Report on the National Women’s Convention held on 12 February 2019 in New Delhi

The Convention was started by Shabnam Hashmi who is a social activist, a rebel, a fearless fighter and a human rights defender. She works on questions related to democracy, secularism, gender rights, women education and adoption. Founder of ANHAD, she addressed the gathering stating that if we don’t notice and think about things happening around ourselves and label as not political then it’ll be difficult to live in this country as nothing is a political. She raised the question about the freedom and rights we have according to the constitution which are in danger. She stated that this convention is not only about women issues but issues related to workforce, farmers etc, convention is about raising our voices to save and fight for our rights.

Session one: Crises Facing the Nation

The session was headed by historian and ‘founding mother’ of the Indian women’s movement Uma Chakaravarti. She stated that the current political scenario is such that we need to start a new revolution altogether to save guard our rights. This session had Jagmati Sanghavn an Indian activist against honour killing and khap panchayats in Haryana, Lara Jesani an independent lawyer practicing on consitituional, environmental and development matters, Nivedita Menon a feminist scholar and professor of International Studies School of Jawaharlal Nehru College, Rachana Mudraboyina noted transgender activist from Hyderabad and Ruth Manorama a social activist from Bangalore working for Dalit women’s rights, the rights of domestic workers and those in the unorganised labour sector.

All the speakers presented their views related to the current crises which is taking place in the country such as honour killing highlight the Jatt reservation issues and an attack on human rights, Whereas Nivedita Menon highlighted the issues shrinking of democratic space in higher education and how things are slowly changing starting from change in the examination pattern, giving more importance to the viva pattern or even cutting down the money been given to the institutes. Lara Jesani spoke about sanction of projects which are harming the environment she further added that from past one and half years all the four benches of National Green Tribunal is not working. Rachana Mudraboyina highlighted the problems being faced by the Trans genders. Highlighting the issue of rape or whether scanning of their body to prove their identity and criminalisation of transgender, the issue of sex workers was also highlighted in the talk. It was highlighted that how sex workers and their issues are always been ignored. It was also highlighted that constitution is not gender biased but gender neutral and we need to think according to that and make our voices strong to claim our rights.

Session two:  Voices From across India 

This session was chaired by Abha Bhaiya who is one of the founder members of Jagori, a feminist organization and been active in women’s movements in India for nearly 40 years. As the name suggests this session had speakers from across the country sharing about their struggles and work they are doing on the ground, be it Angela Rangad from Meghalaya who is working on the issues of natural resources and also started a campaign against the corrupt prominent leader in the State for nepotism, Dayamani who came as a voice of tribal people raising their issues from the state of Jharkhand. Other speakers such as Soni Suri, Nadiya Shafi, Richa Singh and Noor Jahan Diwan coming from Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat all working in different areas but had the same aim to make women empowered and save our consitituional rights.

It was also pointed out that women’s movement is not only related to women issues but it also includes the fight against patriarchy, against government strategies and these fights are not taking place in metropolitan cities but it is taking place in the villages, in the mountains and farms, women are no longer holding back and are becoming the voices of change.

Session three:  Women Resist  

Session three on Women Resist was chaired by Syeda Hameed a social worker and women’s right activist, educationist, writer and a former member of the Planning Commission of India. She highlighted the fact that we need unite together to bring the changes we want. Adding to this speakers such as Dr.Jayati Ghosh Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru College, Kalyani Menon Sen a feminist researcher and activist, Kavita Srivastava a full time human rights activist, Anjali Bhardawaj a social activist, worked for rights of the women and women empowerment and Geeta Seshu an independent journalist based in Mumbai, she is engaged in reporting and analysing media issues focusing on freedom of expression, gender media ethics and working conditions of women.

The speakers spoke on various issues such a claiming our basic fundamental rights, be it right to education, right to work, right to equal wages etc. We need to start from the basic for a bigger change. Connecting this issue with patriarchal society we live in feminist researcher Kalyani Menon Sen pointed out that we need to question the patriarchy, there are examples of women from Kerala who are well educated but still lack behind in being economically independent, they are not allowed to make such decisions, even if they are part of Self-help groups we can’t consider them as empowered because that engagement is not for the family and not for themselves but to pay the debts. There is a need to make women empowered in every sense and free them from patriarchal society which connects everything.  Highlighting the fact that we pay taxes, we give vote, we are a democracy Anjali Bhardawaj a social activist pointed out that the power should also be in our hands. We should be part and parcel of everything happening in our name but any government won’t give us that power peacefully, so we need to fight for our rights and be a participants in this power struggle and for that there is a need to empower people for the process and within the years it has been taking places even though the government has tried to shut down those dissent voices, voices we are against the government. There is a need to end anti-democratic laws and we need to fight for the laws which empower us such a right to information and  we need to fight to empower the institutions which are responsible for our justice in this country and the fight has to go on.

Sharing her views on how media is being affected in the current ongoing scenario, Geeta Seshu an independent journalist highlighted that there is a huge amount of censorship that media is facing. The government as well as the corporate houses are very much responsible in controlling the news and the way it is to be presented to the public, they are the ones who are largely responsible in setting up the agenda and it is important to talk about it. Today’s media is largely owned by politicians and corporate parties who  are hugely invested in the kind of India we are seeing today and one of the reasons for this is that the agenda regarding the  kind of development, the kind of new structure to be seen is already been set up. The control of small corrupt houses and small mafia business has taken over which is actually killing journalists who are doing a lot of work.  One hand you have this kind of media and on the other hand we have journalists under this who are facing the brunt of trying to tell those stories, journalists have been killed the prominent example being Gauri Lankesh.

There is another issue, many journalists today are in a very insecure position in terms of their work because they do not have any protection at the work place which is resulting in a lot of job losses. This has become endemic with the media world, the problem also lies from within in terms of fragile space for people who work in media. With all of this where do we find news for women they are becoming more and more invisibilized, we don’t get enough information about women, about employment, education, health and this is the matter of grave concern? There is no access to women in terms of media and this is fundamental rights issue. Concluding her session she pointed out that even though few women have access the discrimination still prevails based on wages and access even the ones who are able to tell us those unheard stories and it is something to think about.

Session 4: Voices of Political leaders

This session had political leaders sharing their concern and how it is time for political parties to understand how and in what way women can be part and parcel of the politics and have a fair representation. Other issues which are major are health issues, to addressing them and increase the budget which is less than three percentage and to a lot of laws within the country its implementation which needs to be operationalized.

Brinda Karat member of Communist Party of India and Amarajeet Kaur who is the National Secretary of the Communist Party of India were the prominent speakers who addressed this session and voiced their concern on our constitution and fundamental rights being attacked and how it is our responsibility to fight back for its safe guard.