5 ways funding is crucial for organising and defeating gender backlash

Backlash from conservative, patriarchal, religious and political forces is often seen as ‘the cost of doing business’ by feminist or LGBTQ+ activists. Yet how do philanthropic institutions who support gender justice respond to the scaled-up, well-financed and globally coordinated anti-gender ideology backlash today? How do they support and collaborate with activists and civil society organisations to expose and win against the ‘opposition’?

Lisa VeneKlasen explores this in Countering Backlash’s latest working paper ‘Anti-Gender Backlash: Where Is Philanthropy?’. It is written primarily for gender justice and women’s rights activists and researchers in the global South who struggle to make sense of the philanthropy ecosystem, and to gain a partial view of the map of actors most closely aligned with their agenda.

With the focus of UN Women’s 68th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 2024 around ‘financing with a gender perspective’, here are five takeaways from the paper.

1.    Gender is the ‘canary in the coalmine’

Coordinated attacks on gender rights and activists are part of a larger authoritarian agenda that includes the targeting of ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, environmentalists and more. The backlash against gender justice is a central pillar of the orchestrated rollback of democratic and progressive rights, politics and movements. Important collaborations between LGBTQ+ and feminist donors through the Global Philanthropy Project (GPP) and between women’s funds, such as the On the Right Track initiative, are funding research that tracks who’s behind the anti-gender movement and makes the connection between anti-gender, anti-democracy and authoritarian discourse and strategies, in addition to resourcing increased power and protection of activists.

2.    Anti-gender funding is a juggernaut

Global anti-gender backlash is a juggernaut, stifling and reversing advances in racial, gender, and reproductive rights and justice, and attacking defenders in dozens of countries, and globally. As shown in the paper, research by the Global Philanthropy Project (GPP) finds that the anti-gender movement spent over USD$1 billion between 2008 and 2017, from organisations based in the United States alone while new anti-gender networks are emerging in Europe. These are the networks behind the passing of ‘anti-gay’ laws in Uganda and Ghana, for example. In 2023, research by the Institute for Journalism and Social Change (IJSC) found that the UK Government had been directly funding anti-LGBTQ+ churches in Uganda.

“Actors in the UK are now a ‘key producer and exporter of anti-gender narratives”

In contrast, justice philanthropy has been slow to respond, and many steps behind the anti-gender opposition with regard to coordination, amounts and ways of funding.

3.    Donors are not making the connection between gender backlash and threats to democracy

Too few donors recognise how patriarchy and gender are ‘critical to the forces characterised by rising authoritarianism’, according to interviews for this research.

Trump’s election in 2016 and subsequent assaults on reproductive and gender-related rights have been a ‘wake-up call’ focusing philanthropic attention on the urgency of anti-gender backlash. But feminists in philanthropy suggest that it remains an uphill battle, and that women’s rights funding is generally decreasing.

They point to the different ways that characterising anti-gender backlash prevents donors from sharing a common understanding of the problem.  The distinct frames donors use include: fundamentalist backlash, democratic backsliding, rising authoritarianism, anti-gender, anti-feminist, anti-‘gender ideology’, anti-rights, anti-abortion, anti-democracy, the far right, religious nationalism, and the opposition.

A report published in September 2023 from the Astraea Lesbian Fund for Justice, ‘Global Resistance to Anti-Gender Opposition’ explores this issue. It recommends that donors’ responses ‘keep it simple’ (e.g. use words like ‘conservative’ or ‘fundamentalist’) to help forge a shared narrative and communicate to the general public.

Backlash is nothing new, and many feminists and gender justice activists are frustrated by a perceived lack of donor urgency. One donor advisor shared that some activists in the Middle East, feel like the recent framing of ‘anti-gender-Backlash’ is a Western export by Northern donors who are only now realising the extent of the problem because of Trump.

Several philanthropic foundations, such as Ford Foundation, Oak Foundation, and Wellspring, are prioritising global South-led research and other strategies to fill knowledge gaps. GPP plays a central role in gathering analysis and coordinating the growing interest across the philanthropic sector.

