TheRED ELEPHANT FOUNDATION A Civilian Peacebuilding Initiative


By Ameena Mohyuddin Zia

The contemporary Pakistani woman has arrived in the political space. She has dared to step outside of Benazir Bhutto’s somber shalwar kameez and white chiffon duppata. Who is she? Where did she come from? How did she get here? 

She is the Hina Pervaiz Butt; the Maryam Nawaz; the Sharmeela Farooqi, and Hina Rabbani Khar. She has navigated her entrance into the patriarchal universe with creative gowns, eyeliners, bold colors, and yes, purses and shoes. Such accouterments have entered bureaucracy! What is she thinking? Or clearly, she is not thinking. I have to admit, she looks beautiful with poise; elegant with confidence; and graceful with femininity. Yes, I did say femininity. A part of me smiled inside. 

Now that she has arrived, how should we nicely compartmentalize this contemporary Pakistani woman politician as she navigates through the masculine space of bureaucracy? Do we place her with US Presidential Candidate Hillary R. Clinton’s much-talked-about pant suits and her dominating personality with other women politicians of the upper echelons of society (like Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, and Angela Merkel)? What about the fashion savvy first ladies of the world who werevere for their effortless fashion forward attires (Lady Diana, Queen Noor, and Michelle Obama)? Oh, we just adore them for promoting the values of their husband’s power and platform. 

What would Cynthia Enloe say? She would argue that it is, in fact, these diplomatic wives who are the true promoters of diplomatic dialogue and friendship as they host impeccable tea-gatherings and host fabulous dinner-parties in order to further the nationalist efforts in the international community.
Again, what about the contemporary Pakistani politician? She doesn’t fit into these two categories!
Oh no!
But, oh yes. She is a combination of both.
The au fait of third wave feminism has ingrained in her the idea that everything is, in fact possible. She can simultaneously enjoy being traditional and outgoing; self conscious and independent; romantic and ambitious; hardworking and vulnerable; and creative and smart. Perhaps it is alright to agree to disagree and there is a certain beauty in the miss-matched sequence that binds her consciousness. 

As a young girl,her mother(having sacrificed little pleasures of life because of perils of joint family systems, radical Islamicalization of women’s laws, constant dependency on a male, and living in the shadows in society) taught her that she can be anyone she wishes and do anything she sets her mind to. Her socially constrained mother pushed her to own her thoughts, her emotions, and her ideas…while simultaneously sharing the romance of Elizabeth Bennet, Anarkali, and Heer. She imagined a world of justice and equality as she was encouraged to find herself; her truths; her wants; and to explore the possibilities of creating her own space…and that anything and everything is within her grasps. 

On her way to chase the glass ceiling, she is taught that it is necessary to foster her own individual talents and if perhaps she don’t like something, than simply change it.

She quickly understands to own her own journey; to live her own story; and to learn to fend for herself without emotional reliance on a fiancé or a husband. And therefore, she now has certain ideals and expectations from the men in her society; however fabricated in her own subconscious.
She, now, finds refuge in books and thick rimmed glasses.
She, now, is the product of her mother’s feminist generation.
She, now, realizes she wants it all – the education, the career (of making policy), organic home-cooked meals on the dinner table, and the representation of sheer elegance.
She, now, understand that it is, indeed, possible at the expense of absolutely nothing.

She takes her direction from the grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and sisters; from the Fatima Jinnahs of her time; from the Mukhtar Mais of her time; from the Malala Yousefzais of her time; and from the Asma Jahangirs of her time. 

She is starting to pave a path for herself and for other women. She is comfortable in her femininity and in her roles outside traditional gender constructs. She is the new feminist of her time as she proudly succeeds in a man’s world of politics by deconstructing social paranoia.
The contemporary Pakistani woman politician has evolved in her own capacity asshe curates her own reality (one that does not include fitting her into a traditional box). She has arrived (avec accouterments). The question is, is the contemporary Pakistani male politician willing to catch up to her?

