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India’s First International Women’s Liberation Workshop

In July 2014 I led the first International Women’s Liberation Workshop in India. It was held in Pune, several hours by car from Mumbai. Niti Dandekar organized the workshop. As the Regional1 Reference Person and leader of RC women and men in India, Niti has had to take on2 sexism, male domination, and male oppression in order to develop her Community. She has done an elegant job.

The following women also played important leadership roles at the workshop: Azi Khalili,3 initially from Iran and now living in New York City, USA, who has backed4 her mother, Vida Mozafarieh, to build an RC Community in Iran; and Sujata Maini, Indian by birth and an important RC women’s liberation leader in Sweden.

The participants were smart, beautiful, and open and knew how to have fun. Four women from the Iranian RC Community attended; they already had deep connections with some of the Indian women and were a significant presence at the workshop.

The first class was on “It’s great to be female” and “I am fully female in every fiber,” which included explaining that biology is the pretext for sexism, not the cause. Women had sessions on feelings of hating their bodies. It seemed easier for them to do this than it is for us women in Western countries—perhaps because of Western pretense about and sexualization of our bodies.

I went over parts of the RC women’s liberation draft policy statement. I emphasized the section on not comparing oppressions. Comparing and “grading” the sexism in different countries and societies does not lead to more effective work against sexism. Although being killed for being a girl is obviously worse than being belittled for it, we need to put our attention on ending all forms of sexist behavior, not on comparing the various kinds. Governments of countries in the global North have compared and graded the different forms of sexism in order to justify racist military, political, and economic policies targeting countries of the South. The governments of some Southern countries (for example, India, South Africa, and China) have instituted policies in the interests of women, but these are seldom publicized in the North.

We did a lot of work on the institution of marriage. Most of the women at the workshop were in arranged marriages. There are various kinds of these marriages, but most now seem to be arranged with the consent of the couples. It was the first time most of the women had worked openly on marriage. I also met with single women, and we looked at the strengths and struggles connected with being single. Few women had communities of single friends like I am familiar with in the United States, but they were more protected by their families.

Azi did an excellent early-morning class on chronic patterns, discouragement, and early defeats as women. We divided into groups to work on the institutions of sexism: marriage, work, sexual victimization, religion, reproduction, and so on. For many, it was the first time they had been in groups such as these. I asked the women to state what they thought were key issues related to sexism in India. Among those mentioned were sex selection in abortions and the intense internalized oppression that plays out5 between married women and their mothers-in-law when the women move in with their husband’s family.

I did a class on sexual violence. A lot has been written in Western newspapers about gang rape in India. Some connect it to poverty and men’s lives on the streets in large urban areas. Others connect it to the strength of male domination and patriarchy. After the workshop, Sujata, Niti, and I met with leaders of women’s organizations. We spoke with a woman who agreed that sexual violence was a big problem in India but that Western media made it seem like it was much worse in India than in the West. When I went home I did some research and found that compared to other developed and developing countries, the incidence rates of rape per 100,000 people are quite low in India. The National Crime Records Bureau reports a rape rate of 2 per 100,000 people. This compares to 8.1 rapes per 100,000 people in Western Europe, 14.7 per 100,000 in Latin America, 40.2 per 100,000 in the Southern African region, and 28.6 per 100,000 in the United States.

We did some work on “trivial” issues—for example, whether or not to dye one’s hair. Iran is a very male-dominated society and, despite the domination of fundamentalist religion, has the highest rate of nose surgery in the world. India has a large beautification industry connected to a big cinema industry. We worked on the connection between racism and sexist beauty images. We also did some work on fighting for ourselves as women and fighting for other women.

After the workshop, Niti, Sujata, and I met with a group of men from the RC Community. They were eager to hear about our work. I worked with them on sexism and men’s oppression. It was a good beginning.

I learned so much on this trip. I want to continue learning from women globally, in particular in the developing nations and the nations of the economic South. Much appreciation to Niti, Azi, and Sujata, and to all the women at the workshop.

Diane Balser
International Liberation
Reference Person for Women
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of women


1 A Region is a subdivision of the International RC Community, usually consisting of several Areas (local RC Communities).
2 “Take on” means confront and do something about.
3 Azi Khalili is the International Liberation Reference Person for People of South, Central, and West Asian Heritage.
4 “Backed” means supported.
5 “Plays out” means is acted out.


Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00