Ms. Donna Fernandes is a key figure in the Indian womens movement. She has worked on gender issues for over 20 years and is one of the founding members of Vimochana, THE most prominent womens organisation in Bangalore. Donna has covered issues ranging from violence against women, to problems of rural and urban women, to the girl child, female infanticide, trafficking, dowry deaths, domestic workers problems. She has travelled the length and breadth of India raising awareness on womens issues. She is also known in the international womens movement for her passionate and totally committed approach to fighting for womens rights. (full interview text).
She says: “If women are not emotionally independent, then they cannot be economically independent — and violence against women will continue”. (full text).
News headlines about the theme:
IT City plagued by dowry deaths, July 16, 2007.
Domestic Violence Act yet to be implemented, January 25, 2007.
India’s first domestic violence law takes effect, Oct 27, 2006.
Donna Fernandes – India
She works for Vimochana (named on India together).
Donna Fernandes of Vimochana, a women’s organization in Bangalore, addressed the students of IIJNM on Friday, October 31, 2003. Fernandes touched upon a wide range of women’s issues in India, including female infanticide, female feticide, sexual abuse and the evils of dowry. This is Fernandes’s second visit to IIJNM. During her first visit, Donna spoke about the feminist movement in India on Wednesday March 19, 2003. She noted how the patriarchal system in India continues to exploit women in the form of dowry and female infanticide. She said that the problem of such social evils cannot be eradicated only by a few NGOs, but both men and women in general should come forward to solve the problem. She also believed that there are plenty of loopholes in the existing legal framework and that many of the laws need to be updated and amended. Quoting the example of the Mathura rape case, she mentioned how a women’s organization was successful in securing justice to a victim of rape, who otherwise was accused of being characterless and therefore did not deserve justice. (full text).
The Hindu (May 11, 2007) quoted Karnataka Women’s Commission chairperson Pramila Nesargi as saying that the statement pushed “women back into the four walls of a house”. Donna Fernandes of Vimochana, a women’s organisation, said that Minister’s comment is “outrageous”, adding that she was contemplating filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). Matters since then have cooled down. (full text).
She says also: “Any direct or implied, unwelcome sexually determined behaviour constitutes sexual harassment. This can mean physical contact and sexual advance; demand or request for sexual favours; sexually coloured remarks; showing pornographic material; and any other unwelcome, physical, verbal or non-verbal contact of a sexual nature”. (full text, 24 Jul 2002).
“We look at law as a remedy. Law does not give us rights, but creates a lot of wrongs,” stressed Ms Donna Fernandes of Vimochana. Also, privatisation, globalisation, have reduced work opportunities making people more vulnerable, explained Rukmini Rao, from Deccan Development Society in Hyderabad. Rao also pointed out that the Andhra Pradesh government in its Vision 2020 plan intends to modernize agriculture and which will displace around 40 million farmers. (full text).
And she says: “After the Supreme Court directive, many government organizations have set up a Complaints Committee to deal with cases of sexual harassment at workplace”. (full text).
Referring to the Supreme Court’s warning to women against filing false cases, Ms. Donna Fernandes said that most women who filed harassment complaints were genuinely distressed. Women had to be ready to face criticism for coming out against harassment and violence. “You have to come together so that you can have a collective voice,” she said. She urged the representatives of munnade to bring more women workers into their organisation. (full text).
Women in the Unorganised Sector (2007 onwards): Mahila Okkota was an attempt to bring together the women from various unorganised sectors and professions to one platform so that they share with each other the issues that they are addressing. Women from14 different sectors came together with their issues on March 15, 2007. The 1000 women gave testimonies of their problems and struggles faced by them. Ms. Usha of Hengassara Hakkina Sangha (HHS) anchored the programme. Dr. Ruth Manorama from Women’s Voice and Ms. Donna Fernandes from Vimochan also participated in the programme. The theme was: ‘Life with Dignity for Women’. There was 4 preparatory meetings in which Premdas from CHC participated and CHC was also one of the organizing members of the programme. Right to health, alcoholism, housing, globalisation, privatisation, liberalisation and communalism were the cross cutting issues that everyone addressed. (full text).
Read: The Gender Sensitisation and People-friendly Police Project (KSP-UNICEF).
According to Donna Fernandes of Vimochana, this project started off with a training programme for eight women attached to the organisation, in two-wheeler maintenance and repair in the City. Vimochana tied up with Loyola Institute for six-month training programme and these women had successfully completed the certificate course. They were given hands on training in various service centres in Bangalore. (full text).
Read: Lisa Ling on Special Assignment – Lisa took her camera crew inside a burn ward to meet women who are victims of “bride burning.” Women don’t usually talk freely about being burned by their husbands when their families can’t pay dowries, because they fear being killed. Many women say they are burned because of a stove burst, but that is usually far from the truth. On any given day, at least three or four women are admitted to this hospital with more than half of their bodies burned. Lisa said the stench of their flesh was overwhelming and the sound of their pain was heartbreaking. “From the second I walked into this room, I felt like I was in a place where a war had struck,” Lisa says. “The fact is that many of them will not live to leave the hospital, and this happens everyday.” (full text).
Why women’s groups oppose injectable contraceptives;
Notes from the World Social Forum sidelines;
Communing with Urban Heroines, a culture-specific visual project, by Surekha.