NAPM Convention, Pune
Notes from Gender Session
Faced with the daunting task of choosing from among 15 parallel sessions I went to the gender / patriarchy session, where 25 of us discussed a range of issues concerning women, men and other.
Mukta Srivastava talked about the need to recognize the many forms of violence, not only assault and murder but also the restrictions placed on girls and women in the name of avoiding risk, as well as the readiness of people to blame the victim, the jeans, etc.
The impact of the oppressive concepts of masculinity, not only upon women but also upon men. While active in the movement to save the girl child, or Beti Bachao, she also felt that one needed to save the boy child from the role pre-scripted for him, from the prohibitions against crying and other expressions of sensitivity, from the expectations of the family enforced along gender lines. When we never allow this boy to cry or express his own pain, how can he grow up to be sensitive to the suffering of others? she asked.
Sadhana Dadhich talked about her work with women, the need to accept sexuality, and the risks men faced from the social expectations of masculity – 3As – Addition, AIDS and Accidents which werre claiming the lives of many men.
Meera talked about the role of women within movements – even when present, how involved are they in articulating the vision and making decisions? She also noted that movements should also set up committees to inculcate gender sensitivity and address incidents of sexual harassment. Some women from Pennurimay Iyyakam talked about such cases in their region and how they intervened.
Uma Shankari talked about the role of women in farming and the landlessness of women. In rural areas nearly every woman is involved in farming in some capacity and yet few / almost none are landholders.
I said that we also need to recognize how the way we conceive of women’s bodies, birth, breastfeeding and menstruation, and its impact on women’s rights and selfhood, is also connected to issues of land, food, health, agricultural and industrial policy. Urmila Samson brought up the need to make education more gender sensitive and generally more sensitive.
As the session was only 90 minutes long it was difficult to discuss the various ideas in depth much less reach conclusions or resolutions but we rose to the occasion and identified at least some clear points such as calling for the repeal of IPCpointed 377, bringing sexual minorities under the ambit of legislation on domestic violence? Acknowledging the time constraints, people did propose that NAPM also examine the participation of women within its movements and establish a committee on sexual harassment. We also called for NAPM to hold a 2 day meeting or workshop on gender issues, so that we could better articulate the place of gender in struggles for jal-jangal-jamin, anti-caste, agriculture and all the issues NAPM addresses and ought to address to achieve a just society for all.
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While it would be easy to be skeptical of our ability to achieve these goals, I recalled earlier NAPM conventions and felt that the very fact that we had this session and were overflowing with ideas and plans was a significant sign of progress. I specifically remember an earlier convention when the call for changing “man” to “man and woman” in the text of the resolutions was met with the response, from an elderly all-white clad gentleman on the stage, “Man embraces woman.”
In your dreams, buster! I had wanted to shout. Instead I took a walk around the campus at Wardha where the convention took place. There had been another unfortunate sexist reference which I will not repeat here. I did raise these issues with some of the conveners offstage, who pleaded helplessness on various counts. What can we do, they are so old, time is limited etc. Obviously not in those words but you get the drift. Anyway I am happy to say that that kind of thinking has gone out the window and we have some fresh air to breathe now. Let us inhale deeply and go about the hard work of overthrowing patriarchy, one step at a time.