Reflections on the 21st South Asian Feminist Capacity Building Course.

By : Gertrude Bibi Anoh Quarshie

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I am pleased to share a brief summary of the 21st South Asian Feminist Capacity Building course in Nepal hosted at the Tewa  Centre Kathmandu, Nepal which I attended. In all there were 33 participants from 12 countries; India. Pakistan. Iran, Afghanistan. Bangladesh, Sri-Lanka, Maldives, Australia, Nepal, Myanmar, Ghana and Bhutan. All the participants were either working with Women’s Rights organisations or were  Women’s Rights Activists within their various professional capacities. The Course was organised by SANGAT- A feminist network based in India. There were different Facilitators for each section, all of whom were from South East Asia.

 

Topics Discussed

The following topics were discussed through presentations, group discussions and films.

  • Conceptual clarity on gender and Patriarchy and links to other social systems
  • Exploring masculinities
  • Key concepts- Power empowerment and its indicators, gender transformation equity and equality
  • Multiple discrimination, caste, class religion and ability and social preferences
  • Feminism and the women’s movement
  • What is caste? How does it affect me and how? A broad overview of the cast system in India
  • Globalisation, Neoliberalism and the people’s movement
  • Self-awareness and self-growth
  • Freedom of speech and expression
  • Safe City Concept
  • Violence against women and girls and its impact on women’s socio-political family normativity and control
  • Women’s Right to Health and Well-being Gender and Health Politics
  • Mental and Emotional Health, women’s bodies as sites of consumption censorship and honour
  • Multiple Sexualities and Sexual Rights
  • Rights and Entitlement – Rights to Information (RTI) And social Audits
  • Poverty Powerlessness and Vulnerabilities Strategies for grassroots mobilisation
  • Domestic Violence Act and Strategies to end Violence Against women
  • Human Rights Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW ) and National Level Legal framework
  • Strategies for grassroots mobilisation campaigns and advocacy – One Billion Rising

I will share the various presentations and background documents for the benefit of   staff who may be interested in any of the topics.. However, I am available to discuss any area of interest should the need arise (let me however add that I have not become an expert on any of the areas, I will continue to read to enrich my understanding).

 

Some Take Aways from the Conference

Right to Information and Social Audits

There was a presentation on how some organisations in India were using the “Right to Information Bill” to Demand accountability and Transparency from the State. It is a classic example of a rights based approach through which the poor and marginalised are able to demand their basic right to food, water, education employment. Wages, land and other infrastructure. They are also able to hold their elected leaders accountable as well as check corruption.

 

I know Ghana is yet to pass the RTI bill.

 

Do we have grantees working in this area? I believe getting the state to carry out its responsibilities is more strategic than providing the basic needs to grassroots organisations.

 

Safe City Campaign

Some organisations working on Violence against Women undertake safe city campaigns. The Safe Cities initiative works with key partners in the government, women’s movement, national and international agencies to pilot and upscale initiatives on making cities safer and more gender inclusive. Key activities include-

  • Conducting research studies and safety audits to bring attention to the status of women’s safety
  • Development of a strategic framework and plan
  • Public outreach through organising and participating in various events
  • Consultations and trainings with service providers
  • Media awareness and communication materials
  • Awareness sessions with students, young women and men, homeless and disabled women, urban planners, civic agencies, and women’s groups
  • Conceptualizing research tool-kits and subsequent sharing with women’s groups across the country

This is critical because fear of violence affect’s women’s mobility, livelihood, opportunities and leisure. 

The Constitution and the rights of Women

As part of training we discussed our various country constitutions in relation to the rights of women. For all the countries present, the constitution stated clearly that all persons were equal before the law. In the specific case of Ghana, article 12, 17, 22, 27 and 35 are clear on equality, freedom from discrimination and women’s rights. This means all the religious and cultural norms that continue to suppress women and propagate subordination of women are acting against the constitution.

How can we challenge and fight religion with logic????

Domestic Violence Act

We reviewed the domestic violence act of our various countries with reference to a set criteria. Some of the analysis questions were;

  • Purpose or objectives of the law;
  • Gender neutral or gender specific
  • Who is included in the definition of domestic relation
  • Where is the law applicable? only at home or it goes beyond to work and the street?
  • Special fund shelters medical care legal aid etc.
  • Is marital rape a crime?
  • What is the punishment fine/punishment/minimum versus maximum compensation?
  • Who has power and authority?
  • Battered women Syndrome

 

There was a debate when we discussed the punishment for offenders. In the case of Ghana the maximum punishment is not more than 500 penalty points or two years imprisonment or both. The maximum imprisonment for one of the countries was 5 years otherwise all the other countries had less than 5 years. There was a debate on what the imprisonment will do to families especially if they still want to be together. What happens after the spouse serves his prison term?  Should the punishment be harsh in the first instance or should there be room for reform? Sometimes the law itself may be a barrier for women influenced by religion and patriarchy. Ultimately, the women need the freedom to make their own choices,

In the case of India there are Women’s Rights organisations that are acting as mediators for the families and some of them indicated that they had a high success rate. There were still others who felt there should be no mediations as the perpetrators will never reform. I was not sure whether DOVSU tries mediation first or not. The statistics I received from DOVVSU indicated that very few of the reported cases are prosecuted in the end.

As activists, we need to understand that law is important for women. It is critical in creating accountability. It gives enforceability to the right of individuals and the community.

So the question is;

Why do women have resistance in using the law?

How is the law being used to oppress women?

How can the law be used to improve the social conditions of women?

 

One Billion Rising (OBR Campaigns)

This is a global Campaign to transform patriarchal structures and end violence against women. It is launched in September/October in Most countries with activities till the 14th of February. I participated in the south East Asia Regional launch.

 

My Reflections

So was is worth it?  Yes it was! To spend 30 days focusing on some of these concepts and discussing them in detail has generally expanded my understanding of these concepts. Some of the reference materials were in very simple language which made it easy to understand.

The films also brought the issues to light in a visual and more compelling way. The facilitators were also very flexible and related freely with all the participants; there was no sense of hierarchy or feeling of “I know more than you”. To a large extent it was very collegial and it was also very participatory. The networking was also great. I enjoyed chatting, laughing, eating, dancing, hugging, and having meaningful discussions with both participants and facilitators.

There is a certain satisfaction and joy that comes from doing and experiencing something different.  Unfortunately I cannot put that feeling into words but I will encourage you, if you have never experienced this feeling to try doing something different, and you will get what I mean. I am happy that I took the opportunity to attend this course. I learnt a lot in addition to expanding my social networks. I learnt yoga and also danced on stage as part of the launch of the One billion Rising South Asia event attended by over 400 guests. I introduced African dance as part of the tea break and evening sessions. I learnt a few Hindi Feminist songs and slogans as well. I also shared one of my favourite songs “something inside so strong” by Labi Siffre.

 

One of the slogans was “not love of power but power of love”. May we show love in all we do.

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