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19 Oct 2020

Ensuring Gender Justice at the last door

In June 2020, Reshma (name changed) and her husband came for counseling at Madri Women's Resource Centre (WRC), one of many set up by Seva Mandir in Rajasthan. In the beginning, both the couple and their familes felt a separation was best because sharing household work had proved to be a difficult task, creating an extremely tense living situation. Through multiple counseling sessions, both came to understand that the Covid-19 induced lockdown had provided a real challenge regarding the distribution of labor in their household, so Reshma and her husband took the decision to continue living together and work on their marriage. This is one of many stories in which the role of the WRC has become an integral part of helping to resolve community and family disputes.
Other stories, however, are more tragic. In India, most women who experience domestic violence do not share their experience with anybody or seek help. Many women in facing these struggles are also disadvantaged as access to a mobile phone or other technology can be extremely restricted, making community-based spaces even more crucial. Research suggests that for vulnerable and disadvantaged women, it is important to have strong community-based organizations that are inclusive and knowledgeable about women's rights and social entitlements. Most of the time, these women first seek traditional jati panchayats (caste panchayats) for justice and are denied fair gender representation. However, the WRCs are spaces that extend emotional support to those going through emotional stress and trauma.

Kamla, a survivor (name changed) says, "My aunt told me about this women's court. Here women get justice". Over the years, resolving domestic violence cases while keeping women's welfare and perspective in mind has been and continues to be, the biggest challenge and achievement of Seva Mandir's Women's Resource Centres'.
The centers are set up to be community-based counseling spaces where rural men and women can come to settle disputes with each other as well as with their family members. They also connect women to social welfare schemes and other livelihood initiatives. Madimala, a WRC leader, has participated in providing continuous counselings for families, as well as monitoring the sessions. She explains "Our first objective is to understand the cause of conflict from both the parties. It depends how the conversation goes on then, sometimes it is very quick but sometimes it takes months to come to a conclusion."

Safe and inclusive spaces like the WRCs make gender equity conceivable in the most distant of family units in South Rajasthan. After Reshma's first-hand experience of the centre with her husband, she later became interested in the organization's work, joining one of the Self-Help Groups with the Sustainable Livelihood project. Her and her husband are still working together to make their marriage work.

"I thought most organization's only split families. But my experience was different. I want my wife to become part of the livelihood initiatives under Seva Mandir too." - Reshma's husband


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