Strengthening civil society: participatory action research in a militarised state
ABANTU for Development embarked on a regional programme to strengthen civil society capacities for engaging with policy from a gender perspective. An early programme activity involved an in-depth study of NGO capacities for policy engagement which ABANTU carried out in Nigeria during the recent period of military rule. In keeping with ABANTU’s commitments as a regional human resources network dedicated to promoting development and gender equality from an African perspective, the local research team used a participatory action methodology to gather and interpret the findings in a way that privileged local NGO perspectives and understandings of gender and policy. The exercise generated hitherto unavailable information and experiential case study material, and simultaneously identified and involved a core group of NGOs in the development and planning of the subsequent training programme. More importantly, it also furnished the regional training network with an understanding of indigenous cultures and local gender politics. These were found to be infused with diverse local cultural dynamics, as well as with the contradictory legacies of the military’s state-driven programmes for women, both of which constrain the extent of gender activism, especially when this is monitored through instances of direct policy engagement.
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