New IDS-led project on sustaining women’s struggles for power and rights in South Asia

Published on 5 March 2020

Amidst widespread political turmoil across much of South Asia, women are facing a growing backlash against some of the gains that have been made on women and girls’ personal, civic and labour rights. Expressions of backlash range from explicit and personal threats and violence to political back-peddling, bureaucratic reluctance to implement policy and a closing down of public space for dissent.

Women protesters and protectors of the Constitution, Shaheen Bagh, 12 Jan 2020. Credit, Mohammad Umar Para
Women protesters and protectors of the Constitution, Shaheen Bagh, 12 Jan 2020. The main placard shows a picture of the architect of the Indian Constitution, Dr BR Ambedkar and reads (in Hindi): “Our Constitution is the protector of our rights. We also pledge to protect the Constitution.” Credit. Mohammad Umar Para

A new IDS-led project working with the Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) at BRAC  University (Bangladesh), IDEAS (Pakistan), ISST (India) and CARE (Nepal), will be identifying and analysing cases where women’s struggles and movements have been successful in protecting and progressing the gains they have made despite social and political backlash, whether these are around domestic violence legislation, labour rights, access to water or claiming public space (including the ability to organise and march for their rights).

This ESRC-funded project, entitled Sustaining Power: Women’s struggles against contemporary backlash in South Asia, will not only be creating new empirical evidence on what works for these struggles, but will work closely with the struggles themselves to help them catalogue and celebrate their work, and reach out to a wider network of activists to strengthen their capacity and those of others to counter the growing backlash on women’s rights.

Dr Deepta Chopra, who is leading the project, said “we’ve just returned from our inception workshop in Sri Lanka where we heard first hand about the backlash women’s struggles are facing across South Asia. Our work will be focused on how each setting presents unique challenges to those working to conserve and strengthen women’s rights, focussing especially on the success stories to understand and develop strategies for countering backlash collectively.”

Women Reclaiming Spaces? Seminar presenting an ethnography of an ongoing social movement in Shaheen Bagh, Delhi

The project is delighted to host Zarin Ahmad on 6th March, ahead of International Women’s Day, who will be speaking at IDS on “Women Reclaiming Spaces? Ethnography of an Ongoing Social Movement in Shaheen Bagh, Delhi”.

Shaheen Bagh, a hitherto unknown primarily Muslim-dominated neighbourhood in South-East Delhi has in recent months hit headlines as a hallmark of women’s resistance in India. Protesting against the changes in citizenship laws, the women of Shaheen Bagh have given themselves rigorous political education across class, caste, age and regional divide to lead a sustained movement since 15 December 2019. They have been active, innovative, articulate and agential despite threats of violence, demeaning hashtags and sometimes even local men trying to use the platform to further their own political futures.

Zarin Ahmad is an affiliated research fellow at the Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH) and author of Delhi’s Meatscapes: Muslim Butchers in a Transforming Megacity (OUP, 2018).

Later this month, project leads Dr Deepta Chopra, Dr Shandana Khan Mohmand and Dr Sohela Nazneen will also be presenting on “Reclaiming the fight for gender equality globally” alongside Dr Jerker Edström, who is leading the Countering Backlash: Reclaiming Gender Justice.

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