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ADVOCACY
 
AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL
PRESENTATION OF STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES TO THE MINISTRY OF WOMEN & CHILD DEVELOPMENT

In continuation with the implementation of the Recommendations made by the Expert Committee on Widows constituted by the National Commission for Women, the Supreme  Court of India directed the committee to prepare an SOP for the running of Swadhar Homes. Meera Khanna as member of the committee helped to prepare the SOP which was given t the Ministry of Women & Child Development through the Supreme Court of India. The SOP was exhaustive as well as detailed. It aims to upgrade the working of the Swadhar Homes and has given adequate attention to every aspect including registration, admission process, security and safety, nutritional and medical needs, counselling, skill upgradation, recruitment of appropriate personnel, accounting transparency, grant procedures etc.
(Detailed SOP available on the website: www.guild.org)

Expert Committee on the Status of Widows constituted by the Honourable Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court of India constituted an Expert Committee on the status of widows to work on normative, legislative and institutional interventions needed to better the status of widows in a patriarchal society like India. Meera Khanna was a member of the committee. Over three months, the Committee studied the various researches done on the issue and looked at recommendations that had been made from time to time. The Committee presented their report to the Supreme court of India, detailing the various ways by which widows were discriminated against, marginalised from a socio cultural life and economically deprived. The Committee presented their recommendations based on the premise that the widow should not be forced to go to the system for her rights, but the system should go to her, because it was her entitlement as a citizen of this country to be free from deprivation, discrimination and marginalization. The report also went on to delineate the focus of responsibilities of each Government department at the Centre and state level to implement the recommendations

The report was highly appreciated by the Supreme Court and it has now been submitted to the appropriate ministries.
(Detailed Report available on the website: www.guild.org)

Brainstorming session in partnership with UN Women: National Commission for Women: mandate, challenges and way forward

In the year 2017 the National Commission for Women (NCW ) became twenty-five years old and has matured into a significant entity, ready for an even more meaningful role in the lives of the Indian women. The Guild in partnership with UN Women and the India International   Centre organized a brain storming session on the role of the Commission. The time was opportune and right to retrospect on the manifold successes of the Commission, and the perceived gap between aspirations and implementation. In the course of the discussion many dimensions of the commission’s role were explored in an effort to review, reinvent and rejuvenate it.

The session was enriched by the views of three Ex Chairs of the Commission: Dr Mohini Giri, Dr Poornima Advani and Ms Girija Vyas. The then present Chairperson Ms Laitha Kumaramanglam despite being unwell joined through Skype. The discussions were enlightening as  Dr. Syeda Hameed former Member Planning Commission and NCW, Ms. Rebecca Tavares from UN Women, Ms Padma Seth, Shamina Shafiq, former members  of NCW, Ms. Zohra Chatterjee, Ms Beenu Sen, former Member Secretaries NCW, Ms Sujaya Krishnan former Joint Secretary Family Health and Welfare, Ms .Firoza Mehrotra, gender specialist UNFPA, Mr Sudhir Verma, former Secretary, WCD Rajasthan and a host of eminent social activists put forth their views and experiences.

The floor agreed that NCW was a vital and essential body for the protection of women’s rights and there was a need to give it legislative and institutional strength as well as political and financial autonomy. The NCW should be at par in status with NHRC, National Commission for Minorities and National Commission for SC/ST. The NCW Act has inherent weaknesses and does not give specific powers for  implementation of the mandate.. The need to define women’s rights, to strengthen the letter of the law and to legislate the strength of the NCW by vesting it with punitive powers on the lines of other Commissions/ Tribunals was felt.

Further, even though the NCW is an autonomous body, yet the Ministry of Women &Child Development, by virtue of its administrative and financial powers subordinates NCW in terms of its dependence on the government for staff requirements and financial grants. . It was felt that direct budgetary  allocation from the Finance Ministry  was a must to maintain the autonomy.

Recommendations : 
Short term: NCW along with inputs from civil society organisations  can create rules within the ambit of the law

Identify what can be done within the Act which is not being done. Identify clauses that can be interpreted to enhance the strength of the Commission 

Long term: Review and amend the Act
(Complete recommendations available on the website)





Interactive dialogue in partnership with UNIC focusing on :Gender Equality for Gender mainstreaming: Lived experiences in corporate & political careers

On the 7th of March, synchronizing with the International Women’s Day, the Guild as every year, organized in partnership with UNIC the interactive dialogue.
The corporate world and the political world are two areas where the gender balance is still only a vision. In the corporate  world, despite the capabilities, capacities and talents, women still hit a ceiling in the top jobs. It is changing certainly, but not as swiftly as the women would want it to.  In the political world, despite more than one million elected women at the grassroots, women still are under represented both in the Parliament and in the Legislative Assemblies, roots . It is changing certainly, but not as swiftly as the women would want it to. The Journey from the Gram Sabha must lead to the Lok Sabha.

