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07. March 2005

Die junge Zukunft Indiens © Xenia Hausner

EDITpage: The International Women´s Day 2005 ; A Point of No Return

Women without Borders celebrate women in India

"No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come". (Victor Hugo)

Women are determined as never before: educated, ambitious and ready for action. At the grass roots level they have always made major contributions holding up family networks and knitting communities together. But now, the movement that started at the beginning of the last century is really tipping the scales at the top end of the power structures. Women have long been appreciated for their emotional competence, but women are now recognised as capable professionals, hi-flyers in business, and prominent players in civil society.

More than ever, women are claiming their rights and representing their concerns in politics with many constitutions changing to stipulate fixed regulations for female representation. Transition countries, in particular, challenge the west in terms female participation: for instance Afghanistan has 25%, Iraq 33% critical minimum numbers of female seats in parliament. In Rwanda currently nearly 50% parliamentarians are women. India interestingly, starts at the grass roots, where the local village councils Panchayat must have 33% women representatives. This activates women right at the heart of the issues and in India this involvement of women has had extraordinary results.

Indeed India has changed its self-perception and the rest of world had better catch up! India is shaking off the shadows from it’s colonial past and is emerging as an economic and strategic powerhouse in Asia. The international community must wake up to India, and view India as it views itself – progressive partners in the new world order. Without the women, this jump into the future was not possible. From the smallest micro-credit schemes to the directors of scientific institutions and highest level government post – women have been the architects of progress.

The next step is to push for critical masses in all areas. The biggest hurdles are in our own mind-set. Women as the ‘caring’ gender tend to assume the support roles, and a real deficiency of women is to be too polite and too often to step back. Patriarchy granted us the courtesy of ‘women first’ – and instinctively they were right!! We must put ourselves first and we never again refuse an open door. All we have to do is to bravely walk through the open doors and live up to our own ambitions.

One of the first slogans of the women’s movement was ‘the personal is political’, and the women world wide take the political agenda seriously. But on this special occasion of the international women’s day, let us have a hard look at our personal budgeting of emotions, how is the ‘personal’ standing in the way of the ‘political’. In other words, how is our lack of confidence undermining our competence - with far-reaching consequences.

And there is a lot to do. The Tsunami disaster is a prominent example of the necessity of women to re-assess their roles and obligations. In the fishing villages of South India, women were left as sole breadwinners and family pillars they needed to re-evaluate their possibilities. Women without Borders is standing by them. We are linking with the Indian NGO Women in Development in Chennai, South India and starting an reconstruction program called ‘Connecting women and children for hope’. Dr Neela Valli, the director, was invited by Women without Borders to come to Vienna in Austria this winter and gave an eye witness report about the specific needs of women in the post-tsunami disaster regions. We were extremely impressed with the courage and persistence of the women to overcome this catastrophe and at the same time we were alarmed to learn that aid was not reaching women-headed households simply because only male-headed households are accounted. Dr Valli suggested that Women without Borders take up a unique construction program to develop co-operative schemes with women in the fishing areas which will guarantee the economic and social security of victims of the Tsunami disaster. Women are learning to take their destinies into their own hands.

At the same time, we are linking up with our sisters throughout India and launching Women without Borders in Dehli today. Archanar Kapour and her team will head the Indian office and we know it will be in most competent hands. Archanar Kapour has already achieved so much, perhaps best known as the co-publisher of HardNews, the relentlessly-objective magazine together with Sanjay, her husband. She made her name with many documentary films and grass roots activities with underprivileged children. This office will be a stronghold for innovative programmes and young leadership training to strengthen the drive for greater female capacity.

The momentum of the women’s movement is as strong as never before, it has a more inclusive countenance, feminism went mainstream and won many partners, female as well as male. Women without Borders welcome male support networks and we see the emancipation of men’s roles as an important step towards a gender-just world. We must free our sons from the armour of patriarchy and grant them a new definition of manhood, where muscles don’t outperform emotions.

The question: ‘what if women ruled the world’ is no longer a frivolous one, we are coming closer to a real power shift and our granddaughters and grandsons will one day be able to answer this. As strategists and analysts of current affairs, we can already predict … will be a wonderful world! Please join us.

Edit Schlaffer and the Women without Borders Team


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