#NNNU A Women’s Charter Demanding Civic Rights

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On August 14, 2018, 12 women from six NGOs in and around Chennai (Centre for Women’s Development and Research; Forum for Women’s Rights and Development; Penn Thozhilalar Sangam; Positive Women’s Network; Roshni; Working Women’s Forum) joined us for a Namathu Nagaram Namathu Urimai consultation on civic rights–that is, what we can expect to enjoy as a matter of right in any community where we reside. The idea was to share our concerns with a view to arriving at a short list, which in turn would serve as a charter of demands for candidates in the upcoming local elections.

This is what we came up with.

பெண்கள் கூட்டமைப்பு (PENNGAL KOOTTAMAIPPU)

August 14, 2018

Our cities and towns are unliveable. Together, we identify the following problems as most urgent:

  • Our cities are filthy with uncollected garbage; unsegregated waste; poor disposal practices; solid waste disposal in sewage; unsafe disposal of plastic and medical waste; congested pavements with vendor and consumer waste; contaminated and worm-infested water supply; collapsed water and sewage lines; unsecured electrical junctions and cables; dirty, unsanitary and unused public toilets, and open defecation; and a lack of municipal oversight.
  • Our cities are unsafe, and women are at risk at home, in public spaces and at work.
  • Our cities are at risk because of substance abuse which results from the presence everywhere of TASMAC outlets and is a cause of domestic and sexual violence and insecure streets.
  • Government services and grievance redressal are inaccessible, whether we try to collect the widows’ pension, avail primary health care and we are not made aware of e-services.
  • Women are under-represented and lack voice, so that decisions about policy and services are made without taking our needs and experiences into account.

From those who seek our vote, we demand:

  • A Clean City
    • Provide dustbins on every street to facilitate segregation of bio and other waste;
    • Ensure regular and timely garbage collection;
    • Distribute usable and potable water equally and fairly;
    • Remove illegal street encroachments;
    • Assure sanitary street food stalls;
    • Improve and maintain drainage and sewage systems;
    • Maintain clean and functional public toilets;
    • Inspect sanitation systems and services on a regular schedule.
  • A Safe City
    • Resolve and commit to protecting girl children in local government bodies, from the municipal corporation to the zilla parishad to the gram sabha;
    • Maintain efficient and effective women and children’s helplines;
    • Set up and ensure proper functioning of the Local Complaints Committees;
    • Position and regularly review surveillance cameras in sensitive and secluded areas;
    • Appoint more women administrators and police officers;
    • Sensitise parents, media and government workers to gender issues;
    • Commit to introducing sex education and self-defence training in schools and the promotion of girls’ and women’s sports opportunities.
  • A City Secure from Alcohol Abuse and its Effects
    • Relocate TASMAC outlets away from residential areas, school and college neighbourhoods and public transportation hubs;
    • Regulate TASMAC hours and insist on identity card checking to prevent underage drinking;
    • Install CCTVs and police patrol vigilance around TASMAC outlets in the evening;
    • Establish and fund deaddiction centres and helplines and family support services.
  • Accessible and Accountable Local Government Officials and Services
    • Assure smooth benefits delivery;
    • Streamline grievance redressal systems;
    • Create awareness about e-services.
  • An Equal Voice for Women in Government and Decision-making
    • Appoint women officials
    • Nominate 50% women candidates
    • Take seriously elected women officials and not as proxies
    • Vest decision-making power in women
    • Respect women’s freedom of speech and listen to their perspectives.

(The raw version of this draft was endorsed by all participants, and a Tamil version will be added shortly.)

A one-page image for sharing:

NNNU Penngal Koottamaippu Charter-1

வழி விடுங்கள்…!

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— சுடரொளி

‘எத்தனை மணிக்கு வேண்டுமானாலும் வெளியில் செல்லலாம்?!’ என்பதே ‘பெண்கள் மேம்பாடு’ (Women Empowerment) என்று பல பெண்கள் நினைக்கிறார்கள். அதுவல்ல, Women Empowerment என்பது நன்றாக படித்து, நல்ல பணியில் சேர்ந்து முன்னேறுவது தான்.”

