Women’s Rights Campaign

Dalit women are positioned at the bottom of India’s caste, class and gender hierarchy.

As a result, many Dalit women face exploitation both in and out of the home, often resulting in sexual assault and other forms of violence.  Navsarjan strives to give women a voice, and ensures that they are equally and effectively represented in the organization as well as in the movement, at all levels.

The objectives of the Women’s Rights campaign include:

1.     To empower women by generating awareness of their rights so they can seek justice and dignity within their families and communities.

2.     To train and build strong women who will become leaders in the movement.

3.     To formulate and develop tools and programs for serving the specific needs of women for their growth and development.

4.     To create space for women through strategic intervention wherever and whenever needed.

5.     To foster gender sensitivity within Navsarjan through concrete policies.

6.     To dilute discriminatory patriarchal culture, making non-negotiable the belief and practice of equality.

Within the Women’s Rights Programme, Navsarjan performs the following:

  • Offers legal, social and emotional support/security to women applicants who have suffered abuse.
  • Raises awareness of women’s rights in the villages through meetings and training programmes.
  • Ensures that all Navsarjan activists are trained in the specific laws pertaining to women’s rights.
  • Encourages exposure visits to upgrade the knowledge of senior women staff concerning women’s issues in other parts of India.
  • Helps identify key aspects for women’s development that need to be addressed in other Navsarjan programmes.

Running awareness camps in the villages:

The purpose of these camps is to educate Dalit and non-Dalit women and men on women’s rights.  The contents include information on the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, even as addressing their health issues.  Though the camps focus on issues affecting Dalit women, many of the same issues also face non-Dalit women.  The camps therefore serve to bring women together across caste lines, while empowering women about issues that matter to them.

 Establishing Women’s Rights Committees:

Navsarjan has organized women to establish hundreds of Women’s Rights Committees in villages across Gujarat.  These committees exist for women leaders and take up local issues, especially those relating to women, such as domestic violence, and creating spaces for women’s leadership in the Panchayats (village councils). These Committees increase the power of women within the villages, bringing women together to talk about common issues, and encouraging women to speak out, raising their confidence.

 Linking Dalit women to foster their empowerment:

In many villages, there are few examples of successful woman’s leadership to inspire other women to take action.  Though women have reserved spots in local government, they are often forced to simply provide a “rubber stamp”, while all the important decisions are taken by men.  In events such as state-wide gatherings of all Dalit female Sarpanches and hundreds of Dalit female Panchayat members, Dalit women can interact with other Dalit women from around Gujarat who are able to use their power effectively.  This inspires them to gain the confidence to take action in their villages.

 Encouraging women’s leadership within Navsarjan:

In addition to Navsarjan’s executive director Manjula Pradeep, seven of the nine zone coordinators within Navsarjan are women.  Strong women leaders within the organization serve as role models for village women who have rarely seen women with jobs besides housework, let alone with such powerful leadership roles.  The personal journey of Navsarjan’s female leaders helps them to empower women to take leadership within their own communities.

 Impact:

Many women are coming forward to join awareness and training programs, which in itself is substantial achievement.  Moreover, many of the committees have women across caste lines taking on common issues.

Muslim women are also coming forward to join the women’s training camps and meetings.

Women’s programmes are mobilizing more women to join state-level programs, and to speak out concerning their issues.

Navsarjan programmes bring together all Dalit women sarpanches and hundreds of Dalit female panchayat members serve to provide women with positive models to emulate, and help them gain the courage to assert themselves to fight for women’s and Dalit issues.  In an interesting incident, a Dalit female Sarpanch from Rupawati village in Sanand taluka, after attending an event at the Dalit Shakti Kendra, organized for female sarpanches and panchayat members, started sitting on chair during meetings of the panchayat office, and taking up Dalit issues. This brought about awareness among other Dalit women, too, who expressed their willingness to fight local body elections.

Challenges:

  • Many men are against the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, and many women do not know about this Act.
  • Police do not respond to rape cases or murder cases of women with any interest at all (this is a particular challenge in Kheda district).
  • Dalit men sometimes spread rumors about women who speak out for their rights.
  • Many women hide behind their veils, and are not ready to speak out.

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