Skip to main content

Down With the NGO-ization of Feminism!

By now I am thoroughly annoyed by the "Because I am a Girl" campaign that is advertised on innumerable subway posters and represented by pleasant hipsters on street corners.  Drawing on a rather liberal articulation of feminism, and claiming to be about "empowering" girls in third world countries, this NGO campaign proudly proclaims that "girls' rights are human rights" and asks people to sponsor individual girls and thus learn about "the plight" of girls at the global peripheries.

One would think that such a campaign, with all its talk about girls being the future and such, would satisfy our feminist desires.  "Yes," we think when we see these advertisements, "girls' rights are indeed human rights!"  And now that I am the father of a child with two x chromosomes, I am also concerned with the issue of "girls' rights" insofar as my child will be socialized as a girl, experience patriarchy, and only be able to avoid the specific "plight" of these other girls because she was born at one of the global centres of imperialism.  Hell yes, the new father in me wants to proclaim, my child and other girls should indeed be accorded human rights!

But like all NGO campaigns centred around women, this is just another capitalist-sponsored dead end that is unable to change what it seeks to change because it is incapable of understanding the terms of oppression.  Indeed, if sponsoring individual children, girls or otherwise, really changed anything then groups like World Vision and Compassion Canada would have solved world hunger decades ago.  Or maybe Oprah, with her girls' schools in developing countries, would have succeeded in actually making the world a better place.  Indeed, this "because I am a girl" campaign proclaims the possibility of breaking "the cycle of poverty" and yet its solution is simply charity sponsorship, NGO interference, and really has no analysis of why this cycle exists in the first place.

Obviously this "cycle of poverty" exists because of imperialism, and not because kindly people at the centres of world capitalism are sponsoring girls; these girls cannot break from oppression, from this terrible cycle, unless imperialism is broken.  And it is hard to imagine a campaign that is funded by such dubious pro-imperialist multinationals like Birks Diamonds, and is beloved by an imperialist country such as Canada, as being able to break from the material context upon which this poverty cycle is contingent.

Once again we are presented with a campaign to end third world poverty and oppression that is incapable of confronting the roots of this poverty and oppression because it is bound up in the cycle it pretends to critique.  This campaign rightly recognizes the necessity to support girls but imagines that the horrific context in which these girls find themselves has nothing to do with the governments and corporations from which it draws money.  Perhaps it is just a problem of the "backwards" cultures of these regions where "because I am a girl" campaign seeks to intervene––an evil disconnected from any supervening structure.

Yes, girls and women are super-exploited by global capitalism and thus their self-determination is a revolutionary necessity.  Recent people's wars have interrogated this problem, have attempted to arm girls and women, have even begun to develop an ideology of "proletarian feminism" to interrogate this problem.  But the "because I am a girl" campaign is not interested in revolutionary womens' militias that might produce the self-determination they claim to support; in their mind, I'm sure, they would believe this was tantamount to supporting child soldiers!

"Because I am a girl" I will join a womens' militia!

Nor do they seem to recognize that the fact the majority of the world's production is performed by women and children (children who are most often girls)––so that the countries in which these NGOs persist can have the freedom to launch "because I am a girl" campaigns as if their philanthropy is not contingent on oppression to begin with––means they should be looking at girls as potential proletarian revolutionaries rather than nodes for NGO intervention.

Hell, this campaign has even made an international "girls' day" as if "girls' rights" weren't somehow a part of International Womens' Day… but hey, let's just try to separate ourselves from a global event that is connected to communism and feminism!  Let's talk about third world girls as if they won't grow up to be women shut into factories owned by some imperialist multinational that is one of our sponsors!

Point being: if this campaign actually wants to change "the plight" of girls then it should endorse womens' militias and factory take-overs on the part of women and girls.  Such a revolutionary agenda, though, would put it at odds with its corporate sponsors and so, like every NGO, it will remain caught within an imperialist framework.