Ameena Mohyuddin Zia is a PhD Candidate in Political Economy & Gender Studies at the University of Missouri St. Louis and an Adjunct Lecturer at CUNY’s York College. Her work examines social constructs through both research and visual documentations. She also works as a strategic consultant for public-private partnerships in NYC.
Image (c) Vandana Suri
Vandana Suri, the brains behind TaxShe, an initiative that fills in a very important gap in the world of public transportation by providing women drivers on call. What started out as a business idea soon burgeoned into a powerful social enterprise that is creating waves across the city of Bengaluru and beyond. Here’s a glimpse at Vandana’s story and work:

I am a single mother, and quite like any other mother, I am hyper-vigilant when it comes to the safety of my children. I keep talking to other parents about allowing our children out on the streets, and the conversation invariably pivoted around safety. I have studied for the Chartered Accountancy course (never cleared it though!) and spent 10 years in the field of investment banking. 

TaxShe started as an idea for an investment banking venture in a way that would give back to society. We realized the value of public transportation, and it was imperative that safe transport services be made available for women, children and senior citizens. 

Once I launched it, I realized how much I got into it – so much so that I set my investment banking career aside. I spend a lot of time driving, and realized that if I wasn’t, I was looking for drivers. The biggest push came from the November Uber incident, where the survivor of the incident said that such a thing wouldn’t have happened if it was a woman driver. That pushed us to take up our work in an overdrive of sorts.

TaxShe is both, a business and a social enterprise. Being an investment banker having dealt with money all my life, I see that it is of course a valuable business. But beyond that, this enterprise has so much room for women’s empowerment. The safety of a child on the road is guaranteed. I have personally seen parents of toddlers heave a sigh of relief when they know that the one driving is a woman.

The biggest challenge was getting women to drive. Women in an upper middle class family wouldn’t like to be called a driver. The concept of “driver” as a professional qualification is perceived as a blue collar job. The lower strata cannot afford a car, so they don’t even consider such a thing as a career. Some of the women in that segment face a lot of opposition and resistance to taking it up as a driver. 

I feel that it is necessary to get more middle class women to join. I am from Mumbai, and I know how it is to run a house on a meagre income. It is not a job to take care of society, but really just a matter of duty to make the world a safer place. I work with a lot of NGOs, walk down into slums and motivate women in those communities to join up. A lot of these women tend to be used to the idea of working as domestic help, maids, and care givers. Men in their families pull them back from taking on what they perceive as a “male dominated” profession.

The easiest part, though, was to get business. We had as many as 400 calls in just three days, when
all we did to promote the initial round was through text messaging and WhatsApp. We have about 25,000 visitors on the website today. The need is definitely high, and we do pre-bookings as early as two months in advance. Even if we get about 30 to 40 girls as potential drivers, only 10 of them wind up staying put as drivers. They are so scared, and the inertia is so high. 

We make sure to give these women 55 hours of training – so it is a bit of an expensive training process as well. We make sure that we also educate these women. Many a time, we notice that the education levels of these girls are significantly low. We are looking for tie-ups with organisations that can help educate these girls at least at a 10th Grade or 10+2 Grade Level, so that we can take over from there.

It is a rule that one must have a valid driving license for one year, to earn a yellow badge and drive a cab. In India, in my understanding, only 130 to 140 women drive cabs, because not many women have a valid license for one year. Now, we are just focusing on getting more and more women to drive. We are like a funnel that seeks to facilitate growth of the taxi industry. 

There is also a huge sanitation requirement – when one drives for about six or seven hours at a stretch, they often find themselves having to figure out where the next restroom that is clean and usable, can be found. While driving clients around, we find that no one ever asks if we want to use the restroom – the mindset is such that we are viewed with a class consideration in mind. The government needs to make the effort to provide quality hygiene and sanitation services for women. It is high time that blue collar jobs are given the respect they deserve. No CEO can even exist if the chain of command doesn’t exist.

