The feminist and the sex worker: Lessons from the Indian experience


By Srilatha Batliwala
Himal Mag
Despite decades of tension between feminists and sex workers, it is finally becoming clear that the former has much to learn from the latter.
alt
Photo: Alessandro Vincenzi

From the earliest days of ‘second wave’ feminism, the issues of choice and consent have been central to feminist thought throughout the world. Much of early feminist analysis focused on how patriarchies manifested themselves in terms of male control over women’s lives: their sexuality and reproduction, their mobility, their work, employment and assets, and their access to and participation in the public realm. This control not only constricted the range of women’s choices, but often denied their right to make choices at all. The issue of consent was fraught with far greater political complexity, and viewed by many feminists with some suspicion, since it was widely used by anti-feminist and religious ideologues to justify gender discrimination. Feminist thinking on consent – connoting acquiescence, willing acceptance or even active support – therefore appeared more often in the context of women’s ‘false consciousness’, as a manifestation of women’s co-option into maintaining patriarchal rule. In terms of both choice and consent, few issues have been more rigorously debated in recent decades than that of sex work; but today, it seems that feminism itself has quite a bit to learn from sex workers.

In the Indian context – on which this article focuses – analysis by both scholars and activists has addressed the question of feminism’s ambivalent approach to sex work and sex workers, and the implicit lack of understanding of how choice and consent operate in this realm. There are several possible roots to the feminist dilemma: unconscious internalisation, for example, of Brahminical patriarchy and Hindu nationalist reconstructions of the home and family as a sanctified site of ‘pure Indian-ness’, and the role of women’s chastity and sexual exclusivity in maintaining this purity. Similar constructions of women as guardians of communal identity, purity and the highest moral values were visible among Muslim and Christian communities as well.

These historical and social processes basically constructed women’s bodies, particularly their sexuality and ability to reproduce, as capable of maintaining or polluting caste and communal purity. Combining with tenets of Brahminical Hinduism – which permeated not only other castes through what sociologist M N Srinivas termed the ‘Sanskritisation’ process, but non-Hindu communities as well – a sliding scale of chastity was prescribed. Oppressed-caste women had to be sexually monogamous within marriage, but simultaneously available to upper-caste men, while upper-caste women’s chastity was non-negotiable and strictly imposed through the additional measures of restricted mobility and seclusion. Some parts of women’s bodies naturally became more sacrosanct than others – the vagina, for instance. As such, a woman who sold the labour of her hands and feet was still considered a good woman, no matter how filthy or arduous the work, or even if she belonged to an untouchable caste; but one who sold sexual labour was beyond the pale. So, while sex workers were part of the social landscape in every part of the country, they were symbols of the fall from grace that kept ‘good women’ under chaste control.

In this writer’s opinion, this is the hidden heart of the matter. Emerging from societies that held women’s sexual organs as a vehicle both to purity and pollution, Southasian feminists were, until recently, unable to critically examine the patriarchal underpinnings of this paradigm. The first sign of this internalisation was in the tacit hierarchy that emerged in forms of violence against women, where rape became implicitly categorised as the most heinous crime a woman could suffer. It could be argued that this was mainly due to the stigma attached to the rape victim, where the social consequences that ensued were far heavier than, for instance, a victim of domestic violence, who would at least be pitied or receive some grudging acknowledgement, if not justice. In a sense, rape was like leprosy – leading to social ostracism – while domestic violence was like tuberculosis, which, though far more contagious, elicits sympathy and support. But this difference in feminist reaction could also have been due to feminism’s deeply embedded but unquestioned sense that violation of the most sacrosanct part of a woman’s body was the ultimate, and therefore most unforgivable, expression of male dominance and control.

Therefore, sex work and sex workers presented a unique challenge to the feminist discourse, and resulted in several positions (or divides) in feminist approaches to sex work. But at the root has always been the fundamental dilemma: How could feminists accept prostitution – the sale of sexual services by women to men – as a legitimate form of employment, when it represented the grossest expression of women’s commodification? For many feminists, only two options seemed acceptable: to treat the individual prostitute as a victim lacking in agency, one who symbolises the ultimate oppressiveness of the patriarchal regime, and who is in need of rescue and rehabilitation; or as women of false consciousness, morally decrepit agents of the patriarchal system, whose work results in the oppression of other women. However, given that a large number of India’s feminist founding mothers came out of left political parties, a third strand also emerged. This line of thought did not engage in moral judgment, but instead argued that because sex work is a form of work, all labour rights and protections must be extended to sex workers.

Meanwhile, underlying all these feminist positions was the basic assumption that a world without sex work would be a better place – therefore making them political bedfellows of religious and political conservatives engaged in campaigns against sex trafficking.

Not hapless victims
In India, encounters between organised sex workers and feminist groups have been infrequent and strained. Sex-worker organisations have never been invited to participate in national conferences of women’s groups; in fact, in the early 1990s, a tentative attempt by a local sex-workers group to attend such a national conference created acute discomfort among the organisers, who rejected the request on grounds that the group did not constitute a ‘feminist’ organisation. Sex workers are puzzled by why the dialogue with feminists is predicated upon an assumption that they must renounce – or, at least, express an intention to renounce – their occupation, or reiterate the ‘hapless victim’ mythology. For their part, feminists wonder why sex workers expect their support on issues such as violence, police harassment or legal reform, while making their occupation itself a non-negotiable.

Another curious element in feminist approaches to sex work has been the tendency to isolate analysis of sex work from other forms of work performed by women, including those from similar classes, skill levels and mobility. Studies of women workers in the unorganised sector, both in India and elsewhere, have repeatedly underlined high levels of exploitation, sexual harassment, poor working conditions, violence at the hands of employers or agents, wide range of health hazards, and lack of social security and legal protection. Almost all of these studies, as well as the experiences of activist and women’s organisations across India, testify that poor women in a range of informal-sector occupations routinely face sexual exploitation and violence – the supposed hallmarks of sex work – as well as a form of trafficking, when they migrate in search of livelihoods. Consequently, feminist organising within the informal sector has been imbued with the assumption that women have the agency and capacity to challenge their exploitation and mobilise for their rights within these occupations. For some reason, however, the nature of their victimhood has been viewed differently from that of women in sex work, an equally informal occupation.

The only right that sex workers have been able to mobilise for has been to be ‘rescued’ from sex work itself. Indeed, the only time a link is made between women workers in general and sex work in particular is to argue that one of the negative impacts of economic reforms is the migration and entry into sex work of women from impoverished families. Thus, analysts like Manjima Bhattacharya argue that sex workers are marginalised from three directions: ‘the criminality associated with their work, the morality that keeps them ostracised, and the informality of their labour which deprives them of bank accounts, insurance, or employment security.’ She concludes: ‘Recognition of their labour and economic contribution is one of the first steps in mainstreaming sex workers and according them dignity and rights.’

Ironically, religious and political conservatives have usurped some feminist discourse on sex work in their anti-sex trafficking crusades. Outlining a series of assumptions and positions on prostitution adopted by some feminists and anti-trafficking groups, researchers Sandhya Rao and Cath Sluggett have written:

Traditionalist and conservative groups use the feminist construct that prostitution violates women per se, but their argument has very little to do with women’s equality. Rather they feel that prostitution threatens traditional sexual arrangements … The anti-trafficking movement has drawn upon radical feminism, evaluating prostitution as that which degrades all women. This is connected to a wider analysis of power and male domination. Radical feminists would [deny] that their arguments are based in morality; yet the moral message is evident in their claims … an idea of female sexuality that is contaminated by sex and all the more so when sex is separated from love and exchanged for money. None of these understandings leave room for the female sex worker to speak of her own subjective experience. In this way, the depiction of the sex worker as a subjugated, helpless victim, living a life of misery, needing rescue and rehabilitation, becomes essential to justify the anti-trafficking movement. In fact, this has little to do with the reality or self-image of sex workers themselves. Seizing upon stories of atrocities of rescued sex workers, while ignoring the empowered narratives and analysis of sex-worker organisations and movements, is a studied and conscious process.

The rapid pace of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Subcontinent, and the demonisation and targeting of female sex workers in prevention rhetoric and programmes, finally brought some feminist activists – especially from the health sector – into a closer alliance with sex-workers organisations. The injustice of focusing on sex workers as significant carriers of the disease, rather than their male clients, brought at least some feminist groups to support sex-worker organisations in pushing for condom use and the right to reject a client believed to be infected. These organisations were also able to demonstrate that, when organised, the capacity of sex workers to choose safe sex, or even to refuse to service non-compliant clients, was far superior to that of the majority of Indian women.

Over the course of this long and rather torturous historical relationship, many feminists – including this writer – have slowly come to re-examine the approach to sex work. This reappraisal has been largely due to the growing visibility, views and compelling analysis of sex-worker movements in India and beyond, and the open challenges that these have thrown to feminist organisations and the national women’s movement as a whole. The turning point occurred at the National Autonomous Women’s Conference, held in Kolkata in 2006 after a gap of nearly a decade, where women of all backgrounds from across the country came together to share their experiences. Unlike previous such gatherings, however, this one included women with disabilities, hijras and, most conspicuously, sex workers – and the latter strongly voiced their views. Thus, over the past few years a new dialogue has begun, and many feminist scholars, researchers and activists are beginning to listen and learn, rather than lecture or prescribe.

The citizenship approach

alt
Art: Venantius J Pinto

Organised, politically aware sex workers are making their claims within a new framework. A composite of their arguments for visibility, voice and rights would read something like this: We may not have had a choice about whether or not to do sex work, or the other choices available to us for livelihood and survival were worse. When and if we find better alternatives, we ourselves will change occupations. But for now, we consent to be in this occupation, or we choose to remain in it as the most economically advantageous option at this time. We are neither victims nor harlots, but citizens. We demand recognition as workers and all our rights as citizens.

What can feminists learn from this? First, the views of organised sex workers and their movements are framed within the discourse of citizenship rights, an approach that feminist analyses of sex work have never used. At its most basic, citizenship is defined as the relationship between an individual and a particular state, and defines citizens as having both rights and responsibilities within those settings. However, feminist critiques of this theory have addressed the ways that this kind of definition fails to address unequal power dynamics, such as based on gender, race, class, etc. Organised sex workers, among other politically marginalised groups, have been able to push for the recognition of this discrimination and hold the state and its machinery accountable to them.

This claiming of citizenship rights places sex workers in the same space as other marginalised and ‘illegalised’ constituencies; the claims made by, for instance, slum- and pavement dwellers are very similar. What is striking is that in embracing the citizenship approach, both sex workers and other groups facing exclusion and stigma are shifting the debate to new ground, away from the arenas of moral probity and social sanction and towards citizen rights. Certain organised sex workers’ groups have negotiated such rights with town municipalities, the police and even politicians – the successes of the VAMP collective in negotiating basic services with the municipality and improved protection against violence from the police in Sangli town, and of the IFPEC network’s electoral poll boycott to gain political support for their demands in Chennai, are excellent examples. The state and local authorities have been forced to deal with these women as citizens, not as sex workers; in so doing, they have demonstrated their choice of equality and refusal to consent to discrimination.

Another lesson comes from the possibilities that open up because of the way sex work breaks down otherwise rigid moral and social boundaries. While in no way seeking to minimise the enormous range of problems that sex work entails, we must also recognise that for women, sex work can paradoxically be liberating: they no longer have to behave within the parameters of the ‘good’ woman, or observe the cultural norms, taboos or submissiveness typically expected of other women. In such a situation, women sex workers are free to make choices that are not available to their ‘good’ sisters. They can speak openly, for instance, about the violence, humiliation and duplicity of clients, police, pimps, lovers and the larger community in a way that poor women in the mainstream of society often need years of consciousness-raising to emulate.

Of course, this kind of voice and power requires organisation. The evidence is quite clear, for instance, that ‘upmarket’ individual sex workers actually have less power to set the terms of their work than poorer but organised women working in brothels or red-light districts. And like unorganised-sector workers everywhere, unorganised sex workers are exploited by the structures of the sex industry itself – by brothel owners, pimps, police and others. On the other hand, even unorganised sex workers are no worse off than other unorganised workers, whose hours, low wages, health hazards and lack of social security receive scant attention from state machinery.

