|THERE were two important components to the report presented to the seventh national conference of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) by its general secretary. The first section assessed the status of women in the context of international and national developments, and the second was a review of the AIDWA’s interventions, struggles and organisational growth in the period 2001-2004.
The report generated a very meaningful and perceptive discussion, with 67 delegates participating over two days. Their inputs gave additional insights and contributed to the formulation of the AIDWA’s future programmes and thrust areas.
To encapsulate, briefly, some of the significant issues that emerged and that have enriched the ensuing action agenda are as follows.
In the international arena, the US aggression in Iraq and the threats to Palestine and Cuba demonstrate that imperialism is on the offensive. The impact in Iraq, with living conditions deteriorating sharply and with a woman getting raped almost daily, with literacy levels falling and with continuing attacks on civilians, indicts the US as a war criminal. Even UN agencies are losing their independent role. The widest possible global resistance has to be built up to rebuff this trend.
Implementation of the neo-liberal policies throws up an alarming uniformity of experience for women. They are further marginalised as they become a source of cheap flexible labour. Much greater inequalities, exploitation, sexual violence and a dramatic increase in global trafficking have been widespread outcomes. Militant joint movements to counter this are essential.
Alternatives to the neo-liberal policies being evolved in China are of importance, and have to be acknowledged. At the same time, some worrying trends have to be addressed and rectified.
The damages to women’s interests under NDA rule have been extensive. They cut across economic, social and cultural spheres. Indeed, even though communal forces have received an electoral setback, they are trying to use their existing social base to polarise our society around communal issues. For instance, a tableau of the Godhra incident was displayed in some areas of Gujarat on Janmashtami day to whip up sentiments. The population issue is constantly posed along communal lines, though it has linkages with other factors like poverty and illiteracy.
Another retrograde trend is the use of rituals by communal forces to mobilise women. Additionally, the commercialisation of religious rituals is strengthening the nexus between market economy and communal propaganda.
Under the UPA, the space for democratic aspirations has increased. The significance of the CMP of the UPA government, with its pro-woman and pro-poor assurances, should not be underestimated. Unfortunately, the allocations and executive measures needed to implement the schemes are not forthcoming. The AIDWA has to keep in mind the importance of gaining tangible benefits for the large sections of women on the ground. The commitments --- which include passage of reservation bill for women; strengthening of the public distribution system (PDS); introduction of Employment Guarantee Act; legislation against domestic violence; increased allocations for health and social sectors --- need to be realised. Only broad-based mobilisations and continuous lobbying can convert these into realities.
The policy of targeting the poor has become a way of actually excluding the poor from the ration system and the whole PDS has to be revamped by reverting to universalised coverage.
The continuing oppression of Dalit women and the poor implementation of the SC/ST Act was highlighted. Marginalisation and exploitation of tribal women is alarming, and they are denied access to marginal forest produce, but the Draft Tribal Policy does not mention this aspect at all. Recently, the crisis in agriculture has led to an exodus of people in search of livelihood. Men, women, whole families are leaving their villages, but the problem of large-scale distress migration has not yet been recognised by the government. The invisibility of this problem has to be exposed.
The increase in violence against women, sexual harassment, the lack of effective time bound legal redress, the distortions in media and derogatory attitudes inciting more violence, the issue of death penalty --- all emerged as major flashpoints. The experience of Tripura in combating terrorism was highlighted as something quite remarkable and the Tripura comrades were greeted for their tremendous courage and sacrifice.
The drastic fall in child sex ratios, especially amongst well-off educated sections, due to dowry, son preference and misuse of medical technology was highlighted as an area of deep concern. In spite of the PNDT Act having been passed, action against doctors has been very lax, whereas the criminalisation of the medical profession by some doctors has led to a lot of debate. The gamut of discriminations that have led to this distortion and the increased abduction or purchase of ‘brides’ from poorer areas reveals the extent of violence latent in sex selection. A major campaign is called for.
As part of strengthening the AIDWA’s interventions, valuable contributions were made by the delegates. The summing up of work and organisation report reflected the multidimensional nature of the AIDWA’s work, and the linking up of local action with the larger policy framework. Future agenda would include the following:
STATUS OF ORGANISATION
- Strengthen our movement for the reservation bill for women.
