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 Global Perspective

June 11, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 11

Virginia Saldanha
Virginia Saldanha is a woman activist working in India for the empowerment of women through Church institutions as well as networking with secular organizations in the struggle for justice and peace.



Consider this: Indira Gandhi was referred to as "the only 'man' in her cabinet." Yes, there was a time when the idea of "liberation" to a woman was to become like a man and do all the things that men do. We have come full circle today.

Women cannot stand by and watch life destroyed

By Virginia Saldanha

MUMBAI, India -- Having worked closely with women for the last 12 years I cannot help but notice the difference in the focus of women and men.

I listen to conversations of common women and find that their concern is about the health and well being of their families and neighborhood. They will discuss the short supply of water, or the rising price of food, or the difficulty in accessing reliable health care. I have also heard conversations of men, and find that they talk about sports, betting or about making money among other things.

Reflecting on this in our women's groups and the larger women's movement in India, we have found the need to actively promote the participation of women in all fields of life. Whether it is in the field of politics, economics, government administration and decision making, the presence of the woman's perspective will certainly make a difference in the decisions taken and consequent impact on the life of people.

A good example are the three brave women Coleen Rowley, Cynthia Cooper and Sherron Watkins declared Persons of the Year by Time Magazine (Dec 30, 2002-Jan 6, 2003). These women had the courage to stand up for their values and convictions of honesty, even against tough odds like the risk of losing their high-powered and high-paying jobs. Unfortunately they were seen as "threats" and not heeded. If they had been taken seriously in the early stages of "crisis," things would have been different for the organizations they served.

Taking a look at the annual budget of India, we find that the largest chunk of our national income goes to service international debt, and the largest single item of expenditure is the defense budget. Health, education, food and social services together are much less than the allocation for defense. If half of parliament were women, I am sure they would push for larger budget allocations for items that enhance the quality of people's life.

Many have pointed out that "developing" countries like India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have had women heads of government, but these women made very little difference to the well being of women in their countries. Why? Consider this: Indira Gandhi was referred to as "the only 'man' in her cabinet." Yes, there was a time when the idea of "liberation" to a woman was to become like a man and do all the things that men do. We have come full circle today in the 21st century and realize that women have an important contribution to make to the world as women.

Unfortunately, many so-called liberated women who enter politics have a patriarchal mindset that focuses on power for domination and control. Their focus is the advancement of political ambition and economic gain for a few political elite and their business supporters. Women coming into government with a women's perspective would focus more on issues that concern people's lives and the environment. Unhappily the presence of such women in politics and government are still a rare species. The voice of one or two of their kind in a strong patriarchal bastion is usually lost.

On March 8, 2003 an international group of women gathered in the Talai Square in Baghdad. They stood in Circles of Peace against the U.S.-led war on Iraq. They held banners against the war and photographs of dead children (killed by the depleted uranium used in the last Gulf War). They listened to testimonies of women suffering from genocidal economic sanctions, offered songs of resistance, read poems of peace, shared stories of hope and lit their lamps for peace.

In TV news reports from different parts of the world, including the United States, we saw many women heading peace demonstrations and rallies. In the peace marches I attended here in Mumbai, I noticed a majority of women. It is not a coincidence that all over the world women actively participated in the lobbying for peace. Women stand against war because war destroys life. Women give life, nurture life and defend life. Women cannot stand by and watch life destroyed.

The promotion of a feminist perspective will support peace and harmony in the world.

Like the mother of a family at the micro level, she wields considerable power in the family, but her power is used to promote and defend life. This perspective is badly needed at the macro level as well. Men at the helm of affairs outside the home have promoted the destruction of life. This is widely evident with the state of affairs in countries across the world. They gave us domination and exploitation of weaker countries, unilateralism, and most contradictory of all, the use of war to bring peace and security.

I see an important task for the women's movement worldwide: to work hard at promoting the feminist perspective. This is not exclusively a woman's perspective, but a perspective of all men and women who are concerned for life without looking for personal gain and domination of others.

The life-giving perspectives of women are not meant to be confined to the home, but should be brought to bear on all aspects of public life. We need to work harder to create awareness in civil society of the importance of this perspective for peace and wholeness in the world.

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