Safeguarding women drivers is exceptionally important. Most of the women we work with are single mothers. I think that the experience of having to do a lot on their own gives them the courage and independence to do the job. We train them in self-defence, and make sure that the women carry pepper spray. 

There is no real risk from the clients – because they are largely women, children and senior citizens. But, they do face a risk when they go back to their homes, where the men look at them as toeing the line for taking on a man’s task. But we are vigilant all the time – we have an app that tracks their routes, and the moment there is a deviation from the route, we are alerted.

Right now, we have plans of expanding into other cities. The good thing is that we have a lot of support from women who have willingly joined up, professionals in the tech sector and college students, too. TaxShe is a practical solution to the social landscape against violence against women. 

People always say that it is important to change the mindsets of men – but the fact is, that will take time. This is a way to plug that gap – and it has tremendous potential. At the end of the day, it is a necessity and not a luxury.

Image (c) Agnes Fallah Kamara Umunna

Agnes Fallah Kamara Umunna is the founder of Straight From The Heart and the brains behind the One Liberia Advocacy Online Radio. The CEO and Radio Producer/Presenter is also the Author of the book And Still Peace Did Not Come: A Memoir of Reconciliation. Here is her story as a survivor and a changemaker. 

My work as a journalist began at the UN Radio in Liberia since 2004. I got a job at the UNMIL with the help of my mentor, Patrick Coker. Working with female ex-fighters who became victims of our 10 years long Civil War in Liberia war inspired me to take to gender advocacy.

As I started my work, collecting stories to be aired on the UN Radio, I found that most of my storytellers were young boys and girls who had fought in the Civil War in Liberia. They were not been cared for and catered to when it came to trauma healing and counselling. They complained that most international journalists came to them and collected their stories and never came back to see how they were doing. I wanted to be a journalist and at the same time, a human rights activist. I set up my center at the ghetto where they lived, and I named it Straight From The Heart because of that was what my radio show was called.

The challenges were many. Up until now, I still face these challenges, simply because most of the war lords in the region who gave guns to these boys and girls to make them fighters are now working with the government! They felt that I was bringing the ex- fighters to tell their stories to implicate them and they did not like it. So it was difficult to find resources for the project and for the boys and girls in the form of mental health and trauma care, and reintegrating them back to their communities was difficult. Funding our projects from international financial support was hard because they did not want their funds to go to ex-fighters. This was a big problem with the Liberian Truth Commission which was set up. Nevertheless, we did the best for the people I worked with, using my small salary from the UN radio program, and money from my mentor, Patrick Coker. I stay focused and do what I love doing - which is this very work.  

As I am here right now with peace in Liberia, I find that women are still struggling with things like limited knowledge of such things as sexually transmitted infections, health care, and the strong likelihood of getting pregnant at a young age, among other things. Some women in Monrovia, the capital the city of Liberia, will possibly have to give birth in their homes without any assistance from trained health workers because they do not have money to go to a hospital. That will leave them with delivery-related injuries if they are lucky to survive their pregnancies, and if they do survive it, they often end up with fistulae and uterine prolapse. Poverty is the biggest factor that leads to all this challenges. 

I believe that war has created a complex picture in my mind. I feel that there were so many things that went wrong. How can I and other women and men build a strong set of communities that will no longer just allow people to just come in and destroy our lives, our children and ourselves? How can we sustain family and community values? How can we build on the themes of family race, gender and values and live by it? These were such constant questions in my mind.

My dream is to have enough money to do what I love doing for teens and women in my country using radio for their voices to be heard.
My Voice, Her Voice, Our Voices.

For two years now, we've been bringing you stories from all corners of the world: stories of survivors, of change-makers, through art advocacy and op-ed styled articles. We are super grateful to each of our supporters, partners, readers and contributors for making us who we are - for the Red Elephant has indeed grown! 

