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Women organizations and their role in India

  • Categories
    Society: Diverse Elements
  • Published
    15th Feb, 2022

Introduction

Indian Society, which is largely male-dominated, for the position of women in society. Not only men, but even most women also internalize their position in society as a fair description of their status through the ages. These generalizations apply to some degree to practically every known society in the world.

                      In the ancient and medieval periods, women were largely connected only to the family and most of the other women that they met were primarily through family functions at times of marriages, deaths, etc. The educational experiments of the late 19th and early 20th centuries produced a new woman with interests that went beyond the household. For the first time in India now women began to communicate with women outside their families and local communities. On the one hand, was a small group of women who shared English as a common language. This made possible communication across language barriers. As a result of this various women’s organizations developed from the 19th century onwards.

Women in India

                                            The status of women in India has undergone drastic changes over the past few millennia. In ancient times, Indian women were completely devoted to their families. In the Medieval period, known as the 'Dark Age', the status of women was declined considerably. They were not allowed to go out, and move with others. They were asked to stay at home and take care of their children. In India, the early marriage of a girl was practiced. After Independence women came forward in all the sectors and there are remarkable changes in the status of women in the field of education, Art, and Culture. A historical viewpoint to the complexities, India continues to face from time to time since Independence. But the status of women in contemporary India is a sort of inconsistency.

Women's organization in India and their role

                           Women's Organisations emerged in India as a result of the spread of education and the establishment of the notion of the new woman. There was an improved level of communication among women which made them aware of the different problems that they faced and their rights and accountabilities in society. This awareness led to the upsurge of women's organizations that fought for and signified women's causes.

A. Pre-Independence: An exclusive feature of the Indian women's crusade is the fact that early efforts at women's liberation were set in motion by men. Social reformers such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Maharishi Karve, and Swami Dayanand Saraswati challenged the conventional subservience of women, stimulated widow remarriage, and supported female education and impartiality in matters of religion, among other issues. Mahila mandals organized by Hindu reformist organizations such as the Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj encouraged women to go out of the boundaries of their homes and interact with other members of society. Pandita Ramabai, who was considered as one of the innovators of the feminist movement, with the help of Justice Ranade established the Arya Mahila Samaj in 1882. She envisioned creating a support network for newly educated women through weekly lectures and lessons at homes, where women could learn and gain confidence through interactions.

Women's auxiliaries of general reform associations also served as a ground for women to deliberate social issues, express opinions, and share experiences. The Bharata Mahila Parishad of the National Social Conference was the most protruding among such opportunities. Though the National Social Conference was formed at the third meeting of the Indian National Congress in 1887, the Mahila Parishad was launched only in 1905.

These initiatives greatly influenced the social status of women. Early attempts at encouraging women to converse outside their families and local committees thus, stemmed from the broader social reform movement and efforts to upgrade the conditions of women.

But a major inadequacy of the movement at this juncture was that it was essentially exclusive in character. The reforms were planned for restricted upper-caste women and did not take up the cause of the huge masses of poor and working-class women. Also, male‐guided organizations still perceived the household as the woman's first priority and did not make efforts to employ education as an instrument to improve their contribution to society.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were concerted efforts towards the education of women. Schools and educational institutions promoting female public education mushroomed across the country.

The pre‐Independence period saw women's issues related to the nationalist agenda at various junctures. In this period, a major enhancement of women was in terms of political participation of women, calling for a redefinition of conventional gender roles. Women began openly demonstrating their opposition to foreign control by supporting civil disobedience actions and other forms of protest against the British. Opportunities to organize and participate in agitations gave women much‐needed confidence and a chance to develop their leadership skills. Cutting across communal and religious barriers, women associated themselves with larger problems of society and opposed sectarian issues such as communal electorates. Political awareness among women grew, owing to a general understanding that women's issues could not be separated from the political environment of the country. During this period, the initial women's organizations formed within the historical background of the social reform movement and the nationalist movement were as follows.

