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Setting goals for organizing

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HealthWiki > Health Actions for Women > Chapter 10: Building a Women's Health Movement > Setting goals for organizing


When you begin organizing, it is important that your group set clear goals. You need to be able to tell others what you want to change and why the change is important. You may modify your goals or set new ones as situations change and you make gains along the way. The SEWA women’s first goal was to get the state labor authorities to recognize the problems they faced as working women. After succeeding in reaching this goal, they set a new goal to make medicine and health care more accessible. Over time, as they gain experience and power, and develop more relationships with other groups, they may set even larger goals.

4 women speaking in a large group.
I don’t want to just be given medicine or told what to do — I want to learn how to take better care of my own health.
We need a health center that has a doctor on call 24 hours a day.
Young women ought to be able to receive education about sexuality without being judged.
The health center should be a place where men can feel comfortable — where they can meet and work with each other to end violence.

Imagine the health services we want

To successfully establish goals, we need to envision as clearly as possible the changes we seek to make happen. But it can be hard for everyone, health care workers and community members, to imagine health services that are different from the way things are and how they have been for a long time. Here are some ideas and activities that can help a group create specific proposals for changes to health services.

You can use this activity to start a discussion to imagine what improved health services for women might be like. You may want to repeat this activity with different groups in the community, such as youth organizations, women’s groups, civic leaders, or health workers, and then share everyone’s ideas at a larger meeting.

ActivityWhat would women's ideal health services be like?

  1. Ask the group to list the different kinds of women in the community who might have the least access to health services, or who might find the services inappropriate or unwelcoming. For example: young women, ethnic minorities, women with disabilities, women who speak other languages, or sex workers.
  2. Ask the group to imagine how health services could be provided to all women, including those who may have the most difficulties now. How would health services be accessible, appropriate, and acceptable?
    Here are some other questions you might ask to help the group to imagine improved health services:
    • What kinds of support groups or classes would be valuable?
    • What kind of attitudes and information should health providers have?
    • What kinds of health tests and screening should be offered?
    • How could the health center provide services to women who live far away and cannot afford transportation?
    • How could health services improve care for women with long-term illnesses?
  3. Write everyone’s ideas on a large piece of paper or a blackboard so the whole group can see them.
    Continue the discussion by asking who would be involved in these ideal health services. Ask questions such as: How could women of all ages have a voice and a way to participate in developing these services? How could men be involved in efforts to improve health services for women?
    To conclude, review all the ideas about making services more accessible, appropriate, and acceptable.
  4. If there is time, ask people to work in pairs or small groups to create a picture, mural, collage of magazine and newspaper images, or a song or poem that reflects a vision of what health services would be like. This art can be shared with others in the community to promote discussion about improving health services for all.

A brainstorming activity, like the one above, in which people imagine their ideal health services, is great for encouraging people to think big. After gathering participants’ ideas, the next step is choosing which ideas to work on first. These will become your goals. Start by grouping together ideas that are similar but expressed differently. For example, "We need midwives who speak our language," and "We need more translators," are very similar demands. You might also group ideas according to whether they are short- or long-term goals. See Make an action plan. Once all the ideas are clearly arranged on a large sheet of paper or a blackboard, you could try the activity, Voting with dots. That activity can help you sift through the ideas to find the ones people want to work on most.

Build leadership and long-term strength

Thinking about how you want to achieve your goals is almost as important as thinking about the goals themselves. How do you want your group to emerge at the end of the struggle? What do you hope to learn along the way? In what ways does your group aim to get stronger and more powerful in the process of fighting for its goals?

For example, when the 3 women in Ahmedabad started out, their goal was to get the health center to provide care for their work-related health problems. To achieve this goal, they found they needed to develop an alliance with a group that was already organized, they needed to get help from experts and activists, they needed to be able to confront those in power, and they needed to think of creative solutions to old problems (such as the high price of medicines).

2 women having a conversation.
I thought with the Labor Office and doctors on our side, we would finally be able to get medicine! But it is still too expensive...
We have other options. Maybe somebody we met at the conference can help us find a solution to this problem.

Even if they had failed to get the health center to pay attention to them, they still would have made many gains. They got to know some health and safety experts, and they learned about workplace-related health issues. This enabled them to make some improvements in their working conditions. In the process, the women developed leadership skills and felt empowered to continue their struggle for better health care. As a result, they could see themselves as members of the community with a voice in decisions affecting their lives. These are huge achievements.

But what if the women had succeeded without any struggle at all? Imagine the 3 women walking into the health center with their requests, and having their problems solved right away. That would have been a major gain for the community, and the women would have been satisfied to achieve their short-term goal. But they would not have gained the valuable experience of building leadership, expertise, and power as a group — and these elements are key to winning long-term change.

If you are getting ready to campaign for a short-term goal to improve health services in your community, also consider goals that will strengthen your group’s organizing and leadership skills. Later, when you evaluate your strategy, in addition to judging how well you achieved your short-term goals, look at the ways you built your organization and gained power in the process. It is possible to lose a battle but still come out winning.

a woman and a man speaking while looking at a list of goals.
What are some steps we can take to help us achieve our long term goals?
We have many supporters, but they could be doing more. Maybe they can help us get the word out.
Long-term goals
~ Develop new leaders, facilitators, and speakers
~ Use our alliances with people and organizations to influence institutions
~ Recruit more supporters
~ Spread our message