#Beijing25 || Viewpoint: Jeba, Gender-based Violence and Social Inequality


By Nancy E. Jeba

This world is a place which still has social inequality that results in violence. With social inequality comes social injustice and violence. Gender inequality is a type of social inequality. Gender inequality paves the way for gender-based violence. With the norms set in place by these inequalities, crimes against women are noticed more than crimes against men which is comparatively less than the crimes against women.

One of the social inequalities is that women get payed less than their men counterparts. Statistics show that women earn less than eighty percent of what men earn. Women hesitate to ask for a raise in pay because they are afraid that they might come off as greedy and rude. Also, women are promoted less than men and this is visible in the negligible number of women in positions such as CEO’s and top earners. There are various other instances of gender inequality. It begins from the moment of birth when the girl child is given less care and less opportunities for education. Because of child marriage which still exists, girls do not receive education necessary to make them independent because lack of education will also decrease the scope for employment. Women and girls are also in greater risk of being human trafficked. Apart from these ways of inequality, women also face gender-based violence.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is violence that is directed at an individual based on his or her biological sex OR gender identity. It includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse, threats, coercion, and economic or educational deprivation, whether occurring in public or private life.” Gender-based violence arises due to the fact that there is gender inequality prevalent in the world. Women face more violence and one out of three women are found to have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. Women and girls are the ones who are at most risk. But violence against men, boys and sexual and gender minorities are also committed.

Domestic violence is the most common form of violence women is exposed to such as forced abortions, marital rape and bride burning. Women are forced to abort the foetus if it is found to be a female. Moreover, marital rape is not considered a crime in some countries, thus giving men the right to rape his adult wife. Marital rape needs to be recognised as a crime because women have the right over their own body and marital rape is violating their personal space. At an extreme level, if the woman refuses to pay more dowry, she is burned by her husband or his family. Dowry reduces the value of women to mere objects and the world needs to change so that dowry is not required for a woman to get married. Apart from married women, women in relationships also face domestic violence from their intimate partner. Along with domestic violence, women also face violence in their workplace. Workplace violence is often overlooked. Women are abused physically, sexually and mentally in their workplace by their co-workers and their employers.

Women face violence in many forms due to the social and gender inequality prevalent in today’s society. While the empowerment of women is fought for, the violence faced by men is still a silent crisis. Only when social inequality is erased and gender equality formed, will all the violence against women and men stop. It is high time to start trying to reform our flawed society.

#Beijing25 || Viewpoint: Silvia, Gender-based Violence and Social Inequality


By Catharinal Silvia.M

As everyday news clearly portrays, we live in the 21st century where everybody is considered to be equal and free. These monotonous lines are deeply rooted in our brains that we don’t stop and think what the true reality is . We often come across violences against women and children and we are manipulated to believe that gender based violence can only be against women which is not true. Gender based violence is considered to be violences against any particular gender which need not only have to be associated with feminine characteristics .It should be clear that gender based violence can be against both men women or any other gender. But the amusing fact is that more than 80% of gender based violence is are against women which proves why gender based violences are associated with women and children.

Since time began, we are told and we have experienced in histories how women had to go through gruesome inequalities which ruined their lives. Even though these inequalities against women are not that ghastly as it was before in the earlier times we still find these ideas etched in peoples minds.

Lots of works have been established which talks of how women go through teriffic horrors in their lives and mostly these things seem monotonous when we go through them because it has become a fashion to talk about gender based violence but not take any action against it. Gender based violence and social inequality are intertwined with each other because these violences happen on the base root of social structures and backgrounds. Beginning with our own households and our own practices, these ideas are fed into children’s minds since they were born and that’s where the problem begins.

If we take a typical Indian household, we always see that a male child is given more important and is treated superior to any girl child . 

We could take examples from western and eastern countries, which we considered elite and good. The production of Barbie dolls and the market it created cannot be forgotten. These Barbie dolls came to our households as just dolls but it did not only create entertainment but also a illogical standard which cannot be erased even today. The clear cut shape that the Barbie doll portrayed has become the standard shape that any woman has to have in order to be looked up on. This has so much to do with social inequality as women who  don’t fit into these stereotypical standards were ill treated, mocked and body shamed.

Another revolutionary fact is the creation of man and woman. People always say that woman was created out of man and so she has to be not equal but a below him. These ideas are so much put in our minds that wherever we go in any part of the world there is always conflict faced by a woman.

For example in workplaces, schools ,colleges ,anywhere in any part of the world a woman has always have to face some kind of challenge be it  inequality, crimes , safety, bodyshaming, criticisms and more.

Human minds are so much manipulated that women cannot do the work that a man does, as it is very rare to find women in the fields where physical strength is required. And if by any chance a woman appears in the field of maybe the army or the Navy or somewhere where physical strength is required she is looked as if she’s an alien.

When it comes to education there is a lot to look upon. Even now in remote places of India  women and girl children are deprived of proper education.Education allows us to think for ourselves, when we don’t think for ourselves we will definitely have to go by the rules of another person.

We could not only say that only women undergo these kinds of inequalities in social backgrounds also transgenders go through brutal crimes almost everywhere. These gender based violences have to be strictly looked upon because we’re lied to that everything has changed.

#Beijing25 || Viewpoint: Pradeesh, Gender-based Violence and Social Inequality


By Anushka Pradeesh

Gender-based violence is now a days highly prevailing issue in our society leading to social inequality. From ancient days till today men are considered to be superior race in this world. This ideology have played a major role in creating gender-based violence and social inequality among women, transgender people and men.

Women are prone more to gender based-violence in this world. They are facing harassments at homes, streets, work places and even in public places. A survey proves that around eighty one percent of women have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lives. In India divorce is considered as a bad act. As a result of which many women tend to tolerate the harassments imposed on them by their husbands. Each and everyday we are witnessing the news of a girl being raped in the newspaper. It’s just a news for the readers but in reality it’s the life of the girl and the family which is shattered and torn into pieces. Justice is never served to them. The main reason for this violence is the loop holes available in the judicial system. Women are deprived of safety not only in the outside world but also in social media. Cybercrime cases are increasing extremely in this pandemic situation. Women have lost liberty to share their photos in social media. The main reason is morphing of images which is taking place as an illegal business at higher levels. Many women have lost their lives due to cybercrime. Child marriage is yet another prevailing issue during this pandemic. A study proves that around twenty seven percent of girls in India are married before eighteen and seven percent before fifteen. As per the government records the government have stopped around 5,584 child marriages but still there are yet more cases which none are aware of. Girl children married at the young age are forced to face harassments not only from their husband but also from the entire household and society. All these gender viloences portray woman as weaker gender unable to speak up for themselves leading to social inequality. A great example for social inequality is women doing equal work as men and are paid only one-fourth of the men’s salary. Still today gender stereotypes remains unchanged.

Transgender people are the people who are more discriminated in the name of gender. The violence and and humiliations faced by them are unseen by the society. Literally the society turns it’s blind eyes towards these people. They are hated by their own family members and relatives. The harassments faced by them begins from home. They are not only physically harmed but also are experiencing mental pressure and depression.In search of peace they runaway from their homes. They are not given equal job opportunities. Even if their parents are supporting them the society is not really showing any acceptance to them which results in social inequality. For instance, parents are not willing to allow their child study with a transgender kid at schools promoting gender stereotypes and violence. In such a case social inequality begins from a place where equality should be inculcated in the children.

Men tend to face social inequality at certain phases of their lives. For example, in some firms there is this policy of treating people on the basis of caste which results in social inequality. Social inequality exists in this society mainly due to caste discrimination, biased religions and societal status. These three factors imposes social inequality irrespective of gender.

Gender-based violence and social inequality can be completely abolished when each and every Indian citizens are accepting every human beings as their kit and kin without discriminating anyone on the basis of gender, caste and class hierarchy. Equality will strive in our country only when our perspective changes.

Be the change you want to see in the world”

                                                                         – Mahatma Gandhi

So let the change begin from you and me. Let equality strive in our society.

Ilina As We Knew Her: A Tribute from WSS


Shared by Laxmi Murthy

Ilina As We Knew Her:
A Tribute from WSS

August 11, 2020

Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) deeply mourns the passing away of Ilina Sen on August 9 in Kolkata. Ilina, 69, was a feminist activist, teacher, researcher and writer passionately involved with the women’s movement in India. Be it through activist work or classroom pedagogy, conferences or rallies, Ilina’s  deep engagement with women’s struggles in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and her active solidarity with women in mass movements in other states provided a crucial impetus to unraveling and resisting the combined forces of state, patriarchy and capital  in the lives of women and other marginalized communities.  Her favorite song Bread and Roses resonated this larger vision of women in struggle.

As we go marching, marching
In the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens
A thousand mill lofts grey
Are touched with all the radiance
That a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing
Bread and roses, bread and roses

In the early 1980s, Ilina along with her partner Binayak Sen had moved to Chhattisgarh to work among the movements and peoples of an adivasi region inspired by Shankar Guha Niyogi. Binayak as a medical doctor worked with children and their families, and went on to work at the Shaheed Hospital, a unique institution built and run by workers of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS). Initially, Ilina was involved with sustainable development in association with Dr RR Richcharia, ensuring the preservation of seeds and rice varieties which were in danger of dying out under the aggressive farming techniques being promoted by the state. Working in the trade union started by Shankar Guha Niyogi in Dalli Rajhara gave Ilina insights about women’s labour and their role in organizing for their rights. In the autonomous women’s movement conferences, she often would sing Chhattisgarhi songs from CMSS like “Anasuya Bai, Laal Salaam…”

ILINAIt was here that she worked on and published her important book A Space Within the Struggle (1990). This collection of essays on the less visible dimensions of women’s struggles in grass roots movements remains unsurpassed as a collection that moves away from the metropolitan movement’s primary concerns important though they were in their own right. A Space Within the Struggle chronicled the struggles of brick workers, landless labourers, fishworkers, environment protectors, segments of the population that are not visible even to women’s studies students. Among the last pieces of work she was trying to complete was to update that work, bringing in the new movements that were exploding in different parts of the country.

As we go marching, marching
We battle too for men
For they are women’s children
And we mother them again
Our lives shall not be sweated
From birth until life closes
Hearts starve as well as bodies
Give us bread, but give us roses

Unfortunately,  Ilina was diagnosed with cancer in the year 2011 immediately after the Supreme Court granted bail to her partner Binayak Sen – a leading PUCL activist from Chhattisgarh.  Together, they had also set up the NGO Rupantar in Raipur. If we look back at these recent years, we have seen Ilina paying a heavy price ever since the arrest of Binayak Sen in May 2007 under the draconian UAPA by the Chhattisgarh Police (on charges of links with Naxalites) right up to her last breath as she succumbed to cancer. Upon his arrest, Ilina went full swing, facing the processes of litigation from lower courts to the Supreme Court and left no stone unturned in leading a campaign across the country for his release, while continuing to be the rock for Binayak and their two daughters. The demand for his release also evoked vibrant solidarity and support from countries abroad.

In the process, Ilina drew many supporters and activists and brought attention to the plight of countless numbers of adivasis incarcerated in the jails of Chhattisgarh. They were the victims of the newly-formed state that was founded at the height of the rolling out of the neo-liberal economy when companies – national and global – made a beeline for the minerals and forests of the state. It is no wonder that within two years of its formation in 2000, the CRPF was deployed in Chhattisgarh permanently.  Perhaps an entire generation of political activists came up in this period following the arrest of the PUCL Vice President as they saw a ruthless state rolling out its Operation Greenhunt that targeted those who questioned the development juggernaut meant to fill the coffers of global capital.

Her lifelong efforts had been poised between women’s organizations addressing patriarchal oppression and subjugation on one hand and mass movements struggling for livelihood resources and claiming their just ownership of natural resources on the other. Therefore the formation of WSS and its first two founding meetings happening in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh had filled Ilina with much hope and good cheer. Despite the litigation processes and her teaching career keeping her on her toes, she kept in constant touch with WSS at every step in those years after attending the second convention in Raipur in December 2009. She saw myriad possibilities in WSS and continuously expressed her restless desire to be able to be more involved.

 As we go marching, marching
Unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing
Their ancient call for bread
Smart art and love, and beauty
Their drudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we fight for
But we fight for roses, too

From the year 2004, Ilina came in close touch with a generation of young students and researchers studying gender when she began taking classes in the Mahtama Gandhi Antarashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalya in Wardha. She joined as faculty in the year 2007 and after spending a few dedicated years,  Ilina moved to TISS in Mumbai. While at Wardha, she was the organizing secretary of the IAWS conference in 2011 and her presence and creativity made the Wardha conference among the most memorable of the IAWS conferences in recent decades. Again in the IAWS conference in Guwahati in February, 2014, Ilina sang to an entire audience:

Iraade Kar Buland Tu
Kahna shuroo karti to acha thaa
Tu sahna chod  kar kahna shuroo karti to achha thaa…
Tere maathe pe yeh aanchal, bahut hi khoob hai lekin
Bahut hi khoob hai lekin
Tu is aanchal ka ek parcham bana leti to accha thaa
Tu sahna chod  kar kahna shuroo karti to achha thaa…
Iraade Kar Buland Tu…

Her knowledge and the insights that came from her political involvement with the lived realities of struggles – collective and individual — breathed life into the curriculum wherever she taught. Even as she inspired many young minds, she was eager to pursue her own core research interests. As a Senior Fellow in the Nehru Memorial Library from July 2013 to July 2015, Ilina tried to collate her insights and ideas of women in mass movements along with coping with her illness and its therapy. She also collected narratives of partition refugees in Dandakaranya and was much worried about leaving these pieces of work incomplete as both projects were very close to her heart.

Buy Inside Chhattisgarh: A Political Memoir Book Online at Low ...

From her activism to her writing and from petitioning the courts to interacting with young scholars, Ilina was filled with a zest for life to integrate a holistic view where the expression of the individual is inextricably an expression of the social and the political. It is no wonder that while travelling across the country with heavy bags of legal documents and then facing the diagnosis of cancer, she could so easily pen down Inside Chhattisgarh – A Political Memoir, a memorable record of her work with Binayak and the bitter court battle to counter the arrest and incarceration of a partner and fellow comrade.

Through all her travails, Ilina’s hearty laugh and keen sense of humour never waned, her vivacious interest and deep engagement with individual lives and political struggles did not falter. It is this tenacity that ensures that Ilina Sen leaves an indelible mark on women’s struggles and workers’ struggles in India.

As we go marching, marching, we’re standing proud and tall
The rising of the women means the rising of us all
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes
But a sharing of life’s glories, bread and roses, bread and roses!!


Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is a non funded grassroots effort started in November 2009, to put an end to the violence being perpetrated upon our bodies and societies. We are a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements from women’s organizations, mass organizations, civil liberty organizations, student and youth organizations and mass movements and also from many different walks of life. We unequivocally condemn state repression and sexual violence on women and girls by any perpetrator(s).








