Informal politics, grassroots NGOS and women's empowerment in the slums of Bombay 1
The reach of global capital shows no sign of diminishing its impact on developing nations and their people. Indeed, in the past fifty years, the developing world has undergone major structural changes (Potter and Lloyd-Evans 1998) with drastic implications for social, economic and political life. There is a crucial gender dimension to such economic restructuring (Elson and Pearson 1981; Joekes 1985; Wilson 1993). Women are increasingly drawn into employment in globalized industries. The consequences of this change continue to be debated. Some scholars reject the notion that employment can empower women (Joekes 1985; Lawson 1995; Wilson 1993). Nevertheless, it is important to point out that women, even poor women, are sometimes developing strategies to cope with new situations. Indeed, even a small income can become the basis for challenges to existing social roles, norms, values, traditions and boundaries.
Poor urban women have their own daily, diverse and subtle strategies to bring about change and enhance their lives within the context of the household and its restrictions. Scheyvens (1998) defines 'subtle strategies' as attempts to achieve profound, positive changes in women's lives without stirring up wide-scale dissent. Subtle strategies can be a form of informal politics, which represent women's citizenship in action, and are important for the empowerment of communities and individuals. They build on social capital 2 – the 'networks of norms and trust which govern societal interactions'. Empowerment and social capital are inherently linked through the informal networks forged between households at the community level. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have a crucial role to play in encouraging the transferability of such informal networks into organized community groups that will be key players in civil society and municipal and national politics.
Women-focused NGOs have expanded dramatically since the 1975 declaration of the United Nations' International Decade for Women. Over time, many have also shifted from welfare-oriented strategies based on women's customary domestic roles to more transformative empowerment projects. International donor agencies have followed a similar pattern, becoming increasingly focused on women's empowerment. To that end, some donor agencies have provided