The further lesson for feminists here is that despite decades of organising among diverse classes of women, feminist movements have not been as successful in catalysing this sense of liberation in the most intimate sphere of women’s lives – their relationships with their own bodies, or in their sexual lives. As a consequence, feminists have collectively been far less effective in enabling women to negotiate sexual interaction with their partners –ensuring condom use, or not consenting to sex when they are ill, in advanced pregnancy, or simply too tired, for instance – that organised sex workers consider a right. Furthermore, even the limited choice that organised sex workers have in setting the terms of their trade appears more advanced than what has been accomplished through organising among other unorganised women workers, with a few notable exceptions. Indeed, it is hard to find examples of movements of unorganised women workers that are as vibrant, visible and vocal, or have made as many significant gains, as sex-worker movements have accomplished for their members in some parts of India.

Lessons from sex workers
Even within the domain of sexuality, sex-worker movements are pushing feminist theory by re-positioning sexual services – and, hence, the entire morass of choice and consent – in a fundamental way. They have taken sex out of the domain not only of morality but of the relationship paradigm entirely. The members of these movements are saying that providing sex can be a relatively uncomplicated physical service similar to nursing or cleaning. Therefore, it can also be a livelihood choice: one can freely consent to be in sex work, especially for those whose skill set and socio-economic location restricts access to ‘better’ work.

Organised sex workers also seem to suggest that when they mobilise politically conscious movements, they can assert equal or greater power and control than women in equally un-regulated sectors of the market. For instance, they can negotiate condom use, working hours, time off, housing and habitat, and health care; they can also choose clients, choose the kinds of services they will provide, and resist and penalise violence of various kinds. And they seem to be telling feminists that condemnation of sex work is evidence of their own co-option into the patriarchal belief system, an unquestioned acceptance of the mythology of the sanctity of sexual interactions.

Finally, sex-worker movements are breaking through the rhetoric of the ‘poor, hapless victim’, and of the stranglehold of external actors in setting the terms of the discussion. Sex workers are becoming the subjects of their own analysis, breaking free of this ideological and conceptual stranglehold. They are asserting their consent to be involved in sex work – whether they entered it by choice or not – and consequently challenging the victim imagery. But more importantly, they are making shocking and uncomfortable arguments about their choice in remaining within the line of work: that it gives them a higher income, more purchasing power, better long-term economic security and independence, and far less drudgery than the other options available to them. How can members of such a dubious, stigmatised profession make such seemingly audacious, non-victimised claims? Further, how many feminist movements can claim to have parleyed their organising into the sort of political power that many sex-worker movements have demonstrated?

If feminists such as myself re-examine our views in light of the radically different perspectives offered by sex-worker movements, we would almost certainly arrive at a different definition of notions of choice and consent. We would recast choice not as just ‘real’ or ‘false’, but as occurring within a spectrum that is defined by context. Consent would be looked at as not only a manifestation of ‘agency’ within socially recognised institutions (marriage, family, state, market) or for socially acceptable alternatives, but as the right to choose a social situation outside of these structures. A long-term partnership for the production of new paradigms and strategies is the need of the day, and I believe that sex workers are a key source of learning for the future of the feminist project. The question is whether we have the humility and courage to ask for a seat at their table, rather than invite them to ours.

~ Srilatha Batliwala is a scholar associated with the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, based in Bengaluru.

The Irony of Iconhood: The life and times of Bhanwari Devi #Vaw #Sexualharassment #Justice


https://i0.wp.com/www.lawisgreek.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/bhanwari-devi.jpg

by- Laxmi Murthy
“Only justice can fill my belly, not awards,” says Bhanwari Devi in response to a question from the audience about whether or not she had been recognised by international awards. She was speaking at a meeting organised by the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore. The previous day, along with other leaders, Bhanwari had roused a massive rally in Mangalore with her fiery calls for solidarity and action against violence against women. The Mangalore March 8th program itself was phenomenal, from all accounts (I couldn’t go), and I hope Madhu, Shakun or others will share some of the spirit and verve of the rally, Women in Black event and the seminar. The unprecedented coalition of women’s and progressive groups (almost a hundred) to raise a voice against the saffronization of Karnataka’s coastal belt and increasing attacks on women, has been the outcome of dedicated work by the Forum Against Atrocities on Women (the Mahila Dourjnya Virodi Vedike, Karnataka). That none of the events, which saw the mobilization of more than 5000 women, made it to even the Bangalore editions of the dailies (can’t even dream of the national media bothering!) is a matter of dismay, but won’t go into that right now.

Here I just wanted to share what some of us were talking about soon after Bhanwari’s talk. Many of the questions, particularly from the press (and apparently this happened even in the meeting earlier in the day), kept pushing Bhanwari back into the victim mode and somehow managed to zero in on her vulnerabilities. It is no surprise then, that she broke down on stage even 20 years after she was gang raped.
Some of us tried to steer the discussion to the context in which she worked – the context in which women’s safety as workers led to the Vishaka Guidelines. Again, no surprise, that nothing much has changed for Sathins on the ground. They continue to work in precarious conditions, for a monthly pittance of Rs 1600 (raised from Rs 200 in 1the 1990s, after determined work by the Sathin Karamchari Sangh, many of us in women’s groups in Delhi at the time were part of the support group, so are aware of just what an uphill battle that was). The task of “consciousness raising” or stopping “social evils” like dowry, sex selection, child marriage etc can be extremely precarious, especially at the village level. How many of us, asked  Shyama Narang in the audience, would enter people’s houses and demand that they stop child marriage or refuse to take dowry? Bhanwari was raped while attempting to overturn exactly these sorts of practices. Needless to say, there is no job security, no transport, and no support at all from the government for doing this risky work.
Throughout, her focus was on individual effort, collective action and non-government efforts if any change was to come about. She spoke of her efforts to educate her daughter Raneswhari (a bright and confident young woman who accompanied her to Mangalore-Bangalore) – she is now an MA B.ed and teaches in a school. Bhanwari spoke of the support she had received from her husband, activists in Jaipur and women’s solidarity in general. As for the rape case, Bhanwari does not talk much about, frustrated by the legal process and the appeal by her rapists pending in the High Court.
It is deeply ironical that the icon of the Vishakha Guidelines to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace finds the whole effort of law reform utterly futile and of no real help to women. Her response to deal with perpetrators of violence against women is to round them up and beat them. She was also in favour of death penalty for rapists, while responding to a question from a journalist in the audience: what should be done about the juvenile perpetrator of the ‘Delhi gang rape”? Predictably, today’s item in the Times of India (why are we not surprised?) says, “Fearless fighter wants all Nirbhaya rapists to be hanged”.
Bhanwari’s anguished response underlines once more why the best opportunity to undertake law reform might not be during times of trauma, emotional distress or mass mobilization, despite popular notions or even a progressive groups’ understanding of “striking while the iron is hot”. The job of reviewing or making laws is better done when one is somewhat removed from the situation. It is in the nature of Commissions and government response to agitations that they pick and choose what suits the status quo, but to appear to be responding to popular sentiment and “public mood” (however that is defined) gives the regime brownie points that the feminists are loathe to give.
As for Bhanwari, her life goes on, and that’s the wonderful part. True grit, impassioned activist, flame of hope – all the clichés in our lexicon can’t even begin to describe her.