Writing about Kalpana, writing about the times


By Ranjana Padhi and Laxmi Murthy*

*Ranjana Padhi and Laxmi Murthy have been associated with the autonomous women’s movement since the mid-1980s and were active in Saheli from around 1986-2006. Saheli was founded on August 9, 1981. 

Cross-posted from The Prajnya Archives 

There is no cure against mortality, yet there is a lingering sadness and a sense of loss at the passing away of a fellow-traveler, a saheli and a comrade. Any reflection of such lives becomes a reflection of the times. The times when we as women, and as feminist collectives, dared to go against the grain.  The early years of the women’s movement were vastly different from the present reality where much is taken for granted and often celebrated ahistorically as individual achievement. The struggles of the 1980s made strident inroads into challenging the bastions of patriarchy in the form of collective resistance.  Making that vital link in what is a virtually unknown history for an entire generation of young women might help to make sense of the present. Because Kalpana was active to the end, commenting – and raving – even about recent events, through the lens of a sharp feminist politics.

Kalpana Mehta 1Kalpana Mehta, 67, a feminist activist of the autonomous women’s movement in India, breathed her last on May 27, 2020 at her residence in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.  Kalpana was diagnosed of the neuron disease called Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in mid 2017.  She gradually lost speech as well as mobility. Even then, she was tuned in to all events through the daily newspaper and communicated her thoughts and ideas through the application Tobii with friends who visited her during this time. Remaining engaged with news and sharing her political concerns and reflections helped her bravely cope with the symptoms of ALS. Also, her characteristic humor and witty rebukes directed at the powers that be were intact to her last breath.

Kalpana was a co-founder of Saheli Women’s Resource Centre that was set up in 1981 in New Delhi. She was one among the most active in shaping Saheli’s politics and equally, shaped by the collective. Saheli emerged out of Stri Sangharsh, a coalition of women’s groups in Delhi that led the campaign against wife murder or “dowry death” as it was euphemistically termed during the late 1970s. Saheli, a crisis response centre, was set up in 1981 to prevent such deaths, intervene in cases of domestic violence and provide a safe space for women in distress to talk, laugh, heal and fight back.

Politicizing the personal

Kalpana believed passionately in the slogan “personal is political” through consciousness raising circles, supporting individual women in distress and attempting to build solidarities among women who had experienced violence and politicise their personal struggles for justice. For her, women were not “cases”, and her allergy to the term in vogue, ‘case work’ was legendary. The debate about whether or not to continue individual support work raged on for a few years in Saheli, with Kalpana steadfastly on the side of wanting to not only continue extending support to women in distress but infuse new life into it by reviving “direct action” strategies: storming into matrimonial homes, accompanying women to claim their “stri dhan’ or even clothes and certificates; intervening in custody battles or exploitation by employers.

The inevitable burnout and inability to respond vigorously to the growing numbers of women approaching Saheli for help meant that there was more reliance on institutions that were patriarchal and strung with red tape. Yet, stopping ‘case work’ to focus more on campaigns directed at structural changes was not an option for Kalpana, who led the initiative to form ‘mutual support groups’ or women who had experienced violence and marital distress. After much leg work and emotional investment, the difficult realization that the common experience of violence could not be a binding political force hit Kalpana hard. The ideological underpinning of understanding domestic violence and discrimination within the family and marriage, also forged a robust critique of religious personal laws and their stranglehold on the dailiness of women’s lives. Thanks to Kalpana’s constant connections with crucial political work of individual support, it was not an abstract theoretical discussion about personal laws or uniform civil code. It was getting into the nitty gritty of individual women’s marital problems that brought a rich and nuanced understanding to personal law reform, and later, with growing Hindu fundamentalism, that made women’s groups articulate the demand for a “Uniform” Civil Code which by the 1990s became a right wing agenda, to an Egalitarian Civil Code, a core feminist demand.

Women and Health

Saheli was one of the pioneers of taking on the government, medical establishment and research agencies, in building one of the earliest and sharpest critiques of hazardous contraceptives pushed on women as part of the population control programme. The public interest litigation (PIL) filed in the Supreme Court by Saheli along with other women’s organisations against the introduction of the hazardous injectable contraceptive Net En, was an outcome of field investigations by Hyderabad-based Stri Shakti Sangathana, and research by feminist activists, not all of them doctors. From leg work at the National Medical Library where we sneaked in in the guise of medical students (pre-Google research was a different animal!); to innumerable trips to the lawyers, attending court hearings, bringing out publicity material, writing pamphlets, protests, demonstrations and meetings with the ICMR and government, Kalpana was in the thick of things. Gate-crashing, vaulting over walls and barging into a meeting called by a private pharma company bidding for the government contract to market a long-acting injectable contraceptive was a characteristically Kalpana-style guerilla action which got front-page attention.

Writing a street-play raising awareness about Norplant, a long-acting contraceptive implant, was an outlet for Kalpana’s creative spirit. Energetically directing rehearsals in a public park, oblivious to gaping bystanders, she managed to coalesce an innovative way of outreach, communicating complex medical concepts, ethics of research and a critique of the population control program in 20 brief minutes. The play, witty and irreverent and politically hard-hitting,  was performed on the streets of Delhi and outside ministries along with leafletting.

Going beyond the critique of hazardous contraceptives, Kalpana began to get deeply involved in developing options for safe contraception and alternatives to allopathic interventions in women’s health. Through international networks painstakingly built over the years through International Women’s Health Conferences, correspondence with activists at the Boston Women’s Health Collective among others, the idea of ‘Paridhi’ was born. Paridhi, a group set up by Kalpana, began to import the diaphragm, a safe, reversible, inexpensive and woman-controlled contraceptive, conduct workshops on self-awareness and women’s health and popularize its use. The diaphragm was imported in bulk from a feminist collective in Brazil! Around the same time, shifting to Indore as primary caregiver to her ailing parents, she set up Manasi, a women’s health clinic. Along with a small team, she used homeopathy, acupuncture and other methods of holistic healing for women’s health problems. The clinic grew as a drop-in place for women to unwind, chat about their lives and seek support, in much the same way as Saheli had grown.

Her critique of the medical establishment and government did not wane, though. The hysteria orchestrated around research on vaccines to prevent cervical cancer had led to the introduction of the HPV vaccine.  Clinical trials were reported being conducted on young adivasi girls from Khammam in Andhra Pradesh and Baroda in Gujarat. Over 23,000 girls were reported to have been used for testing. Six girls had died in these trials. Women’s organizations campaigned to raise the question in the parliament until the trials had to be stopped. The trials were being conducted on two unproven vaccines, gardasil and cervarix.  Kalpana Mehta filed two PILs in the Supreme Court in 2012  and 2013 along with the women’s organization Sama in Delhi and feminist activists Nalini Bhanot and Rukmini Rao demanding the revoking of the license given to the pharmaceutical companies.  As had been the practice since the early years of Saheli’s work in challenging long acting hormonal contraceptives,  the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer also propelled Kalpana into painstaking hard work, reading and  research to challenge what the medical establishment was professing while bringing in these companies, namely Glaxo Smithkline and MSD Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd.  In 2018, a significant judgement in the Supreme Court set a significant precedent: the admissibility of Parliamentary Standing Committee reports as evidence and overruled the counsel of the pharmaceutical companies. As NB Sarojini, co-petitioner in the case writes, the court decision forced pharmaceutical companies to increase transparency and accountability in larger public interest.