As we turn two today, we're giving you a little gift: a compilation of some of our stories, poetry, pieces of art advocacy and thought provoking content in the form of our first e-book:

CoExist: You are Human First  

To download the ebook, click here
To read online, click here 

Tiffany Williams is the coordinator of the Beyond Survival campaign of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which works to build survivor leadership and awareness of human trafficking of domestic workers in the United States and around the world. She talks about her work and study on human trafficking and domestic workers across the United States, and the journey behind putting together the report as part of the Beyond Survival Campaign.

I started off about ten years ago. I started as a social worker and was working with women trafficked into the US nannies, caregivers and maids. They came from all over. What we did in 2010, to review all our cases. We looked to see what the impact of our work had been. While we thought we did help a lot of people and were survivor centred, we were not seeing a change in the scenario. If you took a case each from 1998 and 2008, and just changed the dates, you’ll find the case being the same. The kinds of abuse we see in our field are very much tied to issues about migration, labour rights, gender, economic inequality, climate change and foreign policy – all of which relate to issues that people are aware of on a global scale. But, somehow, it hasn’t entered the consciousness about trafficking. We decided to do something different. The cases were not different, so we had to be different. 

We joined the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance. It has 44 affiliate organizations and the groups are in places all around the country and their focus is on domestic workers’ issues and rights, and not just on trafficking. The situation of discrimination and exploitation that the industry itself faces – which is a global problem, not confined to the US or India. It is a condition typical to women’s work in the informal economy. 

Tiffany Williams | Image from here
Our services are based on consent – that’s how we start. What’s interesting about the way trafficking is being addressed globally is that it is looked at as a criminal issue that requires criminal intervention. Trafficking is seen as a criminal problem – looking at it as a victim and as perpetrator is short-sighted. Many of them say that they migrate owing to family needs, climate, trade or policy. There was no safe place to stay in, and are forced to migrate into a system that is strict about migration. Migration happens outside legal channels. What we’ve seen now is that, what we are concerned about is that there is a lot of push towards court-styled intervention, which makes it a problem between choosing to go into forced services or jail. That’s true mostly for sex workers in the US. With domestic workers and immigrant labourers, the situation is deportation or sentencing. It becomes a difficult model to tackle. I work only with domestic workers – but we are in solidarity with the others in the cause, so it matters how they are treated. 

We start with consent. Does the person want to be in the service? Do they have the ability leave at any point? We take care of their immediate needs at first. Safety, respect, immediate needs like housing, shelter and healthcare are given first. We see our work as service providers as being a source of information and coordination. There are a lot of stakeholders in a trafficking situation – we have to deal with the NGO, the police, the government and all of the different service providers that are out there. As a social worker, the service provider is supposed to be the key. We also work on survivor-led goal planning. When we do our case management, we ask our survivor what they want to do next. Obviously, safety and related concerns are a priority, but we ensure that each goal is led by the survivor. 

One of the things we do is also to tell testimonies. We believe that testimonies can be a healing process if the process is done right. We work with survivors and encourage them to share their testimonies on a consent basis. But unlike the conventional form of telling testimonies, we follow a system that goes beyond just being a survivor. Most often NGOs think of looking at telling stories as a way to position a survivor and an advocate, and then telling the survivor to keep recounting the “sad” story, and then turning to the advocate to ask them what they suggest is a way to change the scenario. Instead, we get the advocate to step back and ask the survivor to share her story with the vision she has for herself and the vision she has for policy change and for the world. 

Trafficking takes away choice, and the ability to choose what you want to do at any minute in your life. We try to continually build up an environment of choice for our survivors. We also do a lot of resilience work with our survivors. When we talk about resilience, we think about our role not as saviours and not as people who have solutions to all their problems, we work to help them connect to their own sense of resilience and healing. There are things that we do and already do in our lives to heal from our pain. We try to bring that out in our survivors. Social services in the US are time limited, so we try to make sure that our survivors are on their path to self sufficiency.

Kamla Bhasin | Image from here
Kamla Bhasin, a renowned social scientist and an advocate for gender equality and feminism, is a fiery force to reckon with. With a wholesome perspective of the myriad nuances of gender and feminism, her books have added fuel to the fire of many of the world's activists. She talks about her journey so far, her vision for the future and her work as an advocate for gender equality in this interview.

