Friday, March 27, 2020

Laadli Celebrates the Power of Theatre

Swathi Chaganty

“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” ― Oscar Wilde

This could not be further from the truth for us at Population First, for arts and theatre are some of the core tools of our outreach. Be it street plays in collaboration with Theatre of Relevance or college productions across the city of Mumbai on gender-based issues, school plays on sanitation in Shahapur Zilla Parishads or theatre workshops for our village level committees and health service providers in the past, have deeply affected the audience and the participants alike. For some, the plays left an indelible mark on the current state of affairs in the society while for some the art of acting and theatre as a tool helped understand their own role in the society and its development.

So, it was only logical progression for us to honour the art form itself in our Laadli Media and Advertising Awards for Gender Sensitivity (LMAAGS).

And as the world celebrates this art form today, we thought of taking a trip down the memory lane, when Theatre became one of our major categories at the National LMAAGS.

Saat Teri Ekvees
In its 3rd season, Saat Teri Ekvees, a Manhar Gadhia Productions, has a new set of monlogues by women and has an underlying theme of “desire”. It explores narratives on Survival, Intimacy, Being Oneself, Motherhood, Love, To Be Born and Appreciation. Some stories evoke heart-warming smiles, others evoke a soul-searching silence but all makes one sit-up and notice a woman’s soul and situations. The play deals with women characters that have shown strength and courage to establish their individuality in an unsupportive social structure.

Shinkhandi – The Story of the In-Betweens
A comic, tongue-in-cheek, re-telling of the story of Shinkhandi; mixing the traditional with the contemporary, the grandeur of physical Indian storytelling and contemporary English verse – questioning gender, sexuality, masculinity, femininity, and everything in between. This unique perspective and the conversational style of the play motivates the audience to examine their own biases and realise the futility of the labels that society enforces.

Ila by The Patchworks Ensemble
Directed by Puja Sarup and Sheena Khalid, ‘Ila’, looks at gender, its related myths as well as the dilemmas and the importance they play in our lives today. The story is about a king who ventures into an enchanted forest and is transformed by a spell. As the moon waxes and wanes so does Ila, turning from man to woman and back to man. With ever-changing landscapes sometimes in ancient land and sometimes in the local trains of Mumbai- and leaps in time, his chorus takes the audience through a provocative, playful and exciting journey that questions what it means to “be a women/man and everything in between.”

Jug Jug Jiyo
An innovative play in Hinglish, Jug Jug Jiyo, directed by Smita Bharti, unravels the lives of two women across three decades, who are sharing a house in a small town. The play begins with the visit of their children who are in a live-in-relationship in Mumbai to their home town to meet their parents. The new dynamic in the family leads to a small confrontation and lays bare the hidden past of the two women until there is nothing left to lay bare. The story intimately journeys through hard hitting topics of social stigma of unmarried and pregnant women, marital rape, female foeticide, infanticide, trafficking and illegal surrogacy. Jug Jug Jiyo is an entertaining yet socially relevant play that compels one to think of the many messages it wants to deliver. It ends with love and hope that change is possible.

Baaware Maan Ke Sapne
An all women production, ‘Baaware Maan Ke Sapne’ enacted by homemakers who have gone through vigorous training of discipline of time, space and body, besides sessions on acting, communication etc. The protagonist Amma, an elderly woman decides to visit her daughter in London, and in her preparation for the voyage gets together with all the women in her family who share their stories – each being ruthless commentary on social evils that plague us to this day. The play intelligently wove excerpts from various stories by Indian women writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, Lalitambika Antarjanam, dealing with tradition and scepticism, collective responsibility and individual choice, into its narrative.

OK Tata Bye, bye
Based on the Bachchda women who, by tradition, are sex workers and bread winners in their family, OK Tata Bye, bye, is a poignant play on a community that follows the matrilineal system. The play is based on filmmakers trying to capture the lives of the community on camera but they soon realize that these girls maybe naïve but not fools and it is the filmmakers who are the ones facing some hard questions.

