#GENDEREQUALITYELECTIONWATCH: Uttarakhand

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Again, this is getting written on election day in Uttarakhand. What that means is that it will largely end up being an account of numbers–how many women and how many mentions in a manifesto. The lack of consistent, everyday monitoring means that we do not get to track campaign speeches for misogyny. This election watch project has also missed out on checking out criminal charges of candidates. Notwithstanding these shortcomings, I would say it is worth finishing what we started so here is a gender analysis of the election in Uttarakhand.

How many women? 

Last update: Feb 15, 2017
Assembly size: 70
Source: elections.in
Seats contested Women nominees
Samajwadi Party 51 NA
Uttarakhand Kranti Dal 70 NA
BJP 70 5
Congress 70 9
BSP 24 1
Rashtriya Lok Dal 3 0

What is left to say about the low percentage of women nominees?

Gender in the manifestos

As hard as it is to find gender sensitivity in party manifestos, it is hard to find the manifestos themselves. What is the point of a manifesto that cannot be easily found in the public domain? It must be to minimises traces of promises made and the opportunity cost of accountability.

Based on a news report, the Congress manifesto promises 33% reservation for women in government jobs. The other promise with gender transformational potential is to set up five aapda mitra (in every village?) or disaster relief workers. If 2-3 of them were women, that would alter the face of disaster mitigation, relief and rehabilitation in Uttarakhand. However, we have no way of knowing more.

The BJP manifesto, also culled from a newsreport, includes a cash gift to girls: “Rs. 5,000 for every girl child born in poor families” and a removal of the age bar for widow pensions at Rs 1000. Very interestingly, it promises that, “The opinion of all women on triple talaq will be taken and placed in front of Supreme Court.”

For the other parties, there did not even seem to be reports on the manifesto release. Did they not bother?

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#GenderEqualityElectionWatch: Goa

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It’s voting day today in Punjab and Goa. The one-person team doing this election watch exercise has proven inadequate to the task of genuinely monitoring the election season.

Nevertheless, here is a post on the Goa election season.

Last update: Feb 4, 2017
Assembly size: 40
Source: http://www.elections.in/goa/
Seats contested Women nominees
INC 27 3
BJP 29 1
NCP 5 1
AAP 36 4
Shiv Sena 4 0

Manifestos for Goa were released rather late, going by press reports. Is that because they were considered irrelevant to the outcome? That would also account for how hard it has been to locate them (full-text) online. If manifestos don’t matter, why draft them? Finding the full-text version is important to a gender equality audit because gender provisions and promises are usually platitudes and do not merit mention in press releases and reports.

The BJP’s Goa manifesto could not be located online after a careful search that included the Goa BJP website and Twitter account. The search for the Congress manifesto yielded this tweet, the first explicit reference to safety I have seen. Nothing shows up for the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party.

The Aam Aadmi Party had begun announcing its candidates as early as August and they have the only easily-located manifesto of the lot. It looks like the manifesto is the product of a dialogue process (the cover says “Contributed by 350+ Goa Dialogues”).

The AAP Goa manifesto opens with a listing of four social welfare schemes to benefit women–Saksham Asturi, Rs. 2500 a month for skill development; Ladli Laxmi, 2 lakhs for young women; Mamta Scheme, 50,000 for girl children; and Grih Aaadhaar for families. Each of these is described in greater detail in the text.

The AAP manifesto specifically calls out misogynistic speech by Goa politicians and for this, receives full marks from this Gender Equality Election Watch: “Women in Goa are known for their entrepreneurial spirit which the past Governments have absolutely overlooked. It is high time that women here are provided the right environment to flourish financially and socially. Their resolve and vigour is almost unparalleled across the country but instead politicians have not left a stone unturned to verbally and physically insult women [emphasis added].

Check out their other promises which show breadth in their thinking: Women are workers, need access to health and justice  at all life-stages and social safety nets. They are not imagined just as mothers or as economic actors.

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Goa is voting as I write this post. Let’s see what happens.

#GenderEqualityElectionWatch: Punjab Congress Manifesto Notes

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On January 9, 2017, the Indian National Congress released its Punjab manifesto. This is a 129-page epic for which they could not find an editor, but never mind that–after all, if someone gets their gender politics right, we won’t care how they write!