 

Delhi gang-rape accused must be given chance to reform #Vaw


PTI Mar 8, 2013, 10.21PM IST
(Actor Rahul Bose. )

NEW DELHI: Actor activist Rahul Bose on Friday came out in favour of giving the perpetrators of last year’s Delhi gang rape a chance to reform and create a “gender warrior” among them.

“… We have to ask ourselves of the five or six of the rapists of the December 16 is there anyone who wants to change, who wants to reform … Nobody is saying about commuting any sentence, the sentence stands as it is but while it stands can we create a gender warrior among them?” he asked.

The actor was participating in a year-long ” Ring The Bell” campaign launched by NGO Breakthrough which seeks to mobilize one million men around the world to commit to taking concrete action to end violence against women.

“If anybody is open to reaffirmation do we have it in us to subvert our patriarchal mindset and tell them that we are ready to confer even the right to reform to you even if there is such a massive public upsurge against you,” said Bose.

The actor further said,”If we have to move further civilizational as a society, if we have to evolve as a civilization further beyond the boundaries of India then we have to look at forgiveness.”

The 23-year girl, who was gang-raped by six men in a moving bus on December 16, died in a Singapore hospital after battling for life.

The campaign “One million men. One million promises to end violence against women”, simultaneously launched today in six cities across the world including New York, Johannesburg and Rio, pledges to connect people through social media to discuss and find new solutions to end violence.

Stressing on the needs to challenge the habits, norms and behaviour that perpetuates violence, ‘Breakthrough’ vice president Sonali Khan said, “We are calling on men and boys around the world to take a stand against violence against women by making a concrete promise that they keep.

“With men as partners, we can build a world in which women are respected- and in which all of us live freely and without fear. Each action will add up to one million; one million will start the change,” she added.

Sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar said, “I am excited to be part of a campaign that promotes deeper dialogue and therefore understanding to help bring about a groundswell of change in the tragic global epidemic of violence against women. It’s important to engage men in this dialogue as this violence against women is not exclusively a women’s issue.

 

Poor urban services found to increase risk of #Vaw #womenrights


ActionAid says lack of transport, housing, sanitation and street lighting leaves poor women and girls in cities vulnerable

Indian women travel inside a ‘women only’ metro train compartment in Delhi

Indian women travel inside a ‘women only’ metro train compartment in Delhi. Photograph: Yirmiyan Arthur/AP

Poor quality and underfunded public services are exacerbating the “constant” violence, harassment and intimidation that millions of women face in cities and urban centres across the world, according to a report.

 

ActionAid International interviewed women in six cities – in Recife (Brazil), Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Mombasa (Kenya), Monrovia (Liberia) and (Kathmandu) Nepal – who spoke of the daily threats they face, including rape, sexual harassment, robbery and beatings, in public spaces and around their homes and places of work.

 

The report says lack of access to public services such as transport, decent housing, sanitation, water and street lighting was leaving poor women and girls vulnerable and exposed. Systematic failings by police to address the widespread problem of violence against women and girls exacerbated these threats.

 

More than half the global population – around 3.4 billion people – now live in urban areas. The UN says rapid urbanisation has increased the risks for people living in urban areas, especially women and children. According to its figures, global crime rates rose by 30% between 1980 and 2000. Between 2002 and 2007, 60% of urban residents in developing countries, the majority women and young girls, reported they had been victims of crime.

 

 

Women street vendors in Addis Ababa told ActionAid that lack of policing meant they were attacked and robbed on their way home from work by men who knew they were carrying money.

 

In Phnom Penh, garment workers lived in cramped, rented rooms with few basic facilities near their place of work. Many are forced to walk down dark, muddy roads late at night after overtime shifts. A lack of policing and street lighting has led to the constant risk of attack, robbery or sexual assault.

 

In Mombasa, women and girls living near and around the dumpsites of Mwakirunge lack access to water, electricity or healthcare. Research concludes that this lack of services has led to extreme violence, such as rape and young children being sexually harassed.

 

“Violence against women is obviously a global problem and as the majority of people now live in cities, public services can and must be part of the solution for making their lives safer,” said Ramona Vijeyarasa, senior programme manager for women’s rights at ActionAid International.

 

A big part of the problem, said Vijeyarasa, is that women have no voice or participation in planning decisions. “City planning is still very much a male-dominated world, and until women can have a say in how cities should be designed and built, their needs and safety are going to be ignored.”

 

In 2011, a study into urbanisation, poverty and violence (pdf) by the International Development Research Centre, said city design had an influence on gendered patterns of crime and urban violence. For example, public transport, designed predominantly for the needs of male workers, paid little attention to women’s safety.

 

It concluded that the “dark side” of urbanisation and spiralling levels of violence threaten to erase the potential of cities to stimulate growth, productivity and economic dividends for some of the world’s poorest people.

 

ActionAid International said governments must allocate funds to ensure the provision of accessible and affordable public services, including drinking water, healthcare, education, housing, sanitation, electricity, roads and transport for poor people, especially women and girls.

