We are celebrating a wonderful milestone this week ! ASAP’s 5th Youth Advocacy Institute and the first ever being led by a Youth Champions country network started today in Kathmandu, Nepal. The amazing team of Youth CANN has planned and prepared and worked so hard to make this happen. 13 participants from the country, from diverse backgrounds ranging from medical students to a Masters in Physics have gathered here as the first step to becoming an advocate for safe abortion as a women’s right.
The political situation in the country is tense and as we conduct the session on gender , power and patriarchy, we are acutely aware that outside the room there is intense discontent and debate going on among the women in Nepal whose new Constitution does not give them equal rights for citizenship of their children if they marry a non-Nepali.
Saru and Smriti led the first session and took the participants through a discussion on the difference between sex and gender, male and female identifiers and the reasons why differentiation is critical to oppose since it leads to a differential control over resources, opportunities and lives. Suchitra then spoke of patriarchy as a framework and clarified that we are not speaking against individual men but against a system which gives men greater control and power over women simply because of gender norms and not based on an individual’s abilities.
We discussed the evolving norms when humans settled down thousands of years ago and then acquired land and property which needed to be inherited. This resulted in the need to know that the biological child (son) was that of the man. From this need came the controls on women’s sexuality, legitimizing of sex for women only within a marriage, child marriages, importance of the girl being a virgin on the wedding night and the creation of social punishments and sanctions for those who dare to have sex outside of marriage.
We tried to analyse the history of dowry and how it started off as some resources given to the girl when she left her parents’ home that she could control and use but slowly got taken over by the patriarchal system and went into the control of the in-laws and has now become one of the root causes for sex selection.
We spoke of the arms of patriarchy and how the government, law, police are the controllers outside the home and often women themselves perpetuate the system inside the home. It is often the woman who wants a son because she sees that her own value will increase by that while having a daughter will reduce her status in the family.
The group then did a power walk and moved forward or stayed back depending on the role they had been given and the control they could exert over their own sexuality and body.
Before breaking for lunch we saw a short 4 minute clip for the movie Water (directed by Deepa Mehta) which depict the life of a child widow and the gross violations of the rights of all such women. Heteronormative structures give the highest power to a man and woman who is in a married relationship with all others finding themselves negotiating for power eg same sex relationships, non-married relationships and all these are also affected by the intersection of class, caste , education and many other factors.
More to follow in the coming days as we take this journey together to strengthen our capacity to be advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights !