India: Appeal for a Common March 8 Programme
March 8, 2003
In response to a few suggestions that had come up regarding having a common Mar 8 programme re. Gujarat, some of us got together at the Asian Social Forum (ASF) meet in Hyderabad to discuss the feasibility / desirability of such a programme. We are circulating the key issues discussed at the meeting so that you could also think of such a programme in your area and start the process of discussions with other groups in your regions.
Gujarat has hit the headlines this last year for all the wrong reasons. Given the gravity of the sexual assault on women and the implications of the BJP win the elections some women´s groups felt that Mar 8, 2003 should culminate in a large gathering of women´s groups from all over the country in Ahmedabad. The focus of this programme should be violence against women, committed by both State and non-state actors, and the implications of the collapse of all democratic institutions for women.
In response to this suggestion, some people also felt that prolonged conflict in the North East and Kashmir has made targets of women, who have suffered large scale damage in terms of threat to their lives, persons and family members. The intensity of the conflict has had long ranging impacts on women. Women´s groups should respond equally to the implications of conflict in these areas too. Therefore, it was suggested that instead of focussing only on Gujarat, we should try and link up women´s groups across the country by highlighting all three regions and, others too if necessary.
This would have to be a common programme, based on a common press release/pamphlet and logo all over the country.
The Meeting In Hyderabad
We met at Hyderabad on the evening of 5th Jan to discuss the possibility of working out a common Mar 8 programme all over the country keeping this in mind. The meeting was attended by at least 30 women/women´s groups from the North East, Kashmir, Gujarat, Delhi, West Bengal, Mumbai, Andhra Pradesh, Bangalore, Pune and so on.
The meeting discussed the need to have a more generic programme vis-à-vis women in conflict situations, rather than focussing only on Gujarat. Some participants felt that Gujarat needed to be in focus as it represents a different set of implications in comparison to the North East or Kashmir. On the other hand, the participants from the North East (in addition to others), felt that it was high time women´s groups responded in one voice to the prolonged conflict in these areas.
One of the ways this common programme could also be organised would be to send a representative group of women from across various regions to all three areas. For example, women from the East could go to the North East, similarly women from the North could go to Kashmir, those from the Western region could go to Gujarat. This would be in addition to other local programmes which would be held in other areas, highlighting the same issues. (It would be difficult for women´s groups from the South to go to all three areas, in terms of logistics). Besides, it was important to have groups all over the country focussing on the same issues in their respective regions. This also has immense political significance apart from expressing solidarity with local struggles.
It was also felt that Mar 8 programmes are planned well in advance and groups usually focus on a whole range of issues. We cannot disrupt such programmes. All we can do is that if groups agree we can have this common programme in addition to all the other programmes already planned.
Given the fact that Mar 8 is round the corner, the amount of co-ordination involved in such an effort is bound to be enormous. Therefore we decided on a division of labour based on regional co-ordination (in terms of informing regional groups: respective groups present at the meeting took the responsibility to do this. For example, the North East Network said it would take the responsibility to inform other groups in the areas and so on) and in terms of preparing a note for the programme.
In addition, if groups from different regions feel that they would want to go to Kashmir, Gujarat or North East, they would have to inform groups in these areas. For this we would need some initial co-ordination.
It was also felt that we could inform women´s groups in other South Asian countries about this programme and find out if they think it would be worthwhile to have such a programme all over South Asia.
Akshara, Mumbai and Asmita Hyderabad have accordingly taken the responsibility of co-ordinating this work to begin with. A core group was formed to take the work forward. The core group consists of: Kalyani Menon-Sen, Jagori, Delhi, Sayeeda Hamid, Qurrat for Kashmir, Meghna and Srikala of the North East Network, Volga from Asmita, Nandita Gandhi of Akshara, Nirmala of Alochana, Pune, Vimochana, Bangalore.
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