Although India is a signatory of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and has some of the most progressive legislation for women’s rights in its region, gender inequality is still salient in Indian society. Women are still paid lower wages than men on average, have less education and formal skill training, and lack property rights that would enable them to obtain financial independence and seek entrepreneurial opportunities. Violence against women is also prevalent in Indian society, and many women still lack decision-making powers with regard to their bodies and sexuality.
As a result of this gender inequality, Nirnaya requested funds to continue and expand its own Rapid Response Grantmaking program. Nirnaya is a women’s fund that works in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Karnataka, Bihar, Chattisghar and Jharkand. Nirnaya supports socially excluded women and those that are at-risk economically from the Dalit, Adivasi, and other communities living in remote parts of the country to access their rights and lead a life of dignity, through grantmaking, capacity-building and awareness-raising campaigns. This partnership will help UAF toward its goal of expanding and diversifying RRG as well as decentralizing decision-making to activists on the ground.
In this first year of their regranting partnership with UAF, Nirnaya women’s fund was able to make two rapid response grants in the state of Tamil Nadu that fit within its category of Political Participation and Decision Making.
One grant was awarded to MASS Trust, a group that works in the dalit community and supported a dalit (lower caste) woman who raised her voice to question the utilization of the village development funds. The powerful men from the village, who are from a higher caste, continually harassed the woman and even had her arrested and detained without charge so that she would miss the deadline to submit papers questioning the use of village funds. Although her detention prevented her from submitting the papers, MASS Trust provided the woman with legal assistance, secured her release, and supported her throughout the ordeal. MASS Trust’s actions sent a message to the dominant class of the village that they can no longer simply use their power to silence a young woman from a lower caste without being held accountable by the rest of the village.
Nirnaya’s second grant went to Development of Rurally Oppressed People’s Service Society (DROPSS), which helped communities speak up to their public officials in the aftermath of a cyclone that hit the city of Cuddalore in December 2011. After the cyclone, the affected communities were shocked with the lack of response from their local and state governments. In response, DROPSS conducted a series of focus group discussions with community leaders in 15 villages, which resulted in petitions to their government requesting intervention and relief efforts. DROPSS received threatening visits from local politicians demanding that they withdraw these petitions, but DROPSS’s leader, who is a woman, bravely held her ground and maintained that her organization is merely serving as a conduit for the communities to rightfully demand action from their government. Nirnaya notes this is a rare case where a community affected by a natural disaster has moved “from being mere victims and recipients of relief and charity” into a “rights based mode of action.”
Nirnaya believes that its Rapid Response Grantmaking (RRG) mechanism, a product of its regranting partnership with UAF, was critical in allowing it to respond to these two urgent requests. Both grants represented timely interventions that allowed women to raise their voices in their communities and claim their place as active participants in the political sphere.