Tag Archive for women’s movement

Closing doors for women empowerment: Govt to shut down Mahila Samkhya Programme

Women's-rights- India

Modi government’s proposal to merge Mahila Samkhya programme with National Rural Livelihood Mission is unacceptable to women’s rights activists, researchers and scholars who have worked with the programme

By Team FI
Expressing their concern about the government of India decision, reportedly, to close down the Mahila Samkhaya (MS) programme, women’s rights activists, researchers, academics, scholars calling themselves as friends of Mahila Samkhya have written an open letter the Minister of Human Resources and Development (MHRD).

The MS programme was launched in 1988, as per the website of MHRD to pursue the objectives of the National Policy on Education, 1986, which “recognized that the empowerment of women is possibly the most critical pre-condition for the participation of girls and women in the educational process.” Though there has been no formal announcement, it has been understood that negotiations are currently on for the state societies of the MS programme to be merged with National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM).

The letter stated that “the rationale for a merger of MS with NRLM is also unclear, given that an independent evaluation commissioned by the Ministry of Education and undertaken by IIM Ahmedabad in 2014 strongly recommended expansion of the scheme.”

As per the National Review of the MS in 2014 by the Ravi J. Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, the programme “covers 130 districts and 679 blocks/ mandals in the country. MS covers 36% of the blocks/ mandals in the districts in which it is working. This indicates significant coverage on average.” The review also states that MS “has a presence in 44,446 villages, that is in about a quarter of the villages of the districts where it is present. In the villages under MS coverage, there are 55,402 sanghas. About 32% of these (17507) are under autonomous federations. This is a significant number and reflects the move towards greater autonomy and independence for the older sanghas. The sangha membership stands at 14,41,9286. There are 325 federations; 156(48%) are autonomous. There are 21,825 savings and credit groups, with 5,31,239 members (about 37% of the total sangha membership).”

As per the review, the programme “is involved in 102 Mahila Shikshan Kendras with an enrolment of 2989. Cumulatively, under the programme, there are 28,507 MSK alumni, and 17,606 of these (62%) have been mainstreamed into formal schools. There are 16,864 alternative learning centres of various kinds in most states. In four states MS runs 187 KGBVs and in one state there are 802 NPEGEL centres. There are 23,026 kishori sanghas with 5,23,701 members. There are 481 Nari Adalats, which have dealt with, cumulatively, 30,410 cases up to now. A total of 30,090 sangha members have contested panchayati raj elections, and 12,905 (43%) have been elected. “

The review stated that MS has “successfully mobilized marginalized women; nearly 90% of the sangha membership is drawn from the disadvantaged sections of society. SC and ST constitute 56% of the sangha membership at the national level.” The review sampled 72 sanghas and as per the discussions with these sanghas, the review stated that “the inter-generational shift in favour of girls’ education is strong.

In the families of those members who do not have formal education, the younger generation of girls is doing well; 77% of the members with no formal education have all the girls in their families in the age group of 6 to 16 in school. Members with formal education, though, still seem to be at an advantage, but the picture with respect to those members without formal education is encouraging.”

The letter presents a detailed study of the relevance and scope of Mahila Samkhya programme stating that “The MS experience proves that expansion of women’s autonomy, agency and voice cannot come about through atomised initiatives for “economic empowerment”, “political empowerment”, “legal empowerment” and so on. This complex and holistic understanding of empowerment is not confined to the programme document – it is clearly and strongly articulated by sangha members.”

Here is the full text of the letter

Pioneering Feminist Poet and Activist Adrienne Rich is No More


Veteran feminist poet and political activist Adrienne Rich has passed away at her home in Santa Cruz, United States

By Special Correspondent

Adrienne Rich, whose writings influenced a generation of feminist, gay rights and anti-war activists is no more. Rich died on Tuesday at her home in the US from rheumatoid arthritis complications. She was 82.

Adrienne Rich, like so many, was profoundly changed by the 1960s. She is best known for her poems and essays that attacked what she considered to be the “myths” of the American Dream. Through her writing, Rich explored topics such as women’s rights, racism, sexuality, economic justice and brutalities of war.

She is considered to be one of the few poets who can deal with political issues in her poems without letting them degenerate into social realism.

Unlike most American writers, Rich believed art and politics not only could co-exist, but must co-exist. She considered herself a socialist because “socialism represents moral value — the dignity and human rights of all citizens”.

Born in Baltimore in 1929, Rich was encouraged by her Jewish father to write poetry at an early age. She was married to economist Alfred Conrad in 1953 and they had three sons. Rich came out of the closet after leaving her husband and met her lifelong partner, the writer Michelle Cliff, in 1976. She used her experiences as a mother to write “Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution,” her groundbreaking feminist critique of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, published in 1976.

Rich has published more than a dozen volumes of poetry and five collections of nonfiction. She gained national prominence with her third poetry collection, “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” in 1963. Citing the title poem, University of Maryland professor Rudd Fleming wrote in The Washington Post that Rich “proves poetically how hard it is to be a woman — a member of the second sex.”

Her political poems included “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children,” an indictment of the Vietnam War and the damage done and a cry for language itself: “The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor’s language.”

