In 1995, the Huairou Commission began in a tent, where women leaders working relentlessly to advance women’s inclusion in global development processes joined together.
At the 4th World Women’s Conference in Beijing, the Women, Homes and Community Super-Coalition–which included GROOTS International, Women and Habitat Network, International Council of Women and Women’s Environment and Development Organization–came together to ensure that the issues facing grassroots women were addressed. A common concern among the Super-Coalition was that the global women’s movement was not focused on the inclusion of grassroots women in their agenda-setting and advocacy. Without the representation of grassroots women, the issues confronting poor communities on a daily basis, such as access to food, livelihoods, water and sanitation, were not being prioritized. In the civil society village of Huairou, a suburb of Beijing, GROOTS International organized a Grassroots Tent for grassroots women’s organizations to gather. Impressed by the organizing of grassroots women and partners, Wally N’Dow, then Executive Director of the UN Commission on Human Settlements, “commissioned” 50 women leaders from the Super-Coalition and high levels of the UN to monitor Habitat II. He named the group the Huairou Commission, and for the first time, an organized group of women had a central role to play in the human settlements arena.
Over the years, the Huairou Commission has evolved from an advisory body to Habitat II into a global movement for grassroots women’s empowerment in development. Our relationship with the UN Commission on Human Settlements, now UN-Habitat, remains strong, and we have grown into a partnership entity, focusing on grassroots women’s leadership, linking leaders with partners and facilitating peer learning. We believe that a paradigm shift needs to occur in how development policies are made and implemented so that grassroots groups are not viewed as projects but as agents of change and partners in development. The Huairou Commission has grown to champion this fundamental shift.