AWAJ - Aware Women’s Action for Justice

AWAJ , the women's works through the formation of women’s collectives on a range of issues such as stopping violence against women, addressing issues of sex selective abortion and neglect of girl children, foregrounding women’s right to bodily safety and sexuality, and women’s participation in governance. Legal support is provided through Nari Adalats (Women’s Courts) managed by bare foot village level legal activists as well as formal judicial processes. 2.1 Community Based Women’s action to address Violence against Women (VAW)

VAW and girls has become a central issue for women’s movements world over. In the context of India, in the last decade there is an unprecedented increase in the recorded data on VAW both, in the form as well as the extent of violence. The declining sex-ratio in India, particularly in some districts across different states, is a clear indication of entrenched patriarchies, increasing violence against women, conflicting state policies, enormous rise in consumerism. This is pertinent keeping in view that sex ratio among affluent sections of society is most adverse. It is a complex inter related causal scenario. In spite of the concerted efforts of various constituencies, including the state and the non-state actors, all continue to grapple with the issue and its multiple dimensions

During the last 10 years of Jagori Grameen’s involvement in the community of nearly 100 villages in Himachal, we came to grapple with the hidden nature of VAW as well as women’s denial of their own violation. Initially it was not easy to find cases of violence. There was an effort by the patriarchal voices to convince that there was peace in homes as it was a peaceful state. However, as women’s collectives started becoming strong, women told different stories. The domestic violence started becoming visible. First it was justified as a problem of drinking. Drunken men only beat their wives. However, in the early years of our community mobilization work brought to the light cases of incest, child rape, harassment by brother in-laws and of course a lot of cases of men remarrying, throwing their wives out of the home, taking away male children from the custody of the mother etc.

Multiple factors such as the century old silence around violence against women. a societal sanction, the alien legal language, the hostile male environment, the culture of the patriarchal legal Institution, delays in hearing, unethical practices of lawyers demanding huge fee which is beyond women, all work against women demanding their right to justice, especially through the established legal systems of the state.

Indian COURTs - a site for silencing, practicing exclusion, inflict further Injuries – physical, sexual, emotional and social, led JG to set up its own mechanisms to seek justice. Thus the alternatives are born out of struggle for safety, dignity, sheer survival. It was evident that women needed to get justice and freedom from violence as their basic human right. As part of our work with a national Government programme - Education For women’s Equality, we evolved a concept of multiple literacies to prepare rural poor women with no or little literacy skills, as professionals to take charge of their own needs and develop a feminist perspective to address issues of discrimination, injustice and violation of the rights and bodily integrity.

Nari Adalats(Women’s Court)

Women’s Court popularly known as Nari Adalat is an initiative for the village women at the community level where issues related to violence, injustice and gender discrimination are raised, addressed and the process of resolution is achieved through dialogue and negotiations with the voices of women as central to the decision making... All, including men are free to seek help, in an open and transparent environment. In the last ten years, JG has started Community based Women’s Courts on weekly basis in three blocks ( Dharamshala, Rait and Nagrota Suriyan). A cadre of 12 women and 3 male Legal Justice Activists) are actively engaged in addressing cases of violence against women.

So far nearly 350 cases of VAW have sought help and intervention. Over 200 cases have been resolved and others are either in courts or ongoing and are under process of resolution. The survivors of violence are from a multiple communities, religions and cast groups, including tribal women. It has been heartening that there is an increase in reporting not only by Women but by young girls outside marriage. There are also cases brought to the court by men. Cases approach Nari adalats from very far off places. Gradually Nari adalat has found an acceptance by the community as well as by the Panchayats, the police and other state agencies and other NGOs.

Objectives:

  • • To provide women safe space to be able to share the experiences of violation and violence
  • • Make the issue of Violence against women visible
  • • Make the judiciary including lawyers, judges and the police and all other actor aware, sensitive and responsible for women’s safety and justice.
  • • Build a perspective and practice of feminist jurisprudence
  • • Build women even with minimum literacy skills as active agents of human rights protectors.
  • • Help them to break their silence around the issue of violence they face and help them in eradicating violence from their lives, especially from their homes.

Ways of Interventions:

  • • Constant counseling and monitoring sessions of the concerned members.
  • • Helping women and men to have a free and fair dialogue with each other as well as with their respective family members without any one abusing the other.
  • • Extending emotional support to women who are going through emotional stress and trauma
  • • Helping victims re-build their identity and restore their pride and dignity through encouragement and support.
  • • Financial Aid to victims.
  • • Resolving cases keeping women’s welfare and perspective in mind.
  • • Helping women become self sufficient and find employment.
  • • When unresolved cases go to courts, Jagori then helps women file cases, helps them in seeking lawyers who are gender sensitive and also help them to seek fair compensation and should the need arise also helps them with accommodation and other living arrangements.

The most heartening outcome of this process is the formation of the survivors group who meets regularly and also helps in bringing other women who need help to Nari adalat as they have become the ambassors of Nari adalats.

Through this process it is our Endeavour to set up people centered institutions that are managed by the community for the welfare of the community. It also helps us to make justice an integral part of a democratic society.

International Campaign to Eliminate Violence against Women

The Sixteen days of Activism for the Elimination of Violence against Women is an international campaign which is celebrated across the world annually. The campaign spans from the 25th of November which is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW) to the 10th of December, the International Human Rights Day (IHRD), thus illustrating the link between violence against women and human rights emphasizing that the former is a gross violation of Human Rights. Every year, JG organises sixteen days campaign to eliminate Violence against Women and girls. The main objective of this campaign is to sensitise community at large on the issues gender based violence, build network of women , make the state institution mare aware of gender related violations and seek accountability.

