Women create a united front during the National Forum for Single Women's Rights.
In an article at IPS last October Nitin Jugran Bahuguna wrote, "Rich or poor, widows struggle against a deep social stigma in most communities in India. Even more ostracized are women who live alone, either because they are unmarried or have been deserted by their husbands. Many married women are trapped in dehumanizing personal situations in the family, often enduring battering, humiliation and physical and mental cruelty, unable or unwilling to strike out on their own."
The IPS story was written at about the same time that hundreds of women gathered in New Delhi to demand that the government recognize the plight of single women in India. Since then the movement has grown both nationally and at the state level.
The following is from Women's Campaign International.
Rapidly Growing Advocacy Movement Promises Relief for Single Women of India
The Association of Single Strong Women (ASSW) was established in Rajahstan, India in the year 2000 to challenge the long-held traditional beliefs that deprive widows and single women of essential rights and resources. Since the establishment of ASSW, similar organizations have formed in seven other Indian states. With a membership of over 58,000 women, this advocacy movement is now working towards influence at the federal-level. An investigation by Swapna Majumdar of Womens’ E-News reveals a clear ripple effect throughout the past five years which promises to significantly improve the status and condition of single women and their children country-wide.
Hundreds of women gathered in New Delhi last October to protest the government’s inaction towards the rights of single women, and to reject the widow’s standard “rehabilitation package” which often forces a woman into remarriage or moves her to a shelter home. Most importantly, they laid out the framework for political and social influence at a national level by establishing the National Forum for Single Women’s Rights. Their mission consists of two central goals: changing the societal views and beliefs that are a key contributing factor to the marginalization of single women, and lobbying at a national level for the acquisition of federal resources to strengthen and broaden their efforts. With these two goals in mind, they submitted a charter of demands to the federal Department of Women and Child Development regarding a single woman’s rights in labor, health care, social security, and property and received a rather positive response from government officials.
The Association of Single Strong Women boasts a long list of achievements in the Indian state of Rajahstan since their establishment including their successful push towards increasing widows’ monthly pensions from $3 to $8, and securing drought-relief work for widows which provided them with a minimum wage for at least 100 days a year. Advocacy has now transcended the borders of Rajahstan as organizations across India report their own significant achievements which include securing women’s rights over inherited land, protecting widows from abuse, providing them with bank accounts and financial security, and even challenging tribal beliefs that widows are witches.
This investigative report by Women’s E-News demonstrates the strength of grassroots efforts in propelling and amplifying such advocacy movements. What initially began in one Indian state is rapidly gaining national influence. Widows and single women who have long been marginalized are becoming increasingly aware of their rights, and acquiring the tools to claim them. Their inclusion and acceptance in all areas of society is sure to improve the country’s overall development and quality of life.
For more information, please visit the article at http://www.womensenews.org/story/traditions/100108/indias-single-women-resist-stigma-demand-rights.