 

Services to prevent and redress violence against women, both in the private sphere and in public, should also be included in the realm of essential public services.

 

Some international efforts have been made to try to address the problem of rapid urbanisation leading to increasing levels of gender violence. In 2011, Unicef, UN-Habitat and UN Women launched a Safe and Friendly Cities for All (pdf) initiative, a five-year programme aimed at making women and children feel safer in local neighbourhoods

 

#India- Celebrating women’s solidarities! Resisting cultures of violence! #Vaw #Womenrights #womensday


We have all recently witnessed unprecedented response to a young woman’s brutal gang rape and eventual death. The public anger and mass grief it triggered finally pushed our government to take action. Such is the power of people’s resolve!

Yet, sexual assaults and violence continue unabated across the country, from everyday instances of sexual harassment like stalking, touching and staring to violence at home and at the work place. Sexual violence against women from Dalit and Adivasi communities, religious minorities and the differently abled, and people marginalised on the basis of gender and sexuality is being invisibilised. There is reluctance to recognise marital rape (committed by a “trusted” partner) as a crime. Sexual abuse and torture by security forces in Kashmir, North-East and Chhattisgarh (including custodial violence) enjoy state impunity.

The Justice Verma Committee introduced many critical recommendations like command responsibility for custodial rape. Many of these suggestions have been overlooked by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013. One big lacuna is the proposed gender neutrality of the accused. Unlike in existing law where the accused is male, the new Bill makes it possible for women to be charged with these offences. In a culture known for its anti-women positions and acute gender inequalities, this clause makes a mockery of sexual violence (including rape) against women. We demand that this be changed immediately!

Public ferment against sexual violence is being projected as a call for death penalty. We strongly condemn any retributive justice practised by the state, and appeal that any form of punishment function within the ambit of human rights and justice. We call upon the Government of India to join the overwhelming majority of nation states that have abolished death penalty.

Sexual assaults are but a part of a wider spectrum of cultures of violence that entail discrimination against women. Honour crimes and killings, khap panchayat diktats, attacks on women’s autonomy, neglect of women’s health, women workers’ lack of social security, and neoliberal policies that oppress poor women in multiple ways are all the result of anti-women attitudes. Patriarchal institutions like religion and community lose no time in calling for curtailment of women’s freedoms in the public sphere in the name of safety. The “Din Hamara Raat Hamari Abhiyan” or Take Back the Night Campaign is a rejection of such moral policing that impinges on women’s right to full participation in society.

The International Women’s Day is an enduring symbol of women’s solidarities and struggles against injustices. On this occasion, we salute the fighting spirit of sisters from across the nation including Soni Sori in a Chhattisgarh jail, Irom Sharmila in a Manipur hospital, “Suryanelli” battling a 17-year old case in Kerala and many unnamed women challenging the capitalist-state nexus in Orissa and other parts of Central India. We raise our voices against all such violations.

We invite people from all walks of life to join us in remembrance, resistance and celebration of women’s extraordinary achievements. Let us collectively resolve to fight for women’s justice, dignity and autonomy.

Lend your voice and support to women’s movements that have been working in multiple directions: from consciousness raising to supporting women’s facing violence, from law reform to challenging traditional notions about women’s roles, opposing caste-communal violence to supporting women’s political participation and so on. Significant work continues to be done to challenge prejudices against women with disabilities and people of different genders and sexualities. Thanks to such efforts, women have achieved major strides in redefining family and inheritance, political participation, legal reform vis-à-vis domestic violence, dowry deaths, and adverse sex ratio.

Resolve to end injustice and violence against women!

Stand up for women’s rights!

Brief overview of the women’s movements in India

* 1848: Savitribai Phule started girls’ schools, defying threats by feudal forces (?)
* 1885: Rukhmabai chose prison over marriage as a child bride & studied to be a doctor
* 1940s: Telengana women part of militant struggles for land and freedom
* 1970s: anti-liquor, anti-price rise movements, issues of land alienation and wife-beating addressed in Shahada, Maharashtra
* 1977 onwards: Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh established; unequal wages, women’s retrenchment, sexual division of labour attacked
* 1970s: Custodial rape of Mathura (a young tribal girl); teachers challenged the Supreme Court judgement; state forced to recognise custodial rape as a crime
* 1980s: massive participation of women in Chipko and Appiko environmental movements
* 1992: woman activist gang raped in Rajasthan; Supreme Court framed Vishakha Guidelines, predecessor of  Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace 2012
* 2009: Delhi High Court decriminalises consensual, adult same-sex relationships
History of the International Women’s Day

* 1857: thousands of women workers in the New York garment industry took to the streets against unfair wages, 12-hour work days and sexual harassment in the workplace
* 1910: Clara Zetkin’s gave a call in Copenhagen, Denmark to establish an “International Women’s Day
* 1911: on 19 March, more than a million women and men marched together
* 1911: On March 25, a fire in a sweatshop in New York killed 145 female garment workers. In solidarity, 80,000 workers marched to attend the mass funeral
* 1912: 14,000 textile workers went on strike with the slogan “Better to starve fighting than starve working”
* 1913-1914: the International Women’s Day also became a day for protesting against the First World War and for world peace.

 

 

PRESS RELEASE-Women from India Demand for End to Gender Violence as the 57th Session Starts of UN Commission on Status of Women #womensday


 

For immediate release

 

 

7 March 2013, 1 pm to 3 pm at Geneva Conference Room, Bahai United Nations Office,866 UN Plaza,Suite 120,New York NY 10017 & 12 March 2013, 12.30 pm to 2.30 pm at Conference Room, Bahai United Nations Office, 866 UN Plaza, Suite 120, New York NY 10017

 

New York,7 March 2013: 1 Billion Rising campaign states, “One in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime”. According to UNDP, “72 million children “ 54% of them girls are out of school” and about billion women fall short of economic potential. According to UN Women 50% of women who die from homicides worldwide are killed by their current/former husbands/ partners.Women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food, but earn only 10% of the income. According to World Bank,” Eliminating all forms of discrimination against women in employment could increase productivity per worker by up to 40 percent”.Feministing states 40% of the child soldiers of the world are girls. According to the Control Arms 26 million people are forced to flee their homes every year due to armed conflict. UN Women states approximately 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence, mostly involving women and girls, have been documented since 1996, though the actual numbers are considered to be much higher.

