsters between 10 to 24 years of age.
Group 4 ­ Families
General family support groups are important for the support of and general well-being of the family, but can only be effective when the grave issues addressed in Groups 1 through 3 - poverty, special protection for women and children’s rights - are properly addressed and socio-economic well-being and special protection for weaker groups of people are in place. The right to family life and its protection is recognised as a fundamental human right in international law and is reiterated in universal and regional human rights instruments. CSOs within the family support realm take this principle one step further by assisting families in their responsibility of strengthening family units, and protecting and raising their children within such units. The aims of such organisations are to act as a voice for families, focusing on family needs and to enable individuals to assume responsibilities in family, economy, and society so they become able to solve social problems, initiate action, and develop self-help groups. Some organize youth, marriage, and parenting workshops. Special projects in this field include family therapy, classes in disciplining children and lessons in parenthood in order to prevent family breakdowns. Furthermore, active support of local and national legislation that strengthens the family is sought by organisations such as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Council and International Association of Youth and Family Judges and Magistrates. Special mention deserves the All-China Women’s Federation who has implemented the “Five Good Families Campaign” and the “Happy Family TV Program” to promote healthy families. The “Five Good Families Campaign”, which began in 1996, includes a series of education, advocacy and cultural activities for “promoting traditional family virtues and helping family members develop healthy attitudes towards marriage, family and parenting” The campaign also addresses respect for the old, equality between men and women, and good neighbour relations. Awards are given to 100 families several times a year and ten of the most outstanding receive the “Model Five-Good Family Prize”. In the “Happy Family TV Program”, which has been shown once a week for an hour on prime TV since 2000, families are encouraged to recommend their own or other families to display their talents in arts performances, their knowledge of good family practices, or some demonstration of exceptional family cohesion, by telling funny stories or anecdotes that took place within the families. The audience then selects the winning family. These contest programs create healthy competition and team spirit, and uses the media in a way to promote healthy family units.
Of the various organisations, which replied to the forum, some are funded by volunteers, some receive funding through their publications, others have support from government agencies. Those that were supported by the government or larger NGOs seemed to have a wider reach and larger outcome. BEMFAM's Youth Program, for example, had the support of the Brazilian Ministry of Health, UNESCO, CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency), USAID (United States Agency for International Development), and Hewlett Foundation, which enabled a massive social marketing and media campaign. All-China Women’s Federation’s projects are also partially government funded, and similar to BEMFAM has been able to reach a large percentage of the population: 75% of the people surveyed had heard of the Five Good Families Campaign. ADT’s “Noisy-le-Grand - Family Support and Development” and its 78 housing units are made possible through state grants. However, not all successful operations must include government grants or big money donors. The Association of European Railwaymen has shown that a family life can be improved through volunteering individuals, groups, and families. It is important to remember that although a CSOs outreach can be massive with government and large NGO support, the culmination of little successes can be as powerful in number.
While no comprehensive data has been accumulated, it is fair to conclude that the last ten years have been successful in scope, even without government cooperation. To the above mentioned civil society organisations, and many others not mentioned, family well-being in all parts of the world is a real possibility. Countless similar initiatives are underway in virtually every corner of the world and each CSO contributes its own piece in a mosaic of family organisations. These can, with the help of the proposed Interactive-Internet-Forum draw on each others strengths, learn from each others failures, and continue contributing to family well-being. The stronger and more visible these CSO initiatives become the more readily individuals, groups, corporations, and governments may be to contribute in some way. Family CSOs have shown that a respect for diversity, responsibility for human-kind, and individual initiative can lead to a forum of mutual learning, shared leadership, and a global conscious on family well-being. Belief that humanity will benefit from these initiatives and CSOs will prevail with or without government funding is grounded in the premise that for the vast majority of people hope, generosity, and compassion overrides greed, violence and hate, and that it is within our individual and collective means to consciously better the lives of the less fortunate.
Nina Mitts October 2003
Scholte, Jan Aart (1999): Global Civil Society: Changing the World? Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation Working Paper No. 31/99, Warwick: University of Warwick.
Anheiner, Helmut, Glasius, Marlies and Kaldor, Mary, Global Civil Society 2002, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women,
The Convention on the Rights of the Child
The Declaration of Human Rights
Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Convention on the Political Rights of Women

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