One of her best-known poems, “Living in Sin,” tells of a woman’s disappointment between what she imagined love would be — “no dust upon the furniture of love” — and the dull reality, the man “with a yawn/sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard/declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror/rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes”.

She won many top literary awards but when then-President Clinton awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1997, Rich refused to accept it, citing the administration’s “cynical politics.” “The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate,” she wrote to the administration. “A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”

In 2003, Rich and other poets refused to attend a White House symposium on poetry to protest to U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

She taught widely, including at Columbia, Brandeis, Rutgers, Cornell and Stanford.

Related reading here and here


NGOisation of the Women’s Movement: Survival vs autonomy

Indian women

NGO-isation has engulfed all of civil society organsing in India, including the women’s movement. While it has strengthened many groups’ institutional position and enabled a wider outreach, feminist solidarity and feminist ideology seem to have taken a back seat

By Vibhuti Patel

NGO-isation clearly represents the growing dominance of a certain organisational form that is different from the early consciousness-raising organisations and also different from the mass organising that women have been very good at. NGO-isation is not particular to women though. The impact of NGO-isation varies depending on the resources, level of operation and the organisational motives behind adopting the NGO model.

Historical Backdrop

When social movements of 1970s and 1980s started fragmenting and losing their mass base due to issue based narrow struggles, formation of special interest groups and cooption of articulate, urbane, English knowing, professionally qualified activists and leaders of peoples’ movement: peasant movement, workers’ movement, Dalit movement, youth movement, women’s movement and tribal movement into power structures, NGO-isation process began. Initially, they were called non-party political formations or voluntary organisations. In course of time they developed into legalised entities as registered societies, public trusts, non-profit or pro-profit trusts supported by local, corporate, state or foreign funding institutions.

There was an understanding that in the non- government organisations level of motivation was high, they were non-corrupt and were free from nepotism and red-tapism.  During 1980s and 1990s, the NGOs were applauded by UN bodies as rooted in ‘the local reality’, ‘full of idealism’ and ‘bottom up’ and ‘participatory’ in their approach. Many liberal and socialist thinkers also declared them as third force for social transformation, first two being Government bodies and political parties.

Beyond Guilt-Tripping

New awareness among the funding institutions about mis-utilisation of funding by government agencies was as a result of intense debate on corruption, leakage and misappropriation of funding in the Asian, Latin American and African countries during 1950-1980. In the early 1990s, there was a fear that the global funding might get diverted to East European countries that was culturally closer to the western world and had faced massive economic and political crisis due to collapse of Soviet Union.

This debate in the development studies circle brought massive changes in the functioning of the social movements in the post colonial countries which were subsidised by the outside funding. Initially, activists and experts from the minority communities and women were forced to accept foreign funding as they were marginalised in their own countries. Rest of the social movements derived benefits of these funding without publicly acknowledging the source.

Structural Adjustment Programme and stabilisation policies resulted into massive reduction in the state funding. Even the mainstream institutions and organisations started turning to foreign funding. New dialogue with the funders based on mutual respect has helped to get rid of the anxiety that the developing world would be left out by the aid agencies.  Induction of highly qualified professionals from developing countries as consultants to screen the proposals for funding is supposed to have reduced wastage and vested interest.

NGO-isation impacts on smaller women’s organisations operating at the local level in terms of an expansion of structure, loss of autonomy, erosion of agenda setting power and a prioritisation of accountability towards donors. However, some national-level women’s organisations have been able to manage the process through strategically mobilising resources and prioritising own agendas, thus retaining their feminist character.

Indian women's movement

Destroy dowry not daughters. A protest in 1986, Photo courtesy: Vibhuti Patel

At a wider level, the NGO-isation process has led to a blurring of the boundaries between the gender and development agenda and feminist discourses. This blurring of boundaries created opportunities for raising women’s rights issues at different levels, but led perhaps to a generational shift in how younger women engage with gender equity issues.

NGO-isation has impacted structure, agenda, autonomy, agency and accountability of different types of women’s/feminist organisations. Adoption of service-delivery models promoted by the NGOs and concerns over losing the feminist political agenda has taken away steam from the women’s liberation movement. Influence of management institutions have changed vocabulary of women’s NGOs who talk in terms of SWOT, OD, skill Development, value for money, value addition, USP, beneficiary and benefactor.

Feminist solidarity and feminist ideology have taken a back seat as in a neoliberal backdrop each one is competing for patronage, travel grant and institutional funding and perpetually insecure about poaching of talented staff and diversion of funding. ‘Contact is capital’, ‘Network for Power’ and ‘Concentration and Centralisation of Resources’ have been the mantra of NGO-isation. In this culture; spontaneity, trust, solidarity, collective efforts have been replaced by calculated moves, secrecy, individualism and atomized existence among women’s groups.

The only positive fall out of NGO-isation process is that, the feminist organisations have been able to strengthen their institutional positions (recognition by the mainstream bodies, consultancy, training centres, building, staff, and financial security) and create a wider reach through the links they have developed through collaboration on NGO projects. Moreover, women’s organizations were forced to rethink their mobilisation strategies and discourses, as a larger number of educationally qualified younger women and men engage with the gender and development projects implemented by NGOs.

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