Power and its malcontents

000 question authorityBWAs with all feminist collectives of the time, Saheli had consciously eschewed not only donor funding but also adopted a form of organisation that refused to accept formal hierarchies, designations and authority. Decisions were taken collectively, and an attempt to reach consensus and accommodate personal experience and minority points of view. For more about the collective journey understanding power and hierarchy, read this write up from the souvenir marking 25 years of Saheli. The uneasy relationship of feminists with power affected everyone, but arguably, it forced the more dominant members to engage more intensely, especially on organizational matters. This was seen in uncomfortable forms in what came to be called the “Saheli split” in 1986 following which some highly active members who were also founding members left the organisation.

In one long meeting in 1990 to discuss organizational issues, Kalpana said, “The form of organisation closest to my ideal would be democratic centralism. I am torn between the two – collective decision making, for which I have theoretical commitment, but feel democratic centralism is better. In democratic centralism, all have rights but not opinions, to exercise rights in different avenues. There is no negation of hierarchy, but everyone has a chance to move up. With the practice of collective decision-making, the leadership has not felt a responsibility to the rank and file. In the name of “Collective” if we come minus preparation then it is a loose ineffective structure. For a Collective to work there has to be some common minimum ideological understanding.” Such an insight encapsulates the organizational predicament and challenges experienced by many collective political formations till date.

During intense arguments about the importance of process, with some of us insisting to prioritise the manner of decision making over the decision or activity itself, Kalpana’s frustration would show, “How can we have a perfect process in an imperfect society. That’s probably why I’m willing to compromise on both. If we concentrate so much on process – this paralyses the group. In the history of every organisation there are times when you can afford to spend more time discussing process. If we’re not able to accept the alienation that is occurring, how can we address it?  I’m at a stage of life where I’m not willing to wait only for process. We need a minimum common understanding.”

Despite being one of the most visible Sahelis, central to all activities and decision making within the organisation, Kalpana deeply believed that “the essence of Saheli is the possibility of equal participation”. There was a recognition of hierarchies of various kinds from age, class, caste, language skills and articulation. Certain levellers were attempted: decisions were taken at collective meetings; there were no secret documents ; everyone got a key and equal access to the office; there was an effort not to project leadership outside by sharing  representation in public; full timers had equal salary and everyone had equal access to fulltimery, core group membership and decision making. The attempt to improve these aspects was ongoing throughout. “We need to solve some practical problems. We don’t kill ourselves because society is imperfect. We don’t leave marriages which are not perfect. So why do we expect so much from Saheli – that if there’s  not perfect democracy, why do we think of leaving it?” she once asked at another meeting.

Work distribution in Saheli not only knocked off the chip from many shoulders but also became a leveller in many ways. From keeping the office open and functioning to handling accounts and getting them audited, from leaflet writing to perspective papers based on endless collective discussions and drafts, from counselling women in distress to talking to authorities, Saheli equipped all volunteers with multiple skills to last more than a lifetime. Kalpana did it all with elan and grace – more often making each onerous task a fun-filled activity. Sale of Saheli literature and fund raising for Saheli was part of the collective identity we wore with pride and conviction as the aim was public outreach. No task ever was mechanical; each and every act was based on an ideological and political belief of how we organize ourselves vis a vis the world outside.

Like many competent feminists who found themselves in leadership roles, and shouldered major responsibility for the most part without complaint, she had remarked that people within organisations with more power also had it because others put them in the position of more responsibility. She quipped, “I am tired of doing all the work and then making others feel that we have all done it together.” Her vexed relationship with Saheli, an inextricable mix of a deep sense of belonging, and identification with autonomous politics, laced with frustration, disappointment and a sense of alienation was one some of us who had been very active in Saheli, could relate to. But unlike many feminists who left women’s groups to pursue careers or got absorbed in family life, Kalpana turned her inexorable energy to broader organising.

Widening the base

After more than three decades steeped in autonomous feminist politics, Kalpana’s urge to connect with grassroots struggles led her to forge solidarities with people’s movements. In an article in the 2008 issue of Seminar, she wrote, “”Disappointed with the left and the NGOs, the women’s movement has to broaden its own base. The opportunities are plenty. Lakhs of women have been enrolled in panchayati raj institutions as elected representatives on reserved seats, another lot is women of self-help groups. In other words it is probably time to wrest back the co-option benefits being enjoyed by the state in the name of women’s empowerment. It is also important to intensify our participation in the mass struggles now that we are accepted as equal partners with thirty years of history behind us. It is vital to fight the forces of communalism and to get the right to protest which is threatening to undermine our strength in times to come.”

It was this urge that led to her active involvement in the pan-India network Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS). Kalpana found a fresh lease of life when she together with a group of other activists set up WSS.  Sexual violence by Sulwa-Judum forces  on adivasi women were failing to draw any protests by women’s organizations.  This trend was becoming more prominent. Anti-displacement struggles had become widespread across Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and other states. On one hand, balancing solidarity work for these movements and giving dedicated time to your organizational tasks became more difficult. On the other, as continuous state repression on these movements became the modus operandi for state governments to coercively acquire lands, mountains, forests and water bodies, the lack of response from the broader women’s movement began to become more and more discerning.   Years of presence of Indian security forces in Kashmir and states of the North-East had led to aggravated sexual violence on women among many other daily acts of repression on entire communities. WSS was set up in response to specifically focus on the growing incidence of sexual violence on women resisting land grab and state repression. By bringing to light the violence inflicted on women by military and paramilitary forces, WSS became an extension of the same feminist politics. Its analysis and actions attempted to keep step with the turbulent socio-economic-political scenario emerging all around us.

After one full year of the CBI giving a report covering up the crimes of rape and murder of two young women,  Asifa and Nilofer in Shopian in Kashmir, WSS organized an unique protest in New Delhi outside the staff quarters.  On December 13, 2010, over a hundred women and men brought loads of bed sheets to gift to the CBI to cover up their crimes. He bedsheets were sprawled with messages like: GIFT FOR YOUR NEXT COVER-UP! CBI INVESTIGATE YOURSELF! JUSTICE FOR ASIYA AND NILOFER! COVER-UP BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION NOT CENTRAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION!

There’s strong recollection of women’s groups storming into the office of the National Commission on Women on 10th October, 2012 and demanding justice for Soni Sori who had undergone severe torture and sexual violence at the hands of the Chhattisgarh police and repeatedly humiliated since one long year. The NCW had ordered an enquiry but the files had not yet moved. The NCW member who met the group said that the NCW had closed the case considering the matter to be subjudice. Women’s groups demanded the reopening of the case.

These are all collective actions. But friends remember Kalpana as the one putting herself entirely into such an idea and seeing it to completion. She was ever willing to initiate protest actions, symbolic or real.

Adieu, friend and comrade, adieu Kalpana! You will be remembered as a tireless foot soldier, a leader and a visionary. A fighter to the end, you infused everyone with your dreams and determination.


It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our lives
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

It is we sinful women
while those who sell the harvests of our bodies
become exalted
become distinguished
become the just princes of the material world.

It is we sinful women
who come out raising the banner of truth
up against barricades of lies on the highways
who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold
who find that tongues which could speak have been severed.

It is we sinful women.
Now, even if the night gives chase
these eyes shall not be put out.
For the wall which has been razed
don’t insist now on raising it again.

It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our lives
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

(by Ruksana Ahmad)

#Aftermath || Invest in women, now!


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Invest in women, now!

By Suneeta Dhar

Suneeta Dhar is a feminist activist, trainer and facilitator of change processes. She is active in the women’s movement and has supported several grassroots and leadership development initiatives on women’s rights thereby building bridges and alliances across diverse sectors. Suneeta is a co-founder of the South Asia Women Foundation – India.


Over the last few decades, work on women’s rights and movement building has received global visibility and attention, though it has not been matched with sustained funding. The Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) held in Beijing, considered to be one of the major achievements of the global and local women’s movements generated a broad-based public support for women’s equality. Women from the global South played a critical role in framing and advancing their concerns and advocated for resources.

