Single Women in society
The term Single Women (Ekal Nari) refers to all women who live outside the norm of marriage. It includes widowed women, divorced and abandoned women, and never-married women who are above the customary age for marriage. In India the main task of women is to get married, produce children (preferably male) and nurture the family. If a wife loses her husband through death or abandonment, it is considered her fault and she is socially de-valued. If she leaves him, by casting off her role as a wife she is considered dangerous to society. Equally, society considers that a woman who fails or elects not to get married is very strange and the object of scornful curiosity. These are traditional views commonly held in India, not only in village society but also in many urban, even educated communities. They are the gut reaction of the general population and as such they impact enormously to reduce women’s capability and strength.
Several women’s organizations in India have conducted activist research projects and created spaces for single women to identify their common concerns and to address their collective needs: most significantly, Jagori (primary office in Delhi) and Astha (based in Rajasthan). In so doing, they have forwarded the category “single woman”. However, until Nishtha took up the cause of single women, no such project had been undertaken in this area.
Single Women Staff
Nishtha’s Work with Single Women
In June 2005 Nishtha held the first of a series of workshops specifically to identify and empower single women in the area. This was joined by experienced facilitators and representatives from the recently formed Single Women’s Movement in Rajasthan. Along with our own activities of holding meetings and offering training and assistance to start self help projects, it was agreed that Nishtha would function as a key operative in the Single Women’s Movement in Himachal Pradesh, working along with SUTRA, the designated Nodal NGO who took on the primary role of training and monitoring the activists through the State. Nishtha engages field workers to extend our reach into the villages in the district, concentrating on particularly remote areas and we are now in contact with more than 2,000 single women providing them with an effective support network.
Single women suffer numerous economic and social difficulties as well as emotional and physical abuse, particularly from family members, and consequently require tremendous strength and courage to negotiate the challenges of their daily lives. Many of the issues that we are finding through contact with the women can be addressed most effectively through the creation of a space for single women to discuss their collective concerns. Nishtha provides this space by organising regular meetings in the villages and encouraging women to become involved in our programmes and activities.
Nishtha commenced working for the cause of Single Women’s rights and empowerment in cooperation with SUTRA, the nodal agency for the single women’s programme in Himachal Pradesh in 2008. By March 2009 the four member team were working with 937 registered women, of whom 436 were fully signed up members of the Single Women’s Organisation.Since then we have worked steadily to empower single women and establish local groups connected with a national body of single women. Our work aims to increase the impact of single women’s collective voice and to change society’s stereotypes concerning them. The group pressures the central government to address the problems of single women, to enable women to benefit from government schemes, to provide legal help for single women and to encourage the women to help each other, actively raising their voices against violence.
In April 2010 it was decided that Nishtha would take on up to 6 assistant single women activists to enable the 3 original activists to work more effectively and to cover a wider area and more villages, thus extending our reach to more single women. By the end of that year the team was working in 70 panchayats and had contacted 1,847 women or whom 1,243 were paid up members of the Organisation.
The Nishtha Single Women’s programme been running under the Himachal nodal agency SUTRA for the since 2005. Each year we increase our reach to vulnerable women in the area and consequently the ability we have to enact real social change. In addition to creating an active group Nishtha has provided training for women of all ages in Wenlido self defence and in 2010 the Nishtha Single Women’s Health education village outreach programme was launched, organised by the Single Women activists.
Nishtha Activists Work in the Villages
Our activists organise monthly meetings in every Panchayat (village area) and a block level meeting, either in the village or at Nishtha every six months. During these meetings we draw in single women, register them and hear their problems. We provide information about their rights, government schemes and explore ways they can get financial and other help. We take effective steps to address immediate problems such as legal issues, domestic violence and health problems.
The Programme works actively against domestic violence, dealing with individual cases as well as empowering all women to stand up against abuse especially in the family. Wenlido Workshops are a very effective way of providing vulnerable single women with a means to stand up against violence.
Nishtha has been working on a number of health interventions specifically targeting single women including heart, dental and gynaecological camps. We have also set up a regular mobile health education programme in which twice a week the team takes off from the Nishtha Clinic and visits remote villages which do not have good medical facilities. Our purpose is to provide people with health education and advice about how to deal with medical problems as well as some medical consultation. Women are able to ask questions and get good information about their ailments and those with serious problems are advised where to go for help.
Through our teams efforts accessing government as well as Red Cross and Lions Club schemes we enable women to get monthly pensions, funds for house repairing, sewing machines, cows, free computer classes and assistance for their daughter‘s marriage. through the government. 16 sewing machines were obtained from the Red Cross.
Programmes held throughout the year include celebrating International Women’s day on March 8th and Widow’s day on June 23rd. In order to maintain pressure on the local officials to consider the single women’s pension and legal cases, we hold public hearings so that the women are able to voice their grievances. Already much has been achieved towards changing society’s attitudes towards single women both on a local and a National level. Giving single women a forum to work for improvements encourages them to feel less isolated and helpless so they can stand up with courage in a group.