-     What got you into gender advocacy? Your foray into the field came at a time when it was still nascent, and was not seen as a "profession" as medicine, engineering and teaching were.
I got into gender advocacy after becoming a social activist. I started working in 1972, in Udaipur, Rajasthan, as a social activist working with the poor. I was 26, then. I had grown up in rural India. My father was a medical doctor, and worked in rural Rajasthan. Once I began working with the poor, I came to understand consciously that women were poorer than the poor, more dalit than the dalit, and more discriminated than the discriminated. At the conscious level, this realization happened when I worked with the poor in Rajasthan. At the subconscious level, I guess I always knew this to be the truth. It is impossible for girls and women not to know the truth about how women are worse off. I did take to gender advocacy at a time when very few people were in the field. Of course, there were prominent people such as Gandhi and women in politics who talked of the need for gender equality. It was the general atmosphere – I was born on the eve of the partition of India, in 1946. Equality and Justice were in the air back then!
     Could you talk about some of the key challenges you encountered in your journey?  What were some of your strategies in dealing with the challenges?
I started working on the basic needs for the communities that I worked with. The organization said that we had to help with literacy for women and men, saying that they needed it. We tried our best, and I realized that there was no response. When the women built a fair degree of rapport with me, they came up to me and said, “Look at the place around you. Are you all blind? We are poor, and we are in the middle of a drought – what we need most is water. And here, you are all trying to give us literacy – it is not our top priority. Can you find us a way to make a well?” These were people from the Adivasi community. I went back to the organization with what they told me and asked if we could use the same resources to dig a well. It made me realise that social workers tend to come up with plans of action that pivot around their idea of the priorities for the communities they work with – which don’t align with the actual priorities of the communities themselves. I started working with the women as providers of water. Slowly, it expanded into agriculture and other avenues. Meanwhile, I started writing about women in society. I don’t remember having faced any challenges in my work, though. We were doing our work for gender equality and no one stopped us. The Adivasi women were strong and forthcoming. They were helpful all the time. It was really about going from one step to another. The main challenge that I did face was personal – it was about my having to change myself to understand them, and to dispense with my misconceptions about the poor. I suppose I managed! 