However, 25 years down the line, we learn that no country has achieved gender equality in its truest sense. Nor is any country set to achieve it by 2030. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Gender Index, by Equal Measures 2030, notes that 2.8 billion women and girls currently live in countries that are not doing enough to improve women’s lives. And more than half of the countries have scored poorly on efforts to achieve the SDG 5 – a standalone goal to end gender inequality and empower women, that was a result of major global organising by women’s groups.

The world today is replete with structural inequalities, exclusion, prejudice and gender discrimination, where women and girls in their full diversity are struggling to keep their lives, livelihoods and dignity going in the midst of reversals taking place due to the fall out of the pandemic.

It is important to mention at the outset, that an intersectional lens is key to ensure the inclusivity of diverse women – lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex or queer (LBT+); women of colour; women from diverse social and economic backgrounds, religions and families; women with a range of physical abilities; and gender non-conforming people; women from Dalit, Adivasi, urban and rural poor communities. While women’s organisations have been at the vanguard of change, it is well-known that over the last many decades they have found it increasingly difficult to get sustained institutional support, and deal with major pushbacks in challenging patriarchies, hetero-normativity, structural violence and notions of citizenship.

Close to a decade ago, South Asia Women’s Fund, now re-named – Women’s Fund Asia (WFA), noted in a study (2011-12) , that work around women’s human rights has been under-resourced, while programmatic, financial ‘commitments’ for gender equality and main-streaming were increasing. The report highlighted the instrumentalist approach to gender main-streaming, where gender is merely an `add-on’ to programmes and budgetary planning processes, rather than being an approach  that supports the transforming of power relations.

In 2008, a study by Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) on ‘Where is the funding for women’s rights’ highlighted that funding patterns for most women’s organisations was rather small, with two-thirds of the surveyed organisations having annual budgets of less than USD 50,000. The most significant change in the funding landscape since 1995, has been the overall increase in the number of women’s organisations receiving money from women’s funds.

Well known global activist Srilata Batliwala rooted for funds for women’s rights work early on, writing about the transformative work of women’s movements – in challenging the culture of silence around rape and violence, unpacking gender discrimination through research studies and gender-specific data, advancing laws, reforms and affirmative actions, and setting up new institutional arrangements to advance equality. Françoise Girard too advocates strongly for long-term support to women’s rights organisations that could effectively counter systemic patriarchal oppression, given their long time work on raising consciousness, building coalitions, and advocacy.

It is interesting to note here that data from Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (2016-17) indicated that an average of USD 44.8 billion per year was granted (corresponding to 38% of their bilateral allocable aid) towards gender equality and women’s equality – higher than ever before. However, support to programmes specifically dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment as their principal objective (as opposed to being one of several objectives) remained consistently low.

It is in this regard that one needs to focus on Feminist Philanthropy. The question often asked is feminist philanthropy different from merely funding women’s projects? Many donors and philanthropies support women’s programmes on the ground. What does it take to really change the lives of women and girls?

Tulika Srivastava, Executive Director, WFA in her piece, “Revolutionising Philanthropy across Asia and the Pacific”, writes:

Feminism is about disrupting power, and feminist philanthropy is about challenging and disrupting the power of resources and the power dynamics between those who give the resources for gender justice and those who claim them”.

Ise Bosch and Ndana Bofu-Tawamba noted that:

Feminist philanthropy must be seen as a political act, an act that works to transform notions of power, privilege and resources.”

Ms. Murray, Founder, Global Fund for Women observed that:

‘It is the “how?” that has the power to transform systems, structures, attitudes and behaviours of both the people who give and their recipients, not the “how much?”.’

A women’s fund in Nicaragua affirms:

It is an act of solidarity and mutual empowerment, in which the solutions to the problems that women face are seen as a matter of mutual responsibility.”

In a graphic document of WFA and partners, one statement by a participant stands out:

Acknowledging the power dynamics and patriarchal values present within the movement, and consistently challenging these structures, while being accountable to each other. 

South Asia Women Foundation, India (SAWF-IN) believes that:

The philanthropic landscape of giving, particularly for women and trans* people-led initiatives, should be expanded to support women’s leadership and organisational development”.


Feminist philanthropy is about transforming the political and the personal. Philanthropy needs to be informed by an intersectional power analysis and to support communities of diverse women to co-create and build movements for gender justice, equality and peace.

Women’s Funds have played a critical role. They have been the first to reach out to the most marginalised to support collective formation, rights based services and movement building. They have supported self-led collectives, who have the capacity, resources and political insights to transform their lived realities. Resources in the hands of such collectives and groups makes the difference. 1

And today, we witness the impacts of the pandemic in more ways than one. It involves multiple crises –  humanitarian, health, socio-economic – that have highlighted the deep fault-lines and the structural nature of inequalities in society. Ordinary working people, women, girls, trans and non-gender conforming persons from the most marginalised communities are carrying the burden of the pandemic. Lives and livelihoods have been lost, as hunger deepens, household debts increase, displacements and unsafe migration takes place and there is no access to essential life services. Women have seen an intensification of sexual abuse, intimate partner violence and other forms of violence. Unpaid care work is taking a huge toll on the time and health needs of women and girls.

In a rapid study undertaken by WFA recently with their partners on the impacts of Covid-19, it was found that most groups were on the edge with no possibility of maintaining physical distancing given the dense neighbourhoods they live in. Among the findings was the lack of food security of indigenous communities who are unable to sell their produce; challenges in accessing social security and government welfare schemes due to lack of documentation and recognition, especially for sex workers;  garment workers stuck in their cramped housing due to the lockdown with no relief measures; and so on. However, many collectives demonstrated their agency and power of organising amid the emergency measures in place: collecting funds; preparing food packages; campaigning online; gathering data to support their advocacy; providing services online to members and others 2.

Several feminist economists have highlighted the failures of the neo-liberal globalised economy in delivering basic needs, access to food security, public healthcare, social protection, social rights and human dignity.

There has also been a re-purposing of grants, and rightly so, for relief, given huge gaps in the response of the state system and no support to those on the margins. A group of philanthropic funders, committed to feminist funding principles, are leading the way in providing flexible funds for their grantees during the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been sustained and innovative responses by feminists, networks and alliances to highlight specific issues and concerns, to seek accountability from the state and to find ways of supporting and building solidarity. 3

Lina Abirafeh reflects on: “How COVID-19 has demanded a concerted global response, not only to containing the virus but in protecting the most vulnerable and in ensuring that women’s safety and women’s rights are at the heart of the response.”

Gagan Sethi, Board Member, SAWF-IN, urges the need to provide substantive support to women migrant labourers, most affected by the pandemic, to secure their rights to safe and decent work, forming their independent platforms and unions and accessing justice.

A Statement of Feminists and Women’s Rights Organisations from the Global South and from marginalised communities in the Global North, notes:

The need for increased resourcing for non-governmental organisations that respond to domestic violence and provide assistance — including shelter, counselling, and legal aid to survivors”.

We are aware that the challenges are enormous. We know that resources for community based groups of women, trans, and non-gender conforming persons, and others for organising, re-building and recovery work are just not accessible.

Priya Paul, well known entrepreneur, philanthropist and Co-Founder South Asia Women Fund – India, urges Foundations and Donors to invest in women’s human rights, and keep it as a high priority, as funding flows are insignificant. Only 1% of all gender-focused aid (governments) have been awarded to women’s organisations.

