"If you aren’t intersectional, some of the most vulnerable are going to fall through the cracks."
Feminism in India and the discourse on the struggles of gender minority groups have come to be dominated by the privileged section. While no women benefit out of the system of patriarchy, those on the margins suffer more, given the marbled layers of oppression such as caste, class, etc. Even in the realm of governance, our notions of leaders or those occupying officers are often prejudiced. Our imagination of ‘good leaders’ is often associated with men, and even if women occur in those imaginations, these are women from a certain caste or economic background or women who "look a certain way." What does it then mean to include women in villages who aren’t that fluent with English and who dress or conduct themselves in a certain way that isn’t representative of an ‘ideal officer holder’?
Recognising the work of women in the grassroots and frontline workers during COVID’19, FemmeFirstFoundation made an effort to share their stories as a part of the #WomenChangemakers in Governance campaign with Twitter India. These changemakers shared the challenges they faced in navigating certain contextual barriers, the scepticism of the general public, digitalization, etc.
Ms. Anjana Meghwal, the first Panchayati Raj Head and Zila Pramukh of Jaisalmer (current Zila Parishad Member), has actively worked for rural development. She shared the challenges faced in sensitising people, especially the backward rural populace, about the pandemic, the social distancing norms and other COVID precautions that were to be followed. This was combined with challenges of financial distress, a migrant labour crisis, a shortage of medical supplies and increasing unemployment. "Despite Jaisalmer being such a large city, probably larger than various countries around the world in area, the people here have always lived in a community, helping others. In fact, during the pandemic, we were able to crowd fund more than 1 crore rupees, helping the migrant workers bring their supplies back home”, she shares.
There are so many battles fought on unequal grounds. There are so many feminist and empowered women around us who work collectively, empowering others, without being known or recognized. But role models aren't just the ones who appear in the limelight, but also the ones who work behind the scenes, being the light of so many around them. Laali Dhakad, an Anganwadi worker, shares her inspiring journey of being a specially abled, widowed woman challenging structural oppression and working for the uplifting of other single women in her village. Talking about her work during COVID, she said, "The single destitute women were severely affected by the pandemic, they had nowhere to go and no one to look after them. We became each other's strength trying to navigate the pandemic. We painted Diyas during Diwali, made natural colours during Holi, stitched masks and PPE, and did everything to make our ends meet.
Two of our changemakers were ASHA workers. Despite the threats, scepticism, and ostracisation by the people of the village, they continued to work, delivering awareness and conducting vaccine drives. Booby ji shared how people.would question their credibility and not let them enter their villages and would often say, "What if something happens, will you take responsibility for it?". However, we will be committed to ensuring that people are vaccinated so as to reduce the speed of the virus. She said "It was difficult to convince people. Also, the fact that we were travelling so extensively, the fear that we could be carriers of the virus and could infect our family members. However, these apprehensions did not deter us from doing our work. "
Washida di (ASHA worker, Ranchi) talked about her use of social media to spread awareness among pregnant and breastfeeding mothers during COVID'19. The gender nutritional divide in India is wide and this increased further during COVID. Washida shared, "In our village, women had major iron deficiency. This affected women during their pregnancy. So we would show them videos and even circulate content on Whatsapp to spread information among women. "
While these women have worked tirelessly on the ground, navigating various intersectional challenges such as COVID, gender discrimination, rural environment, lack of access to resources, and so on, our dominant narrative on women leaders often overlooks these stories and experiences.