“Great theatre is about challenging how we think and encouraging us to fantasize about a world we aspire to.” – Willem Dafoe

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Women and Forests

International Day of Forests

Swathi Chaganty

“The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree,” said Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her exemplary work in the field of environmental conservatism, women’s rights, and led the charge of reforestation in Kenya.

And she is one of the many who have worked tirelessly in the field of forest conservation, environment protection and biodiversity preservation. From Margret Murie and Celia Hunter who shouldered the responsibility of safeguarding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Rachel Carson – an author, whose passion for environment and acute observation of conventional farming and its impacts on the environment and public health led to the development of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in the US to Jane Goodall the world renowned anthropologist and primatologist who made conservation and animal welfare her life’s mission to Vandana Shiva – who began her life in environmental activism and studies by documenting  the progress of the Chipko Movement in real time in the late 1980s.

And the achievements of these women trailblazers did not just fulfil the singular goal of forest conservation and biodiversity preservation but it did something more than that. Through each of their journeys, they encouraged hundreds and thousands of women to join their efforts and brought to the forefront the dynamic of “women and forests”.

Indigenous and rural women living in forests in many parts of the world are tasked with feeding and taking care of the family and that includes foraging for medicinal herbs, gathering food and fuel wood, collecting water. Thus, they are equal stakeholders in the forest ecosystem, interacting with every aspect of forest life, the wilderness, the illegal felling, the legal but destructive mining, good and bad conservation management and practices as well as the complicated land rights issues.

Therefore, understanding their challenges, viewing forest conservation and management and biodiversity protection from their perspective will not only give a new impetus to this endeavour but also make this journey a lot more holistic and sustainable. While the governments and think tanks engage with this head on, we as responsible citizens of the world have but one job, to be informed and educated.

Therefore, this International Forest Day, we have found three comprehensive resources that focus on the involvement of women in forest conservation.

World Rainforest Movement: An international initiative that focuses on the challenges faced by and solutions developed by the indigenous and peasant communities from the Global South. Their compendium – Women, forests and plantations. The Gender Dimension – published in 2005 presents several cases studies and articles focusing on the challenges of mining, illegal felling and climate change.

Picture Source: World Rainforest Movement

Forests and Gender: Another brilliant compilation by Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) – an advocacy that focuses on women’s rights, social, economic and environmental justice — that has compiled case studies from several countries across the world focused on the relationship between gender and forest conservation and issues such as climate change. This 123-page quick read, published in collaboration with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also has a dedicated section aimed at possible strategies and management processes that can be adopted to gain a gender perspective in nature conservation management and climate change action plans.

Picture Source: Forests & Gender by WEDO and IUCN

Women’s Earth &Climate Action Network, International (WECAN): A solution-based organization that collaborates with women worldwide in policy advocacy, grassroots projects, trainings and building a climate justice movement. One of their major projects Women forForests aids indigenous women in their efforts to stand up to the extractive industries such as mining, felling, and expansive industrial agriculture that are threatening the very ecosystems they live in. Their Women Speak initiative is an international collaboration of collecting stories and cases studies of women who are at the frontlines of climate change.

Image result for WECAN International
Picture Source:

So, let us keep ourselves educated and informed, learn to critically view our existing systems through different lenses, and while we do that put into practice simple actions at an individual level because as Wangari Maathai said, you do not need a diploma to plant a tree.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Taking the Easy Way Out

Dr. A. L. Sharada

Director, Population First

Yesterday's report on the misogynist, rape posts by boys from a reputed school on a WhatsApp group sent shock waves across the nation. Many parents are petrified. I am sure, the girl students are also nervous. 

We need to act as this is the tip of the iceberg. The number of rapes and murders committed by young adults and adolescents reminds me of the filth that the sea throws back at us on Marine Drive during high tide in monsoons. The filth we are exposing our children through unregulated internet and social media is creating dehumanised young generation. I have been looking at some of the music videos of Yo Yo Honey Singh and  looking at the translation of the lyrics. I feel nauseous and sick, thinking how could someone promote violent sex and rape so blatantly. We don't watch Yo Yo Honey Singh right, we go to concerts by Shujaat Khan and Shiv Kumar Sharma, right. The culture gap between us and the youth we have not even thought of it.  I have been experiencing panic attacks just thinking about what must be happening to a confused, high on hormones adolescent who has no options of healthy conversations on sex, sexuality and relationships!!!

