In the late 1970s, one of the problems identified in Bangladesh was that the needs and interests of women were being largely over-looked in development programs. While women play a major role in agricultural production, for example, rural development programs at the time focused exclusively on men. Inter Pares was asked to help address this problem and became involved in research and in the development of training materials for local development workers.
During this period Inter Pares developed relationships with some talented Bangladeshi women who were determined to place women's needs on the development agenda. We met Khushi Kabir, for example, a young activist who was committed to organizing women and supporting them in identifying and meeting their needs. Khushi and her colleagues were also engaged in broader issues affecting women such as land rights, inheritance laws, domestic violence, and economic rights. Today Khushi is a leading feminist in Bangladesh and the coordinator of Nijera Kori, a social mobilization organization with which Inter Pares continues to collaborate.
Over the years, Inter Pares developed relationships with feminists in other countries who were also determined to ensure that women's needs became central in development efforts. This was a vibrant period at home as well. Women across Canada were organizing to promote women's equality rights, legal access to abortion, greater rights for indigenous women, stronger laws against rape and violence against women, and the creation of services from shelters to rape crisis centres. Inter Pares brought Canadian and overseas women together to learn from each other and share strategies about working for change.
All of these activities had a profound influence on Inter Pares. By learning with our counterparts, Inter Pares prioritized issues that directly affected women and their ability to exercise their rights, and supported women's leadership and organizing on a variety of issues. By listening to women's stories and taking leadership from them, Inter Pares developed innovative programs on women's health, pharmaceuticals, and women's political and social rights. And we also took a feminist approach to issues not traditionally considered women's issues – food sovereignty, trade, migration, and conflict among them.
In addition to promoting the leadership of women in our programming activities, staff reflected on the organizational structure of Inter Pares, and how we could embody the values of equality, consensus and personal accountability that are so central to feminist thinking and organizing. In the mid-1980s Inter Pares underwent a transition to a non-hierarchical management structure in which all staff were paid the same and made decisions by consensus. We still manage the organization on the basis of these principles today.
Inter Pares has been frequently asked to document and share the important methodological and organizational practices that have led to the results we have achieved over the years. In 2008, we set out to document the role of feminist analysis and practice in our work over the last three decades. This research clearly shows that feminist values of equality, collaboration and coalition-building, of learning with our counterparts, and the principles underlying our organizational structure, are key factors in achieving successful outcomes.
Decades of feminist organizing have profoundly changed the landscape of societies around the world, although the struggle is far from over. What we have learned along the way continues to inspire our social justice work, here and abroad.
Inter Pares prioritized issues that directly affected women and their ability to exercise their rights, and supported women's leadership and organizing on a variety of issues.