A comparison of trade unions and NGOs in Iran demonstrates the diverse nature of their activities. Over the last 90 years, trade unions have played important roles in changing the political system in that country. However, unions are largely male-dominated organisations, which explains why some women have begun to organise women’s trade unions. This article focuses, however, on the activities of women’s NGOs, which are engaged in improving the socio-economic conditions of the most marginalised sectors of society. Their activities are limited and they are not engaged in structural change. However, they are challenging gender-specific access and influence over institutional power, matters that are crucial to the process of democratisation. It is argued that, since many trade unions and NGOs in Iran are strengthening community-based institutions in different ways, their collaboration would have a mutually transformational impact which would turn these organisations into more powerful forces in the process of democratisation.
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