Simplifying the word ‘gender’ to mean ‘women’ (which we will end up doing everywhere, I suspect!), I found only one section called ‘Women Empowerment’ whose provisions were extended and elaborated twice. In the nine-point opening summary, this is what we read: “Women Empowerment: 33% reservation for women in jobs and educational institutions”.

Further down, on page 26, this is extended to include allocation of residential and commercial plots. Moreover, reservation for women in urban and rural self-government would go up to 50%.

Finally, on page 110, the Manifesto makes seven additional promises, including livelihood training for widows of farmers who have committed suicide; free education for girls; Safe Cities for women and Crisis Centres; a stronger State Commission for Women and a State Policy on Women’s Empowerment.

There is one other provision that applies to women–it is the promise to require registration of NRI marriages as a protection for brides.

Women do not appear anywhere else in the Manifesto. The list of poll promises is as generic as it gets. There is little clue that anyone gave gender issues or gender equality any thought. Hardly very surprising, and perhaps this is what we can expect from all the Manifestos, which makes it a very good reason to audit them for their gender provisions and call them on their shortcomings.

2017 Election Watch for Gender Equality

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The year opened with the announcement of election dates for five Indian states. We’ve pulled out our Gender Equality Election Checklist and are putting the energy we can towards getting people to think about gender equality as nomination lists are drawn up, manifestos are released and campaigns unleashed across the subcontinent.

talking-gender-equality-at-election-timeDrawing on the main points in the Checklist, this article elaborated on how a political party might implement each of them. Where do you find women qualified to be representatives? How can a party avoid the hate speech-makers and those charge-sheeted for sexual violence in its candidate lists?

This blog will attempt to serve as a gender equality election monitor for the next three months.

Do we think that Indian political parties, steeped as they are in patriarchal privilege, will change because of our blogposts? Of course not. But if we can get voters to think twice or mediapersons to add gender equality questions to their interviews, we will have made a little difference. Each vote counts. Each effort counts.

 

PRAJNYA COMMENTS ON THE DRAFT NATIONAL POLICY FOR WOMEN 2016

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PRAJNYA TRUST COMMENTS ON THE DRAFT NATIONAL POLICY FOR WOMEN 2016

June 1, 2016

We, at The Prajnya Trust, would like to start by commending the Ministry for Women and Child Development for placing such an early draft of the National Policy for Women 2016 in the public domain for comments and suggestions.

We submit our comments and suggestions herewith. These are organised by section, reflecting the structure of the draft. We have chosen to focus on a few priority areas, reflecting our own work foci. At the end, we add some overall comments and suggestions.

  1. Introduction:

I.1.6       The juxtapositions in this paragraph are misleading. Growing awareness makes increased reporting possible; increased reporting is not a negative, because it indicates awareness. Expansion of work opportunities co-exists with weak bargaining power, but more importantly, the changing nature of the workplace has created new workplace risks for women. These examples should be chosen with more care than as filler text because through them, the Ministry is signalling to society what the government thinks of as desirable and what they think is the root of the problem.

  1. Governance and Decision-making

IV.i         Parity should be the means to achieve equality, so that 50% would be the standard required nomination and representation of women at all levels.

IV.ii and IV.iii will remain on a wish-list without incentives for increasing the numbers of women working in these sectors.

IV.iv       The absence of gender disaggregated data is an obstacle in every sphere. Gender-disaggregated data and gender audits deserve to become priorities across all policy areas, not just here.

IV.v        It is also important to strength government departments’ compliance with gender equality laws (like having an Internal Complaints Committee for workplace harassment complaints) and to sensitise whole organisations to gender concerns.

IV.vi       In addition to strengthening SHGs and other grassroots women’s groups, it is important to build a pipeline that will enable them to enter the mainstream of politics and policy-making. Reservations are a part of that and so are voluntary party quotas. Skill and confidence building is another key ingredient and the National Policy should recognise that. This area also has potential for government-civil society partnerships.

IV.vii      Improving  the capacity of elected representatives and those rising through the ranks towards nomination gives meaning to equal representation.

What we miss in this section:

  • Campaign finance reform so that women are not at a financial disadvantage during elections.
  • Misogynistic speech and gender-based violence chargesheets should disqualify a candidate until and unless acquitted by a court.
  • Requirement of equal institutional support by political parties to male and female candidates.

Please see our Gender Equality Election Checklist: https://keepingcount.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/prajnya-gender-equality-election-checklist/

  1. Violence against Women

Section V speaks of a life-cycle approach and then identifies three types of violence for special attention. Focusing attention and resources is a good idea. The draft policy takes due cognizance of cyber-crimes as an area that needs attention.

V.vi        There needs also to be an increase in the number of women in police and paramilitary services.

V.vii       Decision-making around setting up new institutions and initiatives is neither consultative nor inclusive. As a result the policy (like the government) commits to models and approaches whose short-comings are already evident elsewhere. This would be a good place to commit to an open and consultative approach (like the one for this draft policy) when planning such measures.

On the question of shelters and crisis homes, there are reviews that suggest a great qualitative variation in philosophy and service delivery. To arrive, consultatively, at common norms and best practices, as also to create an “industry” body for self-regulation would be useful.

V.viii      To reiterate the point made earlier, a comprehensive gender-disaggregated database is needed, not just one on violence against women. There is some expertise in civil society that the government should tap into while funding and maintaining this database.

V.ix        While it is fashionable to speak of engaging boys and men, it is important to consider the extent to which our present violence against women outreach actually engages even women and girls. Public outreach has not been a part of government policy on this (except relating to child sex ratio).

We would also like to point out that the draft National Policy for Women displays the government’s binary thinking on gender.

Gender identity is a spectrum, and gender is what is experienced rather than what is prescribed based on biological details. While a government may quite fairly choose to focus on one section of society, that focus is best made with an inclusive perspective that acknowledges that just talking about women and men or casting them respectively as victim and oppressor is misleading. Thus, when we speak only about violence against women and engaging men and boys, we assume that one group is always the victim and the other either silent witnesses, accomplices or assailants. Our binary, heteronormative thinking creates two air-tight categories and loses sight of the large numbers of men, women and others who fall outside them. Any policy guidelines or projects conceptualised on this simplistic and insensitive view of gender relations are doomed to fail.

Related to this is anxiety about the impact of social change on men and boys.  Take the statement in VII.7.7.vii— “Given the number of new laws and policies related to gender-based violence, paternity leave, child support and gender equality broadly, it is crucial to understand the impact of such national-level and policy-level changes on boys and men,” notwithstanding the repetition of “rights-based approach” in the Introduction, you are pitching gender equality as a zero-sum game between two mutually exclusive gender groups. The reality is that gender equality is a win-win solution which can be beneficial to everyone.

V.x         This is why the point about gender sensitivity training is so important—not just for men and boys, but for all genders, in mixed and segregated groups.

What we miss in this section:

  • The draft report turns a blind eye to sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, in custody and in crisis in general. It may be that perpetrators are state or non-state actors, but ending impunity is the responsibility of the state. “Women in disturbed areas” can count on no support from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, it seems. We would like the policy to recognize the reality of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, custody and crisis situations and to commit the Government of India to ending impunity, no matter who the perpetrator.
  • The draft also fails to mention sexual and gender based violence as a backlash to inter-caste and inter-religious relationships (‘honour’ crimes). Not only is such violence prevalent in several parts of the country, the Indian Penal Code has no provision to identify this as a distinct crime. Young people who choose their partners from beyond caste and religious boundaries, their families and sometimes entire communities are targeted by hooligans, and the state must commit to ending such crimes. By ignoring this violence, we implicitly sanction it while mouthing platitudes about social equality.
  • Marital rape is a reality for girls and women across the country, and creating awareness about the issue as well as formulating a mechanism to counter it must be on the Government of India’s agenda while formulating a National Policy for Women. At the least, the draft must commit to a consultative process on removing the exception to marital rape in the criminal law.

Suggestions

Action Priorities

The draft policy uses the word ‘priority’ to refer to action areas. We suggest the identification of a short list of action priorities instead, which can become the framework and filter for resource allocation and programmes in each of the action areas.

