(Author is a well known activist of the women's movement in India. She is among the leaders of the All India Democratic Women's Association)
In a significant initiative taken on the threshold of the new century, six national women’s organisations jointly organised a convention in the capital on December 9 and 10, to work out a National Charter of Demands for the year 2000. This convention forms a part of a global campaign by women’s organisations in over 150 countries, to challenge the hegemony of the triumvirate - the WTO, IMF and World Bank – against the adverse impact their policies are having on women.
The campaign world-wide campaign which officially starts on March 8, 2000, will include a global signature campaign against the unjust new economic order, to culminate in an Anti-Poverty March in October 2000, on all World Bank and IMF offices.
Over 300 women delegates from all over India, after detailed discussions, made major recommendations on the different aspects of poverty and violence as they are affecting women. Meeting when the world was observing Human Rights Day, the convention reiterated that the basic human right is the right to survival, and it is precisely this right which is under attack by the present economic policies being followed by the ruling classes and their governments. The major achievement of the convention lay in the
fact that such a large number of women’s organisations and NGOs were able to reach a consensus on both opposing the structural adjustment policies, and on the need to defend secularism against the communal politics of the Sangh Parivar. The Delhi Meet was convened by the six national women’s organisations, AIDWA, AIWC, CWDS, JWP, NFIW and the YWCA of India.
Fifteen papers were placed before the convention for discussion - eight on different aspects of the impact of economic policies on women – in the organised and unorganised sector and in agriculture - poverty and the trafficking in women; the WB-IMF-dictated continued cuts in allocations to the social sector; the question of food insecurity; the issue of micro credit as a poverty-alleviation programme; the environmental impact of the policies being followed; the role of the WTO as an instrument of the developed countries; and the role of women in decision-making bodies.
The papers on violence dealt with social and domestic violence, child sexual abuse, communal violence, casteist attacks on dalits, anti-women population policies, and terrorist violence and its impact on women.
Perhaps this was for the first time that a joint effort was made on this scale to involve women at all levels of society in discussing policy approaches.
Range of Representation
Almost all the states of India were represented, including delegates from Tripura and Manipur in the north east, to Tamilnadu, Kerala and Karnataka in the south. Women from Gujarat and Maharashtra in the west were joined by delegates from Goa. From the east there were several women delegates from West Bengal, not only from the national organisations including ten from AIDWA, but also several NGOs working on different issues. All the Hindi-speaking states as well as Punjab sent delegates. There were several elected women members among the delegates, from the panchayat level to Parliament. Among them was Shakthi, a dalit woman Sarpanch from Tamilnadu who, with great courage, has faced the continuous attacks by non-dalit communities who cannot tolerate a dalit woman running the panchayat; and West Bengal Minister Bilasi, who made very important contributions in the discussions on dalit rights.
The plenary session on the first day was chaired by Nirmala Buch, senior retired IAS officer and presently a member of the CWDS. Lalitha Balkrishnan of the AIWC, welcoming the delegates, spoke of the importance of this joint effort to highlight the issues of Poverty and Violence. Mary Khemchand of the YWCA, introduced the different papers on Poverty, linking the struggle against poverty with the struggle for the right to survive.
The perspective of the convention was placed by Brinda Karat, General Secretary,AIDWA, who said that contrary to the hype of the Indian women conquering the world through beauty contests, crores of " Miss India’s" were being brutally exploited by the poverty-creating policies being followed by successive governments at the centre. She described how structural adjustment policies strengthened patriarchy
worldwide, and said if globalisation of the economy means globalisation of poverty and violence against women, then we shall globalise the struggles against it and show our strength and solidarity.
NFIW General Secretary, Amarjeet Kaur, gave the historical background of the entry of imperialist powers in India four centuries ago, and explained how the same powers are today employing newer and newer strategies to plunder the poorer countries. Jyotsna Chatterjee of the JWP spoke of the importance of taking up issues affecting the daily lives of women.
Discussion on Poverty
The women then divided into working groups to discuss the papers on poverty In the most lively discussions the delegates narrated their grass-roots level experience while working with different sections of women in both the rural and urban areas, and with women of different castes and communities. At the end of the day, when the delegates met in the plenary to conclude their discussions, and to come to a common understanding, the most striking commonality reiterated was that the policies of globalisation have resulted in accentuating the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few individuals, big business and the multinationals, making women not only economically poorer, but also depriving them of opportunities for participation in the decision-making processes.
However, it is not as though women have remained silent. Many instances of militant struggles were cited
such as resisting the introduction modern machines for agricultural operations which render hundreds of women agricultural workers jobless without providing alternate opportunities, forcibly reoccupying land taken over by landlords, asserting the rights of a Panchayat member or that of a Sarpanch, organizing oneself for economic self-reliance through self-help groups.
Discussion on Violence
On the second day, the discussions concentrated on various aspects of Violence, domestic, communal, caste, child abuse, terrorism, and the population policy. The discussions established an intrinsic connection not only between violence and the dominant patriarchal social order based on a hierarchical power structure, but also between violence and poverty. A scheduled caste woman suffers not just because she is a woman but because she belongs to the lowest order of the caste structure and is economically very poor. Shakti, an elected Sarpanch of SC caste from Villipuram district of Tamilnadu, narrated how she is being prevented from entering her own village by the upper castes and not allowed to do any developmental work that she is expected to do as an elected representative. The delegates gave several examples of how the market economy is impacting on the consumption patterns of people, making them more and more individual-oriented who care for social values, living only for satisfying their own desires. In such a society, not only adult women, but minor girls, including the unborn still in their mother’s womb, become vulnerable to physical violence.
The delegates also highlighted the dangers arising from having a of political party with communal ideology ruling the country and how it has affected the day-to-day life of women particularly of minority communities. By contrast, an example was quoted by a delegate from West Bengal who explained how a positive approach and people oriented policies of the State helps to minimize the caste as well as communal discrimination.
Charter of Struggle
The convention decided to publish all the papers adopted by the delegates in one volume and use it as the Charter for Struggle in the coming days. The final plenary gave a call for a year-long campaign on the issues discussed. March 8 will see a mass mobilisation of women in all the state capitals. Every effort will be made to involve as many women’s organisations and groups at all levels in the different states. The convention also gave a call for collection of one crore signatures against the unjust economic order and demanding that the UN stop being a rubber stamp for these policies.
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