Kamla Bhasin | Image from here

-    As a gender equality advocate, what do terms like Feminism and Gender mean to you?
I work with women, rather than for women. As I work, I realise that I change all the time. Everyone needs to be ready to change all the time. In my work so far, the term feminism has not been difficult to comprehend. Just like we learned words like democracy, human rights, mobile, internet, and even Skype, so too, we learned the term feminism. In South Asia, we came up with a simple definition of feminism: anyone who accepts that girls and women are discriminated against in the domestic setting, in the workplace and in society, and takes action  against such discrimination,  is a feminist.. If a man does it, he can also be a feminist! In other words, feminism is Looking at the World Through Women’s Eyes because for much too long everything has been looked at decided through men’s eyes. Feminism is and ideology and action programme against patriarchy and for gender equality. VERY SIMPLE! Feminism, as some have tended to misunderstand, does not mean that women claim superiority. It only means that we want equality,our dignity, choices, spaces and freedom. After 1947, when India gained independence, the Constitution guarantees it for us. We are, therefore, only asking for what we are already entitled to. However, Gender was tough to understand. It came up after about 15 years of working in the field. We are familiar with the concept of men and women, and not gender. Initially, I was resistant to the term gender – it came across as being very academic. Gender discrimination tends to be used to denote discrimination against women, but in reality, it can be denoted to mean discrimination against men, too.  
      Is gender really a social construct? Or is it much more than that?
Gender is a socio-cultural definition. I have been doing gender workshops for over 30 years now, and 50% of the people I work with, do not know how to define the term. It is not about men and women. It is a socio-cultural construction. The concept of patriarchy is very clear, and has tended to call a spade a spade. On no uncertain terms, it goes about clarifying that it is a male dominated world, in which  men are considered to be superior to women. This is something that the term “gender” did not convey. We were initially resistant, but there are many advantages to using gender as a concept. The concept of gender clearly differentiates between wahat is biological or Nature made and what is socio cultural and Society made.There is a big difference between the biological and the socio-cultural construction. Nature does not discriminate. These discriminatory attributes are a human creation. Since humans created it, humans can change it, too. It can be a powerful thing. Many tend to look at it narrowly, and as independent of other elements. Gender inequality ties in with caste inequality, with racial inequality and with class inequality. It is impossible to tackle any of it in isolation if we want sustainable results.  
      One of the biggest misconceptions is that men are only perpetrators of patriarchy, and cannot be victims of it. Could you weigh in on this statement with your thoughts?
Men do undoubtedly benefit from patriarchy. Of course, all men seem to be born with so called privileges because they are men. They have advantages – 90% parliamentary seats go to men. 95% of the judiciary goes to men. Men inherit property – and all of this, because they are men. Simply because of these privileges, men tend to look at themselves as being in a better place. But let’s look at the other side. Although men are only 50% of the population, 100%  rapists are men,. 95% of the world’s suicide bombers are men. Instances of rash and drunken driving see more men as perpetrators than women. According to one statistic, 40% and another, 60% of married Indian men are violent to their wives. To me, a man who rapes is far more dehumanized than a woman who is raped. A man who beats his partner is not  human. Patriarchy does not let men cry. Patriarchy forces men to become breadwinners. The fact is, patriarchy helps and serves no one. Men should recognize that they can be fully free only when women  are  free. Fathers and brothers have to protect their daughters and sisters, earn and put money in the bank for their daughters’  dowries. Boys in the family are forced to join the family business when they may be much happier writing poetry or doing art. We should come to a state where sisters should be welcome to join the family business, so that they can tell their brothers that they are free to pursue what they want. Women should be able to come home to their husbands and say that they will go out to work while the husband really can sit back and take care of the kids. If the roles remain fluid, it is so much easier to enjoy a happy life. I have been working on masculinity for over 15 years now, and have written a lot about it. I brought out a CD for the One Billion Rising campaign, with four songs that talk about men and masculinity – to some extent, with humour. Using slogans, workshops, art and music, I am working against the established notions of patriarchy to make people realise that it serves no one’s interests. Most of all, it is against the Indian Constitution. Patriarchy really needs to be buried or cremated now just as caste and race need to be out of our lives. This is an era of equality and these unequal and unjust systems have no place here.
      Do you identify with the terminology "masculinities of violence"? Is violence inherently a masculine element? Should we worry so much about classifying violence thus? 
The terms masculine and feminine are social definitions. It is not a biological definition, but rather a social definition of what men and women are supposed to exhibit as characteristics. Society defines men as overpowering, controlling and violent, and keeps teaching them to be violent. Boys are given guns to play with as their toys. All men are not masculine. Many women are masculine, too, and can be violent, too. Violence is not a biological attribute. Man is not inherently violent because he is a man: if that were so, the world would not have had a Buddha or Guru Nanak. It is important to promote non-violence and peace in the way we bring up our children. Masculine and feminine traits are a social notion of how men and women should be, and what characteristics they should exhibit. Society encourages men and boys to be violent. There is a whole industry that works overtime to encourage this – encouraging boys to fight wars in the army, play competitive  games , play with guns and the like. Look at all the films that release today. Boys who are gentle are ridiculed and called sissy. .  In addition to our religious and cultural patriarchies today we have  capitalist patriarchy: pushing for everything from pornography to the world of cosmetics. On the one hand, women are commoditised –  the shape and complexion of their body is focused on. As if we women don’t have character and intellect! To add to it, since women are bodies, they effectively come with a shelf life. On the other hand, men are also victims of patriarchy, and spiritually, men suffer more. A woman who is raped can and will move on – true, what happens is horrible, but the fact is, that she can move on. But the man who rapes, he comes from a psyche that has been built on for years. He is not human, he is finished, virtually. Men should realise that they have so much to lose by being violent.
      Religion has been seen to justify patriarchy, although a lot of this justification stems from misinterpretations of religion. How can this be tackled?
 I feel in their practice all modern religions  are patriarchal. The fact is that the ownership of religion is in men’s hands.  The men who started these religions were extraordinary – the Buddha, the Prophet, Jesus, all of them – they were extraordinary. But, look at what is happening today in the name of their religion. Gender equality is not at all possible if we are going to continue practicing religion in the way in which it is practiced. All modern religions – and by modern religions, I mean Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and everything else – were created in a post patriarchal setting. Patriarchy was created first, and then came all these religions. In these religions, there is a supposition that God is a He. Therefore, if God is  He, He or man is God. That is where words like pati-parmeshwar, husband and swamy come up. All our stories and legends come from this hierarchy. Theoretically, most religious texts do not mention equality. All 10 of Jesus’ disciples were men. No religion has yet accepted women as heads of these religions.. Therefore, they obviously declare 50% of humanity as inferior or second class.. Religion and culture are huge carriers of patriarchy. Very few take up the challenge. There is a lot of work that has been done, of course, but more needs to be done. Religion creeps into life during important moments – such as during a marriage. The practice of “kanyadaan” or giving away the bride is an example. According to our Constitution, No father has the right to give away his daughter. The notions of having an ‘owner’ or pati is wrong! I remember, recently, I read an article in a newspaper about how in a Swaminarayan Temple event  and a woman  journalist who sat in the front row was asked to  go back because  the priests of this Sect are not meant to look at women. It was such a display of crass discrimination, to treat a woman thus. Another example is how a woman is not allowed to do the last rites for her deceased parents – of course, back then, a few of us did defy it, such as Mallika Sarabai and I, for instance. But the bigger issue is that many follow these things quietly. We should be questioning these things. 