4.    Donors must also fund collaboration among feminist activists and organisers directly

The fact that philanthropic organisations are investing time and funding to coordinate and scale up their responses is promising. For example, GPP’s ‘Shimmering Solidarity Summit’ in 2021 led to the establishment of the ‘Responding to Anti-Gender Initiatives’ (RAGI) to ‘energise and coordinate donor responses.’ According to GPP staff, there has been a significant increase in funding to LGBTQI+ groups and improved coordination since the summit, but new challenges are always emerging.

At the same time, funders recognize that prevalent funding siloes can create competition and prevent urgently needed collaboration. Improved donor collaboration is welcome, but it doesn’t substitute for more unconditional funding to enable activists and organisers to create their own spaces that are essential to power-building and aligning creative multi-sectoral strategies and unusual alliances to tackle and expose who’s behind backlash on multiple fronts. With more opportunities to strategise together, they would also have meaningful advice for their donor partners. Both a donor and activist approach to collaboration is essential.

5. Funders in search of ‘innovation’ while managing a heightened sense of risk

The philanthropic sector tends to seek out innovation and ‘big bets’. At times, the search for the new and better is at the expense of tried and tested strategies that are not as visible or exciting.

Not infrequently, new large-scale funding is directed toward the creation of new funding structures like collaborative and pooled funds to move money more quickly to groups and mitigate risk to the donors involved. Two new promising collaborative funds that have emerged in response to GPP’s analysis are Numun and Nebula. Both of these funds direct resources toward energised movement-driven collaboration to address important gaps.

Risk is not new to donors, though, in such a volatile political moment, donors are naturally concerned, especially as philanthropic foundations have faced attacks from governments. How to balance the risk of not funding movements at the scale needed to win against the risk of donor-directed political and legal attacks is a significant dilemma.

The seemingly contradictory push and pull of heightened risk vs a ‘moonshot’ mindset impacts how quickly and flexibly funding flows. This is particularly true for the less flashy organising and infrastructure-building necessary to resist and win against an ever-morphing foe in the long run.

Anti-Gender Backlash: Where is Philanthropy?

This working paper explores how philanthropic institutions with a history of supporting women’s and LGBTQI+ rights and democracy are seeing and responding to anti-gender backlash, and the background dynamics shaping the struggle. […]

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Understanding gender backlash through Southern perspectives

Global progress on gender justice is under threat. We are living in an age where major political and social shifts are resulting in new forces that are visibly pushing back to reverse the many gains made for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights and to shrink civic space.

The focus of this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) calls for ‘accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls…’. This ‘acceleration’ would be welcome indeed. We are not so much worried about slow progress but rather by the regress in a tidal wave of patriarchal – or gender – backlash, with major rollbacks of earlier advances for women’s equality and rights, as well as by a plethora of attacks on feminist, social justice and LGBTQ+ activists, civic space and vulnerable groups of many stripes.

The Countering Backlash programme explores this backlash against rights in a timely and important IDS Bulletin titled ‘Understanding Gender Backlash: Southern Perspectives’. In it, we ask ‘how can we better understand the contemporary swell of anti-feminist (or patriarchal) backlash across diverse settings?’. We present a range of perspectives and emerging evidence from our programme partners from Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Uganda, and the United Kingdom.

Here’s what you can find in our special issue of the IDS Bulletin.

Why we need to understand gender backlash

‘Anti-gender backlash’, at its simplest, it refers to strong negative reactions against gender justice and those seeking it. Two widely known contemporary examples, from different contexts, are Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill (passed in 2023), and the United States Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs Wade (which gave women the constitutional right to abortion) in 2022.

The term ‘backlash’ was first used in Susan Faludi’s (1991) analysis of the pushback against feminist ideas in 1980s in the United States, and historically, understandings of anti-gender backlash have been predominantly based on experiences and theorising about developments in the global north. More recent scholarship has afforded insights on and from Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Much explanatory work to date, if it does not implicitly generalise from global north experience, often fails to adequately engage with the ways these locally specific phenomena operate transnationally, including across the global south, and with its complex imbrication in a broader dismantling of democracy.

New ways of analysing gender backlash

The Issue presents new ways of analysing backlash relevant to diverse development contexts, grounded examples, and evidence of anti-gender dynamics. It aims to push this topic out of the ‘gender corner’ to connect it to contemporary shifts in relationships between faith, identity and state, governance, and the broader politics of democracy and economics, as seen from across the global south.

The articles in this special issue are grouped into three themes: one, on ‘voice and tactics’, including whose voices are being heard, and what tactics are being used?; two, on ‘framings and direction’, including how are ideologies spread, and how can we understand attitudes to change? and; three, on ‘temporality and structure’, including what is ‘back’ about backlash? What and who drives it, and how is it imbricated in broader trends and crises? Additionally, most articles proffer some thoughts and recommendations on the implications for directions to counter backlash, whether specifically for feminist movements, for other gender and social justice defenders, or for researchers and students.

Southern Perspectives

This Issue fundamentally challenges simple and reductive understandings of gender backlash. Diverse examples of politicised backlash are ‘mapped’ across geographies and viewpoints. This can help to build a more granular and multi-perspectival understanding of backlash, of its more subtle processes of co-optation and division, its connected across borders, regions, and continents, and the contextual and different strategies of resistance.

Understanding Gender Backlash: Southern Perspectives

The 30th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995, and the 10th anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), are fast approaching. And with global progress on gender justice on the rise around the world, we must find ways to combat gender backlash now.

The Countering Backlash programme has produced timely research and analysis on gender backlash, presenting a range of perspectives and emerging evidence on backlash against gender justice and equality, as such phenomena manifest locally, nationally, and internationally.

Understanding Gender Backlash: Southern Perspectives’ is our iteration of the IDS Bulletin, including contributions, insights, expert knowledge from a range of actors in diverse locations across South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, Lebanon and the UK – and all part of the Countering Backlash programme.

The IDS Bulletin addresses the urgent question of how we can better understand the recent swell of anti-gender backlash across different regions, exploring different types of actors, interests, narratives, and tactics for backlash in different places, policy areas, and processes.

The IDS Bulletin will be launched by a hybrid event on 07 March 2024, ahead of the programme’s attendance at UN Women’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 2024.

 


Articles

Sohela Nazneen

Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

Cecília Sardenberg; Teresa Sacchet; Maíra Kubík Mano; Luire Campelo; Camila Daltro; Talita Melgaço Fernandes; Heloisa Bandeira;

Nucleus of Interdisciplinary Women’s Studies of the Federal University of Bahia (NEIM)

Adeepto Intisar Ahmed; Ishrat Jahan; Israr Hasan; Sabina Faiz Rashid; Sharin Shajahan Naomi

BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health

Jerker Edström

Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

Abhijit Das; Jashodhara Dasgupta; Maitrayee Mukhopadhyay; Sana Contractor; Satish Kumar Singh

Centre for Health and Social Justice (CHSJ)

Shraddha Chigateri; Sudarsana Kundu

Gender at Work Consulting – India

Phil Erick Otieno; Alfred Makabira

Advocates for Social Change Kenya (ADSOCK)

Amon A. Mwiine; Josephine Ahikire

Centre for Basic Research

Tessa Lewin

Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

Nay El Rahi; Fatima Antar

Arab Institute for Women (AIW)

Jerker Edström, Jenny Edwards, Tessa Lewin, Rosie McGee, Sohela Nazneen, Chloe Skinner

Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

Event: Sustaining and expanding south-south-north partnerships and knowledge co-construction on global backlash to reclaim gender justice

We are living in a time of global unrest and division stoked by increasing polarisation in politics, authoritarianism and backlash on gender equality, inclusion and social justice.

This event, during the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 2024, explored how effective south-south-north partnerships can develop better and more nuanced understandings of gender backlash, to inform strategies for defending gender justice.

