Tag Archive for women’s groups India

33 years, five women and (many) a movement

Saheli-delhi-meeting

‘In remembrance of feminist comrades and in preparation for difficult futures’ – a report of the annual day celebrations of Saheli Women’s Resource Centre, Delhi

By Saheli Women’s Resource Centre

It was a day of mixed emotions. On 9th August 2014, the hot and noisy (not to mention shaky) Saheli office was packed with people sitting on chairs, sprawled on durries, leaning against walls and perched atop tables.

We had gathered to mark 33 years of Saheli’s existence and work, by paying tribute to the lives and work of some of the feminists we have lost in the last year, to draw strength and inspiration from their lives and work, and above all to reflect on where we are headed, together. One of the truly wonderful things was seeing a mix of feminists old and new, to meet faces familiar and unfamiliar, to be treated to anecdotes both known and unknown.

We started with what Savita of Saheli called a ‘brief history of 33 years of friendships, movements and struggles’ as she spoke of Saheli’s work in the past and our present directions.

Mohan Rao began the recollections with his affectionate tribute to Vina Mazumdar, talking about how meeting Vina-di and Imrana Qadeer in his early days in Delhi had dramatically changed his life. He reminded us of Vina-di’s consistent work against neo-Malthusian population policies and her deep concern for the growing imbalance in sex ratios among children (not just infants) from way back in the 1980s. But most of all, Mohan also reminded us of Vina-di’s love for people and her immense capacity to build and nurture friendships.

Just as we were ready to further these conversations, there was a bit of a stir in the crowd as the walls of our office came alive with pictures that Sheba Chhachhi gifted us on the occasion. The poignant image of Shahjehan Apa holding up a picture of the daughter she had lost to dowry at the public meeting in Nangloi where Gouri Choudhry, Uma Chakravarti, Runu Chakraborty and several others remembered meeting her for the first time, and discovering her warmth, sensitivity and her skills as a feminist orator. There was also the iconic photograph of Satyarani Chaddha at an anti-dowry rally which led to discussions about her long and tortuous struggle for justice for her daughter’s death. We rued the fact that although her son-in-law was finally convicted for his crime decades later, he continues to live the life of a free man.

Then were the lovely portraits of Sharda Behn – smiling in close-up, somber at a rally carrying a poster with the anti-communal slogan of the late 1980s, “Prem se kaho hum insaan hain”, and cooking in her kitchen with the same poster on her door – that got Runu talking about Sharda Behn’s amazing capacity to connect with all kinds of people, which made her a fabulous organiser of women in Mahila Panchayats, and other grassroot level programmes. As the gathering recalled Sharda Behn playing the mother-in-law in countless performances of the now legendary anti-dowry play “Om Swaha”, many remembered Deepti Priya as the poor daughter-in-law who ‘died’ many times in those performances (while she herself, curled up on a chair giggled at the memory). Runu reflected on the various ‘generations’ of casts and performers of Om Swaha, while Gouri looked back critically saying that unfortunately “we were protesting dowry deaths and violence but we never protested dowry itself.”

Gouri also spoke at length about Bharati Roy Chowdhury, another powerhouse organiser and activist who despite her failing health and reduced mobility, remained committed to issues relating to women, forests, labour till the very end. Rakhi Sehgal added how Bharti’s work continued to inspire newer unions like NTUI (New Trade Union Initiative) in their efforts to engender their work in both the formal and informal sectors.

And the floodgates opened for many memories of Sharmila Rege. Uma Chakravarti started by reminding us that some of Sharmila’s earliest academic work was on the issue of Sati, but yet she blazed a path like no other. She countered conventional professional trajectories by taking a ‘demotion’ to move to the Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre at the University of Pune and making history with that move. She complicated classical feminist theories with issues of caste, and in turn, complicating questions of caste with gender. Uma spoke movingly about how deep a loss Sharmila’s passing is to her personally, as well as women’s studies in India as a whole. Casting a critical eye on many women’s studies centres in India, Uma asserted that if we didn’t learn from the kind of edge Sharmila brought to women’s studies, or the passion and seriousness with which she approached teaching, then the entire field would steadily decline to a point of meaninglessness. Uma also shared inspiring stories of how Sharmila defied conventions of ‘academic publishing’ by writing easily accessible critiques of popular culture, and even co-authoring with her young students.

Quite naturally, these reminiscences left us all, collectively, quite overwhelmed. The perfect moment it seemed, for the newest person in Saheli, Shreya to say her piece. Speaking candidly and freely, Shreya threw her pre-prepared speech to the wind as she talked about why young women like her ‘need feminism’ – to deal with family, to contest the men around them, to make lives of their own. Taking on from there, Deepti of Saheli laid out the issues before us all, young and old. “This year when we started to think about what if we might want to do on Saheli day, we realized there was this enormous sense of loss, not just of these incredible women, but also a sense of fatigue and paralysis around us.