Now is the time to invest in feminist groups. Invest in advancing rights of women workers. Invest in organising. Invest in fellowships. Invest in ending violence, patriarchy and inequalities. More importantly invest in building new freedoms and the right to live with dignity for all girls and women.

Your voice, your time, your commitment matter.


  1. Read more about feminist funding : https://www.womensfundasia.org/ and https://www.prospera-inwf.org/#!/-home/.
  2. Internal document: WFA, 2020.
  3. Read more:


#Aftermath || The COVID-19 Camouflage


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The Covid-19 Camouflage

By Dr. Ritu Dewan

Dr. Ritu Dewan is a passionate activist as well as a first generation feminist-economist in India. She was, till her retirement, the first-ever woman Director of the Department of Economics, University of Mumbai. Having over a hundred publications,she also conducts training and capacity-building workshops related to gender budgeting and gender issues. Her research focus is generally the result of issues related to the marginalised.


What the pandemic has done is bring to the fore the huge structural divides and inequities that have characterised India for long. In this context the divide between growth and development has existed for long. However, the central focus of what is happening today is not so much the impact of the pandemic but the utterly inadequate and inhumane policy responses to the pandemic – giving a 4-day notice to light lamps and clang plates, and 4 hours for an entire nation to shut down, a nation that consists of migrants who constitute almost a third of the workforce. The ‘Stay at Home’ slogan for millions who have no home, who are forced to eke a living far away from their homes, especially women, who have virtually no homes.

The economy was already in a huge crisis before the pandemic, and the manner in which the pandemic has been sought to be dealt with has only exacerbated the collapse of the economy. There is a huge amount of evidence for the pre-pandemic economic destruction: largest fall in GDP 2019-20 before the pandemic; fall in actual money wages; collapse of demand with little money in the hands of the majority of the people; a demand crises that is sought to be rectified by a supply-based response; rise in poverty by 5 percent for first time in 4 decades; sharp decline in female workforce especially in urban India; decline in share of wages to total production cost; introduction of the Labour Codes that take away the rights of workers which they have fought for for almost a century; privatisation of insurance; increasing informalisation; introduction of the Trafficking Act that equates trafficking with especially women’s migration for employment; Smart cities with little space in policy or in city for labour and none at all for women; utterly inadequate housing that is neither affordable nor decent: the list is long.

And under what I call the Covid-19 Camouflage, a further liquidation of people’s and worker’s rights by extending work days, reducing wages, denying of even the basics such as water and rest. A ‘relief’ package that is a sleight-of-hand which combines various allocations already done; a loan package when concrete financial support is needed; combining of self-reliance with increased foreign investment; massive push towards privatisation and sale of people’s resources including publicly owned enterprises;

Among the most severely impacted are women’s rights – both as economic agents and as equal citizens: denial of crèches and maternity leave under the newly instituted labour ‘reforms’ initiated by several states; a ‘temporary’ stay on several reproductive rights under the guise of focusing healthcare on the pandemic; reduction in salaries of nurses who constitute the largest group of front-line health workers; non-payment of salaries to ASHA workers; virtual stoppage in most states of midday meals and the ICDS which provide at least some nutrition particularly to girls; a massive increase in domestic violence including of those who are now compelled to work at home. And something which is already invisibilized – an unprecedented increase in the unpaid work burden – and now even more so with ‘social’ distancing.

I consciously reject the term ‘Social Distancing’: we are already so distant – in terms of communities, class, gender, race, caste, abilities, conscience. It is Physical Distancing.



#Aftermath || Protecting women’s land rights in the times of a pandemic


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Protecting women’s land rights in the times of a pandemic

Dr. Girija Godbole

Dr.Girija Godbole is currently working at the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) at IIT Bombay. Trained in anthropology she has worked in the environment and development sector. Her PhD research sought to understand the impacts of increasing incidence of land sale on a rural society in Pune district. She has been doing voluntary work with a grassroots organisation Jeevan Sanstha, in helping to set up an initiative for rural women and children in villages in Maval tehsil.


Covid-19 induced lockdown has shown us the dark underbelly of our society and government as thousands of migrants are forced to take to roads in scorching heat to reach their villages. As (and if) they reach after that arduous journey not all are fortunate to be allowed to enter their homes due to the fear of carrying the virus with them. This reverse migration may have varied consequences. Lack of remittances, shortage of paid work as well as increased pressure on the already scarce resources like land will aggravate the financial hardships for many rural families.

In families where men have migrated for work, the women left behind may have relatively more say in financial matters as well as more freedom of movement. However as the migrant men are forced to return to their villages the gender relations in families may change for the worse. Furthermore, economic empowerment for women which is the cornerstone of gender equality will suffer a blow under the crumbling of income-generation activities for women and will impact other aspects of women’s agency adversely, particularly within the household. It can impact health-seeking ability, decision making within the household, as well as their ability to protect themselves from domestic violence (Swaminathan and Lahoti, 2020).

Lack of employment, uncertainty of future, fear of losing the role of provider and being perceived to be less masculine may lead to frustration which is frequently vented out as violence against women. Several studies indicate a positive relationship between exposure to extreme events and rates of interpersonal violence (Jeltsen, 2020). A sharp rise in violence and abuse against women and children all across the world has been reported. In India, the National Commission for Women as well as many organisations providing support for victims of domestic abuse have reported an increase in calls for help (The Economic Times, 17/4/2020). Rural women seldom have access to such services. Moreover, violence against women is seen as accepted form of ‘disciplining’ or even sign of love shown by husbands so women themselves may not be willing to report it unless it reaches unbearable limits. In the current situation, violence against women may also escalate due to disputes over use and ownership of family assets such as land which continues to be the foundation for security, shelter, income and livelihoods, especially in rural areas.

Previous epidemics, and post-conflict or post-disaster situations, have shown that women are likely to be further disenfranchised of their housing, land and property rights in the absence of protection. Widows and orphans often lost property to other family members and were left homeless during the AIDS epidemic. Generally during crises, widows face a higher risk of disinheritance (Stanley and Prettitore , 2020).

In our society, ownership of land by women is a contentious issue. Traditionally, a son is perceived to be the ‘rightful’ successor. Amendment in the Hindu Succession Act (which is also applicable to Buddhist, Sikh, Jain) in 2005, brought all agricultural land on a par with other property and made women’s inheritance rights in land legally equal to men’s across the states. However, as we know too well, proactive laws and policies often remain only on paper as the traditional norms and practices continue to hold sway. According to a study carried out by the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research (Mehta, 2018) women constitute over 42 per cent of the agricultural labour force in India, but own less than two per cent of farmland.

Usually, it is observed that women and girls have access to land and other property through their male relatives. In case their male relatives pass away, tenure security for women and girls may further weaken due to restrictive social norms and lack of legal knowledge. They can be at particular risk of land grabbing by their husband’s relatives (Godbole, 2016). A recent survey conducted by the Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (MAKAAM, 2018) of 505 women farmers (whose husbands committed suicide due to farm crisis) in 11 districts across Marathwada and Vidarbha in Maharashtra, found that 40 per cent of women widowed by farmer suicides between 2012 and 2018, were yet to obtain rights of the farmland they cultivated. With family members who had migrated to cities are returning to their villages,  disputes over family land are increasing. Some of the widows are facing pressure from the male relatives of husband to sell the land to raise finances to start a new business (Damle, 2020)

With the uncertain employment situation in cities some of the migrant labour may be forced to remain in villages. As the pandemic may reduce other economic resources such as wages and savings, rights to house, land and property become even more important part of overall household assets. This may in turn increase competition and conflict among the family members and in such situations, women may lack the financial resources, information, or support to enforce their property rights (Stanley and Prettitore, 2020).