  • The Women's India Association (WIA).
  • National Council of Women in India (NCWI).
  • The All India Women's Conference (AIWC) in 1917, 1925, and 1927 correspondingly.
  • Each of these organizations emphasized the importance of education in women's progress.
  • The WIA, created by Margaret Cousins in Madras, worked widely for the social and educational emancipation of women. Associated with the Theosophical Society, it encouraged non‐sectarian religious activity and did creditable work in promoting literacy, setting up shelters for widows, and providing relief for disaster victims.
  • Women in Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata through networks developed during World War I work, allied their associations together, and created the NCWI in 1925. A national branch of the International Council of Women, its most prominent member was Mehribai Tata, who aggressively campaigned against inert charity and advised men to support female education.
  • The most important of the women's organizations of the time was the All India Women's Conference. Though its initial efforts were directed towards improving female education, its scope later extended to include a host of women's issues such as women's franchise, inheritance rights.

B.Period of Post-Independence: The Constitution of India enlisted in 1950 which permitted equal rights to men and women. Rights such as the right to vote, right to education, right to enter into public service, and political offices brought in satisfaction among women's groups. In this period, there was limited activity in the area of women's rights. Many women's organizations such as the National Federation of Indian Women (1954) the Samajwadi Mahila Sabha (1559) were formed to work for supporting the cause of Indian women. Since the country was facing a social, political crisis after British rule, many demands of the women activists were not supported by the Government. But during this period from 1945, the Indian women got an opportunity to participate in confrontational politics.

In post-independent India, the women's crusade was divided, as the common opponent, foreign rule, was no longer there. Some of the women leaders formally joined the Indian National Congress and took a powerful position as Ministers, Governors, and Ambassadors. Free India's Constitution gave universal adult franchise and by the mid-fifties, India had fairly liberal laws concerning women. Most of the demands of the women's movement had been met and there seemed few issues left to organize around. Women's organizations now observed that there was an issue of implementation and consequently there was a pause in the women's movement.

Women displeased with the status quo joined struggles for the rural poor and industrial working class such as the Tebhaga movement in Bengal, the Telangana movement in Andhra Pradesh, or the Naxalite movement. Shahada, which acquired its name from the area in which it occurred, in Dhulia district in Maharashtra, was a tribal landless laborer’s movement against landlords. Women actively participated and led demonstrations, developed and yelled militant slogans, and mobilized the masses. As women's belligerency developed, gender-based issues were raised.

In the meantime, in Ahmedabad, the first attempt at a women's trade union was made with the establishment of the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) at the initiative of Ela Bhat in 1972. The major objective was to improve the condition of poor women who worked in the unorganized sector by providing training, technical aid, and collective bargaining. Based on Gandhian ideals, SEWA has been a remarkable success.

The Nav Nirman movement, initially a student's movement in Gujarat against rising prices, black marketing, and dishonesty launched in 1974 was soon joined by the huge number of middle-class women. Their method of protest reached from mass hunger strikes, mock funerals, and Prabhat pheris.

The 1970s and 1980s observed the development of numerous women's groups that took up issues such as dowry deaths, bride burning, rape, and sati and focused on violence against women. They stressed the sexual coercion of women in a way previous reform or feminist groups had never done. They questioned the patriarchal assumptions underlying women's role in the family and society based on the biological sex differences implying a "natural" separation of human activities by gender differentials, the public political sphere being the male domain and the private familial sphere as that of the female which eventually translates into a supremacy of male over female. Some of the earliest self-governing women's groups were the Progressive Organization of Women (POW, Hyderabad), the Forum against Rape (now redefined as Forum against Oppression of Women), Stree Sangharsh and Samata (Delhi). Among the first campaigns that women's groups took up was the struggle against rape in 1980.

The modified law was passed in 1983 after a heated debate with women's groups. Since then, women's groups have lobbied again to have the law further changed to make it more severe and have also fought for a piece of implementation machinery to be set up without which the law is less effective than it was intended to be. The POW in Hyderabad planned new and fresh remonstrations against dowry. In the late 1970s, Delhi became the focus of the movement against dowry and the violence imposed on women in the marital home. Groups that took up the campaign included 'Stree Sangharsh' and 'Mahila Dakshita Samiti'. Later, a joint front called the 'Dahej Virodhi Chetna Mandal' (organization for creating consciousness against dowry) was made under which a large number of organizations worked.