“பார்த்தீங்களா, இப்போ பொண்ணுங்க எல்லாம் எப்படி dress பண்ணிக்கிறாங்கன்னு. பசங்க என்னங்க பண்ணுவாங்க, இதை பார்த்து, அவங்க ஹோர்மோன்ஸ் சுரந்ததுன்னா?! அவங்களை நாம எப்படி தப்பு சொல்ல முடியும்!”

“கல்யாணம் பண்ணிக்காம, ஒரு பெண்ணால எப்படி ஒழுக்கமா வாழ முடியும்? என்னோட பொண்ணுங்க எல்லாம் நல்ல படிச்சிருக்காங்க, நல்ல வேலையில இருக்காங்க. கல்யாணம் பண்ணி, குடும்பமா செட்டில் ஆகியிருக்காங்க.”

“என்ன மாப்பிள்ளைக்கு பைக் ஓட்ட தெரியாதா? ஸ்கூட்டர் தான் ஓட்டுவாரா? அது பொம்பளைங்க ஓட்டுறது ஆச்சே!”

“ஏம்மா இந்த கூட்டத்துல வந்து நின்னுக்கிட்டு இருக்க, பெண்களுக்குன்னு தனி coach தான் இருக்கே trainல?”

“பொம்பளைங்க தண்ணி அடிக்கிறதா? அதெல்லாம் எதுக்கு பண்ணனும்? பாரு, ஸ்ரீதேவி சாகும் போது fullஆ அடிசிருந்துச்சாம்!”

இன்னும் இன்னும், பல்வேறு விதமாய், பல்வேறு கருத்துக்கள், ஒவ்வொரு நாளும், ஒவ்வொரு விதமாய், பெண்களை சுற்றியே சுழல்கிறது! சில சமயங்களில் பெண்களிடமிருந்தே, சில சமயங்களில் இதை போன்ற கருத்துக்களை கேட்கும் போது, அதன் வேதனையை என்னவென்று சொல்லுவது! படித்திருந்தும், விரிவாய் எதை பற்றியும் யோசிக்க இயலாத, அவர்களின் அறிவின்மையை என்னவென்பது! எங்கு திரும்பினாலும், ஏதாவதொரு கேள்வி, அவளின் எதையாவது பற்றி.

நில்லுங்கள்! உங்கள் கவனத்தை எங்கள் மீதே வைக்காதீர்கள். உங்களின் புதிது புதிதான கேள்விகளுக்கு தினம் தினம் பதில் கூறி, எங்கள் ஆற்றலை நாங்கள்  வீணடிக்க விரும்பவில்லை.  கொஞ்சம் வழி விடுங்கள், எங்கள் வாழ்க்கையை நாங்கள் வாழ வேண்டும்!

Love song of Sati

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by Bharati Ramachandran

My little finger lies where the holy waters meet
The earth will be born when our fingertips touch
My tongue is aflame in hilly Jwalamukhi
Taste my sweetness mingled with the mist

You will find my broken heart in the darkness of Gujarat
Light yourself a light, and glue it together
My bleeding eyes see the true colour of hate
Take my sight and examine your own demons

My navel tantalises pilgrims in Utkal
Admit that you want me, first to yourself
My desire’s buried north-east in Kamakhya
Kiss me and bring me back to life

Daksha’s daughter lies strewn across the land
Here a toe, there a wrist, here a leg, there a hand
A throat, a temple, a thigh and a breast
If you can find it to love me, put me together first

My land’s torn apart, its people sundered
Lightning strikes, and the skies thunder
Armies rush at night to attack the enemy mind
By daylight they find they’ve killed their own kind

I’ve lost my power to change destiny
I am scattered, rent and stamped upon
Stop your dance of death, put out the flames
That I invoked but cannot quench

Go to Dantewada and dig out the root cause
My teeth have been buried there for kalpas
Piece me together, and love me like I loved you
Perhaps then, we can give birth to a people new

Bharati Ramachandran helps non-profits tell powerful stories, change attitudes, behaviour and policy, and raise funds. She is a consultant with Prajnya. 

