Poem

Aisa Kaha Unhone: “They Said …”

Aisa Kaha Unhone

Translated from English, “They Said” by Usha Narayan

Video: Performance by Andrea Pereira, Heidi Pereira and Katheeja Talha of Space Theatre Ensemble


They Said

You should not read thus sprawled on your stomach,

or in bed, or in dark recesses of the house, they said.

You will have to wear glasses, and then your poor parents

will have trouble finding you a husband, they said.

Continue reading

Advertisements
Standard
Tour

Jewelry without hazardous working conditions

Chiguru Enterprises, Potnal

To support themselves and the organization, women of Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan started making terra cotta jewelry and home decor and selling it in local colleges and exhibitions.  This contributes to the self-sufficiency of the organization and key activists.

When villagers are displaced and wars are fought over gold, diamonds and other precious metals and gems, the world needs to appreciate the peaceful beauty of handcrafted terra cotta goods. Chiguru has been a regular supplier to AID tables and the products are quite popular and help connect conscientious consumers to eco-friendly, fair-trade products.

Proceeds from sale of terra cotta ornaments handcrafted by the women of Chiguru Enterprises supports the Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan, a Dalit women’s collective working in Potnal, Raichur District, Karnataka.

Edited to add: In July 2016 The Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) released a study on jewellery and gems, noting that the those in the industry suffered under “inadequate working conditions and limited compliance with health and safety standards.”  Detailing some of the hazardous working conditions jewelry and gem workers face, ASSOCHAM noted that “Excessive and prolonged exposure to lethal chemicals and gases can lead to ailments like lung tissue damage, kidney damage and lung cancer.”

Read:  Avg. salary in gems & jewellery sector lowest across manufacturing sector: Study (accessed February 2017 from ASSOCHAM website)

Standard
Conference

NAPM Convention Notes from Day 1: Gender and Patriarchy: Where to Begin

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.

Gender SessionMukta 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.

* * *

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.

Standard
Exhortation

Seven Fallacies about Menstruation and Culture

Never have I so acutely felt the weight of Jonathan Swift’s remark, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it” as now, after responding to a “viral” article propagating pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo in connection with menstrual untouchability, which is a crime against women just as untouchability is a crime against humanity. To top it off, this article suggests, in conclusion, that reviving traditional customs may effect social change and greater respect for women. The author is not some cranky old chauvinist male but a woman who works with government schools and health departments to teach girls and women about menstruation.  Girls certainly do need spaces where they can speak freely and ask questions about menstruation, to know it is not shameful and that their bodies are just fine.  How awesome would it be if after a presentation on the subject they could go home and declare, “I am not polluting, I don’t have to sit in the corner or in the shed. I can go where I want, when I want. I am free! Instead we hear that when girls ask questions about why they are not allowed to touch people, pickers, temples, etc, this particular teacher tells them that untouchability is “a personal choice” and that the myths and rituals reinforcing it are rooted in “ancient wisdom” when women were “worshipped.” How many adolescent girls, hearing a teacher in school offer you on the one hand patriarchy masked as “ancient wisdom” and on the other “personal choice” will choose the latter? I hope this response can increase that number:

Ask Amma

Several people have forwarded to me an article, written by an educator, connecting “ancient wisdom” to the practice of menstrual taboo, and pitying the misguided women who expect modern ideas of gender and feminism to empower them.  After cataloguing popular justifications for menstrual untouchability and suggesting that they come from a time when women enjoyed respect, indeed worship, in contrast to the present context of crimes against women, the author concludes that menstrual taboo is a matter of “personal choice.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Would those who condone menstrual untouchability extend their reasoning to untouchability?  Is it also a personal choice for us to connect to the “ancient wisdom” through the practice of untouchability?  With more than enough relatives who would be all too happy to think so, I take this as a wake-up call

View original post 1,200 more words

Standard
Conference

Towards a Breastfeeding Model that Works

In Part II of my talk on Gender, Work, and Health, presented at the National Labour Institute in Delhi, first to a group of research scholars from various parts of India and second to a group of policy makers from different countries, I talked about how a rights-based approach would improve implementation of policies that would bring about a Breastfeeding Model that Works.

A breastfeeding model that works:

  • Recognizes the importance of breastfeeding

  • Accords with World Health Organization Guidelines and the Indian Constitution and Maternity Benefits Act

  • Recognizes the importance of food.