  1. I saw this campaign going in a mall in Ottawa over the weekend. When I was reading their sign and trying to figure out what it was, the 'girl' who was working there(she was in her early 20's) came over and tried to get me to sponsor a girl. When I tried to explain that I didn't believe charity to be an effective solution to poverty, she began trying to explain this whole "because I am a girl" campagin, and she did so saying things like: "they help them start businesses." I actually had to try hard not to laugh. I let her go through her rehersed speel and then gave her one of my own; explaining that I was a communist, that imperialism was responsible for keeping these countries in their current condition, and that only revolution could solve these problems. You might be able to 'help' one or two people through these programs, but it will never change the objective situation. So, I told her, the best way to help these people is fight against capitalism and imperialism, and support revolutionary movements in these countries and here in Canada. She put her material away, wide-eyes and open-mouthed, thanked me for my time and said nothing more. I think I might have scared her. lol

  2. Is this "because I am a girl" a charity campaign? hahaha There's some similar campaigns here related to the catholic church where rich people can sponsor poor kids and of course it does not work, except for one or another anedoctal evidence. I'm always amused about people who donate to charity (usually to get tax cuts) and then complain about welfare programs sponsored by the government, like unemployment insurance, etc.
    Also, there is this liberal bs of encouraging individual efforts and they go "let's encourage these girls to become businesswomen" as if feminism was only about that and there's no class character in the women's struggle.
    This was a great article, I really enjoyed it. Guess I will write a criticism on liberal feminism too. :)

    1. Yep, that's pretty much what this one is... As Adam F. pointed out above, the whole concept is this micro-capitalism approach where the idea is to sponsor girls to start their own small businesses.

    2. There have been a lot of good points brought up in this conversation, but they are not all that accurate. The "sponsor a child" is designed to be long term (monthly, and usually over many years) by using human connection as the binding factor. In truth, the money from all donations is pooled. This is found on Plan's website. They are invited into communities and stay for 10-12 years. 90% of the staff hired are local. Investing in education has long term effects and if you look at the studies, every year a girl stays in school she is less likely to become a child bride, etc and more likely to be confident in making decisions that directly affect her. Education has power. It may not be the dramatic revolutionary solution you seem to desire, but it has the power to change society.

    3. What precisely isn't accurate about the blog post (also what makes them good if they "are not all that accurate"––you're being patronizingly rhetorical)? You aren't pointing out any factual problems, only a different political position and branding yours "accurate". If you are arguing that this donation pooling means that the NGO structure is not one of "micro-capitalism", simply because people go into communities for 10-12 years, then you clearly do not understand what "micro-capitalism" is.

      You can talk about education being powerful, and I agree, but the NGO approach of this organization (and past and similar organizations) does not, as you imagine, change society. Do you think this I Am A Girl organization is the first NGO to have tried this approach? No: it's not very new, it's just a rebranding of previous NGOs. Where are the transformed societies in the global peripheries after years of this type of approach? Child Bride institutions in semi-feudal/semi-colonial countries haven't been damaged in any significant way by this kind of politics, meaning these societies have not at all changed EVER by the NGO approach. This is significant, and one you need to take into account.

      Now look, for example, at the recent PPW in Nepal and how similar NGOs related to it, even though this PPW was actually eradicating child bride and other patriarchal structures in the areas it commanded and empowering woman as a class. (And you can read Hisila Yami's book, and Yami was one of the revolutionaries involved in this process, which explains this issue in detail.) Only since the Prachanda clique capitulated has this process been stalled and reversed. At its height, however, the PLA was forced to target NGOs operating in its areas of influence because these NGOs were siding with imperialism because they knew, when push came to shove, where their allegiances lay.

      You don't appear to get the fact that your favoured NGO, as well as others, are actually dependent on the structure of global capitalism, just as they would not exist if imperialism was not existent. Here is the main problem you need to consider: why are the global peripheries "underdeveloped" and locked in semi-feudal/semi-colonial status vis-a-vis the minority "developed" countries? The answer is that the structure of global capitalism (i.e. imperialism) requires this relationship and that there is a "development of underdevelopment", or peripheralization, that makes these countries have the institutions that NGOs claim are the problem when they are, in fact, effects of the problem. When movements emerge challenging the root structures of these problems, you do not find these supposedly "apolitical" and "nonpartisan" NGOs supporting them (this is the typical liberal neutrality that ends up siding with normative power relations by default), but in fact *opposing* them. Why don't these I Am A Girl campaigns advocate linking with revolutionary forces––they operate in India, but I don't see them supporting the People's War there that has empowered the lowest of the low and produced women's committees and organizations that do more for educating people than I Am A Girl.

  3. Of course everything in their ads and on their website is PINK because all girls only like PINK and if we want to save girls we need to make the world more PINK. Look at the PINK waterfall on their website, isn't that a huge accomplishment for girl's rights around the globe?!?!!?

    1. The pinkification of the world is a great stride in gender equality, yes.

  4. Like Adam F, I have had some similar encounters on the street. My response is usually met with "But you're a girl - don't you want to support girls?"


Post a Comment