In the recent research by Sustainable Advancements with Aspire for Her Foundation on Women at Work 2020, a preliminary finding shows that majority of the women working in the civil society perceived that women were worse-off than men.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) refers to civil society as the “space for collective action around shared interests, purposes and values, generally distinct from government and commercial for-profit actors” (WHO, n.d.). The IGI Global goes a step forward and defines it as “a range of not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations that enable the expression of the interests and values of the public as well as their members for cultural, ethical, political, philanthropic, scientific, and religious considerations” (IGI Global, 2020).
In fact, the term civil society is derived from the Latin word ‘civil’ which in societies mean associations or communities that work above and beyond the state; thus, consisting of a host of institutions that look after the activities, which are not taken up by the state (Sociology Discussion, 2017). Very loosely, civil societies in India refer to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or non-profit organizations.
India boasts of over 3.4 million NGOs who are working for different social causes ranging from disaster relief to advocacy for vulnerable communities. As a part of civil society, they make a substantial contribution to rapid change and social transformation (Kumar, 2019). In India, this non-profit sector is also often perceived to be the domain of women (Manku, 2016; Gender at Work, 2016).
In the preliminary study by Sustainable Advancements and Aspire for Her Foundation, majority of women working in the civil society (highest among all the various sectors) perceived that women were worse-off than men. Some of the reasons were that most of these women work at the grass root level, which implied that although they themselves belonged to the formal sector, they directly interfaced with the informal sector, where women were worse off than men.
The informal sector in India employs over 60% of the working women, according to the Public Affairs Centre’s (PAC) report for Southern Voice’s State of the SDGs initiative study, where options like working from home and virtual workspaces are not viable (Sivaraman, 2020). Moreover, the economy itself is going through a turmoil with only essential services having any market space. COVID-19 thus worsened the situation of these women due to current high unemployment rates and lack of financially rewarding work.
Moreover, their plight is often undocumented, unrecognized and not governed by social protection and minimum wage rights. Besides, the uncertainty caused due to the urban-rural migration also has the potential to displace women employed in agriculture and other local industries, as men return to take over. This is expected to create a lot of job crunch for these earlier employed women. Moreover, world over, domestic violence is on a rise to the extent that the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a domestic violence ‘ceasefire’. Infact, in India the gender-based violence cases doubled during the first week of restricted movements (India Today, 2020).
Women working in civil societies often work with these vulnerable sections with the purpose of bringing in positive change and social transformation. Bearing witness to the increased plight of these vulnerable communities convinced them that women were worse off than men. According to Sabitri Sanyal, Monitoring Officer, Vocational Programme, Hope Kolkata Foundation “The social feeding that women have received in patriarchal societies – the victimization of women and ironically how many women have not been able to break the praxis” is one of the causes of their being worse off than men.
On the other hand, in their professional lives as well, women from the civil society were affected, as much of the funding priority for some of the issues that the civil societies were already working on got diverted to health care and other channels. One of the verbatims recorded in the survey pointed out “The likelihood of CSR funding has reduced substantially in a city with already very limited opportunities.
I’m seriously worried about when (and if) a suitable work opportunity will come my way.” Indian Corporations have come forward to show their solidarity in such trying times by whole-heartedly contributing to the Government funds through the PM Cares Fund, State Disaster Management Authority to combat COVID-19 (Mitra, Ghosh and Mehta, 2020). But, the fallout of this has been that this has diverted significant resources from smaller NGOs, who are now facing huge resource and financial shortage in tough times (Biyannal, 2020). Due to lack of funds, NGOs and civil society organizations are collapsing (Verma, 2020).
Moreover, the lockdown and subsequent social distancing rule greatly jeopardized the dynamics of the civil society organizations that strived on physical connect.
Thus, women working in this sector are witness to all kinds of women both in the formal and informal sector and their conditions. When majority of them conclude that women are worse off than men, it is indeed time for action.
Byannal, Amruta. (2020). In India, prime minister’s relief fund for COVID-19 jeopardizes NGO sector. July 16,2020. Retrieved from https://www.devex.com/news/in-india-prime-minister-s-relief-fund-for-covid-19-jeopardizes-ngo-sector-97706 accessed on November 13, 2020.
Gender at Work. (2016). Gender Equality in the Non-Profit Sector in India. First published in India in 2016 by Institute of Social Studies Trust (ISST).
IGI Global. (2020). What is Civil Society? https://www.igi-global.com/dictionary/civil-society/3863#:~:text=The%20term%2C%20civil%20society%2C%20refers,%2C%20scientific%2C%20and%20religious%20considerations.)
India Today, 2020). Coronavirus lockdown: UN chief urges end to domestic violence, citing global surge. https://www.indiatoday.in/world/story/coronavirus-lockdown-un-chief-urges-end-to-domestic-violence-citing-global-surge-1663731-2020-04-06
Kumar, S. (2019). India has been hostile to NGOs for decades. Modi made it worse. May 3, 2019. https://qz.com/india/1611326/india-has-been-hostile-to-ngos-for-decades-modi-made-it-worse/
Mitra N., Ghosh S., Mehta K. (2021) Corporate Influence and Social Responsibility in Global Health: Evidence from India. In: Haring R., Kickbusch I., Ganten D., Moeti M. (eds) Handbook of Global Health. Springer, Cham. http://doi-org-443.webvpn.fjmu.edu.cn/10.1007/978-3-030-05325-3_116-1
Manku, Moyna; 18 March 2016; Even in the non-profit sector, women are getting left behind; Live Mint. Accessed on April 10 2016, http://www.livemint.com/Companies/busG56HnYK2a6TeU9xcuSO/Even-in-thenon-profit-sector-women-are-getting-left-behind.html
Sivaraman, A. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on India’s Female Labour Force Participation. http://southernvoice.org/impact-of-the-covid-19-on-indias-female-labour-force-participation/
Sociology Discussion. (2017). Civil Society: What do you mean by Civil Society? – Explained! https://www.sociologydiscussion.com/society/civil-society-what-do-you-mean-by-civil-society-explained/879).
Verma, Bhumika. (2020). Corporate Social Responsibility Affected by PM CARES Fund Due to COVID-19. July 15,2020. https://libertatem.in/articles/corporate-social-responsibility-affected-by-pm-cares-fund-due-to-covid-19/
WHO. (n.d.). Social determinants of health. https://www.who.int/social_determinants/themes/civilsociety/en/
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