There have been setbacks on the legal front: the recent Supreme Court judgment on 498A about women filing false cases, the chilling clause in the new Sexual Harassment Law sanctioning action against women for ‘false and malicious’ cases’, the shocking Sec 377 judgment of the Supreme Court that recriminalised homosexuality, and countless cases of judges harassing women in the course of work – raising all kinds of concerns including how these men can be expected to make/implement laws to protect the rights of women.

Deepti also highlighted the dangers we are already perceiving of having a right wing led government in majority at the Centre: “a revival of the move to scrap Article 370 or talk about enforcing a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), etc – all being raked up in a jingoistic manner that does not even pretend to seek broader engagement with all the stakeholders. And then, of course, the closing of spaces for dissent by both, state and non-state actors – NGO activists being arrested, social media being monitored, censorship by the likes of Dinanath Batra, and more scarily, self-censorship by individuals and NGOs… all this silences our collective voice,” she said.

The discussion that followed was, not surprisingly, more muted than the preceding session. But the ideas and strategies came forth finally, and slowly we began to hear our own voices speak up. While some advised for caution and subversion in our actions ahead, others said this is no time for fear or moderation. Some said we need to focus on contesting the State and other orthodoxies that surround us, some pushed for us to question family, marriage and other structures, and yet others pointed a finger inwards and suggested we reflect on how we self-censor and how it is affecting our work and sense of strength. We also talked about the need for organizing ourselves in different ways, to create more autonomous spaces, more local groupings that could stay engaged on many fronts.

First in undertones, and then as louder demands, seasoned feminists and newer ones in the room spoke of a need for more dialogue among small collectives and grassroots based organisations, as well as with younger people. Reference was also made to controversies among us that need further dialogue, for e.g. the contrary positions on the issue of bar dancers between Dalit and non-Dalit feminists. As someone in the room pointed out, the recent sessions debating the UCC at Saheli have been a good opportunity to talk about many things, and it is clear that we need to do more, much more together. To get a sense of where we stand on many issues, where we think we need to go, and to strategise about how to get there.

A (tentative) plan was made to have monthly meetings at the Delhi level to carry these dialogues further. But the bigger questions that hung in the air were: are we done with the Conferences of Autonomous Women’s Movements after the last one in Kolkata in 2006? Isn’t it time we think of the next one? Or should we think of smaller, regional conferences? We must evolve more ways for us to stay connected with each other and build on our collective vision, especially in the post-May 16 landscape.

Are all of us feminists, inside and outside that meeting, on and off the various e-lists listening?

Featured photo by Binita Kakati

Union Budget 2012-2013: A gender audit

women at factory

A gender audit of the current budget, to assess whether gender commitments have been converted into budgetary commitments by the Government of India, reveals more shortcomings than successes.

By Vibhuti Patel

The Government of India introduced gender budgeting in 2004 to ensure that it’s policies and programmes actually receive the finances to make these commitments effective.

In the Union Budget 2012-13, Ministry of Women and Child Development has been allotted Rs.18500 crore (2012-13 Budget Estimate), an increase of 15 percent at current prices as compared to previous year’s Revised Estimate of  Rs.16100crore (2011-12).

However, the total magnitude of the Gender Budget (outlays earmarked for women) had declined from 6.1 percent (2010-11 Budget Estimate) to 5.8 percent (2011-12 Revised Estimate). Though, there is a marginal increase of 0.1 percent in 2012-13 over the previous year.

The number of Union Government ministries/departments reporting in the Gender Budgeting Statement (a statement about budgetary allocations that has a bearing on women) has remained stagnant at 33 for the sixth consecutive year. Except for the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, there is no new addition.

Inadequate finance

The Steering Committee on Women’s Agency and Empowerment for the 12th Plan had suggested several important interventions to address the gender based disadvantages experienced by girls and young and elderly women. For most of the existing schemes, the outlays are extremely low as compared to those proposed by this Committee. Despite 2012-13 being the first year of 12th Five Year Plan, allocations for schemes such as STEP, Hostels for Working Women and Priyadarshini, have registered only a marginal increase over the previous year.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development had launched the helpline for women, developed distance learning programme on women’s rights, and implemented Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, provided relief to and rehabilitation of rape victims. However the amount allocated for these schemes is grossly inadequate. There is also no financial allocation for Swayamsidha Phase II, for self-employed women and women entrepreneurs, which was considered by the 11th Plan as the main agency for women’s empowerment.

Most of the government flagship schemes continue to rely on underpaid labour of women. In the Budget 2012-13, while the role of Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHAs) – the backbone of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) has been enlarged, there is no mention by the Finance Minister to regularise their services. ASHAs will continue to get performance based remuneration on the targets they are able to fulfill.

The only saving grace in this budget is the effort by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), traditionally perceived as a male bastion. DST has launched several missions targeting women in order to promote women’s participation in scientific and technical fields,and to enhance women’s capabilities and choices. The new scheme of DST, ‘Disha’ in the Union budget 2012-13 is envisaged to facilitate the mobility of women scientists. There is an urgent need to replicate such efforts by other ministries based on practical and strategic gender needs of girls and women.

