The Association of Strong Women Alone for Widows and Separated Women : Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

Widows Separated Women

A mass membership based
state-wide organization
of low income widows
and separated women
in Rajasthan, India,
who organized
and aware -
are on the move.

strong women alone
strong women alone

It's okay to live your life, even as a widow
As a Widow, the life we live is fine

 Association's Work

What Does the Association of Strong Women Alone Do?

Work for Land and Property Rights
Access Government Entitlements
Lobbying the District, State and Central Governments
Takes Up General Social Causes
Helps Stop Sexual Harassment and Name-Calling
Changes Caste and Community Customs
Literacy Training for Leaders
Trainings, Meetings, and Awareness Camps for Members
Newsletter and Pamphlets
Publicizes the Issues and Causes of "Women Alone"
Helps Expansion to Other States
Develops New Leadership
Creates an 'Alternative family'

Counseling – Many cases come reflecting cruel conditions related to in-laws, sons and daughter-in-laws, neighbours. The Block Committees investigate the cases, counsel the parties concerned, file a police case if necessary, and do all possible to make sure that the ENSS / ASWA member lives with more peace, harmony and dignity than before.

Work for Land and Property Rights – Often, widows have legal land rights over their deceased husband’s land and property, but they do not have possession or occupation of that property. Society thinks that a widow alone is helpless, “what can she do anyway?” and so others – family members and neighbours – illegally occupy the land and property that is rightfully hers. The Association uses the law, administrative and political structures, the media, and the strength of women’s groups to help members claim possession of their land and property rights.

Access Government Entitlements – Government schemes, like widow pensions, are not easy for a widow to access alone; a knowledge of the structures of decision-making, the ways to submit complete applications to the correct officer; awareness about the schemes, laws, rules, policies themselves – all take some help. The Association helps members work through the formalities, and gain access to government resources that can help them in their lives.

Lobbying the District, State and Central Governments – For changes in existing laws, schemes or rules; for the formation of new laws, schemes or rules.

Takes Up General Social Causes – Once the members feel their collective strength, they turn their attention not only to problems particular to widows and separated women, but to issues of drought, excessive liquor consumption, caste discrimination. These women are strong women, not weak women, and their strength, when joined with other social groups and efforts, gives a lot of impetus to social change!

Helps Stop Sexual Harassment and Name-Calling – Many in this male-dominated society think that a woman alone is vulnerable and no one is there to help her. Sexually, she will be an “easy target”. Unwanted sexual advances, harassment and attacks are not uncommon. So too, is name-calling – low-income widows have to listen to people calling them a “witch” (dakin or dayan), “slut” or “prostitute” (rand) or other defamatory comments. On these matters, the Association has been effective in educating the members about legal provisions and punishments for those who engage in these activities, and the courage that the women feel, knowing that they are not “alone” any more, helps them to help each other in stopping sexual harassment and name-calling.

Changes Caste and Community Customs – It is the cruel norms and customs that marginalize – not being allowed to attend marriages or perform ceremonies, or to take part in engagements and birthing ceremonies; not being allowed to decorate her hands with henna (mahendi), or wear a bindi (cosmetic dot on the forehead), or glass or lac bangles. Some communities have a special colour for the clothing of widows, (dark maroon, dark purple) and some communities prohibit the wearing of colourful clothing. Some communities prohibit eating tasty food. The Association of Strong Women Alone helps its members to break these cruel customs! Also, the custom of “no widow remarriage” is almost universal – even tribal or lower castes, while sanctioning “second- marriage-type relationships” or common-law relationships, do not allow there to be a second “marriage”. Men, of course, can remarry. The Association has been instrumental in supporting women who want to remarry, to do so – in some cases, the Association members have come together as the main ones to form the marriage party.

Literacy Training for Leaders – The Association arranges for a crash, condensed, residential training in basic literacy and numeracy for illiterate Committee members of the Association. The Association will have literacy available to it, if the leaders are literate.

Trainings, Meetings, and Awareness Camps for Members – Training programmes are provided for leaders; meetings are held for members and Committee Members from the Gram Panchayat level to the State level. And every year, big Awareness Camps are held for members of selected Districts. “Organization is strength, and knowledge is power.”

Newsletter and Pamphlets – A newspaper-type Newsletter is published three times a year, giving news of the Association, information about legal, employment and health matters, case studies of successful struggles of Association members, and other special information needed (drought relief matters in a time of drought, information about upcoming elections, etc.) Pamphlets give short, easy-to-understand information about specific topics – and if a form is needed to access a widow pension, or to apply for a death certificate or ration card, then the form is often in the pamphlet.

Publicizes the Issues and Causes of “Women Alone”– The Association has developed a good rapport with the media, both print and electronic media. Press notes, the holding of press conferences from time to time, help to put before the public at large, the strengths and successes of low-income widows and separated women working together. The media work has helped to put the issues of “strong women alone” into public discourse.

Helps Expansion to Other States – The Association of Strong Women Alone was formed in January, 2000 and when other states want to take the help of Rajasthan ASWA to start something with widows and separated women in their state, the Association leaders respond by traveling to the other states, and participate as resource persons in a convention, a training programme, a state-level meeting, a Public Hearing.

Develops New Leadership – Since the “Front Line” of the Association is at the Block Level, as of December 2008 there are 93 Block Committees and 10 City/Town Committees, each with an average of 30 members, so that would mean there are 3,000 leaders being developed across the state. 93 Blocks in which there is a Block Level Committee, means that 33% of the Blocks in the state of Rajasthan are covered. Not enough, still expanding – but significant coverage. These leaders are developed through training, exposure to other Districts and states in India, lobbying the state government, reflection-on-action, analysis of society, and other activities.

Creates an “Alternate Family” – And last, but not least, the Association has become for its members, an “alternate family” of people who care about their well-being, who like them and are glad to get together when possible. Together, they help each other to solve their problems, they sing and dance together, and together, they learn and understand many new things. For women, whose in-laws often do not want them, and whose natal family members (brothers and sisters-in-law, sons and daughters-in-law), often do not want them –this Alternate Family of affection and strength is important to survival with dignity.