Gender and Womens Development


Swaraj since its inception has strived towards equal participation and representation of women at all levels. However, it became evident that in practice this was more difficult and women did not come forward and participate as much as expected. Women face many constraints due to tradition and culture. Like most parts of the country, many areas where Swaraj is active, are highly conservative and male dominated societies. Women’s domain has been largely restricted to the domestic sphere.

The Nar Nari Samata Samiti – a Gender Sensitisation Cell came into existence after the first National Convention of the Swaraj Forum held at Mauda in Behrampur District of Orissa in 1999.

The decision to set up the Samiti followed the adoption of the philosophy by Swaraj Forum that women should have equal opportunities in the Swaraj Fellowship and as a first step and equal representation to women in Swaraj Committees and Activities.

The kind of work that Swaraj is engaged in (movement based work), it is even more difficult for women to participate actively. The attitude and mindsets of women as much as men needs to be changed so that they can play an active role in the entire process. This is a time-consuming process requiring a great deal of effort to evoke interest and build confidence of the women. To a certain extent the PSP process has provided opportunities for women to share and express their ideas on various issues affecting them, their families and the community. Separate PSP programmes for women have also been organised so that they can contribute to the process.


To enhance and strengthen the women leadership through Fellowship programme and to give equal representation to women in Swaraj Committees and Activities.
















STATE                 : Kerala, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Goa.

CAMPAIGN        : Koshi, Gandak, Ganga, Damodar and Periyar.

PROGRAMME   : Panchayati Raj, IRN & National Promotion and NNSS.


NAR NARI SAMATA SAMITI – A forum for equality of men and women

The Nar Nari Samata Samiti (NNSS) was constituted as a national forum with the aim to bring in more number of women at all levels- villages to the national level. It was also felt that the capacities and skills of these women should be strengthened so that they can play an active role. The first meeting of the samiti was held in December 1999. Although the samiti was supposed to cover all the state units of Swaraj, due to practical constraints such as language, coordination, geographical spread etc. it is now more active as a regional forum covering the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. NNSS had a setback when one of the fellows from Bihar who was very active in the forum had to leave because of family pressure.

Interestingly, to start with it was an all women’s forum (women fellows). However, it was decided to include men and by September 2001 the committee was reconstituted. At present the committee has 10 members- 2 women fellows each from the state of Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa, state coordinators of the three states and the regional coordinator. NNSS has a small budget and although the states have the freedom to make available funds for programmes of NNSS, in practice this has not been easy as the state budgets are meagre and is barely sufficient to carry out existing programmes. The following are the programmes taken up by the NNSS so far.


–        A three-day gender workshop in the three regions (East, west and south) covering all the 7 states was taken up. However, only women fellows and committee members participated in the programme.

–        A one-day national convention as a follow up to the three regional workshops was organised at the end of January, 2001in Kerala.

–        A four days gender workshop for women and men (fellows) from the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa organised this year.

–        A similar programme was taken up for the fellows of Gujarat and Maharashtra.

–        Although there is no stated gender policy in Swaraj, there has been a conscious decision to involve and provide equal opportunities for women from the beginning.

–        It is important to change men’s attitude. Men should share household chores so that women have the time to participate in other outside activities.

–        To empower women, ‘men have to be less men. Instead of equality, it should be a more practical and flexible approach. There has to be a pro-women attitude’.

–        Men have to be included in gender training programmes.

A women participants presenting group work during NNSS workshop.

–        Women’s groups are necessary to nurture and build solidarity among women.

–        The structure of most organisations is male oriented. The structure has to be more feminine to make it a more humane organisation that provides space for both women and men. This applies to Swaraj too.

–        The long and irregular working hours and travel are some of the issues that come in the way of women’s induction.

–        Many competent women fellows have left after marriage.

–        We have not interacted with the families of the women fellows while recruiting them. Interacting and discussing the programme with them may encourage more women to come forward.

–        The attitude of some of the male colleagues in Swaraj has also been one of the reasons for the women leaving. We have not done enough to see that women do not leave.

–        Many women are also not too keen to leave their homes and participate in the public sphere.

–        There is more expectation from women colleagues and they are often overburdened with responsibilities.

–        Many women had come forward during the PSP process. But when it came to selection of fellows, women were marginalized.

–        Women are vulnerable and there is a feeling of insecurity both among women and men when women are around.

–        In a state like Kerala that boasts of high women literacy levels and employment, we have no women representatives at the state and national level.

–        Although in most of the state, district and village committees in the state units and consortiums women’s representation is 50%, they face many constraints both at the personal and organisational level. This is quite understandable because of the backgrounds these women come from and it is a long drawn process and involves changing the mindsets and attitudes of women and men. Even so, within this short period there are many encouraging signs and small beginnings made. Ms Tara Kranti, one of the district committee members from the state of Jharkhand shared her experience. ‘I come from a small village and a traditional background. It was during the PSP process that I first came out of the house. I enjoyed the process but I was not very confident. Initially my husband used to accompany me to the meetings. Many people made fun of us but the coordinator Mr. Ghanshyam was very understanding and he never opposed my husband’s presence. He gave me time and space to grow and learn. Today, I am confident, my husband does not accompany me anymore. I attend and participate actively in all the meetings; I am also very active in my own village-helping other women to gain confidence. I have visited Kerala, Goa and Bihar. My family has been supportive, both my husband and mother-in-law support me completely; the fellows in Swaraj have helped me to realise my potential’.

–        At the community level, achieving gender equality requires more time because of the cultural and traditional practices prevalent in the society. Strategies and interventions have to be carefully planned.

–        In the 5 cluster villages of Swaraj, women and men have to be identified and trained on gender. They in turn can take the process forward in the community.

–        Binni while recounting her own experience says ‘after joining Swaraj I am able to express my views without fear or hesitation. I have had opportunities to learn and grow and my colleagues (both men and women) support and encourage me. I am able to plan, manage and take decisions on my own. Till last year, I was sharing responsibility of coordinating the state unit along with a male colleague of mine. I have become more confident now.’

–        NNSS has provided a window of opportunity for both women and men to understand gender issues. The initial workshop has provided a certain amount of conceptual clarity on gender to fellows in Swaraj. However, more gender training programmes have to be designed and organised at various levels.

–        It is important for Nar Nari Samata Samiti to cover all the states. There has been request from Kerala and Maharashtra to take up gender trainings.

–        The resource persons on gender within Swaraj should undergo further training on gender to gain deeper insights on concept, techniques etc.