Resource: Women’s Care Burden Has to be Recognised


Yara Tarabulsi and Lina Abou-Habib, Women’s Care Burden Has to be Recognised, Corona and Care, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 29 April 2020,

Excerpt: ‘Women working outside the home, women engaged in home-based work, and women who only work at home as carers or what is commonly referred to as “housewives” have all been affected by the pandemic – albeit in slightly different ways.  This is particularly exacerbated in situations where children have also been confined with their parents and have moved to online schooling. The ways in which teleworking and online schooling have been enforced, at least in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, have been completely oblivious of the unequal relations of power within households, especially where there is a dearth of physical space and material resources.  Poor internet connectivity and limited computer and technical hardware, for instance, have meant that choices must be made in terms of who will have priority to use the internet.  That choice rarely favours women and girls.

Resource: Justice for Women amidst COVID-19


Jeni Klugman, Justice for Women amidst COVID-19, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, May 2020,

Executive summary: ‘This report documents major challenges to women’s access to justice in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and puts forth recommendations to accelerate action and push back against threats to progress.

Authored by GIWPS Managing Director Dr. Jeni Klugman, the report is jointly published by UN Women, IDLO, UNDP, UNODC, World Bank, and The Pathfinders for Justice, with support by the Elders.

Curtailed access to justice institutions, rising intimate partner violence, growing injustice for women workers—including those on the frontlines of the crisis—and discriminatory laws are some of the major risks to women’s lives and livelihoods associated with COVID-19.

The crisis particularly affects vulnerable groups of women, including those who are forcibly displaced, deprived of liberty or lack a legal identity, and the impact is compounded by the digital divide according to the report.

There is also serious concern that gains made on gender equality will be rolled back during the pandemic, including through delays in reversing discriminatory laws, the enactment of new laws, and the implementation of existing legislation.

The report includes ten-point recommendations to ensure a healthy justice system, including:

  • Institute urgent judicial proceedings, especially for serious crimes including domestic violence, using technology.
  • Replace full legal trials with interim judicial orders to promote the safety and well-being of women and children. Examples include, protection orders, restraining orders, orders for child maintenance and/or custody, injunctions against evicting widows and children from the matrimonial home, and injunctions against the marriage of a child.
  • Protect women deprived of their liberty and on a case-by-case basis release womenwho are pregnant, imprisoned with children, pre-trial detainees, elderly women, those with underlying health conditions, those detained for low-risk offenses, and those with less than 12 months left to serve on their sentence.
  • Ensure access to legal aid and enable poor people to seek justice that would be otherwise out of reach. Such services should be advertised extensively—in public but also on TV, social media, and via public service announcements—so that women know about them. This also suggests a strong role for civil society organizations (CSOs), which are often better networks of information for women in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Support community-based paralegal organizations that can provide legal advice, alternative dispute resolution channels, and facilitate the dissemination of information more broadly in partnership with women in the media and local radio stations.
  • Invest in data and monitoring and evidence-based policies: Justice leaders need timely access to relevant data and evidence on the justice impacts of COVID-19 and responses to the crisis, as well as evidence on the best ways to address those impacts. Across the board, it is important to collect sex-disaggregated data to understand the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 on women, especially at national and sub-national levels.

Resource: The Pandemic Has Revealed the Weakness of Strongmen


Helen Lewis, The Pandemic Has Revealed the Weakness of Strongmen, The Atlantic, 6 May 2020,

Excerpt: ‘…it’s tempting to reach the conclusion that women must be better at dealing with this crisis because of their gender… This line of reasoning, however, is flawed—and potentially dangerous to women’s progress in politics. It’s not that women leaders are doing better. It’s just that strongmen are doing worse… So let’s not flip the old sexist script. After centuries of dogma that men are naturally better suited to leadership, the opposite is not suddenly true. Women leaders aren’t the cause of better government. They are a symptom of it.

Resource: COVID-19: Emerging Gender Data and Why it Matters


UN Women, COVID-19: Emerging Gender Data and Why it Matters,

[This is a regularly-updated page]

Overview: ‘UN Women has been closely following the political and economic response to COVID-19 and how it is impacting women and girls. We are working with partners to bridge the gender data gap and deliver a more accurate picture of the gender dimension to the response so that it can be more effective for women and girls. As more gender data is produced and disaggregated, we will make it available here.

Resource: A Gendered Human Rights Analysis of Ebola and Zika


Sara E. Davies and Belinda Bennett, A Gendered Human Rights Analysis of Ebola and Zika: Locating Gender in Global Health Emergencies, International Affairs 92:5 (2016): 1041-1060.