Kamla Bhasin at the One Billion Rising Campaign with Sangat | Image from here

-     Could you talk about Sangat, and your role in it?
I co-founded the Sangat South Asian Feminist Network with 25 others. After working in the grass root level in India, I moved onto working at  the Asian level. I was invited by the Food and Agricultural Organisation in 1975, to join them in a project where I was given the duty of handling a Regional Project on the Role and Training of Change Agents, which supported NGO initiatives. I worked on organising regional and national workshops, participatory training programmes for field level  workers and decision makers mainly from non-government organizations, people's organisations, women's groups on issues related to poverty, development, environment, gender and human rights and to facilitate linkages and networking. The scope of my work here was centered around Asia. For about 27 years, I continued in this position. After resigning from the UN, I moved onto founding Sangat, with 25 other women and men. So in all, for almost 40 years now, I have been working at the Asian level. My aim is to identify groups and individuals doing innovative work to promote equality, gender equality, justice, democracy, human rights ad peace  bring them together for building their capacities and connect them in the process of capacity building. We organize short and long workshops.. Every year we organize a one month long course in which we bring  30-40 women together from different countries and for learning and sharing.,  We start as early as 6:30 AM and go on until 10-10:30 PM. They start with Yoga, and end the day with films, song and dance.  I teach for 5-6 days and we have other feminists who come by and teach, as well. By the end of it, these women have a massive network that they are part of, making friends in countries they never knew they would make friends in. This is, in effect, also action towards peace. Women make friends in other countries, and know enough people in other countries not to be afraid or to stereotype communities unnecessarily. For instance, in the recent Nepal Earthquake, our network was abuzz with activity as women reached out to their friends in Nepal to see if they were alright. Sangat is in effect a small organization comprising 4 people, including me. We have a network of over a thousand women.
      What do you see as the future of women? What are we ignoring in our fight for equality?
The future of women lies in equality, justice and freedom. Theoretically, we have it. Our Constitution and the UN conventions guarantee these rights. Everyone who made these documents was a visionary, but the people are not visionaries. We need to have a cultural revolution, and some amount of social change. We need to be worthy of being called human.  

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