More than 100 are the NGOs which shape the women’s movement in Bulgaria. The united efforts, coordinated work and consolidation of the NGOs can be seen in the established national networks and national forums organized by the women’s NGOs. The united efforts, coordinated work and consolidation of the women’s NGOs can be seen in their initiatives, established national networks and national forums.
NGOs have played a tremendous role in addressing gender equality issues and continue to act as major factors in the process of bringing closer the concepts of equality for women and men, awareness raising, implementation of the principle of equality, changing patterns and stereotypes, promotion of measures for elimination of discrimination, etc.
The number and diversity of NGOs addressing gender issues manifest the resolution and readiness of the NGOs sector to bring forth the problems and disseminate the concepts of equality between women and men throughout the Bulgarian society and to work hard to achieve proper understanding and identification of gender issues from authorities, institutions and citizens.
The Role of the NGOs may be outlined in several directions:
1. Awareness raising on gender issues, problems, and principles of equality between women and men. The NGOs organize regular open free access discussions and public lectures.
2. Participation in work groups drafting legislation in the field of equal opportunities for women and men and lobbying. Thus the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation and other NGOs participated in working the draft and lobbying for the Bill on the Protection against Domestic Violence
3. Participation in the work of governmental and national bodies and authorities – NGOs participate in the work of the Consultative Commission on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy
4. Dissemination of information, booklets, posters, electronic and printed materials on the issues of equality between women and men; organization of campaigns. Thus, the 16-days Campaign against Violence against women coordinated in Bulgaria by Center Nadja Foundation distributes a large variety of information materials; the White Ribbon Campaign organized by the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation attracts more men for the cause of non-violence by distributing during the campaign white ribbons, booklets, etc. and many other campaigns; the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign enjoys wide public support for the forth year in a row and takes place under the patronage of Bulgarian President's wife and is organized by the International Women's Club Sofia, with the active participation of Bulgarian NGOs as well as well-known multinational companies like AVON, Coca-Cola, McDonalds etc.
5. Assistance to victims of discrimination – legal consultations, psychological support, and hot line telephones, social support, etc.
6. Participation in national and international forums on the issues of equality of women and men, cooperation with the member countries of the EU and the candidate countries for accession to EU, etc.
7. Drawing up and carrying out projects in the field of gender equality including training, educational and counseling programmes; implementation of various measures oriented to disadvantaged groups, excluded persons, raising adaptability to work of certain groups, etc.
9. Promoting gender equality and women’s participation in public and social life and in the decision making process.
Most of the NGOs have their internet pages, where they publish up-to-date information on their activities, projects, recommendations as well as their analyses, surveys and reports.
The biggest forum of the women’s NGOs in Bulgaria is the National Annual Meeting of the Bulgarian non-governmental organizations, in the field of women’s issues. The meeting is a broad forum for NGOs, representatives of governmental and local authorities, experts and media, organized the Women’s Program of the Open Society Foundation from 1997 to 2003 and since 2004—by its successor the Center of Women’s Studies and Policies Foundation.
There are four national networks of women’s NGOs in Bulgaria: (1) the National Network for Equal Opportunities, initiated by the Women’s Alliance for Development in 2001, which unites 72 Bulgarian NGOs; (2) the National Network of Organizations in Support of Women Survivors of Violence in Bulgaria, which presents a coalition of 24 NGOs in the field of domestic violence against women, among which the Animus Association and Nadja Foundation Center are the leading organizations; (3) the Bulgarian Platform to the European Women’s Lobby (2003), with the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation being the national coordinator among the more than 15 organizations that have affiliated themselves with the BWL so far; and (4) the Bulgarian Gender Equality Coalition, initiated by Gender Project for Bulgaria Foundation, which unites representatives of civil society, institutions, political parties and media.
In Bulgaria the two biggest trade unions have their women’s organization – the “21 Century Women’s Parliament” to the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria, and the Women’s Union to the Confederation of Labour “Podkrepa”. Some NGOs are affiliated with political parties, though they have an independent status as non-governmental organizations. These are national membership organizations like: the Bulgarian Women’s Union, the National Civic Forum “Bulgarka”, the Democratic Union of Women, Women’s Democratic Alliance and the Women’s Solidarity Forum. There is also a political party called Party of Bulgarian Women, which has a parliamentarian representation within the National Movement “Simeon II”.
Other major NGOs working in the field of gender issues are: the Bulgarian Association of University Women, Sofia; the Resource Center Open Door in Veliko Turnovo; the European Network of Policewomen in Bulgaria, Sofia; the Bulgarian Association of University Women, Sofia; the Women in Science Association; the Rural Women’s Clubs in Bulgaria; the Bulgarian Association of Business Women’s Clubs; the Human Rights “Step by Step” Association, Varna; Gender, Education, Research and Technologies Foundation, Sofia etc.
It should be also stated that these organizations were supported in their activities by a number of international donor organizations, thanks to which these initiatives became possible. The Open Society Institute (OSI), the Global Fund for Women, Mama Cash, the Stability Pact Force, the Co-operating Netherlands’s Foundations and PHARE Programme of the EC are only some of the names, traditionally connected with gender issues in Bulgaria. In 2004 the Gender Project for Bulgaria Foundation initiated another donor organization for supporting women’ NGOs – the Bulgarian Women’s Fund.
There are many local NGOs working mainly in the fields of domestic violence, violence against women, and trafficking: Center Open Door Association, Pleven; Nadja Center, Rousse, P.U.L.S. Foundation, Pernik; Center Maria, Gorna Oryahovitsa; Women’s Association “Ekaterina Karavelova”; Demetra Association, Burgas; Diva Foundation, Plovdiv; Assistance Center for Torture Survivors; SOS – Families in Risk Association, Varna; Women against Violence Association, Varnа, Vela Center, Vratsa.
Women’s health and reproductive rights are the thematic area of the activities of the Women’s Health Initiative; the Women without Osteoporosis Association; the National Association of Women with Oncological Diseases; the Bulgarian Association for Family Planning etc. The problems of single parents are the focus of the activities of the Mother’s Love Association, Sofia, Anima Matris – Association of Single Parents, the Union of Women – Mothers of Our Children, Rousse etc.
There is a multitude of smaller grass roots organizations, as well as a number of organizations associated with a specific ethnic group, which also address women’s issues, such as the Armenian General Benevolent Union; the Armenian Benevolent Association H.O.M; the Romani Women Independent Organisation “Lachshi Romni”; the Bulgarian Jewish Women’s Forum; the Women’s Union with the Turkish Cultural Center 21st Century, Sofia, etc.
Women’s non-governmental organizations occupy a prominent place in Bulgarian social life and exert great influence on policies and decisions taken in the field of equal treatment and problems of the women. They have established permanent and strong relationships with state authorities, public organizations, and the media. The pressure and lobbying of the non-governmental organizations, working on gender equality issues, is one of the factors changing the state policy for ensuring and guaranteeing a higher status of women in the social, economic and political life of the country.
NGOs try to unite their efforts to promote cooperation between civil organizations, the executive power and political organizations.
Branches of women’s organizations like Zonta International are also very active in Bulgaria. Citizens pf other countries who are residents in Bulgaria can join the established International Women’s Club.
Women’s issues are in the focus of many other organizations which implement different projects or participate in joint initiatives.
Women’s non-governmental organizations occupy a prominent place in Bulgarian social life and exert great influence on policies and decisions taken in the field of equal treatment and problems of the women. They have established permanent strong relationships with state authorities, public organizations, and media. The pressure of the non-governmental organizations, working on gender equality issues, is one of the factors changing the state policy for ensuring and guaranteeing a higher status of women in the social, economic and political life of the country.