The Center of Women’s Studies and Policies Foundation succeeds the Women’s Program (WP) of the Open Society Foundation – Sofia, which was established in 1998 as a sub-program within the Civil Society Fund and partner to the Network Women’s Program of the Open Society Institute, New York.
The purpose of the WP was promoting the specific rights of women and supporting initiatives targeted to improving the status of vulnerable groups of women in the transition period. The focus of its activities fell on defending and promoting women’s human rights, developing better awareness of the concept and practice of gender equality, prevention and combating violence against women and trafficking in women, encouraging the participation of women in political, economic and social life, reproductive health, Roma women, gender and education, increasing the capacity and institutional strengthening of the Bulgarian NGOs working on gender issues.Thus the WP filled in an important niche that had not been addressed by other donors or by the country’s executive power and succeeded in putting gender issues on the agenda as part of the democratization process.
The priorities of the WP evolved during the years. While in the period 1998-1999 the emphasis was on women rights as human rights, fight against domestic violence, fight against trafficking – since 2000 the priorities were focused on the promotion of open dialogue on gender equality, encouraging participation of women in social and political life, defending rights of women victims of violence, encouraging self-help initiatives, legislative changes.
In 1998-2002 the Open Society Foundation – Sofia and the Network Women’s Program of the Open Society Institute, New York were the main and most significant donors in Bulgaria that followed a systematic approach towards bringing forward and seeking solutions to women’s problems. During this period the Program financed more than 150 projects of Bulgarian NGOs in the field of women’s/structural unemployment, inequality on the labor market, violence against women (including domestic violence and trafficking in women), supporting the equal participation of women in political and social life, promoting reproductive health, training minority women in specific skills, lobbying for legislative changes to guarantee protection of women’s rights.
The program’s approach was mostly grant-giving and the WP worked mainly with NGOs with international recognition and national coverage – Values Foundation, Women Alliance for Development, Bulgarian Gender research Foundation, European Network of Police Women, Bulgarian Women’s Union, Gender Project-Bulgaria, Animus Association, National Civil Forum –Bulgarka, etc. On the other hand it supported substantial number of small grass roots NGOs which efforts were focused on providing services to vulnerable women: Demetra Association – Bourgas, SOS – Families at Risk Foundation – Varna, Democratic Union of Women – Silistra, Chance for Children Association – Dobrich, Hope Association of Roma Women – Vidin, etc.
From 1998 to 2002 the Program financed more than 150 projects of Bulgarian NGOs in the field of:
inequality on the labor market
violence against women - domestic violence, trafficking in women
equal participation of women in political and social life
promoting reproductive health
training minority women in specific skills
lobbying for legislative changes to guarantee protection of women’s rights
At the same time the WP supported a number of individual projects for participation in international forums, trainings etc., which contributed to the presence and participation of our country in major international events – the Beijing+5 initiative, working meetings of the UN, AWID forum etc., as well as for the development of the personal capacity of Bulgarian women’s movement activists.
Thanks to the support provided to various organizations nationwide during 1998-2003 the WP played a significant role for increasing the awareness and sensitivity of the society about gender issues and problems like domestic violence and gender inequality, as well as for creating self-confidence in women concerning their participation in the decision-making process. Undoubtedly, another major achievement of the WP is the initiation and organization of the Annual National Meetings of women NGOs in Bulgaria which has been held since 1998. The Program also gathered substantial experience in major international network projects like: DEP – Documentation and Evaluation Project; EOWM – Monitoring Program on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men in the European Accession Process; SEELIDA – South East Europe Leadership Initiative: A Dialogue for Action, regional network for women leaders.
Over the years, the Women’s Program managed to establish successful mechanisms for coordination, information exchange and networking with other NGOs addressing women’s issues in Bulgaria, and developed a capacity in providing expertise on gender equality issues, which allowed the Program to be spun off into an independent NGO.