Promoting policy level changes towards gender equality
Mr.Ganesh Kadu is an activist of a socialist party unit in Maharashtra for last twenty years. He is involved in various social awareness campaigns, especially around the issues of environment, global warming, and education. Ganesh is a well respected social worker in Panvel region and has been recognized and awarded for his outstanding social initiatives.
After he attended the first gender training workshop with Mr. Anand Pawar, gender expert, in 2009, he started raising issues related to gender equality and mobilizing women party workers to claim their rightful space at different levels in the party. His campaign started with a mass public rally of women party members that forced the top party leaders to take notice of their existence within the party and recognize gender related issues. The rally was followed by training workshops on issues of gender, GBV and sexual violence against women and girls. It motivated the women wing of the party to raise these issues in public spaces.
In Ganesh’s thinking gender disparity and subordination of women in every spheres of life has been going on in India for ages and political parties are no exception to this phenomenon. In fact political parties are the key stakeholders in bringing about programmatic and policy level changes towards gender equality. Realizing the importance of engaging with political party units, he undertook this initiative that was focused on creating awareness on gender sensitization and gender equality in different sections the party.
In 2010, CHSJ provided Ganesh an opportunity to take this issue on a wider scale and mobilize women and youth wing of the party on the issues of GBV and sexual violence against women.
Representation of women activist within the front line party work was poor and they hardly had any say in decision making processes of local unit of the party.
There was a problem mobilising men party activists and those seen as potential activists and who might support this work, turned out to be apathetic towards it in reality.
Many questioned the relevance of issues related to sexual and gender violence against women. There were questions regarding the amount of time devoted to it and its usefulness in the long run.
Presence of denial in schools and colleges about the existence of GBV and/or sexual violence in their premises.
From a broader perspective, Ganesh planned his initiatives on the following lines:
1. Interaction with party activists and orientation of the idea and need to work on issues of gender equality and GBSV.
2. Campaigning on gender equality and GBV, especially sexual violence through posters and banners during Ganesh festival involving youth wing of party.
3. Orientation trainings with party units, both men and women wings on issues of gender equality and GBV and sexual violence.
Ganesh undertook the following activities to highlight and achieve maximize sensitization on SGBV:
• One to one and repeated contacts and discussion with the party front liners and leaders helped persuade them to take up this issue.
• In order to win confidence, he met party leaders, heads of the local party unit, and other significant leaders prior to organising mass rally of women and workshops for men and women activists. This was important because, if not done, this would have been seen as an effort to ‘gain importance’ and show strength to claim some important position within the party line.
• He used the fact that the party has lost in the recent local elections to emphasize and convince the party leaders and opponents that raising issues of gender-based violence across the city would attract women voters for the next election. He also convinced party front line that this would help re-activate men activists with a new issue. Thus he gained space to sensitize men activists on the issue of GBV and advocate for rights of women to live life free of violence.
• He motivated schools and colleges to participate in this process by highlighting their initiatives on local television channel run by the party leaders. This also encouraged other schools and colleges to think about the issue.
• In order to enhance visibility of the issue within the party and also society at large, he mobilized women party activists in mass number.
• For orientation of party leaders, he shared about the process and trainings organised in Delhi.
• Ganesh also undertook capacity building of women activists and leaders as well as of men and youth party members.
Ganesh also attracted a number of allies and partner during the course of his activities, for example, schools and colleges, NGOs and CBOs, Ganapati Mandals, etc at the local level.
Having come from a traditional family, Ganesh was holding the typical patriarchal mindset of superiority of men over women. But the workshop drastically impacted his mindset and changed his thinking and attitude towards women. As a result of the activities of the project, he started giving importance to women not only at home but also in society and also began helping women folks at home in their household work. Now relationship with his wife is also much easier and lot more positive.
Changes in Ganesh were contagious, particularly in youth party members. The change was visible in their actions giving more respect, space, and freedom to women and girls. Their demeanour on the road also changed to allow women feel more comfortable and secure. Many reported changes in their personal lives also.
The physical manifestation of change at party level was best exemplified by the new separate cabin in the party office for women. The result of sensitization and training in women was visible in their efforts to claim their spaces within party sphere. Now their voice has found importance in the decision making processes also.
The biggest personal challenge for Ganesh was to implement gender equality in the day to day life. It is not easy to change attitudes and thinking suddenly; however, it is not impossible either if there is resolve to do it.
Apart from the internal mental struggle, Ganesh had to overcome the attitude of colleagues who used to tease him, made fun of him, and tried to divert the topic. But he was mentally prepared for such de-motivating barriers. Still, remaining firm of the issue and making persistent efforts was a challenge. This persistence ultimately paid off as they began to accept gender equality with passage of time.
By Ganesh Chanadrakant Kadu, Maharashtra