During the pandemic period, the government should ensure that particularly in case of inheritance, that female heirs are not forced to sign over their property. It is time that we as a society should  break the barriers to women’s access to land and recognise and protect women’s rights while the pandemic places them in a vulnerable situation.


Damle S. (2020) Taale lagtele jine (In Marathi) Loksatta, Chaturang. 6/6/2020 https://www.loksatta.com/chaturang-news/coronavirus-pandemic-lockdown-life-of-farmers-widows-dd70-2180297/ accessed 10/6/2020

Godbole G. (2016). “Selling land is the beginning of the end for us”: Understanding rural people’s perspectives on the impacts of increasing land sale in western Maharashtra, India. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Cambridge, UK.

Jeltsen M. (2020) Home Is Not A Safe Place For Everyone. Huffpost US 12/3/2020. https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/domestic-violence-coronavirus_n_5e6a6ac1c5b6bd8156f3641b?ri18n=true

MAKAM (2018) Social security of women farmers from suicide affected households: A situational analysis.  https://drive.google.com/file/d/10j7Q17iW2Eym3hkMc3QUfxE77oRV9NfQ/view accessed 12/6/2020

Mehta A. (2018) Gender gap in land ownership. Business Standard April 17, 2018   http://www.ncaer.org/news_details.php?nID=252

Stanley V and P. Prettitore (2020). How COVID-19 puts women’s housing, land, and property rights at risk. World Bank Blogs.  https://blogs.worldbank.org/sustainablecities/how-covid-19-puts-womens-housing-land-and-property-rights-risk  accessed 12/6/2020

Swaminathan H. and R. Lahoti (2020). The COVID-19 Lockdown Will Ravage Prospects for India’s Female Workforce. The Wire. https://thewire.in/women/coronavirus-women-economy accessed 10/6/2020.

The Economic Times 17/4/2020 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-witnesses-steep-rise-in-crime-against-women-amid-lockdown-587-complaints-received-ncw/articleshow/75201412.cms


#Aftermath || “Work from home” and the challenge of preventing workplace sexual harassment


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“Work from home” and the challenge of preventing workplace sexual harassment

Dr. Anagha Sarpotdar

Dr. Anagha Sarpotdar has been working on socio-legal aspects of sexual harassment at workplace since 2005. Currently she is the Chairperson of Local Committee, Mumbai City District.


Working from home is now an accepted part of an organisation’s  functioning due to the indefinite lockdown. Home has become an extended workplace for many  people  over the months. Organisations are actively encouraging employees to leverage the various instant online communication platforms available to them, including Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet and many others. It is central that employees understand their responsibility to communicate in the same way as they would in the workplace thereby complying with all applicable workplace policies.

Though individuals may be physically at home, they continue to operate in a workplace when interacting with colleagues. Despite remote access to each other, complaints of sexual harassment registered during this period range from calls at odd hours, unwarranted requests for video calls, gender biased comments and inappropriate language used in a team meeting.  Hence, it is important that employers acknowledge applicability of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevntion, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 to the nuances of a  non-traditional workplace.

The objective of the Act is to protect women from sexual harassment along with prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment. The Act creates a concept of extended workplace wherein definition of workplace is not restricted to geographical location. Rather wherever the person is located in the context of work while performing professional duties becomes a workplace. More specifically, the Act defines workplace as “any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment, including transportation provided by the employer for undertaking such a journey”. Taking into consideration the definition of workplace, human resource departments and heads of business verticals need to ensure that they maintain regular contact with their employees for them to feel connected for reporting unwanted behaviour to the Internal Committee constituted under the Act. Particularly anti-sexual harassment policy also needs to be reiterated and the link provided to it.

Employees should be told that it is a misconduct to use text message, email, or social media in an offensive manner as it amounts to misconduct irrespective of the fact whether employees interact physically or virtually. Messages they send to others should be something that they would be willing to say to the other person on their face in person or via email.  If this is not the case, the communication is likely to be perceived as inappropriate. Employees should be informed that all internal communications are stored by the organisation and can be reviewed at a later date. Further it should also be communicated that data will be retained and accessible to the organisation. This should become part of relevant policies and/or employment contracts.  If communications software, used by employees, for conference calls (both audio and visual) allow recording, it is needed that all employees are aware of the same or else notification/consent should be sought. HR persons need to emphasise that memes and jokes about work from home scenarios could be offending and that rules of professional etiquette apply though the interaction is through online medium.

Since the Act defines sexual harassment as any physical, verbal and non-verbal conduct of sexual nature there is a possibility that  humorous content could be found violating sensibilities of women employees. Official dress code needs to be maintained while employees are connected for work virtually. While operating from the comfort of their home basic workplace norms can be ignored and conversations may become personal giving rise to discomfort. Though employees could be physically at home, while they are connected with each other for work, they are bound by the law and companies should necessarily relay this to employees clearly.

Trainings and awareness sessions with existing employees are done on an ongoing basis, they should also be done with the new recruits, interns and trainees who are being on boarded using online mechanisms. It is crucial that they become informed and sensitised to the expected norms of professional behaviour. Participation in these programmes can be ensured by using interactive material such as videos and case examples based on reported complaints of sexual harassment. Women employees can be informed about their rights guaranteed by the Act and specific provisions of the company anti sexual harassment policy.

Every employee can make efforts to ensure that the virtual working environment is devoid of sexual harassment. Employees can take following steps if they observe sexism and sexual harassment happening to their women employees.

  1. Reach out to the woman employee who is a recipient of objectionable behaviour or is disturbed due to inappropriate conduct of others using direct messaging. Inform the person that you have noticed the problem and that you will be supporting them if they decide to apply for redressal.
  2. Intervene in the situation and inform the person indulging in sexually harassing and / or gender biased behaviour to stop it and that it could have consequences as per company policy which is applicable in the work from home scenario.
  3. Being an eyewitness to the inappropriate behaviour, extend support to the affected woman employee by helping her to document the incident.
  4. Promptly bring the difficulty to the notice of the HR persons or IC for further action and support.
  5. Cooperate with the IC if you are summoned by it as a witness during inquiry.

Organisation commitment towards eliminating sexual harassment should be conveyed openly and distinctly. Changes suitable for an online working environment should be made to the anti-sexual harassment policy and other allied organisation policies. It should be ensured that policies are enforced in absence of physical interaction for implementation. Motivate employees to voice their opinions on creating a workplace that has little tolerance to sexism and sexual harassment. Employers should ensure that the Internal Committee constituted according to the Act should remain functional. Internal Committees need to have online meetings with an aim to not only comply with the Act in terms of meeting periodically but to redress reported complaints by conducting inquiry. Additionally, if the reported incident of sexual harassment has happened in the online space then essential communication between complainant and respondent should be officially kept in abeyance till completion of inquiry.

It is for the senior management to build the culture free from sexual harassment by walking the talk. This includes upholding values of the company in words and action, facilitating functioning of the IC and recognising that change in the usual manner of working may lead to certain unexpected situations which should be dealt with a gender sensitive lens and as spirit of the Act.

#Aftermath || The Lawless World of Women’s Work


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The Lawless World of Women’s Work

By Dr. S. Shakthi

Dr. S. Shakthi is an Institute Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at IIT-Madras.


One of the hallmarks of our current stage of late capitalism is precarity in employment across all sectors of the economy. Precarity, in this context, refers to the increasing vulnerability and unpredictability that has come to characterise several aspects of modern society. While this uncertainty has been underlined by COVID-19, it has been further magnified by institutional responses to the pandemic, many of which have had a terrible impact on those most disadvantaged. Among these measures has been the attempt by a number of Indian states to suspend or seriously weaken labour protections. The proposed changes include the short-term extension of working hours to 12 hours a day, or 72 hours a week, in several states, with the purported aim of allowing for physical distancing by engaging fewer workers at a time. The suspension of all but a handful of labour laws for three years in Uttar Pradesh, as proposed in the Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020, has received particular attention. Presented as a move to attract investment, the enactment in its current form would eliminate the legal mandate to provide essential facilities such as toilets, sitting areas, clean drinking water and ventilation. Some of these schemes also aim to make labour-related practices, in corporate-speak, more ‘agile’, thereby allowing for the firing of employees without restrictions or resistance from trade unions.

I will not elaborate further on the specificities of these amendments, with much having been written already by legal analysts1. The impact of weakened labour laws on women, however, demands urgent consideration. While up to 90 per cent of jobs in India are in the informal sector, removing or severely diluting labour laws will likely lead to a further ‘feminisation’ of the labour force; that is, an increase in the number of women, particularly young women, employed to perform low-paid, routinised tasks under poor working conditions, as well as to a broader shift towards an even greater informalisation of work for both men and women. This is not a new phenomenon in the recent history of the transnational economy, with abundant social science research demonstrating repeatedly that the growth of poorly-regulated manufacturing jobs across a number of developing countries was spurred by the quest to find cheaper and more compliant2, often female, workers. In fact, the feminisation of work might lead some women working in the productive economy to be excluded from official worker statistics altogether. Maria Mies (1982), for example, in her study of women engaged in home-based lacemaking in Andhra Pradesh in the late 1970s, found that 100,000 women were not counted as workers in the national Census, even though they were an essential part of an intricate global supply chain.

Extending work hours can have serious implications for women in other ways. While unpaid reproductive and care work continues to be disproportionately performed by women, these changes are often made with a ‘gender-neutral’ employee in mind. As Joan Acker (1990) famously argued, this usually defaults to men, who are often relatively unencumbered by domestic work or childcare responsibilities. This could result in more women staying out of the labour force; just a few months into the pandemic, women have begun to lose jobs more than men (Outlook 2020). Enforcing 12-hour workdays will likely prevent many of them from finding a way back into safe and secure employment. For those who continue working under the conditions being proposed, these new temporal demands, combined with the lack of collective bargaining power to fight for higher wages, could acutely hinder socio-economic mobility. This goes beyond the need for financial security. Among the many forms of reproductive labour carried out largely by women, for example, is ‘family-status production work’. In Hanna Papanek (1971)’s formulation, these activities, such as spending time revising school lessons with one’s children, serve to improve or consolidate one’s social positioning. Family-status production work is an essential and generally invisibilised form of labour among the middle and upper classes, and one of the many structural advantages they possess when making claims to ‘merit’. In an environment that normalises grossly excessive work hours, poor women (and men) will find it even more difficult to carve out time for these tasks, further reinforcing multi-generational inequality.

Removing any legal obligation to provide basic amenities also fails to consider how societal conditions impact women’s access and ability to work in the productive economy in distinct ways. It should be apparent to any reasonable policymaker that the lack of facilities such as toilets or crèches is likely to keep more women out of certain workspaces. While the Uttar Pradesh government’s proposal mentions that laws pertaining to women and children will continue to remain in force, it does not provide a comprehensive list of these regulations. This creates an obvious loophole for employers who might wish to flout compliance requirements. In fact, the existence of women-specific labour laws does not guarantee compliance, and compliance does not guarantee inclusive workplaces. In my research on the Indian IT industry’s interpretations of the 2013 law on workplace sexual harassment (Shakthi 2020), for example, I found that even while formulating policies and addressing complaints, companies often failed to take into account the intersectional functioning of patriarchy along axes such as caste and class. When compliance with the letter of the law does not necessarily translate into meaningful engagement with feminist directives, curtailing labour regulations is likely to create an even more hostile climate for ensuring workplace equality. Moreover, by diminishing the role of unions that have often played a significant role in advocating for labour rights (including in the informal sector 3), these changes would further limit workers’ ability to contest these practices.

Those in favour of the proposed modifications have argued that Indian labour laws are bloated and antiquated. Some have pointed to the IT industry as an example of a formal-economy sector that has flourished without being ensnared in a web of outdated compliance frameworks. Yet, this lack of regulation, and the periodic mass layoffs that have come to characterise IT employment, have resulted in the mushrooming of small but vocal IT unions across the country in recent years. While there is certainly an argument to be made for reforms that  keep worker rights intact, an almost complete withdrawal of oversight and monitoring by the state cannot be the solution. What is crucial, instead, is bringing more workers into the formal economy, with guaranteed entitlements that recognise their value, safeguard their dignity and correct inherent power disparities between employers and employees. This is relevant also to the many sectors of the informal economy with a high concentration of women, such as domestic work.

This moment in our lives feels extraordinary, and in many ways, it is. Yet, many of the consequences of COVID-19 do not represent a disjuncture, but a continuum built on the long-term and systematic breakdown of multiple institutions. This includes the shift to neoliberal forms of governance that privilege the demands of capital over the needs and well-being of workers, resulting in sweeping changes to labour laws under the guise of a pandemic with potentially devastating consequences. For women workers, such measures will serve to exacerbate existing forms of inequality, including among women themselves. This can only be countered by the universalisation of thoughtful and inclusive labour laws, which should be the primary focus of any government committed to a welfare-oriented, rights-based agenda.


  1. For a succinct overview of the proposed changes, see Gopalakrishnan (2020); see Bhatia (2020) for an evaluation of their constitutionality.
  2. Or ‘docile’, as Diane Elson and Ruth Pearson (1981) highlighted almost 40 years ago.
  3. K. Kalpana (2019) provides an interesting account of the hybrid strategies adopted by unions working to secure the rights of informal women workers in Tamil Nadu.


Acker, Joan. ‘Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organisations’. Gender & Society 4, No. 2 (1990): 139-158.

Bhatia, Gautam. ‘Equal Freedom and Forced Labour’. The Hindu, 12 May 2020, <https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/equal-freedom-and-forced-labour/article31560930.ece&gt;, accessed 7 June 2020.

Elson, Diane and Ruth Pearson. ‘“Nimble Fingers Make Cheap Workers”: An Analysis of Women’s Employment in Third World Export Manufacturing’. Feminist Review 7, No. 1 (1981): 87-107.

Gopalakrishnan, Ramapriya. ‘Changes in Labour Laws Will Turn the Clock by Over a Century’. The Wire, 20 May 2020, <https://thewire.in/labour/labour-laws-changes-turning-clock-back&gt;, accessed 10 June 2020.

Kalpana, K. ‘“Old” and “New” Trade Union Activism: Organising Women Informal Workers in Tamil Nadu’. Economic and Political Weekly 54, No. 50 (2019): 49-56.

Mies, Maria. The Lace Makers of Narsapur: Indian Housewives Produce for the World Market. London: Zedl Press, 1982.

Outlook. ‘Women, People in Semi-urban Areas Bear the Brunt of Job Losses’. 16 May 2020, <https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/women-people-in-semiurban-areas-bear-the-brunt-of-job-losses/1836606&gt;, accessed 5 June 2020.

Papanek, Hanna. ‘To Each Less Than She Needs, From Each More Than She Can Do: Allocations, Entitlements, and Value’. In Persistent Equalities: Women and World Development, edited by Irene Tinker, 162-181. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Shakthi, S. ‘The Law, the Market, the Gendered Subject: Workplace Sexual Harassment in Chennai’s Information Technology Industry.’ Gender, Place & Culture 27, No. 1 (2020): 34-51.