A Women’s Day Toast to Samantha Jones

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By Chintan Girish Modi

Sex And The City is a wildly popular American television show. It ran on HBO from 1998 until 2004 but I got hooked to it only two years ago while watching midnight re-runs on AXN that beep out cuss words and slice off lovemaking scenes. Indian audiences are assumed to be not ready for this, though they clearly have all the stamina to copulate and populate.

My rants about censorship can wait for another day, for today is about celebrating Samantha Jones (played by Kim Cattrall). This successful, vivacious, feisty and unforgettable woman is one of the four main characters on the show. She owns a public relations company that is much sought after, much like her who is well-known among the famous and fashionable set in New York City.

Samantha is often dismissed for being a bimbo, overly concerned with physical appearance, desperate for sex, and seeking body-altering procedures such as chemical peels, cosmetic surgery, and botox treatments. While these aspects of her life are certainly worth discussing as part of a wider conversation around whether choices enabled by financial independence free women of patriarchy or bind them down to newer chains, I want to focus now on the many things I love about Samantha.

1. She is serious about the pursuit of pleasure.
2. She knows how to get what she wants.
3. She does not wait endlessly for THE ONE.
4. She recognizes ‘true love’ when she sees it.
5. She loves deeply but does not hold people back.
6. She is the best cheerleader a friend can have.
7. She cares a damn about what people think of her relationships.
8. She is aware of her weaknesses.
9. She does not play the victim card.
10. She is good at playing to her strengths.
11. She does not let breast cancer bring her life to a standstill.
12. She is politically incorrect.
13. She talks freely about sex.
14. She is a party gal.
15. She is open to challenging her boundaries.
16. She tips well.
17. She understands sexual needs.
18. She has few moral hang-ups.
19. She is an unabashed New Yorker.
20. She can risk looking like a fool but will always show up for her best buddies.
21. She needs no man to complete her.
About the author: Chintan Girish Modi works with Prajnya on our Education for Peace Initiative. He also writes widely on art, culture and gender for print as well as digital publications. He tweets @chintan_connect

Revived! Women’s History Roundtable Series: Post-colonial India’s Women Doctors

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On Saturday, October 14th, 2017, we revived our Women’s History Roundtable Series which had fallen by the wayside because of our struggles finding a venue. We decided to go back to our original ways–to find a cafe and we picked Writer’s Cafe to try.  Archana Venkatesh, veteran volunteer, doctoral candidate at Ohio State University and Saakshi Fellow, opened the fourth series and will coordinate for a year.

Women's History Roundtable Series (2)

Private Lives, Public Work:
Women Doctors at work and home in Post-Colonial India

Archana Venkatesh

Abstract:

Women doctors in post-colonial India were an integral part of the developmental regime envisaged by policy makers in the field of public health, especially in efforts to control overpopulation and regulate maternal and infant health in a newly independent nation. In this paper, I examine the life and work of women doctors in post-colonial India using data from twenty oral history interviews conducted with women doctors aged 75-95 years, active in the medical profession from 1950 to 1990 collectively. Oral history interviews provide a counter narrative to the ‘official discourse’. I demonstrate that while the state encouraged women to embrace the medical profession by deploying tools such as affirmative action and scholarships, this attitude did not always permeate the home and the workplace. Many women doctors note that medical colleges and hospitals were highly gendered spaces, something that was particularly apparent during the process of selecting specializations – many were shepherded into the ‘feminine’ fields of obstetrics and gynecology, or pediatrics. However, any expression of dissatisfaction was deemed to undercut their goal of ‘serving the new nation’ by participating in the medical profession. This paper examines how women doctors negotiated competing demands, between national service and individual goals, and between professional responsibilities and domestic expectations. Using oral history as a method, this paper sheds light on the ways in which everyday practitioners, i.e. women doctors, negotiated their participation in the creation and evolution of the developmental state in post-colonial India.

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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: