Normally, when asked about whether the government should do this or that to respond to an incident of violence or a gender equality violation, we are given to talking about the three fingers that point back. This is not because we think governments act perfectly all the time (no one does) but because we believe in the importance of proactive citizenship and in the role of civil society. Governments cannot do everything on their own; even when we delegate authority, a good part of the burden of social change remains with us–we are the ‘social’ in social change, after all.
Having said that, we created this petition for a strong Women’s Commission in Tamil Nadu along with several civil society colleagues because such a body can be important to our work.
The Commissions for Women at the National and State level occupy something of a hybrid and therefore, link, position between government and civil society. The Commission Chair and members are usually from civil society but appointed by the government of the day. They have the authorisation of government officials, giving them better access than most civil society advocates have. The Commission is a platform from which they can speak to contemporary issues and also the crisis of a given day. The secretariat and the resources of the Commission derive directly from government, giving them the advantage of both institutional memory and better resources.
A strong, dynamic Commission is an asset to civil society because its members can draw on their old networks to anchor their work, and because Commissioners afford civil society quick access to government. So, if there is an incident in the districts, and local NGOs cannot get help, the Commission potentially can intervene to facilitate and make help available. A pro-active Chair and Commission could fashion an important role for itself in the journey towards social change. A retrogressive Chair and Commission could drag us down just as well.
This is why it is important to us and to our colleagues to see that when the newly re-elected Tamil Nadu Chief Minister makes that appointment, she appoints the right person, someone we defined in our petition as “sensitive to gender issues, and has concretely contributed towards women’s empowerment.” Those engaged in the work of social change–and gender equality–in civil society need an institutional ally who will bring together the resources of government and the reach of civil society.
This is why we urge you to sign our petition today:
If you care about gender equality, this should be important to you as well.