|HER WORLD||Sunday, September 1, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
schemes need to be urban-centric
Profiles in courage
schemes need to be urban-centric
AS far as women’s development programmes go, it is a fact that the orientation of development of women has a strong rural bias. One does not have a grudge against the focus being on women in the rural areas, but the skepticism emanates from the fact that no attempt is made by the Government to bring within the ambit of development-oriented programmes, some schemes which could address the needs of the urban women.
Could it be due to the fact that rural women are likely to be satisfied by piecemeal programmes. If the same programmes target urban women, they may emerge as a potential threat for the powers that be.
If one were to review various hues of development-oriented programmes launched since Independence for women per se, it would be well nigh impossible to find a programme tailor-made to the needs and the aspirations of the urban women. No initiative is ever provided by the government to an urban woman, who is a housewife and a mother, to undertake an economic activity, either part-time, full-time or flexi-time, on her own. This leads to a state of despondency and paves the way for a state of inertia.
Some facts here would be interesting. As per the Ninth Five-Year Plan of the Government of India, women constitute only 25 per cent of the workforce, while there are 51 per cent educated women in the country. What this translates into is the fact that about 50 per cent of the urban women are per force sitting at home, either due to social conditions or filial pressure, but mostly due to non-availability of equitable opportunities.
For would-be or could-be women entrepreneurs in urban areas there is no government funding unit available, be it banks or financial institutions, that could provide loans for soft business on the basis of the model of revenue projected. The concept of flexitime is still alien for the Government even though it might be a boon for information technology. Flexitime could turn out to be a manna from heaven for the urban women, apart from providing the Government with an opportunity to save vital resources.
Before a case is considered for sanctioning a loan, commercial banks, and other financial development institutions ordain that the entrepreneur has to have a proven track record of two-three years in a particular business, if he/she desires to avail of the various development schemes.
This procedural sloth is a clear pointer to the fact that the Government has left aside a rich pool of talent (urban women) that is silently wasting to lend for itself.
The orientation of the Government needs to undergo a comprehensive change in terms of not insisting on experience but trying to promote entrepreneurship, and honouring potential creators of wealth (urban women can play a big catalytic role here) Some laxity ought to be introduced in the rules for urban women on an urgent basis.
It is high time we start honouring and acknowledging the efforts of creators of wealth, instead of ridiculing and demeaning them.
Though the Reserve Bank of India, in a recent initiative, has ordained that henceforth of the total credit advanced, 5 per cent has to be earmarked exclusively for women, it has also failed to make a distinction between the needs of the urban women and the needs of the rural women. Women as a category have been clubbed as a single unit.
Besides, the RBI has mandated that the target of attainment of 5 per cent of the total advance be accomplished by 2004, the leeway of 3 years given to the banks is a clear pointer to the fact that women per se are still not considered bankable enough and hence a grace period of three years has been given to bankers to meet the targets.
The scenario could change if policy initiative are announced specifically for urban women. The target of advancement of 5 per cent of total credit to women could be met in just a matter of time. For this, first and foremost, a trust has to be built in the capabilities of the urban women, because the lack of trust kills the initiative and in its wake gives birth to manipulations.
To initiate the process of easy availability of credit to urban women, the initiative has to begin at the branch level of the banks concerned .
There is a need to form branch-level consultative groups that ought to include women entrepreneurs, social workers, and local community leaders who would serve as a vital link between branches and women borrowers.
The World Bank has also,
in a recent study, underlined the fact that countries that promote
women’s rights and increase their access to resources attain faster
economic growth and have less corruption.
Am I a cell mom,
I thought I was a human-being,
Do cells multiply mom,
I thought I was growing,
Do cells go haywire mom,
I thought I was in control of my body,
There is a pain that does not go away mom,
I thought it was an ordinary pain,
They say it is cancer mom,
Am I …doomed mom?
