From protests against the 12% GST imposed on sanitary napkins, conversations around menstrual leave policy, the much-awaited release of Lipstick Under My Burkha to the Indian team’s success at the Women’s Cricket World Cup, On Topic reviews major events and conversations around gender and women in India in July.
Activism and Advocacy
- July saw protests in different parts of the country against the 12% GST imposed on sanitary napkins. Students of the University of Kerala sent sanitary napkins with 'Bleed without fear, bleed without tax’ to the Union Finance Minister. Government officials, however, stated that their decision was driven by a desire to protect local manufacturers and avoid an inverted tax structure. This has also opened up critical conversations around the patriarchal beliefs underlying reproductive health concerns, as well as the environmental effects of sanitary napkins as compared to other menstrual hygiene products like cloth and menstrual cups.
- #PropertyForHer is a campaign that is fighting for securing land and property rights for women in South Asia. The campaign was initiated by Kamla Bhasin after a conversation with journalist Radhika Bordia revealed that the latter couldn’t find one woman in Delhi who was ready to say that she hadn’t received her share of her family property on camera. In the past month, the campaign has started important conversations around women’s property rights and one must view them against statistics around female land ownership. In 2002, only 51% of surveyed widows inherited land from their deceased husbands and even as recently as 2010-11, the agricultural census shows that only 12.69% of rural women have ‘operational holdings’. The campaign not only appeals to those who view female land ownership from a gender equality lens but also those who view it from an instrumental lens with some posters having captions such as “If women have property, children have security”.
- Protests continued in Odisha against the liberalised liquor policy. Earlier this year, hundreds of women demanded the closure of liquor shops. These activists are largely wives of daily wage workers, marginal farmers and village artisans who spend a substantial amount of their income on liquor. July saw the indefinite dharna by the women of Shreepura village, demanding the removal of a liquor distillery in their village, reach its fiftieth day with the administration not yielding to their demands. This lack of response from the state machinery is particularly worrisome as it has been proven in numerous community studies that alcohol abuse results in physical, emotional and economic violence with the women in the family often being the recipients of such violence.
Employment and Livelihood
- Private sector Yes Bank has received $150 million funding from the US government and Wells Fargo to increase lending to support women entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises in India. Yes Bank has stated that the facility will support financing women entrepreneurs in India, to drive future economic growth and job creation.
-Mumbai based digital media company, Culture Machine is offering 'menstrual leave' to female staff as part of its official policy and called on authorities to pass legislation on giving all working women the option of taking the first day of their period off through this video. However, this move by Culture Machine and Gazoop has not been without criticism, with some arguing that such policies threaten to undermine women’s long-standing battle to discourage the notion that their natural cycle makes them weak or in any way less able. This debate has been ongoing for the last few years since several East Asian countries introduced them as a move to greater gender equality. While these op-ed pieces also share some of these criticisms, they also follow the historical roots of this policy. For example in Japan, when menstrual leave was enforced a little after WWII, "It represented their ability to speak openly about their bodies and to gain social recognition for their role as workers." The question is if ample paid sick leave for all can achieve the same goals as the menstrual leave?
Movies and Photography
-Shahria Sharmin has been chosen by Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas as her juror’s pick in this year’s Magnum Awards, for her images of hijra communities in Bangladesh and India. Her images are deeply personal portraits and she aims to continue her documentation in the hopes that her work can help hijras to “find a breathing space in a claustrophobic society.”
-Lipstick Under My Burkha has made its debut in India after months of wrangling with the censor board of India. Directed by Alankitra Shrivastav, the movie tells the story of four women grappling with their sexual desires, with society's regressive approach towards female sexuality one of the dominant themes of the film. You can read our intern Zoya’s review here.
Gender, Sexuality and Reproductive Rights
- Reproductive Health Matters’ (RHM) latest issue on disability and sexuality was co-produced by CREA and one can read the entire publication for free here. For this themed issue, RHM brings together a selection of articles that shed light on the lives of people with disabilities, focusing on their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
-The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, headed by Ramesh Bais, presented its 43rd report.The Committee has asked the government to clearly define a transgender person and to consider suitably incorporating the committee’s suggestions in 'The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016'. Several issues that the bill needs to resolve include the question of current definition, which replaced the one in the 2015 draft inclusion of persons with intersex variations under the transgender umbrella; discrimination in employment not addressed etc. If these guidelines are not clarified, the bill might even harm the community.