The interactive session saw a sharing  of the lived experience on the career path, focusing both on the struggles, the success,  and the gap between the aspiration and the reality
 ( if any) and of course the way ahead. 

Chief Financial Officer Tata Telecom Pratibha Advani started her talk with an amazing thought “You are  responsible of your own actions”. With these words she introduced herself and her  achievements, perspectives on working women in corporate world . She felt that they needed to  assert more and express themselves more so that everybody values their  time and commitment. 

Ms. Sushmita Sinha, Vice President American Express talked of own struggles, during creating her identity (career). She faced challenges at every step of life specially in parenting stage but she did not give up and made an unforgettable achievement in this field
The session was ably moderated by Ms. Lakshmi Venkataraman Founder Bharat Yuva Shakti Trust and summed up succinctly as follows

Challenges faced by women which leads to gender inequality.

  • The period of career making and the period of reproductivity is same therefore women sacrifice their careers.
  • Inequality exists in family where men are considered superior and women are treated as inferior. Ms Padma Seth said,‘Men always take right decision and women have no right to take any decision’.
  • Patriarchy is imposed on women at every step of life.
  • Identity of a child is recognized by her/his father’s name,that itself says everything regarding the status of a woman as a gender.
  • Some Recommendations
  • Maternity and paternity leave should be extended so that women can manage both responsibilities. 
  • Work from home should be there in corporate sector.
  • Sensitize men for participating in household activities as well. Equality should be there in family where men do not see themselves as superior.





Advocacy: International 
 
The Guild at the CSW 62nd session in New York 
Represented by Meera Khanna, Ranjit Jayanti and Suman Mathur
(both  Guild Representatives to the UN)
 
This year the Guild partnered in two side events and three parallel events 
Side events 
  • On 15th March with UN Women as part of the global alliance: The Last Woman First.    
  • On 14th of March Side event with Government of Egypt and Malawi Algeria and Global Fund for Widows. And the Guild as part of the Global Alliance: The Last Woman First :Widowhood Poverty eradication, economic empowerment and achieving the SDGs         
Parallel events 
  • On 15th March with Widows Rights International and Global Fund for widows WPD,  NAWO, Rozaria Memorial Trust, Naserian, NAWO, ADVANCE:. Importance of the Media Especially to Rural Widows: To Ensure Last Woman First.   
  • On 15th of March with Global Fund for Widows Human Rights Watch, Guild For Service - India, WIDO - Nigeria.: Widowhood: "You Will Get Nothing" and the Poverty Guarantee . 
  • On 16th March:  With Women's Federation For World Peace, International: Engaging the Rural Family: The Vital Role of Education Presentations were made by Meera Khanna at the parallel events including the one organised by the Widows Powered in Development on 16th March on Widows.  
.

She was called upon to present the recommendations culled from the  interactive
 sessions of the UN Women : Leave No One Behind
Due to the more than two decades of advocacy work by Dr Giri and the re invention of advocacy strategies subsequently, widows as a vulnerable group has been mentioned in the CSW Agreed Conclusions.
The Guild's presence at the CSW gave huge dividends in terms of advocacy strength, networking advantages, funding opportunities. And possibilities of new projects.

The Guild today is part of a number of global coalitions like The Global Alliance: The Last Woman First, Everywoman Everywhere 

Guild on the  Every woman Every where's Expert Committee on Widows and Older Women to work towards a UN treaty on Violence against Women 

Everywoman Everywhere is a highly diverse coalition is driven by survivors and practitioners, with over 110 active working group members from more than 70 countries including every continent and major geographic area, operating with a decentralized, regional working group structure. While the work initially emerged from research with the Initiative on Violence against Women at the Harvard Kennedy School's Carr Centre for Human Rights, the coalition-based campaign is structured from the grassroots up.

Meera Khanna was invited to be a member of the Expert Committee on Widows and Older Women to work towards creating the draft treaty to prevent violence against women. She was also on the drafting committee and helped to write the section pertaining to older women. The spade work has move up from drafting to creating the space and the ground swell of support for the treaty across the globe so that international organisations and state parties need to accept and work towards the treaty

South Asian Regional Workshop: "Together We Can"
South Asian Network for Widows's Empowerment in Development(SANWED)
Kathmandu, Nepal
 

The establishment of SANWED as a SouthAsian body for issues related to widows andwidowhood is expected to help South Asiangovernments and the international communityrealized the key role of widows as valuable
"social capital" in peace, development andequality. It is further expected that networks willexpand to develop and include establishing andnetworking with widows's empowerment groupsin other regions of the world to prioritize the
issues of widowhood, in the context of reducingpoverty and violence to women, promotinghuman rights, justice and peace, in national,
regional and international agenda.

