Newsletter Sept - Dec 2005

Since the IWHM due to its own constraints could not provide the space and time for an in-depth discussion on the issues raised in the presentation, Saheli decided to hold a meeting for Delhi based women’s and other organisations working specifically on the issues of women’s health, in order to take the discussion forward. On 15 October 2005 a meeting was held in Indian Social Institute. The discussion that followed highlighted the concerns and questions in the minds of many grassroots activists and women who have been associated with the women’s movement for about thirty years now.

Starting from the point as to when and how change came in the nature of funding, issues were raised regarding structures and manner of working of the NGOs to their relationship with the movement and the State. Questions on the present nature of women’s movement also got debated. Since those present in the meeting included both new and old activists, nostalgia of (good) old days and comparisons with the present sometimes kept stunting the discussion. Some complained that we were not coming together on one platform and were working in a divided manner. They said that there seemed to be no coordination amongst the various organisations whereas earlier all used to come together and there used to be one voice. Change has come in the nature of funding too. Earlier there was more space and freedom to work even when funds were taken for any project or campaign. Though there were controls earlier also but that space has got reduced. Another question raised was: who are these groups accountable to: funders or to the people for whom they profess to work?

While some felt that we need to understand that the contribution of women’s movement in successfully building up resources in the development sector, some others quipped that at the same time we also need to understand why some of us are no longer working on health issues. It was also pointed out that in funded organisations the decision to be an activist or a manager may in itself make you ineffective. Why have we not been able to preserve that space? Some pointed to the fact that the nature of funding has changed in a way that field workers get paid much lesser than those at higher positions. There is money for the program and not for the workers. Emphasis on research and not on action was another issue raised. An elitist character of movement has emerged. As a result one finds that those who are working on the programs many times do not have adequate information about the issue on which they supposedly work. Many are working as office jobs.

It was also pointed out that the withdrawal of state and the NGOisation process need to be seen together. Women did not have choices earlier and they still do not have choices because of the dynamics of privatization in all areas of life. Also now the government first consults the donors and not the movement or NGO sector. Moreover, the vocabulary and language has become apolitical. The linkage between the State and the market needs to be understood.

Trying to pull the discussion from the old and new, then and now mode, an attempt was made to discuss the extent to which we have the space for raising political questions. As funding has got sophisticated, it has become difficult to raise issues about it. The scale and language of funding is itself different. No wonder that in the IWHM conference there was no discussion on strategies and networking.

Some heated argument took place as to where the women movement is going. What is its relationship with the State? What are the contradictions? Is the movement still proactive? Is there a movement or there are only questions and questions? Trying to take the discussion out from the binaries of funding vs women movement, it was emphasised that we need to have discussions, accountability and transparency amongst ourselves. Need for joint platform and for ideological debates was also stressed. Only this could help in intervening effectively. It was decided to take the discussion forward by having a follow up meeting and keeping the dialogue alive.