What Needs to be Done

For the past five years women’s groups have been demanding that the government review the format of the Gender Budgeting Statement but no progress has been made in this direction. Moreover the current budget has not addressed the long standing demands of women’s groups and gender economists with respect to budgetary allocation for;

Implementation of Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostics Techniques (PCPNDT) Act. To halt the declining child sex ratio by judicious implementation of PCPNDT Act, 2002 so as to ensure stringent punishment to doctors and laboratory owners for abuse of sex determination and sex selection technologies

Implementation of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

Photos by Ramlath Kavil

Complete utilization of the 30% girls’ component within Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and special budgetary allocation for public education and increased publicity drive in print and audio visual media.

Special financial allocation must be made for the salary of crèche teacher and helper in schools. In all schools, one room should be converted into crèche so that poor girls, who have younger siblings to look after, can leave them in the crèche and attend the classes. This would enhance retention rate of girls in the school.

Enhanced budgetary allocation for the Public Distribution System (PDS) in order to strengthen the provision of good quality of food grains, oil and soap to ensure better nutritional standards. Funds for community based mental health intervention must be promoted.

Enhanced funds for protection and rehabilitation of child workers and children in difficult circumstances such as street children, trafficked children. NGOs and community groups should be encouraged to provide ward wise update on status and data base on child labour in Mumbai.

Social security and social protection for women in the informal sector, Small Scale Industries, FTZs, EPZs, SEZs Construction workers, rag pickers, scavengers, food-processing industries, sweat shops and garment industry. Budgetary allocation for implementation of Unorganized Sector Social Security and Social Protection Act, 2008 is imperative.

Vocational Training Institutions must be provided to impart women skills in non-conventional areas so that they can get employment as taxi/bus drivers, plumbers, fitters, turners, electricians, carpenters, cobblers, so on and so forth.

Ensure access to information, finance, training and marketing for women entrepreneurs, SHGs, vendors and self employed women.  Women entrepreneurs and traders must be given priority while allotting shops by public sector corporations and local government.

Budget for Crèche facilities, working women’s hostels and short stay homes must be enhanced many folds.

For making India  disabled friendly a detailed data base must be prepared on types of disability and number of people who are physically challenged.

Construct night shelters with toilets and baths for homeless women and girls with the help of centrally sponsored schemes as well as state financial allocation.

Community based half way homes, working women’s hostels and multi-purpose activity center to meet variety of needs of women and girls.  Half way homes and counselling centers must be created to address problems faced by elderly women and women who are physically challenged.

Support in the area of education, health; housing and skill development must be provided  to women headed households (FHHs)

Generate Gender Disaggregated Data to address strategic gender needs and practical gender needs of women in Mumbai.

Affirmative action to protect interests of women in difficult circumstances such as child prostitutes, homeless women, street girls, abducted girls, child brides, women suffering from HIV/AIDS, single women and elderly women.

Safe transport in terms of women special buses and local trains

Well maintained Public toilets for women.

Informal Sector

Considering women’s central role to the care economy, and the large numbers of women in unpaid work, policies need to focus on social services to support women’s care roles (old age, child care) and adequate resource allocations need to be made to support them.

Rural Sector

In the light of the present agrarian crisis and food insecurity the vulnerability of women farmers in particular needs attention. Women’s access to land needs to be strengthened immediately considering the huge gender disparities in land ownership patterns. This could be done by;

Women’s access to land needs to be strengthened

(a) Improving women’s claims to family land (b) Improving access to public land by ensuring that all land transfers for poverty alleviation, resettlement schemes, etc., recognize women’s claims (c) Improving women’s access to land via market through provision of subsidized credit to poor and by encouraging group formation for land purchase or lease by poor women.

Conclusion

Women’s rights organizations in India have demanded that the Government should ensure adequate gender budgeting in all ministries and departments, enact a comprehensive Food Security Bill, ensure universal PDS as a core component, allocate 6% of GDP for Health, allocate 6% of GDP for Education, make budgetary allocation to cover special schemes for women workers, increase allocation for women farmers, enhance resource allocation for tribal, dalit, and minority women and increase budgetary support for schemes to assist women-headed households and differently abled women.

In the absence of sex disaggregated data, evaluation of schemes through a gender lens or any effort at strengthening gender dimensions of existing schemes poses a big question. So, provision of such data should be prioritized.

The target of 30% gender allocations under all ministries has not yet been achieved. This must be implemented immediately. There is a crying need for a gender audit and gender outcome appraisal of all ministries and departments at the central and state levels. Very often, resource allocations made under gender budgeting do not reach in time and they remain unspent. There should be proper monitoring and supervision of the allocated funds with greater transparency and accountability at all levels.

Vibhuti Patel is active in the women’s movement in India since 1972 and currently teaching at SNDT women’s University, Mumbai.