Time we introspect our responsibility towards children. Some parents said yesterday in a conversation, "how do we rob the innocence of the children by exposing them to issues like rape !!" I can understand but we have no option but to speak, move beyond good touch bad touch. Let's recognize that they are exposed to the toxic pop culture, rape videos and cyber predators. We need to pull our socks up and demand for good sex and sexuality education in schools.  Being prudish is not going to help. Let's face it head on.

It is sad that the only action that the school could think of is suspension, further marginalising and stigmatising the boys. The parents and students should undergo intense counselling sessions, individually and in groups to deal with the situation. 

I can understand how traumatic it is for the parents to know that their children are involved in such activities. I am sure they are the normal, well-intentioned parents like all of us. Let's not be judgmental about them. It could have  been our child also. Because increasingly, family and parental influence space is being encroached by mobiles, social media and pop culture. 

It's a serious issue. Let's not take the easy way out.

Source: @unwomen 

Quick Trials Not at the Cost of Fair Trials

Dr. A. L. Sharada

Director, Population First

Glad to see the stand of SC on expeditious trials leading to death sentence. While we all want the process to be expedited and justice assured to rape survivors, setting unrealistic deadlines like in the Disha policy of AP government may compromise investigative and judicial processes.

What we need is :

  • More Forensic labs and specialists
  • Better and professional protocols for investigation
  • No political interference in the police investigation
  • No corruption in the police and judiciary
  • Victim and witness protection
  • Fast track courts to deal with rape cases exclusively etc

Is there anyone willing to invest in these? Too much work and commitment, right? Instead pass populist laws that subvert the whole judicial process. Create a problem while trying to solve a problem.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Building resilience by investing in rural women

Dr Shiny Varghese

Image: Gaon Connection

While Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenage environmental activist has been championing the cause of climate change and many nations have lent support to her cause, there still needs to be a concerted effort to act against climate change which requires investment in sustainable infrastructure for quality services and high political commitment. Change will not be possible with only leaders or activists like her speaking for the cause, but the community needs to come together to build a carbon neutral world. In most countries, rural women and girls face myriad challenges and bear the brunt of climate related disasters, we however tend to forget the important role they play in building climate resilience. The International Day of Rural women recognizes the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty”

Rural women and girls play a very important role in agriculture, food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management. Globally, one in three employed women work in the agriculture sector which is time and labour intensive. These women are however neither adequately recognised nor compensated for their work. They also have limited or no access to stable and secure working conditions and social protection (International Labour Organization, 2017).

According to Oxfam (2013), around 80 percent farm work in India is done by women. Women and girls are also responsible to collect fuel and water in most households which are arduous tasks and pose risks to their health and well-being. They also hamper their ability to get good education, access to livelihood opportunities and be decision makers.

In Maharashtra sustained drought has resulted in crop failure, groundwater level depletion, increased climate risks, food insecurity and uncertain cash flows in absence of diversified livelihoods. This has made farming economically unviable for small and marginal farmers. Women and girls have suffered the most when access to natural resources and agriculture has been compromised. Women farmers are as productive and enterprising as their male counterparts, but have lesser access to land, credit, agricultural inputs, markets and high valued agri-food chains and hence no control over financial matters.  Socio-cultural barriers and discriminatory norms further hamper women’s access to productive resources and undermine their hard work even though their workload is increasing due to out-migration of men. Most gender and development indicators reveal that rural women fare worse than rural men and urban women and in turn experience poverty, exclusion as well as the effects of climate change.

The United Nations calls for empowering rural women as a pre-requisite for fulfilling the vision of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and this year’s theme for the International Day of Rural Women, "Rural women and girls building climate resilience" reiterates the fact that a sustainable future is unthinkable of without involving rural women and girls.

