Archive for April, 2015

Civil Society and Women Empowerment

On 8th April, I was invited by Dr. Ellina Samantray from the National Labour Institute, Noida to speak on the role of civil society in women empowerment in the training program on “Gender Issues in Labour”.

The participants of the program were trade union leaders from Tamil Nadu, Manipur, Assam and Delhi. It was a delightful experience to interact with them. The participants were quite active and curious.



The discussion first focused on the definitions of civil society. I defined civil society in three ways: (1) civil society as a ‘sphere’ between the family and the state, (2) civil society as an ‘institution’, and (3) civil society as the ‘third sphere’ – the other two being the state and the market. As per the last definition, civil society referred to those institutions that are directed neither by power motive nor by profit motive. It is a sphere which is predominantly guided by the common good of the society and that is motivated by service and well-being of the other.

I then discussed why women’s empowerment is important? In this context, I discussed some of the problems faced by the women in India today – dowry, lack of education, child marriage, rape, patriarchy, child trafficking, sex ratio, and violence against women. It is therefore high time that women exercise their freedom and rights.

I then gave the example of the role played Seva Mandir – a civil society organization that has been working for more than four decades to empower tribal men and women in south Rajasthan. Seva Mandir has played a significant role in women empowerment. It has been working with tribal women at the village, the block and the district level. It has created self-help groups for women and also appointed gram sahyoginis who play an important role in organizing village women. Seva Mandir also provided training to panchayat representatives and makes them politically aware of the various rules and laws about the functioning of the panchayat. While there are several problems and Seva Mandir has not always been successful, it has however created a significant transformation in the tribal society. The tribal women have become literate, politically aware and confident citizens.

Finally, I told the story of two tribal Christian women and how they fought against the oppressive patriarchal structure. The Church provided them a space where they found a supportive community who listened to their problems and supported them. It is at the Church they received a new life – a life of love and compassion. The church and their faith in Christ made them much more confident to face the adverse situation.

In the conclusion, I argued that empowerment is not about getting educated, finding a job, challenging patriarchy or becoming economically independent; it most importantly is to pursue what she wishes to pursue. The life stories of the two tribal Christian women show their incredible courage and how they lead a dignified life in the face of patriarchal torture and cultural stigma.