women power

If change is to truly come about, it has to be routed through women. This is something I have firmly believed and yet something that has remained elusive. When project why began almost a decade ago, one of the first things we tried to set up was a self help group for women only. The idea was to get women together around an economic activity and then try and raise awareness about burning social issues in the hope of making the group an agent of change.

My mother who was in many ways an avant-garde feminist of sorts had always held women responsible for their own plight. She reveled in pointing out that most of the crime against women was perpetrated by women themselves. The most glaring example being that of the mother-in-law daughter-in-law relationship. And she went to add that it was women alone that could free themselves and bring about change.

A two day old bay girl was found in a plastic bag near a garbage dump in Delhi last week. We seem to be the capital of abandoned baby girls. Needless to say that it is far to often women who commit this abomination: a desperate girl not wanting to hear any more taunting, or one wanting to spare another a life of ignominy or perhaps a kind soul hoping the child would find a better life. What is shocking is that this is happening in India's capital city! The reality is indubitable: little girls are not welcome. And it is also true that women alone can make them feel wanted.

Our erstwhile women's group failed to bring about the results we wanted. Our efforts to get women to start a small unit making healthy snacks for school children - in lieu of the few rupees given to children to buy dubious eatables - failed miserably. In hindsight there were many reasons for the failure. Women were not willing to go out and market their ware. They wanted to make the snacks for a salary. This was probably due to the fact that their husbands prompted them to do so as everyone felt that NGOs have loads of money to spare. Or maybe it was because everyone who comes to the city feels he or she has a right to a job. Hard work is a prerogative of the village. Or perhaps it was due to our lack of experience in the field. Whatever the cause the attempt failed miserably and the idea was shelved.

When we seeded our women centre it was primarily to give refuge to women shunned by society and help them rebuild their lives. But right from the very first day we felt the need to reach out to local women in the hope that some day we would be able to revive old dreams and get our women's group going. The challenge was to be able to have them review their lives and make appropriate changes. The ploy was to first gather home around an innocuous activity like stitching. Then as time went by and bonds were created we moved on to weekly meetings around a variety of subjects and cups of hot tea! Then a series of unforeseen circumstances slowed down the momentum but some time back Rani and Shamika took on the challenge and revived the process.

Now every Thursday over a dozen women come to discuss and debate several issues and share their views and dreams. And perhaps in days to come we will be able to revive our women's group around a new activity that all would have decided upon. It is a first step in the right direction. I hope it does live up to our expectations: that of helping women set themselves free!