Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Gender Inclusion

Inclusion is the byword in development parlance these days. Without addressing the exploitative aspects of the global development model that exclude the marginalised sections, theorists and practitioners just talk of inclusion. So even after all the grandiose plans of ensuring social inclusion the poor continue to remain excluded. Consider for example the exploitation of women or gender exclusion. Patriarchal social structures are very much entrenched and so despite the rhetoric women remain oppressed and excluded. In fact despite vociferous lobbying by women on two important issues which resulted in their being recognised in the Fourth World Women's Conference in Beijing in 1995 there has not been much implementation on the ground. The patriarchal rulers of the world were so cornered in that conference that they have prevented the holding of another such conference even though one has been due since 2005.
The first is the issue of women's reproductive and sexual rights and health. The thrust of development programmes has been to address the ante-natal, delivery and post-natal care aspects of reproductive health and the AIDS related aspects of sexual health. However, for most poor women in this country poor gynaecological and sexual health arising from patriarchal oppression, sexual oppression within and without marriage, gender based violence and lack of menstrual hygiene are a serious problem that they suffer mutely because there is a deafening culture of silence that shrouds these issues. The NGO SEARCH in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra did the first pioneering participatory research on this issue in 1989 ( Bang RA et al High Prevalence of Gynaecological Diseases in Rural Indian Women, Lancet Jan 14, 1989 pp 85). This study found that even though 55% of the women surveyed with a participatory and very encouraging methodology had gynaecological complaints to make, later clinical examination revealed that 92% of these women had some gyneacological disease or other and on an average each woman had 3 diseases. There have been many more studies conducted on these lines thereafter which have confirmed this trend. Masoom an organisation in Maharashtra, one of whose members Shri Ramesh Awasthi, is a member of this community, along with SEARCH has done path breaking work in empowering women to tackle these serious issues of gynaecological moribidity and the root cause of patriarchal oppression from which they arise. There are also many other NGOs which are conducting such programmes throughout this country. Unfortunately despite this evidence of widespread gynaecological morbidity and successful models of participatory approaches to tackle it there is still today no effort on the part of the government or the concerned UN agencies to mainstream this in development discourse.  Neither is there provision of any budget for the conduct of such surveys and clinical diagnosis and testing which are quite costly, nor are there any efforts to run pilot amelioration programmes. Ideally a committee consisting of people who are experts in this matter and have many years of ground level experience should be formed to collate and analyse all the work that has been done and is being done in this sphere and devise a rigorous programme of sample survey and clinical diagnosis of gynaecological morbity across the country. Something like a specialised form of the National Family Health Survey that is conducted every five years, so that the shroud of silence over this crucial problem facing millions of women in this country is finally torn asunder. This can then be followed up with a much better designed reproductive health programme than the one that is now in place. It is important to remember that women are not just child bearers they have a life apart from that also.
The second is the issue of the adverse gender division of labour. Recently I went on a field visit to a village in Orissa. The village I visited had a very active group of women who were engaged in fighting for and protecting community forests. However, this required them to spend a lot of time in community work. This has increased their work burden as the men have not shared in the domestic care work that traditionally women have to do. In fact this is a problem being faced by women throughout the country with the introduction of reservations for women in Panchayati Raj. Women's work and exposure in the community is increasing without a corresponding reduction in unpaid domestic care work. Once again there is a need to conduct detailed participatory surveys to find out what exactly is the extent of this adverse gender division of labour. There is a culture of silence here too that needs to be broken. Yet again a committee of experts in this field should collate and analyse all the work that has been done to quantify the adverse gender division of labour and women's unpaid work and devise a rigorous sample survey paralleling the National Sample Survey Organisation's 66th Round Large Sample Consumer Expenditure and Employment Survey, the results of which have just been released. A huge exercise like this will automatically generate its own momentum that will start a process that will ensure that men begin chipping in to do unpaid domestic care work. Once again it is important to remember that women are not just home makers but have a life apart from that also. 

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