One of the most effective and efficient ways to tackle threats posed by climate change is by addressing gender inequality. Realizing that financial independence is a crucial element of empowerment which will enable women to address gender inequality and respond to climate change, we at Population First initiated a program titled Action for Mobilisation of community health initiatives (AMCHI). One of the many aims of the project is to improve women’s access to employable skills. It was felt that this would enable them have access to resources and in the long run empower them to take decisions at the individual, family and community level.

In 45 villages of Shahapur Block of Thane District, a program on vermi-composting was initiated. The program not only addressed issues related to declining agricultural yield by promoting organic farming but also created rural women entrepreneurs. Through this initiative, 45 vermi-composting units were created and are being run by 450 women across 45 villages. The program has not only improved women’s financial capacity but has also helped in promoting leadership which is essential to reduce the effects of climate threats.

Pursuing socio-economic empowerment of women by prioritizing sustainable livelihoods and rights will play a critical role in women adopting low – carbon technologies, spreading knowledge about climate change and help respond to climate change through agricultural production, food security and natural resource management.


Food and Agriculture Organization. (2018). Climate Change: United Nations Climate Change Conference. FAO.
International Labour Organization. (2017). Trends for Women 2017. Geneva: World Employment Social Outlook.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Empowering Girls to be the Agents of Change

Anuja Gulati

Consultant Population First

Picture Source: UNMIK UN Mission (

In 2012, the United Nations declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child to raise awareness about all issues concerning gender inequality and discrimination faced by girls around the world.  This day provides an opportunity to highlight, discuss and take action to advance rights and opportunities for girls everywhere.

We at Population First have been working to empower adolescent girls in Shahapur Block of Thane District as part of our Action for Mobilisation of Community Health Initiatives (AMCHI) Project. As part of this program we sensitise families and communities to create an enabling environment for girls to be enrolled and retained in school so that they can reach their full potential. We also work towards enhancing life skills of adolescents by building their health, social and economic assets, influencing their perspectives on gender and increasing possibilities of their leadership at the community level. We do this by providing adolescent girls with information on physical, sexual and reproductive health and linking them to appropriate services.

On this International Day of the Girl Child we would like to share some feedback from the ground. These are the stories of our adolescent girls from Ambarje village of Shahapur Block of Thane District.

Thirteen year old Pranali, who is studying in the ninth grade, takes pride in stating that she is part of the Enjoy Group of adolescent girls formed as part of the AMCHI project. She says “we are a total of 42 members in the group. As part of the group meetings we were given information on a range of subjects. It was for the first time I attended a session on body mapping and got to learn about body parts especially the reproductive organs. I would like to attend more such sessions as there is no other place from where we can get information like this. Even our teacher at school does not talk to us about these issues”. She further adds that the facilitator creates a nurturing and learning environment in the group and they do not hesitate to ask even the most embarrassing questions.

Pranali’s friend, 13 year old Akanksha adds; “menstruation is a subject that is never discussed either at school or amongst friends. At the group meeting we were told about why menstruation occurs, how to maintain hygiene during our periods and how to wash and dry menstrual cloth and dispose menstrual pads. We were also informed of a scheme about low cost sanitary napkins being available through the school. We discussed this with our teacher, who after a fortnight helped us get these pads. Each girl can now buy a packet of six pads for seven rupees.”

The sessions have not just helped the girls to understand their bodies and physical health requirements better, but also built their communication and negotiation skills as shared by Praṇali who says “we were told in the sessions that we should eat green leafy vegetables, salads, peanuts, jaggery and channa to help improve our haemoglobin levels”. At school we get a peanut and gur ladoo every day, however the ladoo tasted very bad. After the session we formed a small group and informed our principal about the same. We told her that the ladoo was so bad that most girls were throwing it every day. She talked to the person in-charge of the Ahaar scheme and ensured that the ladoo we get tasted better. We could do this only because we got the information that such a ladoo is good for improving our health and learnt to put our point of view to our teachers and adults clearly.”

