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Introduction

Stree Mukti Sangathan: An Introduction

1. Stree Mukti Sangathan (known as Stree Adhikar Sangathan until recently) started its work in the year 2000. For over a decade before that, activists associated with the organization had been working through informal platforms in Delhi and parts of UP, known by the name ‘Disha’ in Delhi and ‘Nayi Disha’ in Allahabad. At a workshop of some activists and sympathizers in 2000, it was decided to work under a unified banner, which then came to be known as the Stree Adhikar Sangathan.

2. The goal of Stree Mukti Sangathana is to establish a society free of exploitation and oppression with justice and full equality for women. It is a mass organization committed to work towards ending all kinds of exploitation, oppression, inequality and injustice against women, as well as work for the betterment and progress of all sections of society. Although the society has undergone many changes and women too have won some rights. These changes are invariably the fruits of the efforts and the struggles of forces desirous of change. It remains a fact, however, that entire society rests still on the foundation of inequality. It is still not a society where all people have equal opportunity. Oppressions and discriminations based on class, gender, caste and of manifold other forms are still prevalent.

3. It is clear that oppression and exploitation of women is deeply embedded in the social, cultural, economic and political structures of the society. Indeed this form of oppression and exploitation is the most complex and yet palpable, universal yet diverse, obvious yet subtle, and global and yet very local in its manifestations. It is in this background that one can clearly see the exceptionally difficult challenges confronting the activists of the women’s movement.
We believe that there are two distinct yet inter-connected sources of challenges confronting women’s movement today. The first one arises from the social, cultural, economic and political structures, which women face and which they live under. The second is internal to women, and emerges from the limitations of their agency. Women are not only the victims but also effective carriers of the gender ideology. They play a significant role in the reproduction of the gender ideology. It may be said that women are both oppressed and conditioned by a gender-based ideology. This reality shapes their agency and gives birth to their limitations.

4. Women’s movement has to fight against the formal structure on the one hand, and against the social structure on the other. The State, legal system, governments etc. are examples of the formal structure, whereas Khap Panchayats, our anti-women cultures, customs and traditions etc. are parts of our social structure. The main fight so far has been on the issue of violence against women. It has been imperative, therefore, to demand that the State must protect women from violence, enact legislations for this purpose and implement those laws.

However, along with fighting against the State and raising before it the demands of the movement, we will also have to fight against the cultures and traditions within our society. It will also be the responsibility of the movement to identify the manner in which such cultures and traditions have seeped into women themselves.

5. The nature of challenges emerging from structural causes is different from that of the challenges that emerge from the construction of women’s agency, and their outcomes are different too. Structural challenges are those that we are confronted with in the society. They do not diminish the awareness of the necessity of bringing about radical changes in the society.

As for the question of the challenges emerging from women’s agency, it appears from the standpoint of the goals of the women’s movement, that these are more subversive in nature. Women who are conditioned by gendered ideologies often refuse to recognize the need for a radical change. They believe that only minor reforms in the circumstances of life are sufficient. It is not as if this compromise is imposed on them from the outside; nor have they been compelled to downscale their expectations under duress from external and material circumstances. The fact is that this is a part of women’s consciousness, their psyche, and their agency, which is essentially a result of their socialization in a patriarchal structure.

It is clear that the movement will have to be against external structures. While fighting against these external structures, women will also engage with their internal patriarchal conditioning and attitudes, and in this process their own agency will get strengthened.

6. Communalism, caste-ism, racism etc. are among the major challenges confronting the women’s movement. Women have also been known to participate actively in incidences of communal violence, protecting men of ‘their’ community and victimizing those from the ‘other’ community. In the rise of the communal forces in the decade of nineties, when women from one community took up the cudgels against those from another, questions arose about the notion of sisterhood and about the unity among women. World over it has been observed that women have sided with men from their own community in instances of communal tension. This is indicative of the fact that women’s internal make-up causes their division along the different socio-economic categories. Be it caste, communal, class or some other difference, such factors gain prominence and women’s issues are often relegated to the background. This is in evidence when different communities talk in terms of “our women”. Patriarchy is embedded so deeply into community, caste, class, religion, etc. that women are enchained into this complex structure.

Therefore, when issues of communalism, caste or class arise, women must raise their voices on these issues, but, at the same time, they must also arise against patriarchy. It is while fighting against these external structures elements that women will also fight against their own patriarchal mentality.

7. Both the private and the public spheres in society have been shaped by alienation of women at various levels and denial of equal opportunities to them. Even after decades of struggle, the private sphere is still marked by an absence of a violence-free atmosphere; lack of equal rights; and property/inheritance rights are not yet assured. Dowry, sex selective abortion, disenfranchisement and violence of various forms are still prevalent. If this were not the case, there would not be the need for a law against domestic violence. Honor killings are still happening. Especially, girls do not have the freedom to choose their partners. Equal rights to inheritance of movable and immovable family property have also not been achieved.

8. Working women face various forms of discrimination at the work place because of being women. Generally, organized or formal sectors are legally differentiated from the unorganized or informal sectors. Workers who are by law protected against contract labour, retrenchment, lay-offs etc and enjoy wage protection and health and other benefits are in the formal sectors. They enjoy relative job security. In our country, 93% of the workers are in the informal sectors and they do not have such protection. Among women workers, 96% work in the unorganized and informal sectors.