In 1975, the Lal Nishar Party structured a joint women's conference which was well attended by women in Pune in Maharashtra. Similarly, the communist party in India in 1975 organized a National Seminar which was attended by women in Maharashtra. The famous women's organizations that were established during this time are the Stree Mukhti Sangkatana, the Stree Sangharsh, and Mahila Dakshata in Delhi. Vimochana in Chennai, Baijja in Maharashtra, Pennurumai in Chennai. The Feminist Network in English and Manushi in Hindi were some of the first women's newsletters and magazines to appear. The issues that they raise are rape, wife-battering, divorce, maintenance, and child custody along with legislative reforms. This progressive outlook is indeed a by-product of the changing economic, social and political climate in the country. Therefore, the women's movement in India after the Independence struggle not only struggled for liberation but also averred the need for creating a non-class socialist society where women can be completely free from apprehension and violence. The reverberations of changes, recurrent and sporadic at the beginning, began to be heard rather loudly from the middle of the 20th century.

Some women organizations such as the Banga Mahila Samaj, and the Ladies Theosophical Society functioned at local levels to promote contemporary ideas for women. These organizations deal with issues like women's education, abolition of social evils like purdah and Child marriage, Hindu law reform, moral and material progress of women, equality of rights and opportunities.

 It can be believed that the Indian women's movement worked for two goals.

  • Uplift of women.
  • Equal rights for both men and women.

All the major political parties, the Congress, BJP, CPI, CPI (M) have their women's wings. The new women's groups declare themselves to be feminists. They are dispersed with no central organization but they have built informal networks among themselves. Their political commitment is more leftist than liberal.

Currently, there are many women organizations in India:

  • All India Federation of Women Lawyers
  • All India Women's Conference
  • Appan Samachar
  • Association of Theologically Trained Women of India
  • Bharatiya Grameen Mahila Sangh
  • Bharatiya Mahila Bank
  • Confederation of Women Entrepreneurs
  • Durga Vahini
  • Friends of Women's World Banking
  • Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan

The national alliance of women: The National Alliance of Women (NAWO) is a national web of women. It is affiliation or membership is open to liberal-minded women's groups and institutions, non-governmental organizations, women workers, women's unions, individuals, and others who share the principles, objectives, and values of NAWO, as defined in the NAWO vision.

The major objective of this organization is:

  • Strengthening and building new initiatives, networks, forums, etc., for protecting women's rights
  • Monitoring the Government of India's commitments, implementing the Platform for Action with special focus on the eight-point agenda discussed at the Conference of Commitment, CEDAW, the Human Rights, and other United Nations Convention.
  • Advocacy, lobbying, and campaigning on women-related issues.
  • Information Dissemination and Documentation.
  • Solidarity and linkages with other regional and global forums.

Another women organization in India is Swadhina (Self-esteemed Women) which was formed in 1986. It is principally a civil society organization focused on the Empowerment of women and Child Development based on Sustainable Development and Right Lively hood. At Swadhina, it is believed that positive social change has a direct effect on the lives of women and that change is possible only through equal and spontaneous participation of Women. Organization members are active in five states across the country in remote tribal districts of Singbhums in Jharkhand, Purulia, and West Midnapur in West Bengal, Kanya Kumari in Tamil Nadu, Mayurbhanj in Orissa, and East Champaran in Bihar.

Due to the women’s movement, several legislations were passed like the Equal Remuneration Act, Minimum Wage Act, Maternity Benefit Act, etc. to ensure equal status to women in society & more importantly at work. However, illiteracy amongst the major women workforce (87% of women are employed in the unorganized sector), fear of losing employment & lack of awareness of the laws enacted to protect them, make it difficult for women to benefit from them.

Conclusion

Education & Economic independence of women & awareness amongst the masses are the most important weapons to eradicate this inhumane behaviour of the society towards the female sex. We are slowly but steadily heading towards an era of change & hope to see the light of change, shine on the weaker sex, as it is called one day.

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