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Let’s commit to invest in our elderly…this International Day of Older Persons

Anuja Gulati

Consultant, Population First

Population ageing is an inevitable consequence of the demographic transition experienced by most countries across the world. Declining fertility and increasing longevity have resulted in an increasing proportion of elderly persons aged 60 years and above. As per the 2011 census, India had around 104 million elderly persons – 53 million females and 51 million males. The number of elderly in the 60+ age group is expected to increase to 320 million by 2050, constituting 20% of the total population. Given the nature of demographic transition, such a huge increase in the population of the elderly is bound to create several societal issues, magnified by sheer volume.  A majority of the people at 60+ are socially and economically poor. Elderly women are more vulnerable on all fronts compared to elderly men. Nearly three out of five single older women are poor and about two thirds of them are completely economically dependent.

The elderly are more vulnerable due to poor health. A high proportion of the elderly reporting poor health are the oldest old (Age 80+), poor, illiterate and widows. A recent study[1] shows that a significant percentage of the elderly have acute and chronic morbidities. Morbidities are more prevalent in elderly women compared to elderly men, especially in urban areas. The study also showed that nearly two thirds of the elderly reported suffering from at least one chronic ailment like arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc. They also lack access to health care facilities. 

The vulnerability of the aged is aggravated by urbanization and a recent shift from the joint family system to nuclear families. This has a huge impact on the psychological and emotional health of the elderly, leading to neglect, lack of respect and sometimes abuse and exploitation.
Family has traditionally been the primary source of support for the elderly in India. The elderly depend primarily on their families for economic and material support. In spite of the strong preference to live with families, one in ten elderly women lives alone. With nuclearization of families, the traditional support system for the elderly is dwindling, making them even more vulnerable. Social isolation amongst the elderly is another critical issue of concern.

The profile of elderly indicates low level of educational attainment particularly amongst elderly women. Over half the elderly report not having formal education with a higher proportion, almost two thirds amongst women.

Work participation among elderly men in India is as high as 39% as against 11% amongst women. Although work participation amongst women is low, they contribute to family chores enabling other adult family members to work. A majority of elderly (71%) work due to economic necessity and not by choice. This is particularly true of elderly women. There is a close link between current work participation and poverty and illiteracy.

Older women are particularly disadvantaged, facing structural, social and economic inequalities throughout their lives. The experience of widowhood in Indian society is generally associated with many deprivations and has many implications for the health and well-being of older women. Further, certain traditional widowhood practices result in situations of violence and abuse and pose a serious threat to their health and well- being. Widowhood is one of the leading factors associated with poverty, loneliness and isolation, as a widow suffers indignity, often losing her self-reliance and respect. Many widows are ignored by both family and society, including their own children and are left to fend for themselves.

Poor health, age related morbidities, income insecurity, illiteracy and physical and economic dependencies are factors that tend to make the elderly, especially elderly women vulnerable

Recognizing the vulnerabilities of the elderly, the Government of India drafted the National Policy on Older Persons and has initiated and implemented several programs and schemes for social, economic and health security of older persons.  However access to these schemes and programs can be improved.

On this International Day of older persons, it is important to focus immediate attention on creating an enabling environment and decent living for the elderly, especially women. For this, it is suggested that Government, Multilateral agencies and Corporates invest in:

·                     Undertaking studies to understand increased morbidity and disability amongst elderly women, despite their longer life expectancy.
·                     Mobilizing greater resources for geriatric care, especially care of elderly women.
·                     Developing health promotion programs with outreach facilities and other services such as medical insurance to meet the long term care needs of elderly women.
·                     Addressing financial insecurity amongst the elderly women by formation of Self-Help Groups (SHG). These SHG’s would be formed with an objective of improving their livelihood and enabling them to become economically active through small loans and other required support.
·                     Ensuring convergence between various government departments for improved access to services and schemes for the elderly
·                     Promoting and assuring the participation of elderly women in the process of development.
·                     Amending laws that discriminate against women with regard to property and inheritance rights, providing housing support for elderly women who are property less and creating employment opportunities for them free of discrimination.
·                     Developing training programs to build life coping skills of elderly women.
·                     Providing services for older disabled women and disabled women who grow old.

[1] UNFPA India (2012), ‘Report on Status of Elderly in Selected States of India, 2011