 

In north east India, armed violence has taken its toll on the very notion of “normal civilian life” and led to innumerable instances of violations committed against civilian populations particularly women by both state and non-state actors. In most operations, be they cordon and search, combing, arrests, searches, or interrogation, the armed forces have, under the aegis of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA) done away with the basic, minimal safeguards accorded to women suspects by the Criminal Procedure Code as well as the SC directives. Arrest by male security personnel, interrogation in army camps and police stations, torture and sexual abuse including rape by security personnel in custody has become routine. In Jammu & Kashmir mass rape of Kashmiri women by security forces was first documented in the Chapora (Srinagar) mass rape incident on March 7, 1990. Violations of women have also been reported from non-state groups. The Hmar Women Association (HWA) submitted a memorandum to to government where “the plights of Hmar tribal women in Tipaimukh sub-division of Churachandpur, Manipur, India  who were raped and molested by two armed groups during January 2006.

 

In short women are facing violence and discrimination both in conflict as well as non conflict areas and the number is increasing.

 

At the backdrop of recent rise of women in India and around world on ending violence and the convening of fifty seventh session of UN Commission on Status of Women (CSW), Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network and Control Arms Foundation of India are hosting a  panel discussion on the theme “Six Decades of UN Commission on Status of Women: Status of Women Now Worldwide and Evolving New Strategies to Ensure Elimination & Prevention of all Forms of Violence against Women and Girls” on 7 March 2013, 1 pm to 3 pm at Geneva Conference Room, Bahai United Nations Office,866 UN Plaza,Suite 120,New York NY 10017 .

 

Distinguished panelists of the event will  include Ms Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate & co-chair of the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict; Dip. Minou Tavárez Mirabal, Chair-Foreign Affairs Committee, Chamber of Deputies, Dominican Republic & Chair-International Council, Parliamentarians for Global Action; Ms Rashmi Singh, Executive Director, National Mission for Empowerment of Women ,Ministry of Women and Child Development, Govt. of India; Mr Arvinn Eikeland Gadgil, Deputy Minister, International Development, Norway; Ms Binalakshmi Nepram, Founder,Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network & Control Arms Foundation of India.

 

On 12 March 2013, we are also hosting another panel discussion on the theme “Women, Peace and Security: Strategies To End Violence Against Women In Armed Conflict Areas And Leading Humanitarian Disarmament Efforts” , 12.30 pm to 2.30 pm at Conference Room, Bahai United Nations Office, 866 UN Plaza, Suite 120, New York NY 10017. The event will be chaired by Dr. Swadesh Rana, Former Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch in the United Nations Department of Disarmament Affairs. Distinguished panelists will include Ms May Malony & Sharna de Lacy, Young Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom YWILPF, Australia; Dr. Angana Chatterji, Co-chair of Conflict Resolution and People’s Rights, Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership, University of California, Berkeley; Ms Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director, Human Rights Watch; Dr Walter Dorn, Chair, Canadian Pugwash Group & Professor, Royal Military College of Canada and Ms Binalakshmi Nepram, Founder, Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network & Control Arms Foundation of India. As we believe that gender equality is, first and foremost, a human right. Women are entitled to live in dignity and in freedom from want and from fear. Empowering women is also an indispensable tool for advancing development, peace and reducing poverty. Kindly join the event.

 

 

 

 

For more information, please contact:

Ms Binalakshmi Nepram, Founder, Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network & Secretary General, Control Arms Foundation of India. Email: Binalakshmi@gmail.com. US mobile number: 3472165709

B 5/146, Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi-110029, India Phone: +9-11-46018541, Fax: +91-11-6166234. Websites: www.cafi-online.comwww.womensurvivorsnetwork.org

 

For the women of India, Parliament must speak #Vaw


FARAH NAQVI, The Hindu

The question Parliament must ask is, as it considers any new Bill, is which key Committee recommendations got left out.
The HinduThe question Parliament must ask is, as it considers any new Bill, is which key Committee recommendations got left out.

The House must ensure that the new Bill to replace the Criminal Law Ordinance consciously upholds the provisions and spirit of the Verma Committee report

A brave young woman died a brutal death in the heart of the nation’s capital. And Parliament must speak. Today. Tomorrow. Or, the day after. But speak it must. And in a unified voice of conviction and certitude, rising above the cacophony of political difference say No to violence against women. Not in mere words, howsoever strong and impassioned, but in deeds, in crafting into our statute books laws on fighting sexual violence that are overdue, that the nation demands, and that are truly just to women. After decades of slow momentum on women’s rights, India is poised on a cusp of change. It is now in the hands of parliamentarians to make that a reality. Let a voice reverberate from the halls of Parliament, sending a signal to India and to the world that our democracy is alive, that our democracy is good for women, and that this time the ramparts of patriarchy shall give.

History is littered with lost opportunities for change. Let this not be one of them. Today, scores of women across India, protesting on the streets, watching from their homes, writing in their blogs, alert with angry chatter on e-groups, speaking loudly in press conferences, strategising in quiet huddles — are saying the same thing — uphold the Justice Verma Committee (JVC) Report!

The task before Parliament is not simple. First there was the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2012 (CLB), tabled in the Lok Sabha on December 4, 2012, and sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee. The CLB 2012, crafted before the JVC was even constituted, was flawed and reactionary, flying in the face of repeated demands by women rights groups across the country. It was soundly opposed through scores of submissions to the Parliamentary Standing Committee. But even as the Standing Committee was considering its response, it was overtaken by events — the brutal gang-rape of the young woman on December 16, 2012, the constitution of the JVC on December 23, 2012, the quick submission of its report on January 23, 2013, and then, ostensibly, in response to national sentiment, in an act of haste and stealth — an Ordinance which was signed into law on February 5, 2013.

Now the Parliamentary Standing Committee, which officially considered the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012, (and the Ordinance, 2013 as well), has submitted its report. And the Government of India is poised to craft a new Bill to replace the Ordinance. Sadly, the Standing Committee report does little to push the boundaries of our collective conscience, and one only hopes that the new Bill will.