THE term cancer is generally synonymous with doom, despair and death. But being afflicted with cancer doesn’t necessarily spell doom if one looks at people like Neena Gill, Nina Singh and Ranjana Tulsi. All three have survived cancer.
They contracted the disease at one stage or another, battled it and returned from the jaws of death to help others afflicted with the same disease.
"Life was going on smoothly," says Neena Gill," with parties and stuff, till the doctor diagnosed cancer in my breast. My world turned topsy-turvy. Suddenly death seemed to be knocking at my door. Fear, pain, insecurity and darkness engulfed me. The corridors of hospitals seemed like prison walls."
"But after a long, ardous year of treatment, the doctors declared me fit. Months later, I came across this report in a paper about Cancer Survivors Day and I decided to contact the organisation that celebrated it."
It was like a new birth for her. The members of the Sahayata Charitable Society, she says, "were people like me, bruised either because they were the victims of the disease or their near and dear ones had succumbed to it. But these people were 'alive' in every sense of the word. They had come to terms with the disease and were now helping others to accept it."
"When I was in the PGI, I had needed somebody to tell me that everything was going to be alright, somebody who would light the lamp of hope in me and help me to overcome the pain. That is why I decided to become a member of the society," she adds.
Nina Singh recalls a similar experience. "It's been a good 10 years now since I contracted breast cancer. My first concern then was for my daughters, who were still pursuing their studies. Please God, I used to pray, let me live at least till my daughters are settled."
After she recovered, she joined the Cancer Sahyog in Delhi. After coming to Chandigarh, she joined Sahayata. Describing the experience at Sahayta, she says, "A sublime peace descends as one relates to other cancer patients. A kind of empathy develops between two human beings, one who has suffered and one who is still suffering. We explain to the others that there is really no need to get depressed."
Neena Gill elaborates, "The cancer patients and the members of their family don’t only need emotional dams as there are many who cannot fight it simply because of financial reasons. Each chemotherapy session, on an average, costs between Rs 500 and Rs 20,000, depending upon its duration. We have to raise funds for these people. We get enormous response from the people of Chandigarh. Schools, ladies clubs, banks, ex-patients— all come forward to help. These people are not necessarily the rich people of Chandigarh, but they are rich in heart. A doctor who gives us an estimate of the expenditure of a patient and then we swing into action."
A cancer survivor can easily empathise with the sufferer instantly because he/she has experienced the same turmoil. The patients cheer up when a survivor explains to them what post-surgical care is to be taken, how the nausea after radiation is to be handled and what food is to be eaten when the chemotherapy is going on.
"Not only that," says Nina Singh, "some of the patients do not know about the facilities given to them by the Railways or even some of the state roadways. All this is explained to them. However, there is a feeling of helplessness when a patient does not survive."
A patient who is terminally ill and knows about it, is not so easy to approach. "For such severe cases, we go to Nirmala Chaudhry, the psychiatric consultant, who then explains to us how to handle such patients. A pragmatic approach is needed."
Ranjana Tulsi too underwent surgery after her breast cancer was detected. " Ignorance is bliss. Since I did not know much about the disease, I did not feel too nervous about it. Everything went very smoothly, with the grace of God—the tests, the surgery, radiation, the post-surgical convalescence. It was like riding a gentle wave and my family was my anchor. They did not let me ponder over it at all. Whether it was a marriage in the family or some social outing, I was made a part of it without making me feel conscious about it."
"Family support is a prerequisite for one's survival," agrees Neena Gill. "They have a great role to play in building up one's morale. Sadly, many of the patients we come across are abandoned by their families, either due to financial reasons or due to the immense hassles involved."
"However, what is not to be overlooked is the importance a positive outlook," explains Mrs Neena Singh. "Patients in similar stages of cancer have shown different results. One survives because of his optimism and the other passes away because he gives up before giving a fight."
All three agree that there is always the gnawing fear that the disease might return, but after interacting with cancer patients everyday, they feel that they will be able to handle it if it recurs.
