Monday, February 8, 2016

It's all about the Action

Tasneem Sara
Domestic Violence is among the most common instances of violence that challenge women and their lives, across different demographic groups. Challenging its occurrence needs sustained and committed effort. Tasneem Sara, the Fundraising & Communications of AWAG, India, talks about her work as part of an initiative that works to support women through action.

What is AWAG India all about?
 Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group- AWAG (acronym means noise) has been consistently working to protest all kinds of violence against women. AWAG is all about “Women”- Women rights, women equality and women empowerment. As a not-for- profit organisation, AWAG aims to support women who are victims of domestic violence by helping them assert their individuality. We at AWAG, strategize towards women survival and assist them to get social justice and equality.

Your key areas are to empower women against Domestic Violence. What does “empowerment” mean and imply?
At AWAG, we provide holistic service of a full cycle from counselling to empowerment. When a woman seeks help at AWAG, we ensure that she walks out dignified, healthy and economically independent. AWAG believes to raise awareness as the first step towards empowerment. A woman in need is assisted and made aware of her rights, psychological and legal counselling is provided to her that boasts her self-confidence. In the midst of all her personal struggles, police complaints and law suits, AWAG trains the woman to stitch and sew and become self-employed. However, for us, empowerment implies to self-awareness among women; income generation can only come later.

A lot of times, education is built towards literacy. There is seldom attention towards the sensitisation of individuals against violence since a young age. What are your thoughts on this?
Unfortunately, the term “education” has been narrowed down to degree and knowledge, wisdom and curriculum. The real essence of education i.e. deeper understanding, values and beliefs, respecting individuals and sensitising individuals against violence is most of the times ignored and put away. Partly, the patriarchal system that has been running down since generations is to be blamed for this mindset. A woman also is so affected by the patriarchal hierarchy that she thinks it is her fate to tolerate violence. Had education shed light to this, there would be awareness and people’s mindset would have changed since a very young age. Both men and women need to understand gender equality. Sadly no education curriculum involves it right from the beginning.

Could you share any positive anecdotes/ milestones in your work so far?
Helping and reaching out even a single woman is an achievement for AWAG. Over the years the organisation has touches lives of thousands of women and helped them survive. We have shared below one of our success stories:
Shabnam (name changed) is now forty years old. Her mother had died when she was just three. Her father was a coolie at the Ahmedabad railway station who worked hard day and night. Shabnam was raised by her brother and his wife. At the age of fourteen, she was married to man who was 10 years elder to her. Shabnam’s husband used to sell onions in the day time and was reasonably well-to-do. However, he had another business which he ran at night which was – gathering people and showing blue films at nominal cost. Each day, he would close down the business by 4 am in the morning and get home. Being affected by the blue films, his sexual desire would surge up and he would do all sorts of sexual violence on Shabnam. When Shabnam could not tolerate any further, she got back to her maternal home to seek help form her father and brother. But her brother’s wife thought that Shabnam was having an affair with some other young boy and thus she runs away from her husband’s home. Scared and victimised Shabnam had not told about her husband’s activities to anyone at her home. For six months, Shabnam did to and fro from her husband’s house to her own and each time she was sent back forcibly. When she could not take anymore, Shabnam jumped into the Kankaria lake- Ahmedabad and attempted a suicide. Luckily, a local vendor jumped after her and Shabnam was saved.
Eventually, Shabnam’s father brought her to AWAG and asked us to explain her to stop acting in this way and get back to her husband. At AWAG, Shabnam underwent psychological and legal counselling. At that time, through the counselling process, it was found that she underwent sexual and domestic violence. The legal counsellor at AWAG, fought for a divorce and amidst all this the organisation provided her economic empowerment through local sewing.
When Shabnam was totally out of depression and fears and her legal case was a victory, she decided to stick to AWAG for economic empowerment. Together with other violence victims and Shabnam, AWAG founded AWAG-EKTA INDUSTRIAL CO-OPERATIVE in the year 1992. Over the years, AWAG EKTA has turned into one of the biggest social enterprises. It now produces its own garment range under the name – EK AWAG and has a store to showcase the valued products.
Shabnam is still active with AWAG EKTA. She lives in her father’s house and comes to work everyday. Presently, 270 people are members of this co-operative, all of them domestic violence survivals.

What do you see as being the most common reasons for Domestic Violence?
A couple of things add up to domestic violence. Also several reasons are interlinked with it. One of the most common reasons is again the mindset of patriarchal hierarchy. As a result of this, both men and women think that a male is the ultimate decision maker and has a right to dominate the other gender. A female too considers this mentality as normal and thinks that it is her duty to obey or compel to the wishes of the opposite gender. Another most common and obvious reason for domestic violence is alcoholism. Sadly, this reason of domestic violence is prevailing in all socio-economic sectors of the society. Alcoholism in lower economic class is intertwined with the issues of poverty and financial crunches that lead to domestic violence in most of the cases. Other reasons for Domestic Violence are obvious ones such as lack of employment opportunities, improper education, lack of awareness and sensitivity towards gender equality.

What are AWAG’s plans/ activities like, in the coming days?
As the social, political and economic scenario is changing in India, so should the work pattern and approach for organisations like AWAG that deal with women’s issues. Sticking to its vision and mission, the organisation wishes to go to a next level by digging interconnected issues and challenges for the next generation of young women. Currently AWAG is actively exploring areas of health and sanitation for women, and in near future we would target short-term and long term goals to deal with issues such as Women and Cancer, Environment and Women’s issues, Women’s Empowerment, Mental health awareness in Adolescents etc. so to make a woman totally independent in the true sense.

Links to our work:  (This video will give highlights of our work) (This is one of our current project)