While both the SC report and the Ordinance 2013 can claim to have incorporated parts of the JVC recommendations on points of law, the question Parliament must ask is, as it considers any new Bill, is: which key JVC recommendations got left out?

The list of omissions is illuminating. Both the Ordinance 2013 and the SC Recommendations not only retain the core of impunity for sexual crimes, they actually add to it.

ACCOUNTABILITY

What is impunity? A simple Thesaurus search will show up the following words — license, exemption, freedom, liberty, latitude and immunity. Centuries of impunity emboldens those who commit violence. It emboldened the men who mauled a young woman’s body. Yet, the Ordinance 2013, which is today the law of the land, has created laws on sexual assault, harassment and rape in which the accused is “gender neutral,” i.e. both women and men can be accused of these crimes. Does this sound right? Can we sweep away the painful, historical and contemporary reality of masculine violence against women in India — of women, stalked and raped by men in fields, homes and streets? Yes, in custodial situations, women can be perpetrators of sexual violence — no one who has seen images of Abu Ghraib should believe otherwise. But not across the board. Given the brute nature of gender-based inequities in India, the huge imbalance of power between men and women, the realities of rape across our towns and villages, is this the law that the women of India deserve?

For every complaint made against an offender, there now arises a real possibility of counter-complaints that will silence women even more than they are today. Which woman will brave the sceptical stance of the police and judiciary to seek justice when she herself stands to be in the dock, accused of the same crime as the offender? These are the questions Parliament must ask.

The SC report and Ordinance also uphold impunity of the police, keeping intact their licence to refuse to lodge FIRs, to smirk and scorn women who seek its help. The JVC report had recommended creating a new offence (166A) for public servants who disobey the law and proposing a mandatory minimum sentence. The Standing Committee supports inclusion of this offence but says ‘no’ to a minimum sentence. So, a rap on the knuckles is the only real deterrent we offer erring police. Parliament must demand full accountability from the public servants of this country — to ensure that they provide protection and ensure prosecution if women are violated; and Parliament must ensure that any new Bill on sexual assault and rape proposes a minimum sentence for erring public officials.

AGE OF CONSENT

And where will Parliament stand on age of consent? Will it stand up for the rights of the young men and women of India, who deserve the right to be young, and to not be criminalised? Or should we make them even more vulnerable to self-appointed moral guardians with medieval mindsets, to the khappanchayats, by making sexual contact with anyone between 16-18 years a statutory offence, as the Ordinance 2013 does and the Standing Committee upholds? Statutory offence means any third party can threaten young people with jail-time; it means a judge must convict them, even though the couple may beg and plead and say this was not a crime; it means harassment by police in inter-caste relationships; it means a powerful tool in the hands of the wrong people. If Parliament passes a Bill that criminalises consensual sexual contact with anyone between 16-18, India’s portrait will hang in the international gallery of shame.

There is more at stake — will the new Bill recognise marital rape? Or, make it obligatory on the State to provide reparations for victims? At the time of writing we do not know what the provisions of the Government’s new Bill will be. If it upholds the provisions and spirit of the Justice Verma Committee report, Parliamentarians must pass it into law, and as you thump your tables in approval, women outside will celebrate with you. This time, in memory of a young woman who died as no woman should, Parliament must speak for all the women of India. And this time the ramparts of patriarchy must give.

(Farah Naqvi, a writer and activist, is a member of the National Advisory Council. Views expressed here are personal. E-mail: farah.naqvi64@yahoo.com)

 

One billion rising for Soni Sori and all women prisoners till they are Free #Vaw #1billionrising


SONISORIOBR

March 1, 2013

Kamayani Bali Mahabal

I am  rising for an incarcerated tribal teacher Soni Sori , a  woman who juggled several roles – a tribal journalist, activist, teacher, mother of three young kids. A woman who dared to speak against the interests of the Chhattisgarh State and mining companies. A woman who did not succumb to the emotional, physical, sexual harassment targeted at breaking her spirits in the jail. She, instead, knocked at the conscience of the world outside.

She  began her fight against injustice in October 2011, when she was arrested on the charges of being a maoist supporter and brutally, physically and sexually tortured in custody by the Chhattisgarh police.

The announcement of the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry on 63rdRepublic day of India in 2012 for Ankit Garg, the SP of Dantewada is a reflection of the sad state of the Indian Republic .. It was shocking to see that a police officer who was accused of brutalising and torturing the young Adivasi teacher, Soni Sori, was lauded by the State even after reports of perversity of the worst kind in the way he reportedly ordered the torture of Sori in police custody.

ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE ONLINE

1)–Please sign a petition  to president of India to  take back his medal here

http://petitions.halabol.com/2013/01/21/take-back-president%E2%80%99s-police-medal-gallantry-awarded-ankit-garg

2—Endorse a letter to Sonia Gandhi for Soni Sori

Click here to endorse the letter

3)—Send soni sori a post card

Click here to see the details

4)- Light a candle for soni sori and all women prisoners

This is an online action created by Barduari Studios, an anonymous group, who thought it appropriate to develop something that anyone can use to reffirm their support to the Soni Sori Campaign.

Please light a candle for Soni Sori here: http://www.shareswf.com/game/29150/light-a-candle-for-soni-sori

And do change your facebook coverpage for atleast one day to the ‘light a candle before the Supreme Court‘ given in the banner album. You can also directly take it from our facebook page at www.facebook.com/onebillionrisingforsonisori

If you have blog webiste please embed below widget, its on sonis ori blog as well

Light a candle for soni sori you can embed a widget on your blog, copy and paste below, share widely

She fought back! She went on hunger strike in jail and protested against the human rights violations and the treatment by the Chhattisgarh Police; she wrote letters tot he court about the situation in prison and continues to speak out whenever she can.

Even after more than  a year, Soni has not received justice. Her struggle continues…

Soni Sori has become a symbol of mistreatment of all women prisoners .

Her fight for justice is not just for herself but also for others.

Her letters from Prison which spread like for fire for an International support on March 8th 2012

WE  Rise for Soni Sori because:

  1. Far from being an oppressed and downtrodden woman, as an outspoken critic of the state policies, the mining companies, and the Maoists, Soni Sori is being punished for exerting her democratic right to speak out indefence of her adivasi/ Indigenous  community and their traditional lands rather than for a crime she has not even been tried for.
  2. She is being punished by those who would not have the authority to mete out punishment even if she were guilty of a crime and the form of her punishments are not to be found in any penal code anywhere in the world.
  3. If the Indian government is not willing to protect women from the illegal actions of its own agents when in their custody, then what message is it sending out to Indian men – that women are fair game just for going out or speaking out?
  4. The Indian state not only seems to be failing to protect women from sexual and other types of violence, but is in fact sanctioning, indeed rewarding such crimes when they are committed by its employees and representatives to silence women who speak out in defence of human rights.

We Rise Because We Refuse To Support State Violence On Women.

We Rise Because Rape And Violence Against Women Under Any Circumstances is Unacceptable.

We Rise On This International Women’s Day To Demand Freedom for Soni Sori & Punishment For Her Perpetrators.

When: One Billion Rising on March 8th 2013.

Who: People of all gender with head, heart and a strong spine

Where: Here. There. Anywhere. Wherever we have such people.

What:  Organise your own ‘One Billion Rising’ action in your city, school, university, work place. Organise it any form you like. Or check the list of events on this page and join the one you can. Don’t worry If you are unable to make it to the streets, there are several online actions: petitions, letters to Indian government. But whatever you decide to do leave a message here so that others can join.

JOIN US ON FACEBOOK

https://www.facebook.com/OneBillionRisingforsonisori

CHECK EVENTS IN YOUR CITY, AND IF YOU DONT FIND ONE ADD , LETS STRIKE,AND PROTEST TOGETHER FOR SONI SORI

https://www.facebook.com/OneBillionRisingforsonisori/events

Make this post Viral : !!

#India #1billionrising in vain -A woman who thrashed eve-teasers faces police charges #Vaw #WTFnews


One Billion Rising in Vain

A woman who thrashed eve-teasers on V-day faces police charges in Thiruvananthapuram

BY Shahina KK Open Magazine
TAGGED UNDER | women | eve-teasers | Thiruvananthpuram
IT HAPPENS
IN HER DEFENCE: Amrita Mohan believes the police action against her will deter other women from fighting back

IN HER DEFENCE: Amrita Mohan believes the police action against her will deter other women from fighting back

On 14 February, Amrita Mohan, a BA student of All Saints College, attended a One Billion Rising rally in Thiruvananthapuram, a global campaign to end violence against women. Later that night, she was having dinner at a roadside eatery at the venue, Shangumugham beach, with her family and friends. That’s when three men in a vehicle marked ‘Government of Kerala’ started making filthy comments about Amrita and her friend. Amrita ignored them for a while, but when they kept at it, she lost her cool. “There was an argument. There were several men eating at that outlet, but nobody supported us. When my father tried to intervene, one man in the group pushed him. That’s when I lost control,” she says.

What the eve-teasers didn’t know was that Amrita was an expert in martial arts. She first pulled the man on the driver’s seat out of the car and beat him up. When two others tried to attack her, she thrashed them too. By then, the crowd, too, had joined her and somebody called the police.

Amrita’s action was widely hailed by women’s organisations, individuals and the media as an example for other girls. But there has been a twist in the case. Two of three eve-teasers were contract drivers at the Income Tax Department. So, Amrita has now been booked, on directions of the judicial first class magistrate, under Sections 323,325 and 335 and 332 of the IPC for voluntarily causing hurt and deterring a public servant from discharging his ‘lawful duty’. This invites imprisonment for up to seven years and is a non-bailable offence. The eve-teasers have been charged with lighter, bailable offences.

Women’s organisations wonder how harassing women at night could be ‘lawful duty’. “The police are clearly biased. Though Amrita told them that the men were drunk, they were not taken to a hospital for a medical examination,” says Mercy Alexander, director of Saki Women’s Resource Centre in the city.

Amrita is determined to go ahead with her case against the men. “My only concern is that this action against me by the police and court will deter women. They will hesitate to resist when confronted with a similar situation,” she says.

Mahatma Gandhi’s;Granddaughter opposes #Deathpenalty #Vaw #Rape


: Monday, February 25, 2013, Zee News
Melbourne: Amid a debate in India over capital punishment for rapists, the granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi on Monday said the death sentence is not the solution to end violence against women and the society needs to promote gender consciousness.”Capital punishment itself will not change the attitude towards gender, nor (the) Anna Hazare-led stir on bringing a law against corruption alone will change the system,” Ela Gandhi, a former South African MP said during her visit to Australia. “Well it’s 2013 but lots of mothers still buy pink for their girls and blue for the boys, that’s just one little thing in which they differentiate. I think if you just go from there, you see little issues in the way we bring up our children, that you know makes these roles separate, that children grow up thinking that we are different,” she said. “There is a difference between girls and boys but that difference is not, you know, in terms of roles and so on. That difference has been exaggerated and that is what we need to curb, ABC news quoted her as saying. And the social activist, who is working to end domestic violence thinks the society needs to “become more gender conscious”. “You know, there has to be real community outreach programs with parents, with young people in schools. Everywhere, gender consciousness needs to be a part of the syllabus of every child, that from infancy to tertiary education and in the community,” she said. She also expressed shock over alleged murder of model Reeva Steenkamp by gold medalist paralympian Oscar Pistorius. “Steenkamp’s death by the hands of her boyfriend has reinforced the unfortunate fact that South Africa is battling with the deep-rooted culture of violence? possession of arms such as a gun lead to these kinds of irreversible consequences,” she said. She also participated in various events framed around the theme “Global Problems, Local Solutions”.

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries

Archives

Kractivism-Gonaimate Videos

Protest to Arrest

Faking Democracy- Free Irom Sharmila Now

Faking Democracy- Repression Anti- Nuke activists

JAPA- MUSICAL ACTIVISM

Kamayaninumerouno – Youtube Channel

UID-UNIQUE ?

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 6,233 other followers

Top Rated

Blog Stats

  • 1,765,930 hits

Archives

November 2019
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930  
%d bloggers like this: