Time to snap out of Women’s Day Hangover- Reality Check with Joy Grace Syiem, North East Network , Meghalaya


By SHWETA RAJ KANWAR | March 18, 2018

While the whole world went gaga over International Women's Day on March 8, flooding social media walls and pages with 'Happy women's Day' messages, hashtags pertaining to #ProudWoman, #UGoGirl and #WomenPower, the day saw great zeal and enthusiasm from all sections of society. However, this one particular group of people in Meghalaya do not believe in patronizing women only on March 8 but take it up as part of their work and profession in their day-to-day lives as well!

While there are many people and organizations in and around Meghalaya who work for the cause of women day-in-and out, the North East Network, Meghalaya chapter took some time off to have a chat with TNT-The Northeast Today and put a reality check on whether patronizing women on only a single day does enough justice.

Speaking to TNT- the Northeast Today, Joy Grace Syiem, Programme Manager, North East Network, Meghalaya said, "Women's day is a day for us to reflect back on the achievements that women have made and their contributions in every aspect of life- at home, work as well as the community. Each generation battles stereotypes. We are still battling gender stereotypes. We owe a great deal to our women predecessors who advocated the rights of women at work and now, due to their efforts, we have women heading police departments, educational institutions, and being role models in every aspect of life. However, patriarchy is still very deeply entrenched in our society. For example, Meghalaya might be known as a matrilineal society but in everyday life we see how patriarchy has infused itself into our own society as well. Today women's equality has grown so much more than only our right to work or right to speak freely."


Organizations like North East Network and others continue to work with women and collaborate with stake holders to provide women with equal opportunities to education, employment, pushing against suppression, violence against women and the stereotype that exists in our society. Post 2012, many stricter laws came to be framed in India but let us note that these legislative changes alone cannot reverse the scourge of violence in our country as well as society.

If we look at the NCRB report of 2016, there are as many as 39 crimes against women committed every hour in India. NEN Meghalaya's support Centre for women has also seen an increase in the reporting of cases in terms of violence against women and child sexual abuse (CSA).

"When we started our one stop Centre Iohlynti  in 2011, we had less than a 100 cases, but now we have almost about 800 cases registered so far. Domestic violence, sexual harassment of women at work place are some of the most highly reported cases of crime against women", added Joy.

Domestic violence is seen as a private family issue due to women refusing to take any legal action in the guise of maintaining family honour. Child sexual abuse which is mostly committed by close family relatives are also not being reported because of fear of tampering with family name. Such hieneous crimes are being swept under the carpet due to the strong patriarchal norms which are prevalent at all levels that is at the individual level, the community as well as the institutional level.

So it's time to look back on all issues that women have gone through. While women have jumped through hurdles to make equality a national issue, there still is a long way to go in terms of achieving gender parity. So NEN Meghalaya's call for action highlights women's right to dignity, respect and equality across all spheres of life- be it public and personal.

"The cases of domestic violence that we receive equates in most cases to the extent of marital rape. It is very unfortunate to know that this is not being recognized in India as a crime. In such cases, we either invoke section 498A of the Indian Penal Code which is our only way out to tackling such cases", added Joy.

Recently in the month of February, North East Network launched their Research Centre cum Library – a knowledge sharing centre that also aims at providing easier access to information. It aims to provide a common platform for youth to come together and share ideas as well as gain knowledge.  Youth have a hoard of talents within them but often, due to them being unable to access a place that would help them showcase their work; they often give up on their dreams and aspirations, bogged down by the monotony of their lives.

"We are also planning to work with a lot of women farmers, training them as well as providing a place to come and sell their products which in turn provides livelihood. Also, considering the fact that most women who are victims of domestic violence have to sometimes leave their houses. this increases their problems as they are usually unemployed but they still need to provide for their children. So NEN tries to partner with a number of organizations for training courses for these women and after which these women are empowered to earn a living as well as to face the hardships of life", Joy informed.

NEN Meghalaya started in 1995. They initially took up work on reproductive health and after conducting various fact finding missions on the same, it was seen that there was a lot of domestic violence cases in the communities and that is how they expanded their work to the periphery of domestic violence which has now up scaled to combating child sexual abuse and other such cases. A lot of their work is with the government stake holder in creating a gender just society.

Their one stop Centre Iohlynti opened in 2011 and since then the organization has registered and tackled more than 700 cases which range from domestic violence, sexual harassment at work place, rape and the likes.

It was also revealed that right from 1995 to the present day, there has obviously been an increase in the number of cases of violence against women which also throws light on the fact that women have become more aware and have therefore begun to come forward to report such acts of injustice. NEN also revealed that since 2015, cases of child sexual abuses cases have been on the rise. In 2011, only 3 cases of CSA was reported but in 2017, there were about 200 reported cases of child sexual abuse only from Meghalaya's East Khasi Hills District.

When asked about what could be the reason behind an increase in crime against women, Joy attributed the same to the gender-power relations in society. In order to avoid such crime in future, it is important for children to be aware of the right and the wrong kind of approach by people towards them or to those around them. The role of parents, teachers and community as a whole cannot be ignored in this regard. An important institution that can really make an impact in this regard is the Church as well as other religious institutions and the Dorbar Shnongs.

The writer can be reached at shweta@thenortheasttoday.com & shwetarajkanwar@gmail.com

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