Undoubtedly, working outside of the house is the first step towards social autonomy for majority of women, but those who are stepping out are mostly engaged in the unorganized sector, where they become victims of various forms of exploitation.

For the women’s movement as well as the workers’ movement, organizing women in the unorganized sector for realization of their rights has remained a challenge for many reasons.

9. Patriarchy in India has taken diverse forms, being shaped by differences across regions, cultures and castes; as a result, the feminisms too have been multifarious. There have been significant differences in the thinking and in methods of working of different women and women’s organizations. Broadly speaking, all of these organizations have emphasized raising awareness about women’s discrimination and exploitation in the society.
The energy generated by the women’s movement has forced the Indian ruling classes to adopt certain welfare measures for women and enacted some laws and policies. These measures have had, to some extent, a positive impact on women. Examples of such an impact can be seen in participation of women in the local institutions of governance, or in their presence in the public sphere. However, due to the patriarchal thinking in the governments and among its functionaries, and due to the limited understanding in the women’s movement and its inability to foresee the long-term effects, these steps, laws and policies ended up promoting the stereotypical thinking about women. They saw women in a limited role and, as a side effect; they resulted also in blunting strength of the women’s movement.

To decide upon the future direction of the women’s movement, it would be necessary to develop an understanding on all these issues.

10. The Stree Mukti Sangathan believes that,
Along with achieving gender equality, it is also necessary to eliminate all forms of caste and class based inequalities from the society. Only in an egalitarian society it would be finally possible to achieve emancipation from all inequalities and exploitations.
Along with fighting for justice, equality and dignity for women, we will have to participate in the struggles of other oppressed sections and will have to work for ending all forms of discrimination and exploitation in the entire society.
On the one hand, woman becomes a victim of gender-based oppression on account of tradition and culture; on the other hand, efforts are on to turn her into a commodity by the ideology of the market and liberalization. That is why it is the need of the hour to unite against these anti-women values and beliefs and raise our voice against the system of exploitation and oppression.

11. Our Tasks:
  • To oppose exploitation, repression and oppression of women in all spheres.
  • To resist gender-based, physical and sexual violence against women in both the private and public spheres.
  • To demand equitable laws.
  • To oppose social evils such as female foeticide, infanticide, and dowry.
  • To oppose the commoditization of women, and their use as objects for trade and profit.
  • To unite and organize women workers and demand for their rights as workers and a safe work place.
  • To support and participate in other struggles and movements for justice and freedom.
  • To brainstorm on the situation and direction of the women’s liberation movement.
  • To strengthen the struggle against communal and caste-ist forces.

12. Stree Mukti Sangathan is committed to:
  • Gender Equality and Women's Liberation
  • We stand against: Patriarchy and all forms of exploitation, inequality and oppression.
  • We fight for: full, equal rights and equal status for women, in the social, economic, political, legal and personal spheres.
  • We work towards: organizing and enabling women to claim their rights and win victories in their march to liberation

13. Our Goal: Creating a society free of exploitation and oppression

14. Who can be a member:
  • a person who agrees with the afore-mentioned goal, objectives and tasks
  • a person who is ready to contribute towards achieving the goals and adjectives and fulfilling the task to a minimum level and to a maximum level if possible
  • a person who is active towards achieving the goal and the objectives of the organization

15. Our Activities
Some of our activities aimed at meeting the objectives and responsibilities of the Stree Mukti Sangathan are as follows:
  • Regular publication of ‘Stree Mukti’, a magazine which carries analytical and thought-provoking articles on contemporary issues, and through which we promote debate and dialogue on different aspects of the women’s liberation agenda. In addition, we also make ideological interventions on women’s issues through publication, from time to time, of booklets, flyers, posters, etc.
  • Awareness campaigns by our cultural team through use of different media, such as plays and skits, songs, solo acting, story-telling, etc. We organize discussion meetings and study circles on burning issues relevant to the women’s question
  • Our operational area includes the University campus, resettlement colonies and other residential areas. In the two main cities where the Sangathan is active – Delhi and Allahabad – we also raise issues of violence against women and take necessary action, as required. Such activities come under the category of ‘case work’.
  • We publish an annual calendar, which is not only a vehicle for raising awareness on issues of gender and patriarchy, but also a mechanism for raising funds from well-wishers for our activities. It may be noted that the Sangathan does not accept lump-sum donations from any agency or individual for funding its activities. All expenses of the Sangathan are met by the members and through contributions from other individuals.
  • Every year, from the year 2000 onwards, we have been organizing a 3-4 day annual residential workshop, which is attended by Sangathan members and workers. This is an occasion where we have intensive brainstorming on women’s issues, review the work done and achievements of the previous year, and plan for the future.
  • On December 25th – a day to commemorate the burning of the Manusmriti – is celebrated every year by the Sangathan as ‘Stree Samman Diwas’. Different kinds of programmes are organized on this occasion.
  • On the occasion of the International Women’s Day (March 8th), different programmes are organized by the Sangathan through which we raise questions pertinent to women’s liberation.

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