The three action priorities that emerge from the draft policy itself are:

  1. Gender-disaggregated data collection and resource creation
  2. Promoting and achieving compliance with existing gender equality laws within public, private and informal sectors
  3. Creating an enabling environment with focus on infrastructure, credit and training or capacity-building

Displacement

The omission of displacement is glaring. Refugee and Internally Displaced women face a range of problems peculiar to their dislocation from home. Rehabilitation services apart, their citizenship and  legal rights need  protection. Their absence from the National Policy for Women cannot be excused.

Timelines

The setting of timelines need not be left entirely to the Action Plans that new agencies will set up. They might be built into the Action Priorities themselves.

We at Prajnya welcome the inclusive, consultative mode in which the draft National Policy for Women has been placed in the public sphere. It gives all individuals and groups, regardless of location, size and celebrity, an equal chance to weigh in on an issue of concern to them.  We hope this inclusivity and consultative practice will be sustained as the Ministry’s preferred way of making policy.

Media training on gender and disasters, November 14-15, 2014

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On November 14-15, 2014, in partnership with Oxfam India and the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, Prajnya organised a training programme for mediapersons on gender sensitive reporting of disasters. Here is a report posted today by Oxfam India on the same. The authors highlight some of the tips shared at the training:

“So how does one ensure that coverage of gender issues is reasonably good during disasters? There are no exhaustive, steadfast rules but ticking some of the checkboxes below can surely help:

  • Before disasters
    • –Establish contacts with key public-private players
    • –Become familiar with disaster prone areas and gender issues
    • –Don’t wait until disaster strikes – investigate levels of preparedness and vulnerability of women
    • –Keep the memories of past disaster alive
    • –Cover positive actions and stories on women’s vulnerability to disasters
  • After disasters
    • –Investigate causes of disasters with data
    • –Demand and look for gender desegregated data
    • –Cover stories of socio-economic and cultural impact of disaster on women
    • –Cover stories that establish leadership role of women in recovery
    • –Keep the topic alive; recovery is a long process.”

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August 29, 2015: The Oxfam report is copied below as the link is not working any more:

Considering Gender: A Mediaperson’s Guide to Covering Disasters

Posted Dec 26, 2014 by Preeti Mangala Shekar and Ramakrishnan M

On November 14 & 15 this year, a workshop co-organized by Oxfam India, Prajnya (a Chennai-based feminist research and advocacy group) and the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) brought together over a dozen journalists, activists and community experts to discuss how the media should be covering disasters.

Natural disasters such as earthquakes, the horrific 2004 Tsunami or cyclones that have become routine along India’s eastern coasts in recent decades have been a vital focus for Indian media but how do they report on them? How are women’s voices, agency and roles portrayed through pictures, as experts, news sources and so on?

The workshop started with getting basic terms right and not using certain ones interchangeably (like hazard & disaster — a hat tip given by one speaker was that establishing the difference between the two makes it clearer for the lay reader). Next was to use data or facts such that it creates a feeling of emergency in the mind. Consider the value of adding this to any disaster report in India:

Despite being one of the top 10 disaster-prone countries (27 out of 35 states and union territories are regular victims of some form of disaster or the other), our government enacted the Disaster Management Act only in 2005, after the South-East Asian tsunami.

To take this one step further, we can actually use figures like these with devastating effect to prove the gender angle is very important during natural catastrophes. Findings in recent post-disaster scenarios have shown that women represented an estimated 61% fatalities in Myanmar’s Cyclone Nargis, 70% after the 2004 tsunami and a horrific 91% after Cyclone Gorky hit Bangladesh in 1991. On an average, they are 14 times more vulnerable than men when it comes to fending for their lives during a disaster.

On the question of why this has become a pattern — especially in the Indian subcontinent — has a lot to do with the patriarchal culture that has remained unchanged for a long, long time. Women are usually under pressure to stay at home and take care of family requirements even when the home in question dangerously borders the disaster’s strike area. Ramya Kannan of The Hindu, during the workshop, explained how another answer (in the 2004 tsunami context in Tamil Nadu) remained hidden in plain sight. Fisherfolk who sell the catch by the shores are mostly women, while the men are almost always away at sea.

With all this baggage of disadvantage, it most certainly doesn’t help women survivors when the media squarely depicts them as passive victims and not as powerful or resilient agents of change that many are. As Swarna Rajagopalan of Prajnya succinctly put it: “What we look for, we see.” Ironically, for some reason, hurricanes and typhoons are mostly designated with a female name (Katrina, Sandy & Nargis to name a few)!

Journalist and author Ammu Joseph’s talk reinforced the depressing truth around that cliched adage — the more things change, the more they stay the same. Even though most journalism schools drill some form of awareness into their students about using a gender lens while covering stories, a reality check reveals that less than one-fourth of people heard about or read are women (Global Media Monitoring Project, 2005) and the same study rightly stated that the absence of gender in “hard news” stories reflects “a blinkered approach to the definition of news and newsworthiness.”

So how does one ensure that coverage of gender issues is reasonably good during disasters? There are no exhaustive, steadfast rules but ticking some of the checkboxes below can surely help:

  • Before disasters
    • -Establish contacts with key public-private players
    • -Become familiar with disaster prone areas and gender issues
    • -Don’t wait until disaster strikes – investigate levels of preparedness and vulnerability of women
    • -Keep the memories of past disaster alive
    • -Cover positive actions and stories on women’s vulnerability to disasters
  • After disasters
    • -Investigate causes of disasters with data
    • -Demand and look for gender desegregated data
    • -Cover stories of socio-economic and cultural impact of disaster on women
    • -Cover stories that establish leadership role of women in recovery
    • -Keep the topic alive; recovery is a long process

About the authors:

Preeti Mangala Shekar is an independent journalist who is based in the US
Ramakrishnan M is part of Oxfam India’s digital communications team

Related: Read Oxfam’s new report on how timely funding from the public helped people in crisis during the 2004 tsunami

Notes from a roundtable on gender and disasters, December 23, 2014

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Gender and Disaster Reconstruction: Insights and Lessons

December 23rd, 2014

Rapporteur: Archana Venkatesh

This roundtable session on how gender awareness has the potential to play a role in disaster management took place in the offices of the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission. It centered around presentations by speakers from The Prajnya Trust, the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, Swayam Shikshan Prayog, and the State Planning Commission. The other participants came from related state government departments. The focus of this session was primarily on formulation of policy on disaster management, based on the assumption that gender influences how people experience disasters as well as relief.

The session opened with a brief statement of purpose by Mr Sugato Dutt, Member-Secretary of the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission (TNSPC). It proceeded with a round of introductions, and a statement of welcome by the Vice Chairperson TNSPC, Ms Santha Sheela Nair.

Dr Swarna Rajagopalan, Managing Trustee of The Prajnya Trust, made the first presentation. She gave the audience a comprehensive overview of the topic, and also pointed out that while we talk about gender awareness in policy making at length, we also need to consider the everyday impact of gender on the ground in a disaster situation. We need to examine the gendered consequences of disasters, and look for a way to address them. She added that there are varying guises of gender politics at play in disasters, including labour, safety, and the case of marginalized groups.

Dr Rajagopalan drew attention to the shortcomings of a generalized policy of reconstruction rather than a context-specific one that takes advantages of existing systems of economic/political activity to create policies for relief. The main problem with generalized policies is the important observations they miss in their one-size-fits-all type of solution. For example, they often reinforce normative gender roles and ignore any possible existing subversion of them – women often engage in economic activity that promotes reconstruction, but this work is not recognized by relief organizations, let alone co-opted into their policy. Above all, there is a failure to recognize that there needs to be equal representation at all levels of reconstruction, from policy planning to the fieldwork. Gender awareness is not a little box on a checklist that needs to be checked, but a fuller understanding of any situation.

Dr Rajagopalan stressed the need to look beyond the axioms of gender and disaster (such as the idea that women are always the most victimized class of people in a disaster; or even the idea that gender is only about women). In order to do this, she suggested we re-examine individual needs and contexts through three lenses: vulnerability, visibility and voice. The most important question to ask ourselves while going into a disaster situation is this: whose voice is seen as the default one? Whose is the most visible perspective? Very often, the answer to this question leaves us in no doubt that individuals experience a gendered reality. Thus, we need to reconsider assumptions about who are the most vulnerable populations in a disaster, and turn this around to reveal their potential for action and reconstruction.

photo 39Mr Mihir Bhatt, Director of the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, gave the second presentation. Speaking about Women in the Emergency Response Phase, Mr Bhatt looked at the results of a comprehensive study undertaken in 2014 to examine the impact of the response to tsunami relief in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka, with a specific focus on Tamil Nadu. The study used various methodologies, including appreciative inquiry, group interviews, and some quantitative methods. Data was collected in 15 locations along the coast from Chennai to Kanyakumari, from over 1500 families. The focus of the study was to study the impact of two main measures of relief: shelter and livelihood. Mr Bhatt shared a few observations about the positive impact of relief measures in these two, and other (allied), areas. Firstly, he noted that the number of families that were counted as being below the poverty line (BPL) had decreased in the past ten years. Secondly, all children of school-going age were enrolled in and attended school regularly. Thirdly, the overall investment in houses (built by the government as part of the relief measures) had increased, improving the asset by addition of rooms, etc. Finally, though income from coastal fisheries had decreased, an increase was observed in inland fishing. Mr Bhatt suggested that these observations demonstrated that tsunami relief work has created social and economic opportunity in the affected regions. He also noted that there was a rising awareness of green energy at all levels, and this would have to be studied further.

A question was raised about the role of Self Help Groups (SHG) in the affected regions. Mr Bhatt responded that the history of SHGs in the region meant that there was some familiarity with concepts like financial discipline and financial literacy, which was helpful for the recovery process. Another commenter shared a number of stories about women taking on leadership roles in situations arising from relief work, and the challenged these women face.

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Ms Vandana Chauhan gave the third presentation of the day, speaking about Lessons from the Post-Tsunami Decade on Women’s Agency and Leadership. She examined the findings of a comparative study undertaken in India, Indonesia and Japan. The study stressed the importance of action oriented emergency plans that were concise and readable.

Ms Chauhan examined the requirements for capacity-building among women, and suggested that the following factors were most important: confidence, decision making power, setting up of a standard operating procedure in case of disasters.

In her assessment of the impact of relief measures on affected areas, Ms Chauhan noted that relief measures related to livelihood, asset creation, access to primary healthcare centres (PHCs), education, and governance have been largely positive. In terms of livelihood, measures intended to augment income generation are still in effect today and continue to promote the independence of women. Asset creation can be observed in the form of developing opportunities for housing. Education in particular shows a positive trend: the demand for women’s education. All these situations present an opportunity for leadership, especially by women.

Ms Chauhan closed with some lessons for the future. She advocated an increased awareness of the local context while enacting relief measures, as well as the use of traditional mechanisms and channels in incorporating the local community in relief programs. Ms Chauhan was of the opinion that this was important to ensure sustainable recovery.

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A commenter demonstrated how far relief work has come in the past couple of decades by comparing work in 1990 in Orissa and current relief work. It was noted that a key aspect of this improvement was better preparation. Some concern was also expressed about the position of children in disasters, especially with the increased risk of communicable diseases. An audience member also advocated a more streamlined bureaucracy to prevent doubling up of activities in relief work.

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Ms Prema Gopalan made the fourth presentation of the day, about Engaging Women in the Post-Disaster Reconstruction Process. She drew attention to the potential of disaster relief work as an opportunity for the empowerment of women. Looking at the activities and organization of women’s groups, Ms Gopalan also noted that gender affects men and women differently – and that it is particularly important to remember this while formulating policy on relief work. It is important to ensure that women are facilitators of recovery. It is also essential to recognize women’s role in mobilizing the community. In this regard, disasters create situations in which traditional social and cultural norms are broken, allowing for the participation and leadership of non-traditional classes – such as women.

Pointing to case studies in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, Ms Gopalan demonstrated the success of local women as mobilizers and trainers in the community. Advocating for self-help, she recommended that communities should map their own vulnerabilities and capacities in planning disaster relief. Aid should be given directly to the affected communities rather than through bureaucratic channels. Investment by the government needs to be protected by community leadership, and women play a key role in monitoring this. In Ms Gopalan’s own experience, she found that infrastructure and services are protected in the long run if women are involved in the management of them. She also drew attention to the success of women-led preparedness task forces, where women wrote their own manuals for preparedness (against disasters). By viewing women as active agents in their communities, a new perspective emerges.

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The Vice-Chairperson of TNSPC asked if there was any resistance from men to the leadership of women. Ms Gopalan responded that there was some resistance at first, but in disaster sites, men did not object to women taking responsibility, and women themselves were eager to change the status quo. She reiterated the importance of disasters as an opportunity for women to change the status quo of gender relations.

A question was raised about specific ways to encourage women’s leadership in disaster management. Ms Gopalan suggested that we need to have less specialization in NGOs, and that NGOs need to work in conversation with each other and the government.

A question was raised about the increased participation of women in politics as a measure of women’s empowerment. Ms Gopalan felt that this doesn’t really promote women’s empowerment for various reasons. However, Dr Rajagopalan pointed out that the presence of women in politics is more of an intrinsic good since it represents more women in decision-making processes.

Members of the TNSPC pointed out that NGOs need to function through the year rather than only in disaster situations. A commenter also raised the importance of educating boys at the school level to ensure gender sensitization. The Vice Chairperson noted the relief work done by religious organizations in Tamil Nadu.

Ms Gopalan agreed that NGOs need to work together, with the facilitation of the government. She also reiterated the need to ensure that women are stakeholders in their own communities.

A question was raised about the possibility of community monitoring of funds, given the controversial history of this initiative. Ms Gopalan was of the opinion that the success of this would depend on the government officers to a certain extent, and how responsive they are to the idea. Mr Bhatt also pointed to an example of community responsibility in Assam. Schoolteachers took responsibility in conducting safety audits in schools. He also emphasized the role of women schoolteachers in formulating safety codes for schools.

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The final presentation of the day was made by a Consultant in disaster management and training in the TN State Disaster Management Agency on behalf of the Revenue Administration and Disaster Management Department. He drew attention to the common perception that one shouldn’t raise the cry of gender in a disaster situation. This perception is problematic, since women and men experience disaster in different ways. He stressed the need to have equal respect for male and female survivors. Speaking of some of the main features of TN Disaster Management, he spoke of the presence of planning at various levels, and various time frames. He also advocated the importance of increased participation of women at decision making levels, the importance of education about disaster management in schools, and incorporating SHGs in capacity building.

The Vice Chairperson asked if women were really in a position of authority to make decisions rather than just filling up quotas on committees. The Consultant answered that they were part of committees, but lacked real power. A commenter pointed out that out of 5-6 lakh SHGs, 50% of them had real leadership by women, but not in the area of disaster management. Interestingly, a commenter pointed out that 70% of the people who attend disaster management workshops are women. Are they including in decision making processes? Not really. However, there has been a growing change in this trend in recent times, especially at the community level, where there is more participation by women. The space has been created for women to make decisions, and this is a hopeful development.

Ms Gopalan said that this needs to be taken to the higher levels od decision making too. Empowerment can be seen at the village level, but not at the Taluk and District levels.

An audience member also pointed to the need to select attendees to training programs more carefully based on their capacities. There is also a need for training about disaster management in villages. A suggestion was made to include Panchayat Level Federations in this initiative.

Mr Bhatt asked if there was a difference in the way disaster management policy was formulated in rural and urban parts of Tamil Nadu. The Vice Chairperson asked if codes were in place for Chennai City. Members of the City Corporation answered that they were. The Revenue Department representative added that the Anna Institute of Management (AIM) was consulting with the TNSPC in the creation of a State Disaster Management Plan. Members of the AIM were also present. Dr Rajagopalan suggested that members of civil society should also be consulted in the formulation of this plan, in order to conduct a gender audit of disaster management policies.

The Director of AIM pointed out that it had been useful to have AIM step in, since the formulation of this plan had been shunted from department to department earlier.

Ms Gopalan noted the cyclone shelters lying empty in Andhra Pradesh because there was no community ownership of the shelters. The Director of AIM pointed out that specialized shelters were unlikely to work effectively. Rather, the creation of multipurpose centres would be recommended.

Members of the TN Disaster Management Agency gave an overview of their plan to increase community ownership of shelters by transforming schools, community halls and training centres into shelters. The Revenue Department and the Public Works Department would maintain these shelters, with committees at the community level.

Dr Rajagopalan closed the discussion with a quick highlight of the main questions.

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