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Women's groups in India are peeved about the draft country paper on the challenges facing Indian women, presented at the Asia-Pacific Inter-ministerial Conference on Women in Development, held in Jakarta in the second week of June. This meet was preparatory to the Fourth World Conference on Women to be held in Beijing in September 1995.
The draft was readied by the National Preparatory Committee (NPC), set up by the government last year under the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD). Women's groups say that the 300-page draft lacked punch and did not give a clear picture of the government's position. Razia Ismail, convenor of Women's Coalition -- a newly-formed grouping of Indian NGOs -- says that the draft "has not emerged from a sufficient interaction between the government, non-governmental organisations, legislators and the press".
NPC was lambasted for not holding wideranging regional consultations. Says Karuna Anbarasan, women and development advisor for the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), one of the organisations coordinating the funding agencies for the Beijing conference, "We found that the agenda and issues for the Beijing conference have been preset."
Donor agencies are also unhappy about the paucity of grassroots representatives. Ismail says the country paper has not been accorded the importance it had merited in the past: "Previously, the planning was done at the level of the prime minister's office, while this time there is not even an apparent ministerial involvement."
The severest criticism was aimed at the composition and functioning of NPC. Asha Ramesh of the Multiple Action Research Group notes, "Bureaucrats dominate the committee. And the NGO representation is Delhi-centred. In many cases, the person heading a sub-group does not fit the bill."
Critics also feel that some of the issues have been inadequately addressed. Ramesh and Kumud Sharma, director of the Delhi-based Centre for Women's Development Studies feel that violence against women is a complex issue, and that matters such as the primacy of the arms-flow and the greater outlay for militarisation over social development should be discussed. Ramesh adds that "communalism and religious fundamentalism have not been addressed at all".
S K Guha, joint secretary in DWCD, acknowledges some of the criticism but says that the draft will be circulated more extensively. He also points out that the country paper is only required to discuss the present situation of women and review the implementation of the Forward Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women adopted at the Third World Conference on Women at Nairobi in 1985, adding that it need not spell out India's strategy for women's development.
To help of NGOs, a coordinating unit was set up in December 1993 to reach out to as many local women's groups as possible. Says Sumita Ghosh, a member of the unit, "We are holding consultations with grassroot level groups to identify issues that need to be discussed at Beijing." However, Ismail says that the 3-member unit is too small to cover the country: "The national leadership does not have a process of identifying NGOs for participation in the Beijing conference, and is presently leaving it to the donors to make a decision."
Anbarasan of DANIDA lambasted the NGOs for the lack of "a coherent strategy to ensure the participation of marginalised women's groups, which is why the donors stepped in". She also says that the coordinating unit refused to shoulder the responsibility of identifying NGOs for resource allocation. Nevertheless, Ismail says, "The grassroot workers whom donors are inclined to support may not have the skills to push through India's concerns in an international gathering."
To avoid self-defeating recriminations "both the government and the NGOs need to work together more, to set up a selection process. This can be done only through sustained networking and open planning," says Sharma.