Based on research from the Countering Backlash programme, this event was a discussion between researchers, civil society activists, with bi- and multi-lateral development agencies. It provided insights from research and policy spaces on how we can work together more effectively to reclaim gender justice.

Starting in a panel format, speakers were asked to reflect on key insights from partnering in research on backlash, in activism and in international policy spheres. The co-chairs facilitated a dialogue between panellists and then opened up the discussion with the audience.

This event was hosted by the Lebanese American University, and co-sponsored by the Government of Sweden.

When

  • 13 March 2024
  • 12:00-14:00 EST // 16:00 – 18:00 UK Time

Where

  • In person – Lebanese American University, New York
  • Online – WebEx

Speakers

  • Nay El Rahi, Activist and Researcher, Arab Institute for Women, Lebanese American University
  • Phil Otieno, Executive Director, Advocates for Social Change Kenya (ADSOCK)
  • Tessa Lewin, Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies
  • Jerker Edström, Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies
  • Ida Petterson, SIDA – Sweden
  • Karen Burbach, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Netherlands
  • Constanza Tabbush, Research Specialist, UN Women

Co-chairs

  • Myriam Sfeir – Arab Institute for Women, Lebanese American University
  • Sohela Nazneen – Institute of Development Studies

Event: How is backlash weakening institutional contexts for gender justice globally?

Gender backlash is continually gaining momentum across the globe, and social and political institutions and policies are being dismantled. Gender justice activists and women’s rights organisations are having to mobilise quickly to counter these attacks.

With speakers from Bangladesh, Uganda, Lebanon, Serbia and India, in this official NGO CSW68 event we asked, ‘how is gender backlash weakening institutional contexts for gender justice globally?’ Speakers discussed: stalling and lack of implementation of the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act (2010) in Bangladesh; the infiltration of conservative religious and political actors in democratic institutions in the context of Serbia and neighbouring countries; anti-feminist backlash as institutional by default in Lebanon; and the legislative weakening of institutional contexts in Uganda, examining Acts which exert control over Civil Society Organisations.

When

  • 11 March 2024

Speakers

  • Pragyna Mahpara, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD)
  • Sandra Aceng, Executive Director, Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
  • Nay El Rahi, Activist and Researcher, Arab Institute for Women (AIW)
  • Nađa Bobičić, Researcher, Center for Women’s Studies Belgrade (CWS)
  • Santosh Kumar Giri, Director, Kolkata Rista
  • Jerker Edström, Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

Chair

  • Chloe Skinner, Research Fellow, IDS

Partner Event: BRAC JPGSPH and BIGD hosts Stakeholder Roundtable on Online Anti-Feminist Backlash

Countering Backlash partner BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health (BRAC JPGSPH) held a roundtable discussion on ‘Anti-feminist Backlash in Online Spaces and Creating Counter-Moves’ in collaboration with BRAC Institue of Governance and Development (BIGD) in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 28th November, 2023.

The roundtable was moderated by Nazia Zebin who is the Executive Director of Oboyob, a community-based organisation tackling gender justice for sexual minorities.  The event featured research presentations by Raiyaan Mahbub and Israr Hasan from BRAC JPGSPH and Iffat Jahan Antara from BIGD which set the context for the discussion. The discussions focused on the current challenges of navigating gender justice agendas in the face of rising organised backlash and the delegitimisation of feminism in the consciousness of the mass populace on social media platforms.

Critical insights were shared by experts and lawyers working on issues of digital safety and justice, seasoned NGO personnel, activists, and young movement organisers who are at the forefront of experiencing online backlash as they work on ensuring democratise, safe and gender-friendly digital environments. 

Read the press release for further details

Online violence against women is real violence

The campaign for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence this year encourages citizens to share the actions they are taking to create a world free from violence towards women. But what is being done about the online misogyny and violence encountered by gender justice activists, individuals, and organisations fighting for women’s rights and creating awareness online? Do our laws, the state, and its citizens consider an action to be gender-based violence only when it results in physical harm, rape, sexual assault, murder, or something severe?

