Accepted paper:

Rethinking NGO activism in light of post-colonial and decolonial feminist perspectives: evidence from sexual harassment (SH) interventions in Bangladesh


Arunima Kishore Das (Western Sydney University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper critically examines NGO interventions in Bangladesh from both post-colonial and decolonial feminist perspectives to problematise Western donor impacts on NGOs' sexual harassment narratives that only present a deficit victim model of Bangladeshi women and fail to address women's agency.

Paper long abstract:

The role of NGOs in development has always been subject to criticism. On one hand, scholars identified NGOs as flexible, innovative and efficient agents of development (Islam 2016; Hossain 2017). Others have argued that many NGOs are established and controlled by external donor agencies and design programs to satisfy specific goals set by donors (Edwards and Hulme 1995; Derbyshire 2004). This paper explores the political economy of NGOs' sexual harassment (SH) interventions in Bangladesh from both postcolonial and decolonial feminist perspectives, NGOs' SH initiatives in Bangladesh generally lack a deeper qualitative understanding of women's SH narratives and exemplify a deficit model showing women only as victims of SH (Bakker 2013; Nahar 2015; UNDP 2016; BRAC 2016; ActionAid Bangladesh 2017). In postcolonial and decolonial feminist terms, NGOs working in Bangladesh portray Bangladeshi women as homogenous, powerless, uneducated, tradition-bound and victimised category based on hegemonic Western understandings, and overlook these women's complexity and diversity along class, ethnic, and racial lines (Mohanty 1988, 2003; Spivak 2010; AbuLughod 2002; Kapoor 2008; Quijano 2000; Mignolo 2011; Giraldo 2016). Current research on SH has welcomed NGO interventions but failed to critically analyse Western donors' impact on shaping NGOs' interventions in Bangladesh. Therefore, to address this knowledge gap, this study employs qualitative research approach that include fifteen in-depth interviews of NGO workers engaged in SH related projects from five selected NGOs (i.e. UNDP, ActionAid, Manusher Jonno Foundation and Change Associates) and investigates how Western donor agencies exercise colonial power dynamics to shape NGO activism in Bangladesh.

panel C3
Unravelling, unfolding and unsettling NGOs' work, role and methodologies [paper]