SANWED was established after the international conference on widows held in New Delhi under the auspices of the Guild. The mission of SANWED is to enable widows to become collective AGENTS OF CHANGE in the South Asianregion by bringing together the NationalChapters of SANWED under one umbrella. The Guild while being one of the initiators is also the Indian chapter of SANWED in India  

On the inaugural session, Meera Khanna representing the Guild made an impassioned call to the South Asian communities which prescribes white as the dress code for widows. She said:
Red is the colour of love of passion, emotions core to our womanhood, red is the colour of fertility, core to our motherhood. Red is the colour of energy and strength of power core to our personhood. When the colour red is the primary colour of our personalities as women as mothers as wives as lovers, who can deny this to us? No scripture, no tradition, no custom, no social binding can deny us red, can deny us colour. Whether we are women wives, mothers or widows.
So from this platform I would like say my sisters of South Asia, wear red and live life fully nobody can deny you the colours of life and   I hope my voice reverberates into every home in South Asia.

The conference was attended by delegates from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Nepal and Bhutan. Following were the outcomes of the discussion inplenary for consensus building commitmentsfrom SANWED members for way forward: 

1. National Chapters should play an important role to operationalize
the full functioning of SANWED. 

2. It is necessary to find strong linkages between SANWED member
organizations and international partners to mainstream issues of
widowhood in every development agenda. 

3. SANWED has been functioning as loose South Asian Network
since its establishment. The network members should plan and get it
registered and institutionalizes it as organization at regional level. 

4. Issues of widowhood also needs to be addressed in UN instruments
namely SDGs CEDAW, and BPFA and the 1325 and 1820 resolution
of the SC. There is gap since issues of widowhood are not directly
addressed in these instruments.   

Oral Statement on Widows at the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women 

The Guild gave valuable inputs and endorsed the oral statement on Widows presented by Heather Ibrahim, Global Fund for Widows at the 62nd session of the Commission in the Status of Women in relation to the Priority Theme "Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls."

While focusing on the alarming rise in the numbers of widows across the world, the statement asked governments to comply with Article 5 of the CEDAW and SDG Goal 5, and use all available means to modify institutionalized cultural, financial, and bureaucratic barriers that discriminate against widows. In the context of rural widows, this refers to the protection of a widows's rights to inheritance of land and valuable assets.

It also asked the UN  and member states to Fill the Data Gap focusing on marital status inthedisaggregated data; to develop a CEDAW General Recommendation on the rights of widows; and Select WIDOWHOOD as the "Emerging Issue" for CSW 63.

Recommendations for Immediate Action to prevent abuse of elderly women

Recommendations for Immediate Action to prevent abuse of elderly women

“Elder abuse is a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.” (WHO 2008: 1). 

We the participants of the round table conference on ‘Ageing women and Abuse’ organized by the Guild for Service and the UNDP, held on the 1st July 2014 in Delhi, while recognizing the fact that the number of the aged women has tripled in over the last three census of India, also acknowledge that widows are most vulnerable section of this segment.

 We are aware that India is home to approximately 60 million elderly women and India is also home to 40 million widows, majority of whom are poor

We acknowledge that while women live longer than men and face higher morbidity, it is also accepted that they face higher vulnerabilities in accessing health care, financial, social, emotional support and entitlements.

We understand that physical, social, emotional, cultural, economic violence and discrimination faced by the widows is a continuum of the vulnerability that they face as women, widows and as poor women

We assert that  it is the primary responsibility of the state to maintain the human right of life & the human right of life with dignity of the aged. Keeping in view the cultural & tradition of India the family must also fulfill the vital role of the caregiver.

We demand that to ensure the rights of the older women, the government  must implement immediately and effectively, the constitutional and legal commitments and ratified international covenants

To actualize the older women’s rights to live in a just society, we recommend the following:

Government of India.

Elder abuse can prevail as long as older people are not considered equal citizens.  In this segment elderly women by their gender are more unequal than elderly men.  India has made constitutional, legal commitments to uphold the right to life of all her citizens. India is signatory to the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and its Regional Implementation Strategy and has formulated the National Policy on the Elderly. There is an urgent  demand  for mainstreaming ageing and ensuring the integration and full participation of older people particularly older women in all walks of life. Protecting older women against abuse therefore has to be part of a broader policy response on ageing that involves research, prevention and interventions in case of abuse, placing an overarching value on independence, dignity and equal participation of older persons in society.

  1. Need to enact gender sensitive laws, review of the maintenance act to ensure protection of the older women.  This has to be accompanied by extensive gender sensitization programs for implementing/ enforcing agencies .
  2. Immediate need for review of property / inheritance act to ensure a universally applicable and enforceable standard of financial security for all older women regardless of caste, creed, religion or ethnicity.
  3. Need for universalization of the pension scheme, pragmatic increase of pension amount, user -friendly process and one stop accessibility for elderly widows.
  4. Need to have innovative tax benefits for families taking care of the elderly. Tax benefits for ‘Sandwich-Generation’ taking care of two generations (older and younger) will provide support  and encouragement to families to take care of the elderly.
  5. The Health Policy being formulated by the Government of India must be gender & geriatric friendly. Adequate resources both human and financial must be factored into the policy for easy accessibility of geriatric care and easy availability of medicines, medical devices and medical equipment for the elderly. Resource allocation for training in provision  of geriatric care from a gender perspective in medical schools, nursing  schools, primary health care centers, and hospitals. This has to be accompanied by research of preventive, promotive, curative and rehabilitative physical health and well being of the aged.
  6. Need for extending the retirement age in the organized sector, especially for widows to ensure economic and financial security and to benefit from their talent and experience. Adequate livelihood opportunity to be made available in the unorganized sector as an entitlement specially for the widows.
  7.  Ensuring easy availability and accessibility of insurance for the older women. Health insurance companies to ensure at least 20% of their insurance schemes for the elderly, specially  older women on reasonable premiums
  8. Geriatric friendly infrastructure like stairs , ramps in  public spaces to ensure easy mobility of older (disabled) persons.
  9. Reserved quota in housing projects for the elderly. This facility to be made available during the lifetime of the elderly. Property to revert back to the promoter/housing society after the demise of the occupant (or nominate  another elderly  at reasonable  cost )
  10. Need for more assisted living complexes where the elderly can live in comfort and security without compromising on their personal independence.
  11. Need for comfortable and cost efficient old age homes. Need to levy and supervise  minimum  mandatory standards of comfort, cleanliness and security
  12. All census and national data must incorporate gender-disaggregated data with reference to gender, age and disability. This will form the base for mapping their condition and facilitating services for older women.

 Institutional:

  1. The Panchayati Raj Institutions and the Municipal bodies in partnership  with organizations  engaged with the Elderly  specially widows to be the focal point of care giving and accessibility to entitlements and implementation of all welfare schemes.
  2. 3.Resident Welfare Associations, Mohalla Committees in partnership with the local police to be  responsible focal points of safety and security of the elderly
  3. Urgent need to sensitize all care giving institutions, service providers and education institutions on the vulnerabilities and the rights of the elderly. Awareness and training of professional caregivers about the normal process of aging and its outcomes
  4. Intergenerational bonding to be strengthened through school curriculum, civil society, communities and community centres.  Adequate social and support networks allowing seniors to counter isolation  by linking with orphanages etc
  5. Banks and Financial institutions to provide and promote easy credit for the elderly.
  6. NGOs to train employees/volunteers to provide day to day assistance to the very aged in terms of shopping/,house management, cooking, hospital visits, financial management.

 Family:

  1. Awareness among family about the normal process of aging and its outcomes. Need to break stereotypes depicting older people as weaker, less worthy and a burden to society
  2. Encourage and ensure that older women are empowered through capacity building of legal, health, nutritional and literacy programs (including financial literacy).
  3. Encourage all properties and assets to be registered jointly Legal & social action against those attempting to evict the elderly widows from their rightful homes or coerce them into handing over their property to the legal heirs during their own lifetime.                                                                                    We the participants of the round table conference on ‘Ageing women and Abuse’ held on the 1st July 2014, state in conclusion that  social and cultural norms such as ageism, tolerance of violence andgender inequality can reinforce maltreatment in society abuse. Negative attitudes towards old age can also be ingrained in older peoples’ own attitudes. Low self-esteem and self denial particularly among elderly women  may make it seem almost natural to them to be treated with a lack of respect. This may prevent them from recognizing abusive situations, which often takes place behind closed doors, at home or in institutions.  Proactive Policies should therefore aim to build awareness of the different contexts in which abuse can arise and the different forms it can take.

Simultaneously we also acknowledge that reactive measures have to betaken to create a system and a climate so that everyone should be able to recognize abuse, be familiar with the rights of older persons, accept the social responsibility of care of the elderly and  know where to turn when in need of support.

Ma Dham

Constructed, operated and supported by Guild for Service, Maa Dham is a home for homeless and destitute women.

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Meera Khanna speaking at the Parallel event Widows & Widowhood: a n economic and humanitarian crisis at the 60th session of CSW, New York

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The Guild For Service is a national voluntary developmental organization dedicated towards the empowerment of marginalized women and children.

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