In 2013 year, the campaign was linked to the on-going International ONE BILLION RISING campaign and the focal point of the campaign revolved around violence against women and girls and the poor implementation of various provisions to protect and empower women. The preparation for the OBR campaign began in October and continued till 14 FEBRUARAY 2013.

In collaboration with 15 local NGOs, One Billion Rising Campaign was successfully organised in two districts of the Himachal Pradesh. The outreach was nearly 30000 people men and women both from Rural and Urban Community including young girls and boys and especially students. With the help of NGOs, women’ and youth collectives, various sensitization activities were conducted. Day and Night Meetings were held with women’s collectives and community members in 73 villages of the Kangra district on gender based violence in society. Students of 30 schools and 5 colleges rose in morning assemblies with slogans and songs. Human Chain and candle light vigil was organised in collaboration with Tibetan Women Association and 3 Nunneries, 2 monasteries, NGO’s and community members.

One of the major challenges is that participation of men as well as Government functionaries remains very low. Therefore there is a need to start intervening with men, government functionaries and panchayat representatives on the issues of violence against women.

Enhance Women’s Reproductive Health and wellbeing

The Women’s Movement in India has critically looked at the women’s health issues in the larger frame of development. It has challenged the state’s limited approach to women’s health care, which is only interested in population control, prenatal care and safe motherhood. The critique has pushed the policy makers and NGOs to look at women’s health care issues beyond medical care and work for the integrated development model, which includes the socio-cultural, economic and political growth as well. Each of these aspects has a deep influence on health, which in turn influences all these aspects. Hence, it is not possible to raise the health status and quality of life of women unless the efforts are made to enhance the overall status of women in society and also challenge acts of human rights violation.

The health structures of family, society and state have ignored women for a long time. Gender indoctrination discourages women from paying attention to health needs of their body and forces them to remain silent about many of their gynecological or sexuality related problems reinforcing culture of silence. The image of good women is one who is confined to four walls, quiet, submissive and sacrificing. In Himachal Pradesh too, caught in the web of this “good women” image, they have moved away from their own body and mind. Commercialization and privatization of medical facilities is on the rise. Further, the traditional healing practices where women’s knowledge was important are slowly fading out.

For a long time, what escaped the attention of planners and practitioners of development was a very large group of women and adolescent girls who suffered multiple health problems and had no redressal mechanism to respond to their needs without any moral judgement. As a strong women’s organization, it is our assumption that in order to address the overall well being of women, the rural communities must be made more capable and proactive, especially women and young girls and women to demand their rights by engaging with the health delivery systems and demand health facilities including information and knowledge about their own bodies and well being.

In the last 10 years, JG has worked at multiple levels – on the one hand , there is a systematic effort to impart knowledge and information on women about their own bodies and well being needs, organise camps to investigate and treat women’s common ailments, affirm women’s traditional knowledge and train them in body literacy and physiological aspects, work with mid wives and improve their knowledge base, produce herbal home remedies and popularise them with rural communities.

So far JG has conducted a number of health surveys, regular training of midwives and healers as community health activists, evolved a body literacy curriculum and conducted 55 body literacy and reproductive health sessions with 5000 adolescent girls and boys from various government and non government schools , produced booklets on herbal healing plants for gynaecological ailments, menstruation and similar issues. In addition, have conducted a number of Women’s Wellbeing Weeks reaching out to over 1,200 women and referring over 100 women to local health institutions of the state. JG has also conducted a number of trainings and workshops. Two healing centres are being managed by local health activists trained by JG in remote villages to provide care and referrals to women. A very important part of the health work is conduct intensive campaigns in all the three blocks of the district to sensitise people on problems arising due to the practices of sex selective abortions..

In the last five years, in various Government Colleges for Girls, where about 5000 students study, teachers in collaboration with JG has organized a number of workshops, training sessions on issues of Gender Equality. JG has linked the issue of gender equality with issues related to violence against women including violence on their bodies.. Multiple methods are used including Workshops by gender experts from Jagori; Mass sensitization and pledge taking; Film screening and discussions; Street plays; Poster making; Creative writing – stories, poems and plays; Painting workshop and exhibition by eminent artists; Candle- light and silent marches; Developing and distributing printed material; Holding Youth Adalats where the students themselves are jury members.

Building women’s leadership at grassroots level

Increased legislations and protection policies of the GOI, specifically for the poor, marginalized and women have become very powerful tools for demanding accountability and transparency from the state machinery and have created space at the grass root level for civil society members to become active. In addition, every state has introduced very specific schemes to address rural poverty. In addition, targeted policies are being implemented as an outcome of national mission agendas such as Education for All, Health for all etc. This is primarily to fulfill the national commitment to MDGs.

50% percent reservation of seats for women in the state a good number of women have been elected in the panchayati raj institutions. However it has been observed that women are still not able to voice their concerns and participate without fear. Therefore it is imperative to promote participation of women in the decision making processes at the village council level and make them aware of the importance of planning participatory for the development of the village.

JRCT is working with women’s collectives in 65 villages to prepare a cadre of active women to work as vigilance and monitoring agents at the Panchayat level. The crucial task is to track the performance record of various state agencies and to develop a people centered mechanism to address the gap between the policy and its implementation.

 

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