Lighted to Lighten: Gender Champions at WCC and a new partnership!

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The occasion was International Youth Day 2017 but observed a day in advance, 12th August 2017. A new Gender Champions Club was inaugurated at the campus of the prestigious Women Christian College, under the aegis of the new UGC Centre for Women’s Studies, also inaugurated at the same time.

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This is significant for Prajnya as Women’s Christian College (WCC) and Prajnya have created an institutional partnership for programmes and research with a view to promoting  gender equality.  A gender equality club was envisioned as an opportunity for students to learn about gender issues and a platform where gender equality concerns could be discussed and debated. In the long run, the Club will create a growing community of alumnae citizens sensitised to gender issues and ready to be equality advocates in society.

WCC will establish a student-led club (now named the Gender Champions Club) and support through student participation any specially planned Prajnya activities. Prajnya will engage WCC students in the 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence; bring programmes to WCC as appropriate; offer volunteer and internship opportunities and be a resource to the WCC community.

For Prajnya, this is a very exciting moment because it takes our work with students further into the planting and processing mode we like, and away from one-off events.

Art Attack! (Playing Gender Hide-n-Seek)

Following the inaugural session, Club members adjourned for Art Attack!,  a three-hour art activity on the theme of Gender Hide and Seek–that is, what is gender, and where is it found? Groups of students created posters and collages, explicated how gendered ideas are pervasive, showing the many places they can be found: language, stereotypes, roles in relationships, work, space use for instances. The posters illustrated how the opportunities are unequal as just climbing up the staircase for the men, but the mountain for the women; right to reclaim the night; breaking the gender roles; and claiming the right to control one’s own body.

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Let this new thinking vibrate, spread and create a space where, in the words of one poster, they can “make right what has gone wrong.”

 

Everyday Endeavours: The Simple Act of Eating-Drinking

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Everyday Endeavours is a new column by Mamta (aka @silverlightgal) about the things women do everyday and how they are different or experienced differently because women do them.

One of the first urban culture shocks, I experienced on migrating to a city a few years ago, was seeing women eat alone at a restaurant. Growing up in a small Indian town with a middle-class upbringing, life had been quite different from that in urban cities. In my town, women and even young girls rarely ventured out alone. They often went out together in twos or threes, whether it was for shopping or watching a movie or just a simple walk. The town’s few restaurants often saw families and on several occasions, lone men trickling in for snacks or dinners. But we never ever saw a woman eating alone. I hadn’t even considered the possibility that a woman could actually eat out alone.

In the city, I discovered that this was not just possible but happening around me. Though it still wasn’t common and did attract curious glances, at least it wasn’t an impossibility anymore.

The men, on the other hand, often ate out alone without attracting any attention or curiosity. No one around them speculated as to why the man might be eating out alone.

There could be various reasons why you would choose to eat alone. You could be short of time and in too much of a hurry to round up the company to eat with; you could be short of money and want to eat a simple meal by yourself, without having to split a huge bill with others. Or you could just want to savour the pleasure of a delicious meal all by yourself, without any distractions.

Even the waiters and maitre’d behave differently if you are a woman eating out alone. The first thing they will want to know is if someone would be joining you at the table.  It’s only after you reassure them a couple of times (or more) that you are indeed going to be dining alone and perfectly happy to be doing so (as in, not stood up by a date), that they leave you in peace.

This is the scenario in urban metro cities. In many small towns even today, it’s considered either ‘too forward’ or ‘embarassing’ for a woman to be seen eating out alone. Some men on seeing a woman alone at a table think it an open invitation to go and hit on her.

The arrival of Internet-and-mobile based food delivery apps are perhaps a blessing in some way, but what if a girl didn’t want to eat out of a box and craved to eat out by herself and experience the ambience of premises other than her own? Wouldn’t it be nice if regardless of whether a small town or a big city, a girl could go about doing this without raising any eyebrows or worrying about some random man hitting on her or fearing judgement from others?

Alright, let’s move on to the chai tapris now. Who doesn’t like a hot cuppa every now and then, especially in the monsoons or winter? And not everyone can afford Starbucks or a Café Coffee Day everyday. The streetside tea stalls with their masala teas are far lighter on the wallet. Quite often it’s just a matter of convenience and budget to prefer streetside stalls over the coffee/tea outlets.

But how often do you see women or girls sipping their cuppa alone in a streetside tea stall? I haven’t seen even one, to be honest. If a girl does manage to gather courage and stand waiting for her tea, there may be curious/leering glances thrown at her now and then.

And this is only about tea, we are not even talking about pubs or bars yet.

Why is it so hard for our society to create and encourage a space where women could eat/drink their choice of food/beverage by themselves without any hindrance? It’s not illegal to want this; it’s not immoral to want this. It’s just a simple need. A need that men take for granted.

Here’s how you as a reader can help. The next time you see a girl or woman eating or drinking alone, just let her be. Don’t judge, don’t keep staring in curiosity, and most importantly, don’t hit on her. Just let her be.

Knowing our rights, claiming our rights

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NAMATHU NAGARAM, NAMATHU URIMAI (OUR CITY, OUR RIGHTS)

by Sudaroli Ramasamy

SAFETY is a major concern in the life of the women, in all walks of life, at any point in time. But beyond safety, it is important for them to understand that they have every right to build, rebuild and make their locality safe and habitable.  With almost all the cities of India becoming terribly unsafe, it is important for women and girls know that they have the right to feel safe without restraining their mobility at any time.

We would start with the importance of understanding of basic rights as a citizen in a broader perspective. Then we would involve community women and girls in the process of Safety Audit either by the use of an app (Safetipin, with which we have partnered earlier) or through a safety audit questionnaire template.  This awareness of their rights over their city  inculcate them to take ownership of their cities and rights “Our City, Our Rights”.

This is how the “Our City, Our Rights” was born with the objectives:

  • Creating general awareness on the Civic rights  and take ownership “Our City, Our Rights” among girls and women
  • Getting them access to the information about the authorities whom they can approach to claim their basic rights towards the Safer and Habitable city.
  • Undergoing the exercise of learning how to gather, organise and present information in order to claim their rights. and practical experiences expands the scope of processing their civil rights to civil governance.

We propose to start with safety but take on other important community issues in many stages over 8-10 months.

Once the idea shape itself into the execution, we planned to take this forward with the women and girls throughout Chennai on a larger scale.  We are piloting the process with two local partners, both of whom have decades of grassroots experience working with women and girls. 

Training 1, June 7, 2017:

Training 2, June 18, 2017:

Training 3, July 28, 2017:

GST: A Gendered Lens

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Curated by Priya Prabhakar

With the adoption of Goods and Services Tax (GST) by the Indian government that came in effect on July 1st, 2017, it is important to look through a feminist lens to determine the material impacts of the tax, as it has come with a fair share of critique. A gendered analyses of GST renders the taxation unfair on the basis of menstrual products, mostly affecting cis-women, along with traditionally “feminine” products, such as cosmetics, skin care, and domestic appliances. Other gendered implications include the nationalist implication of a “one tax”, which falls in pattern with the “political construction of the Hindu rashtra”, which disproportionately oppresses working-class women. This has manifested through the mass strikes of women garment workers in the unorganized sector. We’ve compiled a list of resources that seeks to analyze the feminist/anti-feminist consequences of the GST. Feel free to leave other resources in the comment section of this post.

 

“What we want to ask is this. If puja items can be made tax-free, why not menstrual products? And if this question isn’t about gender, then why do bindis and sindoor get the treatment that sanitary napkins don’t? Is the idea of an unmarried woman really that scary?”

“Currently, a tax of 22% including excise duty and other taxes are levied on products such as toothpaste, hair oil and soap but after GST a tax of 18% will be imposed. Skin care products and shampoo have been put in 28% tax category while Vermilion, Bindi and mascara have been left out. As far as sanitation is considered, a tax of 12% will be levied despite the demand of making it tax-free.”

“What is the logic behind making condoms tax-free while taxing sanitary napkins, tampons and other items of female reproductive hygiene at a steep 12 per cent? Plain and simple, it’s patriarchy in action, and the deep-seated taboo about menstruation being associated with uncleanliness, and menstrual blood being polluted.”

“The application of technology for domestic use has been a major help and stimulus for women’s emancipation, initially in the West, later in the expanding middle class of developing countries like India, easing her labour and freeing her time considerably from domestic duties, thus allowing her to work outside the home, enabling her financial empowerment. Increasing tax on domestic appliances is regressive from the gender perspective. In contrast, the government put items like sindoor, alta, bindi and bangles, items essentially associated with a married Hindu woman, into the exempt category. Through its tax priorities, the government appears to reflect, reinforce and incentivise deep-rooted societal stereotypes that typecast women into their traditional roles of wife and mother. Women would be far happier with a tax structure that enables and incentivises her to become financially independent so that she can buy sindoor and bindis even with enhanced taxes.”