-The Supreme Court has refused to allow an abortion for a 10-year-old girl, allegedly raped by her uncle, on the grounds that she is too far into her pregnancy. The doctors’ panel told the court that, at 32 weeks, the termination would be too risky. A lower court had earlier turned down her plea on similar grounds.The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 allows the termination only up to 20 weeks, and though the court has allowed termination beyond this permissible period in the past based on medical board recommendations, this case indicates the urgency with which this act needs to be amended to better address the varying concerns of Indian women - be they rape survivors, married women or sexually active single women.
-Women’s cricket saw India and England battle for the Women’s Cricket World Cup after seeing some terrific performances, especially India’s win against Australia in the semi-finals. The pulsating finish saw England win the cup by nine runs.
- The 2017 Asian Athletics Championships held from 6th to 9th July at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubanweswar saw India’s top of the table finish with a total of 29 medals. The Indian women gold medalists include Chitra P U in women’s 1500m run, Sudha Singh in the Women’s 3000m Steeplechase, Manpreet Kaur in women’s Shot Put, Swapna Barman in Women’s Heptathlon, Nirmala Sheoran in Women’s 400m Run and the Women’s 4*400m relay.
-Dutee Chand who was subjected to a gender testing in 2013 has bagged a bronze medal in the 100m event at the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships. Just a day before the championship, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) decided to return to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) with more evidence in support of its Hyperandrogenism Policy which ruled that any female athlete with naturally high testosterone levels ineligible for competition. Chand is allowed to continue to compete till a final decision is given by CAS on her appeal against the policy. However, unless athletic authorities want to take on all conditions that might result in an unfair advantage – biological, genetic, social or otherwise – it seems arbitrary to focus on testosterone in female athletes.
-A recent report revealed the unjust disparity in pay between men and women working at the BBC. The top-earning woman at the BBC takes home only a fifth of what the top-earning man at BBC does. This disparity is seen across all levels and an anonymous female senior journalist commented that “young female producers are kept long term on shabby short-term one or three-month or six-month contracts on rates that haven’t moved for 20 years or more.”
-A report from the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California does not show promising results for representation of diversity, after analyzing the demographic makeup of every speaking or named characters from 100 highest-grossing films at the domestic box office every year since 2007. It found that the representation of women, minorities, LGBT people, disabled characters in films remains largely unchanged from the previous year. Exclusion, the report says, is the norm in Hollywood, not the exception.
-Google CEO, Sundar Pichai has stated that they are looking to train 10 million people in sub-Saharan Africa in online skills over the next five years. They also hope to train 100,000 software developers in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. This pledge is an expansion of an initiative launched in 2016 and the programme will try to ensure that at least 40% of people trained are women. However, many African women face cultural and social barriers to becoming entrepreneurs, so it is to be seen what the impact of this programme would be if sufficient employment avenues are not created post the training.
July at Zubaan
Zubaan commander-in-chief Urvashi Butalia has been awarded this year's Goethe Medal, an official distinction from the German Federal Republic. The medal "honors individuals who have displayed exceptional competence of the German language as well as in international cultural exchange”, and will be presented to Urvashi at a ceremony in Weimar in late August.
The e-Essays project has been making individual essays available in e-formats for a reasonable fee. The first four sets of the e-Essays focused on Indian women's movements, sexual violence, domestic space and kinship and religion and conflict. To be added to the mailing list, subscribe here!
We had three new book releases in July, Women, Peace and Security in Northeast India (Åshild Kolås (ed.), July 2017, Academic), Motherhood and Choice: Uncommon Mothers, Childfree Women(Amrita Nandy, July 2017, Academic) and Aosenla's Story (Temsula Ao, July 2017, Fiction)
Zubaan’s feminist book club will be discussing Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column this August. We’ll be meeting on the morning of Sunday, 20th August - if you’d like to join, shoot us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
New on our blog is our picks from the latest in YA lit. We would love to hear about your favourite YA titles!
That’s it for July, but On Topic will be back next month with more conversations, news and stories!