Recalls Neena Gill, "My friend contracted cancer five times but never gave up till the last. She was an active volunteer of Sahayata. Even a small accident can snuff out the life in you. Life is unpredictable, but now we are 'giving back' to others and that is the most fulfilling of emotions."
"Life becomes precious after such an experience," says Ranjana Tulsi. "You feel detached from material things. Your friends, relatives and family become very important and the most important are you. Suddenly, you want to do all that which has been at the back of your mind but never really bothered to do ."
There are three medicines for this disease—God, the support of the family and a positive outlook, she adds. "It is very important to have faith."
The others agree. "The fact of the matter is that the treatment of the disease is more trying than the disease itself as it goes on for a long time. Therefore, it is very important to have faith and show strength throughout the period."
As I trudge back home after meeting these survivors, thousands of thoughts swirl up in my mind. Aren't we living at the periphery of life? We all need hope, support, love. We are all thirsty inside.
Thirsty like those dunes
That burn in the day and freeze at night,
Souls toiling and incomplete
Flying from one yellow sea to another
Yellow like the sun
Barren like the ascetic
Who can understand their silent yearnings
That drink water yet drink not.
ONE thing which a woman can perhaps claim to be her own is her body. But sadly , patriarchal attitudes exercise control even overthis from an early age, manifesting themselves in the case of a girl child. To simplify my point, I will raise a question. Have you ever wondered why a male child has an unquestionable right to be naked and why is it that a girl child has no such right?
This is exactly how the 'female bodies' are controlled by the chauvinistic ideas of
men. By this 'cover-up operation', a social foundation of its own sort is created. First the body of a girl is to be hidden and later to be sought after when she becomes a woman, in a kind of game of hide and seek. Here, the advertisement of Liril bathing soap strikes my mind. It shows a female bathing below a fountain that portrays a urinating male child. This speaks volumes about male attitudes.
This is an embodiment of the power play for subordination of women. Young men always tend to be highly preferential in their choice of life partner: slim and slender, with curvaceous figure, soft and tender. This reflects the psychological aspects of patriarchy. Men's dislike for strong women shows their contempt for powerful women, who deflect their 'line of control'. Men like women in a supporting role wherein they flaunt their slim and delicate bodies.
Little girls are 'sugar and spice and everything nice'. Too much knowledge defeminises them, endangers their beauty, makes them boyish. Beauty is fragile. It requires protection much like museum art. Beautiful women are priceless treasures, enhancing the power of those who control them, but powerless themselves. Little girls who play boys' games are in danger of letting their physical and intellectual strength develop, while their beauty and sexuality evaporate. Delicate clothes and gentle activities help to protect female fragility and define little girls' gentler hold on society"
There is also a moral linkage, which supersedes the bodily arguments. Women are told that they are more moral, more understanding and humane than men. This tends to suggest that women should be tolerant of any abuse by men, both sexually and mentally. These attributes seem to assert an almost complete control of men over females.
Feminists contend that standards of beauty are socially constructed. One such example comes from anthropological and sociological research that suggests the preference for a certain kind of body shape among women is not random, but is linked to economic factors. When women have access to economic independence, a thin standard is preferred. Where women are denied access to economic power, marriage is favoured and the emphasis is on more curvaceous body form. Thus, it appears that when women are less likely to be controlled by traditional institutions such as marriage, another form of social control is introduced, in this case the expectation of extreme thinness.
These bodily preferences have serious implications in India. Our patriarchal norms are very strictly underlined and adhered to. No matter how much educated a women may become, she finally has to follow patriarchal formulations. For example, a guy, Akash, had conflicting expectations of his life partner. He did not object to his wife wearing jeans when she accompanied him to a public place, but minded if she wore the same in front of his parents. While she becomes a sex and status symbol for men in a public place', tradition subordinates her in the family.
Her treatment as a
beauty object is epitomised in the media portrayal of women. It may
either be a car or soap, a washing machine or cosmetics, everywhere it
is a woman who sells—sells for her subordination.