- Strongly oppose the two-child norm as a population control measure.
- When addressing the issues of Muslim women, mobilise initially around day to day and livelihood issues.
- Improve the functioning of SHGs and ensure that they do not get bureaucratised.
- Along with regular political campaigns against fundamentalist forces, more area level interactions to be encouraged.
- Continue with sectoral struggles. Take up issues of domestic workers, home based workers, tribals, migrants, Dalits with concrete demands.
- Address the needs of specific groups like the disabled, sportspersons, young single women, and women headed households.
While the AIDWA membership has increased, the problem of uneven development persists.
Also, the participation of women in activities has to be ensured. The principle of accountability of the leadership and a collective understanding along with teamwork has to be strengthened. New initiatives should be encouraged. Promotion of cadres at the proper time, and ensuring social composition of committees are important. Making the unit committees function independently lies at the core of democratising the AIDWA work.
The unity of the organisation is very important and collective effort at all levels will enable the AIDWA to take on the problems of women better. These were a few of the significant organisational aspects that were highlighted in the summing up by Brinda Karat.
The accounts were placed by the treasurer, Kalindi Deshpande, and this plus other reports were unanimously passed by the delegates.
PRESENTATIONS ON WOMEN, WORK & FOOD SECURITY
Economists Jayati Ghosh and Madhura Swaminathan made brief but very useful presentations on two issues of crucial importance to women. Jayati Ghosh pointed out how many aspects of the government policy had generated an employment crisis. She said pressure for implementing the Employment Guarantee Act (EGA) had to be sustained, otherwise the government would try to scuttle it. She appreciated the role being played by the AIDWA in inserting a gender component in all policy decisions, and emphasised the need for ensuring that the Act reaches women by redesigning the scheme to include women friendly tasks.
Madhura Swaminathan described how the PDS had been systematically dismantled and, in a scenario of high anaemia and malnourishment, stressed how targeting had actually eliminated the poor people’s access to ration. She emphasised the need for the AIDWA to prioritise the struggle for food security, and for bringing back universalisation of the PDS.
GROUP DISCUSSION ON COMMISSION PAPERS
Background papers were prepared on seven important issues of immediate relevance to women. These were as below:
There was a lively debate in smaller groups, and the rich experiences of the states were presented in a plenary session. The demands charters were adopted as resolutions for action. Along with the resolutions demanding comprehensive implementation of the CMP, especially EGA and Women’s Reservation Bill, other important resolutions included
- Trafficking in women;
- Dalit women --- caste, class, and gender oppression;
- Agrarian crisis, migration and impact on women;
- Towards a liquor policy for India;
- Problems of poor urban women;
- Female foeticide and infanticide; and
- Fundamentalism and women.
- Proper prosecution and witness protection in the Best Bakery case;
- Condemning the degrading portrayal of women in media and demanding better media monitoring; and
- Against imperialist assaults by the US.
In a move to increase the role of office bearers, a constitutional amendment was brought in, according to which a new category of assistant secretary was created (along with the already existing secretaries and secretariat), to be filled in if found necessary.
The seventh AIDWA conference increased the number of members in the central executive committee (CEC) to 96 so as to allow for a better social composition and to respond to the specific needs of some of the states. The panel was introduced by Brinda Karat and elected unanimously.
Apart from the president Subhashini Ali and working president Shyamali Gupta, 9 vice presidents were elected. A change of guard occurred with general secretary Brinda Karat proposing Sudha Sundararaman as the new general secretary. Six national secretaries and five assistant secretaries with three secretariat members were also elected. Bonnani Biswas was elected the new treasurer.
Subhashini Ali placed on record the tremendous contributions made by Brinda Karat in building the organisation over the decades, and the impetus given to sectoral issues, which has brought the AIDWA to national pre-eminence as never before. The closing session saw an outpouring of affection from the delegates as they all surged onstage to shower Brinda Karat with their tokens to show how much her work had been appreciated.
A call for action was issued by Sudha Sundararaman to commemorate December 10 ---Human Rights Day --- as a day of struggle to demand implementation of the EGA. The March 8 joint campaign would be around implementation of the CMP. The inspiring seventh national conference of the AIDWA came to a close with Subhashini Ali’s inspiring call for one crore membership by the next conference, and slogans to uphold the AIDWA’s demands.