Excerpt: ‘An effective global response to public health emergencies must engage with the rights and needs of affected women. The Ebola and Zika outbreaks provide tragic, important lessons that should not be forgotten as, it is to be hoped, these countries move towards containing the crisis. Access to essential health services during complex emergencies is determined not solely by the provision of care, but also by the status of human rights and equity in that society. The provision of health care and treatment requires understanding the conditions that determine gender-equitable health care.‘ (p.1060)


Resource: Push Aside the Panic: Thinking Bigger than Just a Health Response to COVID-19


Alfred Makavore, Push Aside the Panic: Thinking Bigger than Just a Health Response to COVID-19CARE Failing Forward (audio podcast), 26 March 2020,

Overview: ‘Alfred Makavore, a key responder in CARE’s Ebola response in Sierra Leone in 2014-2015, share’s lessons about how to improve our COVID-19 response. “At first, we thought it was just a clinical problem, and we treated it like that.” Alfred encourages teams to think beyond a clinical response, to understand what communities are facing, and to build trust. “We have to push aside the panic.” Engaging governments, setting up local coordination, and trusting field teams to make decisions are some of his key recommendations.

Resource: Girls’ Education and COVID-19


Malala Fund, Girls’ Education and COVID-19: What Past Shocks Can Teach Us about Mitigating the Impact of Pandemics, 2020: Washington D.C.

Excerpt: ‘This paper uses insights from previous health and financial shocks to understand how the current global pandemic could affect girls’ education outcomes for years to come. It details how governments and international institutions can mitigate the immediate and longer-term effects of the pandemic on the most marginalised girls. The paper considers the 2014- 15 Ebola epidemic and the 2008 global financial crisis, which both have some parallels to the impact of COVID-19.

We find that marginalised girls are more at risk than boys of dropping out of school altogether following school closures and that women and girls are more vulnerable to the worst effects of the current pandemic. Drawing on data from the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, we estimate that approximately 10 million more secondary school-aged girls could be out of school after the crisis has passed, if dropouts increase by the same rate. Longer-term, poorer countries may struggle to provide sufficient financing for education, especially to support schools, teachers and students to fight reemergence of the virus and stay safe from indirect effects of further outbreaks.‘ (p.2)

Women’s History Roundtable January 2020: “Coverage of Sexual Violence in the Indian Media” by Radhika Santhanam


Radhika Santhanam is an Assistant Editor at The Hindu, Chennai. She commissions and edits articles for the opinion pages of the newspaper. In her seven years there, she has also written on gender, caste, and literature. Her articles have appeared on the opinion pages, Sunday Magazine, Literary Review, Education Plus and Metro Plus. In 2017, she was selected as a Journalism Fellow for a three-month programme in Germany, funded by the Bosch Foundation. Besides working with the ZDF, the German public service television broadcaster, she also reported about German politics and culture for The Hindu. She holds a Masters degree in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and a diploma in Journalism from the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.

Ms. Santhanam began her talk by discussing the 2012 Delhi gang rape, and the shifts that resulted in reporting on sexual violence in India. This case highlighted the deep-rooted problem of sexual violence in the country, grabbing headlines and leading to legal changes. This was a watershed moment in India. Although it was not the first time that protests took place in response to an incident of sexual violence, it showed how society had reached a breaking point, causing the media to cover the issue in some depth. Yet, in general, coverage tends to be episodic, whenever a sensational case emerges. Even these cases disappear from public view after some time, only to be replaced by the next case.

Limiting her analysis to English print media, Ms. Santhanam outlined some of the main problems that can be identified in coverage of sexual violence. Firstly, she spoke about language: what kinds of words and descriptions are deployed by the media? Are these descriptions necessary? And do they help the report or the larger cause? She mentioned the use of terms like ‘sex scandal’ when reporting on cases of sexual abuse, which sensationalises these incidents and minimises the gravity of the situation. Moreover, it implies that both survivors and perpetrators are willing participants in the act. This is also true of reports that use the terms ‘sex’ and ‘rape’ interchangeably. She also mentioned the use of terms like ‘roadside romeos’ for harassers, or the widely-used ‘eve-teasing’ for street sexual harassment, which trivialises gender violence.

The second problem in reporting is providing unnecessary sensationalising details of the crime that imply victim-blaming. She noted that politicians across the political spectrum also talk about sexual violence in these terms, with the victim’s actions being constantly questioned. These include some politicians saying ‘boys will be boys’, while others remark that rape does not occur in rural areas. She added that female politicians have also made such statements. She mentioned this to highlight that the notion that women must have ‘asked for it’ is extremely prevalent. Moreover, some media reports even identify the survivor by name, or provide identifying details such as where they work or the neighbourhood where they live. While courts have pulled up the media for this in some cases, not much has been done beyond that, since the media in India is not truly accountable to anyone. Social media intensifies the problem by making it easier to circulate identifying information, with even less oversight.

The third problem identified by Ms. Santhanam is the images used for publication with reports. She noted that editors tend to rely on images of protests, where relevant, but in the absence of protests, they choose from stock images. Many of these images reinforce harmful stereotypes about survivors. Some, for example, depict a woman sitting in a corner looking ashamed, with a man hovering menacingly over her.

Another enduring problem is the role of caste and class. Class bias in terms of which stories get reported is common, determined by what the newsroom thinks its readership will be interested in, as well as what editors themselves might be biased towards. She noted that the Kathua case was an exception because it became a political/communal issue. Reports tend to focus more on violence in urban India, which is seen as more relatable to the consumers of English language print media. Yet, even those stories get sustained coverage, they do not invite the same level of anger seen during initial reports, which results in publications ‘moving on’ to the next case without always following up on previous reports. Cases of sexual violence from a caste angle, used as a tool for oppression, are similarly not reported on enough. The newsroom, Ms. Santhanam noted, continues to be dominated by upper-caste men from middle- or upper-class backgrounds, even though the number of women has gone up considerably in recent years. She added that greater diversity in the newsroom would open up conversations and possibly allow for a more representative range of stories. She reflected that members of the newsroom are ultimately not very different from the segments of society they represent, and bring in some of the same biases.

Ms. Santhanam then spoke about the #MeToo movement and its impact on the profession. She said that it resulted in some amount of self-reflection on practices within newsrooms themselves that went beyond simply what to report. She added that a lot of media outlets do not have a ‘gender beat’, meaning that there is no real organisational push to cover gender issues. This makes following up on cases more difficult. She pointed to other systemic issues, like the training provided in journalism schools. Many schools, she noted, do not teach gender reporting as a compulsory part of the syllabus, leading to reporters having to learn on the job. She also spoke about the ways in which the media can improve its reporting. She emphasised the need to be more sensitive and empathetic, which can be challenging when the goal is to get quotes. She urged for using terms like ‘survivor’ instead of ‘victim’, with the latter serving to reinforce stereotypes about women being passive or meek. She added that the Indian media relies too much on euphemisms. She also spoke about reporting on violence against trans people and sexual minorities, highlighting the need to ask them what their preferred pronouns are and being more generally aware of the specific forms of violence they might face.

A truly progressive shift in reporting, Ms. Santhanam said, would involve moving beyond only concentrating on specific cases, and investigating systemic issues that allow sexual violence to happen. She added that this does happen to some extent, but much more can be done. She referred to a recently published book called ‘She Said’ on the Harvey Weinstein case by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, two New York Times journalists. This book, she noted, looked at how he was able to continue sexually assaulting women over so many years with impunity, providing insights into power relations at a deeper level. She urged for more reporting on laws, the criminal reporting system and the work done by the police, and other systemic issues, which might push politicians towards creating more inclusive and harassment-free spaces.



Rapporteur: S. Shakthi

Women’s History Roundtable February 2020: “Women’s Movements and Theatre” by Dr. A. Mangai


A. Mangai is the pseudonym of Dr. V. Padma, a retired Associate Professor in English from Stella Maris College, Chennai. Her fields of interest are theatre, gender and translation studies. She has written and translated several books and plays, and has been actively engaged in Tamil theatre as an actor, director and playwright for almost three decades. She has directed over 15 plays, all of which deal with women-centric themes. These include Kaala Kanavu (A Dream of Time), a feminist history of Tamil Nadu scripted by the feminist historian V. Geetha, and pieces based on classical Tamil texts. She strives to create a language of theatre from the traditional forms of Tamilnadu. She is also passionate about community theatre, and making theatre the voice of the marginalised. Her work with the transgender community over the past few years has helped form Kannadi Kalai Kuzhu, for whom she has directed two plays. Dr. Mangai has twice been a recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship to teach and conduct research in the US, and has also taught in the UK.

Women’s movement and feminist theatre, Dr. Mangai believes, have succeeded in the representation of women without victimisation, seeing women through her own sense of agency and redefining leadership as part and parcel of grounded realities.

Sharing insights from her book, Acting Up: Gender and Theatre in India, 1979 Onwards, on the trajectory of gendered theatre practices and women’s movements, Dr. Mangai began with a gist on Agusto Boval’s Theatre of the Oppressed, which recognises spectators as “spect-actors” and attributes the act of “doing” rather than “thinking” to spectators, Dr. Mangai spoke about how this theatre movement by Boval has been used as a tool for social change.

Although riddled with scepticism, Boval’s other contribution, the Legislative Theatre, Dr. Mangai said allows one to engage with law in a very proactive way (Boval used legislative theatre as a tool to identify key community problems and the kind of legislation that would help address it). Today, however, she said, “we talk about individuality in a way that fears individuality.”

Splitting her talk on feminist theatre into “content” and “form,” Dr Mangai went on to cite some important plays that have lent support to the women’s movement and have led to some of the strongest movements/reactions and positive developments that we have seen in recent times.

She gave the example of the play Draupadi (a short story by Mahasweta Devi’s which was adapted by Heisnam Kanhailal as a play in 2000). It is about a Bengali adivasi woman who is raped by soldiers of the Indian Army. At the end of the story, Draupadi confronts the officer who sanctioned her rape. The play is said to be prophetic as it spurred, four years later, the protest by 12 Manipuri women, who stripped naked, to vent their angst against the rape and killing of Thangjam Manorama by army personnel.

Dr Mangai, who has directed four plays on female infanticide, showed a brief clipping of a play from “Voicing Silence,” done in collaboration with the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, where theatre was used as a tool to discuss gender-based issues like female infanticide. In the play, the theatre group proactively engages with the spectators and seeks their thoughts on the subject. While such forms of engagement helped the group get a sense of the ground reality, a few women were rebuked for speaking their mind.

She also feels that while theatre gives the energy and hope for artistic sharing, it also provides the chance to listen.

If the 1990s were about female infanticide, the 2000s were about LGBT issues in theatre. Dr Mangai spoke about her play on transwomen which focussed on addressing their issues as citizens, including the right to have an identity card. The play also spoke about other societal issues faced by the group. There are many in Chengalpattu, who even today, credit the play for some of the positive developments that came about for the community such as access to rights, land, etc. Dr Mangai, however, attributes this to the “right time, right demand.” But these changes also make her feel validated and with the growing number of trans people in Tamil Nadu who are entering art and films, she acknowledges the small part she and her theatre group have played in contributing towards this. Here, she cited the example of transgender activist A Revathi, who had her name displayed alongside names like Maya Angelou in Columbia University. 

According to her, every time there has been a big campaign, either poetry or literature or art has come as a supplement. However, she adds, “without a sense of solidarity, collectivism doesn’t sustain.”

She then went on to speak about the key aspects of “form.” Reinterpreting myths, like Heisnam Kanhailal’s play Draupadi, has been a favourite for playwriters. Dr Mangai believes that engagement of feminist ideology has produced this interpretation. Another aspect is the female impersonation by men.  

She credits Anuradha Kapur for being the pioneer in conceptualising and changing the way one can make a presentation. But representation of women, even when it’s based on facts, if not attuned to cultural sensitivities can be problematic. Talking about her play Avvai, Dr Mangai pointed out that her representation of Avvai as someone who enjoys toddy drew flak as it was seen as “subscribing to the image of western feminism.” This despite the fact that 40 poems, penned by Avvai, have references to toddy and drinking toddy by women was a ritual practiced by many during the Sangam age.

She also touched upon plays like Vakkumoolam and Karuppi. The former revolved around custodial rape and the fight for justice by Nagamma, a Dalit woman, during the period of Emergency and the latter is about female migrant workers in South Asia. Plays like Vakkumoolam, instead of victimising women, successfully bring out the calm, composed and steady resilience of a woman who stood for justice.  

She believes that in theatre, the process of work becomes more important than the product. And theatre/art as a tool allows you to acknowledge the various shades of feminism consciousness. Feminist theatre, she said, is like a seed, it grows on different soils, it grows slowly but it stays.  

According to Dr Mangai, it is important to note that representation of women in feminist theatre and women’s movements – from the Kurathi (gypsy) to Avvai to Manimekalai to as recent as Shaheen Bagh – is grounded in women’s lived realities.


Rapporteur: Nandhini Shanmugham

Women’s History Roundtable December 2019: “Examining the Rise of the Female Protagonist in Indian Cinema” by Dr. Uma Vangal


Uma Vangal is a film professor, columnist, critic, filmmaker, film curator, media scholar, archivist, and gender activist. Primarily though, she sees herself as a Teacher/Transformer. A Fulbright Nehru Scholar, she has taught Film Studies at Kenyon College, Ohio, and is an Adjunct Faculty at the Asian College of Journalism, where she teaches Film, Gender and Culture. She has also made a number of notable documentary films. Her most cherished moment was when one of her films paved the way for the Supreme Court to rule in favour of two Dalit women whose struggle she had documented. As a Founder-trustee of the MIRA Trust, she works with young people, especially young girls and women, to create opportunities for empowerment, employability and enhanced livelihood choices.

Dr. Vangal began her talk by discussing the film Baahubaliand its portrayal of female characters. She noted that while the movie depicted women as being powerful figures, it also denied them agency on numerous occasions throughout the movie and reinforced negative stereotypes about women. The character Avantika, for example, who resembles the warrior Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Gamesin many ways, was also subjected to what Dr. Vangal described ironically as the ‘most aesthetic rape scene’ in Indian cinema. She also spoke about the #MeToo movement in the Hindi and Tamil film industries, observing that many men in power escaped media scrutiny, while others who were called out did not face any long-term consequences. She added that while it caused some ripples in these industries, it ultimately felt like a token movement due to how little has changed. She continued, however, to note that the rise of bona fide female superstars, like Kangana Ranaut and Nayanthara, presenting stories of women and their lived realities in modern India, was a positive trend.

Dr. Vangal then described various tests to determine how inclusive a film is from a gendered perspective, and to examine its broader gender dynamics. These included the Bechdel Test, where a film should have at least two female characters having a conversation about something other than a man; the Mako Mori test, which prescribes that at least one female character should have her own character arc that does not simply bolster male characters’ stories; and others such as the Furiosa Test and the Sexy Lamp Test. She also described a test she had devised for Indian films specifically, known as the FItMuS Test. Short for ‘Female Integrity, Male Utility, Cultural Sensitivity’, this test determines if films move beyond a tokenistic approach. According to this test, female characters should have clear and consistent narratives and should not exist only for ‘male utility’. Moreover, they should be culturally relatable, coherent and credible. She reflected that these tests are important because films are often used as a yardstick by audiences to judge their own actions, especially when it comes to romance.

The session proceeded with a feminist analysis of Indian cinema from the 1930s to today. Dr. Vangal demonstrated how cinema reflects the zeitgeist of its times. She noted that early films passed many of the gender equality tests, with female actors often being given strong roles on screen and depicted as being in touch with their sexuality and desires. The 1940s witnessed women continuing to be cast in strong roles, but given the prevalence of the civil disobedience movement, these were more nationalist in character. With the 1950s, films such as Mother Indiadepicted women as resilient characters contributing to the task of nation-building. This decade also included films that spoke out against restrictive gender practices such as dowry. The 1960s reflected Nehru’s vision for an industrialised, modern India, with women shown as working together with men to achieve these goals. This period, however, was also when a transition to more regressive portrayals of women onscreen commenced.

In the 1970s, the arrival of new wave cinema resulted in a monopoly on strong roles for women in these films. As a result, while powerful films on gendered themes were being made in parallel cinema, mainstream movies were declining in this aspect. This decade also featured a number of films on courtesans, and by extension, on the ‘fallen woman’, while the ‘angry young man’ trope became more visible. Dr. Vangal emphasised that this distinction between parallel and mainstream cinema was not so visible in South Indian film industries during this period. The 1980s and 1990s saw a further decline, with female roles becoming unidimensional across languages and industries. The 1990s, according to her, was the worst period for female representation in Indian cinema.

In the 2000s, most films continued to reinforce unrealistic expectations about women, who were reduced to visual motifs through these depictions. The behaviour of young, modern women was rendered as a series of tropes through this decade. She went on to note that the current decade has seen the entry of foreign studios, with their own conceptions of female agency that are not always replicable in an Indian context. Moreover, films are increasingly marketed as feminist because this is now seen as a selling point. However, while these movies are ostensibly women-centric, many of them continue to fail gender equality tests. Recent decades, she added, have also included progressive films that have challenged patriarchy and portrayed female desire sensitively, but such movies are not as prevalent as in earlier decades.

The talk concluded with Dr. Vangal tracing the career trajectories of Nayanthara and Kangana Ranaut, and the positive and negative trends that can be observed in the rise of female-centric films in India. She described the positives as including audiences becoming more accepting of women playing lead characters and the mainstreaming of female-centric films, breaking the myth that these movies have to be exclusively about ‘women’s issues’. She reflected that they can provide women agency through positive role models, while also demonstrating that age is no longer a barrier for strong female characters, as evidenced by Neena Gupta’s character in Badhaai Ho. The negatives, according to her, include writers and directors promoting films as female-centric as a marketing strategy, without always understanding feminism or aiming for true gender equality in these productions. These films might also normalise negative stereotypes about women around sexuality and criminality. She added that casting women as leads can also be used as a cost-saving tactic by paying them less than a male lead while leveraging their star power.

Rapporteur: S. Shakthi