The founding members and leaders of the Huairou Commission came out of the global women’s movement, working relentlessly to advance women’s meaningful participation in UN conferences and other global processes. Grassroots women’s groups were largely absent from these global processes for years. A common concern was growing among women committed to advancing grassroots women in development that the global women’s movement was not ensuring processes for including grassroots women themselves in their agenda-setting and advocacy, and that the issues poor communities were dealing with on a daily basis such as basic services, access to food, livelihoods, water and sanitation, etc, were not being prioritized.
The Women, Homes and Community Super-coalition, consisting of GROOTS International, Women and Habitat Network, International Council of Women and WEDO joined together at the 4th World Women’s Conference in Beijing to ensure that issues women were dealing with in their homes and poor communities were addressed. GROOTS International organized a Grassroots Tent as a space for grassroots women’s organizations to gather and share. The other super-coalition members joined GROOTS in the tent, located in the civil society village in Huairou, a suburb of Beijing.
It was in this tent where Wally N’Dow, then Executive Director of the UN Commission on Human Settlements (now UN Habitat) announced the formation of the Huairou Commission. He “Commissioned” the members of the Super Coalition to monitor Habitat II in 1996 from a women’s perspective, and he named them the Huairou Commission. He appointed 50 women leaders to the Commission including high level women leaders within the UN. For the first time, an organized group of women had a central role to play in the human settlements arena.
Our relationship with UN Habitat remains strong as we ensure space for women to organize and participate with a women’s voice in UN Habitat initiatives. From its original position as an advisory body to Habitat II in Istanbul, HC over the years has evolved into a global movement for grassroots women’s empowerment in development cutting across diverse themes, sectors and actors. We have grown into a partnership entity, focusing on grassroots women taking leadership, linking them with partners and facilitating peer learning. HC believes that a paradigm shift needs to occur in how development policies are made and implemented, for people and institutions to stop thinking of grassroots groups as projects and start thinking of them as change agents and partners in development. HC has grown to implement and model this paradigm shift. Eventually, thematic areas of work began to emerge from the work across different networks, and our thematic Campaigns were developed and operationalized. The work grew from the work that grassroots women’s groups were doing and from the joint priorities of the Member Networks of the Huairou Commission.