National consultation to evolve the category of ‘single women’ and make it more inclusive concludes

At a three-day national consultation organised by non-governmental organisation Jagori, participants collectively addressed the need to evolve a definition of ‘single women’ outside the “patriarchal institution of marriage”.

TODAY, a three-day national consultation in India International Centre, New Delhi, aimed to collectively evolve the definition of ‘single women’, was concluded.

The consultation was organised by Jagori, a non-governmental organisation working for women’s rights and safety.

In their press release, the organisation states that the attempt was to refocus the spotlight on the need to collectively evolve the definition of the ‘single women’ to include all those outside the “patriarchal institution of marriage” across identities including Dalit, Adivasi, devadasi, sex workers, lesbian, transgender and women with disabilities.

Jagori is one of the first organisations to take up the issue of ‘single women’ (‘ekal aurat’) as a definitive category of women outside the institution of marriage and place it in the larger discourse of the women’s movement.

The consultation aimed to be a significant step towards addressing the unique challenges faced by single women in all their diversity in India. It focused on critically assessing policy gaps, discussing grassroots-level perspectives and developing concrete action plans at both the national and state levels to serve as roadmaps for arriving at an inclusive definition of single women.

The consultation began with Abha Bhaiya, renowned feminist activist and founder member of Jagori speaking on one of the first surveys conducted on single women by Jagori in the 1990s.

She also traced how the discourse surrounding single women’s rights and identities has changed, how there is an erosion of the rights of women outside the institution of marriage, and which identities hold power and privilege.

In this context, gender and development researcher Ranjani Murthy walked the participants through the diverse identities of single women, the lack of agency or rights-based approaches to single women’s development and the current policy context.

During the consultation, single women and organisation representatives from Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bihar, Assam, Rajasthan and Delhi made presentations on the status of single women in their region and addressed the lack of policies for single women at the national level.

The single women participants across identities and on the margins highlighted the criticality of intersectional approaches for both policy and practice. They shared their lived experiences of exclusion, physical, sexual and emotional violence, negative impact on mental health, difficult access to entitlements, and denial of agency, integrity, voice and choice.

At the end of the consultation, the participants as a way forward collectively amplified policy recommendations and collated a charter of demands.

Some of the demands include social security for single women, recognising the unique needs of single women across identities, the need for disaggregated data on single women along the categories of caste, class, age, occupation, gender and sexual identity, disability etc., priority to single women in government schemes, de-linking scheme benefits for women with marriage and self-governed welfare boards with multiple representations.

The press release concludes: “The motto of ‘single but not alone’’, evolved by Jagori will only become a reality when there are concentrated and sustained efforts by stakeholders at multiple levels and a strong mechanism to hold them accountable.”