 

Breastfeeding is the normal way humans feed their young, and also introduce their young to the diverse flavours of foods.  Currently in India, however, only 1 in 3 babies is exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months, and even fewer continue breastfeeding for at least two years, as the WHO Guidelines recommend. Continue reading

Standard
Conference

Gender Work and Health – Part 1: Birth

Gender, Work, and Health

Women’s Health from a Women’s Rights Perspective

Following are notes from a presentation I gave at the National Institute of Labour as part of a training program on Gender, Work, and Health.  I presented on Women’s Health from a Women’s Rights Perspective, focussing on three themes, Birth, Breastfeeding and Food. 

Before I continue to the three themes I presented, let me share some of my own apprehensions about speaking to both of these audiences.

My brief was to talk to the Ph D students about research methods and to the health officials about policy. Continue reading

Standard
Conference

Women’s Rights Perspective in Health – dangerous?

At a training program in Delhi, organized by the VV Giri National Labour Institute, I spoke on birth, breastfeeding and health from a women’s rights perspective.  I gave the presentation to two groups – one comprised 36 PhD students from universities and institutes in various parts of India and the other comprised a similar number of health officials and physicians from developing countries outside India.

We sometimes talk about the inadequacies of the biomedical model of health and birth, insofar as it excludes social, psychological, environmental and spiritual factors.   What we notice less often is the possibility that the biomedical model may itself depend on metaphors that are influenced by cultural stereotypes.

In the first part of my talk, I discussed gender stereotypes in the medical descriptions of women’s bodies and of reproduction.  For this I relied on Emily Martin’s work The Woman in the Body and in particular “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles.”  (Signs, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Spring, 1991), pp. 485-501.

Drawing from several standard medical textbooks, Emily Martin shows that descriptions of women’s bodies reflect the values of industrial capitalism as well as gender bias and stereotype.  Take away these values and substitute gender equality and women’s rights, and you would describe these processes quite differently.

I presented some of her examples  and quoted from her article to explain each one. In summary these are:

Biological process

Standard Medical Textbooks

Why not

conception

journey of the sperm

interaction of egg and sperm

ovum

passive, fragile, dependent, waiting

connecting with sperm

sperm

active, strong, heroic, autonomous

connecting with egg

ovulation

overstock inventory

just-in-time maturation

spermatogenesis

amazing feat

excess

menstruation

failed production

indicator of fertility

menopause

factory shutdown

golden years

I continued to talk about how we had the choice to look at these processes in a way that grants women autonomy over their bodies and reproductive health, and this could help us to take a rights-based approach to women’s health.  Just as I was about to move along to a discussion of women’s rights in birth, several hands flew up.

“The processes are described this way because that is the function of the reproductive organs,” one doctor said.  I replied that we could look at the process differently if we did not assume that the objective of every woman and every menstrual cycle was to have children.

Why are you calling menopause “Golden years?”  several men asked.

I answered that it signals a transition in life and that each phase of life could be appreciated on its own terms rather than regarding the woman’s body only through its child-bearing function.  It is not to imply that earlier phases of life are less “golden” but simply to use a positive and respectful term.

“These ideas would be all right coming from a Western Perspective,” commented a physician from Sri Lanka.  “But you being from our culture, should not be spreading these ideas.  This kind of thought, if it spreads would be very dangerous,” he said.  “It would cause a disruption in our society.”   A physician from Afghanistan agreed with him and added,  “In our culture motherhood is not a burden, it is a privilege.”    One more health official from an African country added that menopause should not be called golden years and went on to explain that men could continue to reproduce for the whole of their lives.

I asked, “Can we hear from any of the women in the room?”

No one spoke up.  The physician from Sri Lanka said, “I am speaking on behalf of the women.”

I was stunned that no one objected to such a statement.   Nevertheless, I stayed on message and reiterated that a woman has the right to decide whether to have children and that having children was not the only, primary, or necessary purpose of a woman’s life and by extension, women’s health.  To address women’s health from a women’s rights perspective, one must recognize the value of the body without limiting it to its capacity for childbearing.   One must also respect women’s rights when addressing women’s reproductive and maternal health needs, including during pregnancy, labour, birth and beyond.

During the break several women approached me and said, “Your lecture is very interesting.  Some of our colleagues are from very patriarchal backgrounds.”  I said that they should speak up during the discussion.   Later in the evening, I thought of I should have replied to those who cautioned against the social disruption that feminist ideas may cause.  In order to make progress on women’s health issues, we must change our ideas and practices, and be prepared for the disruption that such change would cause.

In the remainder of the seminar, I presented on three themes:

Birth Models that Work.

Breastfeeding Models that Work.

Food Models that Work.

(to be continued …)

Standard