“The economic discourse on GST tends to miss out on an essential aspect of the reform, namely its contribution to the political construction of the Hindu rashtra. GST helps in homo­genising India, a la “one nation, one market, one tax,” which indeed was the BJP’s slogan for GST…Yet, the remaining clauses are indicative of not only a confluence of Hindutva and neo-liberalism, but also reminiscent of Hitler’s “ein volk, ein reich, ein führer” (one people, one nation, one leader), much adored by the Sangh Parivar. The GST in its current form, irrespective of its fate—Modi is capable of making even his worst failure seem a grand success as in demonetisation—is a leap towards the Hindu rashtra.”

“A huge cottage industry as developed around the main textile industry that involves women who do the stitch art work and embroidery etc on the finished fabric. They are part of the unorganised sector and form a very important part of textile industry. But the government did not care to consider them while slapping GST,” said Usmani. These women from the unorganised sector are likely to join the protest in large numbers from July 11, said a core member of the GST Sangharsh Samiti.”

Please leave links of any other relevant in the comments section and we will add them.

Priya Prabhakar has been a Prajnya Intern over the summer in 2016 and 2017 and is studying at Scripps College. 

Mother’s Day 2017: Is woman the only care-giver? by Neeraja Hariharan

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flowersIs woman the only care-giver?

A traditional “Housewife’s” first duty is to look towards the happiness of her husband and his family. The next step is to look after her children and the happiness of her children. In between she has to balance family society to create social happiness. In this entire life-long journey not many stop and ask her what she wants. If you ask a housewife how many times her family has praised her publicly or privately for her work and not just cooking, She would be able to count it on her fingers.

Incredible pressure to juggle work and family responsibilities: Indian parents-in-laws aren’t known to be particularly supportive. A typical Indian mother’s day begins two hours before everyone else, cooking, packing lunch, making breakfast, sending kids off to school and only then does she get a chance to get ready for her day at work

Unequal partnerships at home–Husband’s “Hands-off” approach: In several Indian homes, there is “unequal partnership”. After a long tiring day (even when the working mother works hard/sometimes even harder than her husband). Once she returns home, she is still expected to cook, clean and take care of the other demands of husband/children and maintain the house.

Mothers quit job to take care of her baby: Still in India the mother is expected to take care of her baby. It’s only the duty of the mother to take care of the baby, as if it is not the duty of father. Why it is only the duty of mother? Why can’t the father take the responsibility of the baby? He is also the parent. Isn’t it important for him to take care of his baby?

After giving birth to a baby, the mother is given two options. Either taking care of the baby fulltime or go to work and as well as take care of the baby. It is not an easy task to go to work and also taking care of the baby without the help of her in-laws and her husband. Ultimately she won’t get help from her husband and the in-laws will be too old to take care of the baby. She has to quit her job. And take care of her baby her herself.

When it comes to raising a child, mother is expected to quit her job. Why can’t the father quit his job to take care of his child? Why it is always the mother who quits the job?

Mother’s Day 2017: Life of a Mother, by Shrivaiyshnavi.N

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LIFE OF A MOTHER

For the lady who came out of her family just because of traditions and customs,

Who starves just because she has to eat after her husband eats,

Who kept us safe inside her womb for ten months,

Who breast fed us in spite of all her pain,

Who sacrificed her sleep just to pamper and take care of us.

For the lady who works all day at home no matter how sick she is.

Who cooks food for the choice of others,

Who washes clothes, and restrooms which stink,

Who bares all those Period Cramps

Who still manages to do the gender roles assigned to her by the society.

For the lady who does all these things, but gets no recognition.

What she really gets is a title saying “SHE IS JUST A HOUSEWIFE”

Whose sacrifices are not seen, or noticed.

Oh! Yes, Its Mother’s Day Today, and what we do is just post Facebook Status about our beloved mother for this day alone.

For the lady who did all those things without expectations,

Why can’t you spend quality time with her?

Why can’t you treat her everyday like the way you treat her on mother’s day?

Why can’t you get to know about her and her favourites?

Why can’t you take her out for her favourite movie?

For the lady who protected you for your low grades from your daddy,

How well do you know her?

Do you try to get to know her favourite food?

Do you try to get to know her favourite book?

Do you try to get to know her favourite actor?

Do you try to get to know her favourite place to go out?

For the lady who MAKES the house a HOME,

Let us make her feel special everyday,

Let every day remain MOTHER’S DAY.

by Shrivaiyshnavi.N