Every day, women of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds become victims of online harassment and abuse in the form of trolling, bullying, hacking, cyber pornography, etc. Although there is no nationally representative data on victims of online gender-based violence, according to Police Cyber Support for Women, 8,715 women reported being subjected to hacking, impersonation, and online sexual harassment from January to November 2022.

Read the full op-ed by Countering Backlash partner BRAC BIGD on ‘The Daily Star’ website.

বাংলাদেশের পারিবারিক সহিংসতা আইন বাস্তবায়নে নেতিবাচক প্রতিক্রিয়া (ব্যাকল্যাশ) প্রতিরোধ

নারী ও শিশু নির্যাতন দমন আইন এবং পারিবারিক সহিংসতা (প্রতিরোধ ও সুরক্ষা) আইন ২০১০- এর মতো আইন থাকা সত্ত্বেও বাংলাদেশে পারিবারিক সহিংসতার হার অনেক বেশি। বাংলাদেশ পরিসংখ্যান ব্যুরোর তথ্য অনুযায়ী, প্রতি পাঁচজন নারীর মধ্যে প্রায় তিনজন (৫৭.৭%) তাদের জীবদ্দশায় কোনো না কোনো ধরনের শারীরিক, যৌন বা মানসিক সহিংসতার শিকার হয়েছেন। […]

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Event: Counting the cost: funding flows, gender backlash and counter backlash

Major political and social shifts are stifling the possibility of gender justice across the world. Analysing this backlash as operating on global, regional and local scales in this webinar, we ask, where is the money?

While predominant anti-gender backlash movements and actors appear well financed, those countering backlash face significant financial challenges, heightened in the context of rising authoritarianism and shrinking civic space.

In this event, we were joined by leading experts and partners from Countering Backlash and beyond. Isabel Marler from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) presented a mapping of sources of funding for anti-rights actors, and interrogate what is effective in countering anti-rights trends, while Lisa VeneKlasen (Independent Strategist, Founder and Former Executive Director of JASS), explored ‘where is philanthropy on anti-gender backlash’? Turning to national restrictions, Sudarsana Kundu and Arundhati Sridhar from our partner organisation Gender at Work Consulting – India focused on the impacts of funding laws for women’s rights organising in India.

When

  • 12 December 2023
  • 13:00 – 14:30 UK time

Speakers

  • Lisa VeneKlassen, Independent Strategist, Founder and Former Executive Director of JASS (Just Associates)
  • Isabel Marler, Lead, Advancing Universal Rights and Justice, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)
  • Sudarsana Kundu, Executive Director, Gender at Work Consulting – India
  • Arundhati Sridhar, Gender at Work Consulting – India

Discussant

Chair

Watch the recording

Marriage equality in India: still miles to go

The queer community in India has been continuously fighting for social equality over the last few decades, given the colonial era laws like Section 377 that criminalised same sex relationships and the Criminal Tribes law that outlawed entire transgender community. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and asexual (LGBTQ+) groups have struggled in police stations, courtrooms and on the streets to access their rights as equal citizens of the country, given the widespread stigma and discrimination faced daily, not only within homes and neighbourhoods, but within private and state institutions.

The long-standing fight for equal rights

After many challenges and setbacks, the LGBTQ+ community was able to gain a few significant victories. These include landmark cases such as National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) v. Union of India (2014) where the Court held that the state must recognize persons who fall outside the male-female binary as ‘third gender persons’ and that they are entitled to all constitutionally guaranteed rights. This was followed by Justice KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017) in which the court held that the Constitution protects the right of a person to exercise their sexual orientation. The most recent judgement was Navtej Singh Johar and Ors v. Union of India (2018) in which the court held that Section 377 is unconstitutional to the extent that it criminalizes consensual sexual activities by the LGBTQ+ community. In 2019, the government of India enacted the Transgender Persons (protection of Rights) Act that recognized the right of transgender persons to have a self-perceived gender identity, prohibited discrimination and upheld their rights to residence, healthcare, education and employment.

However, there were still a lot of areas of struggle for the LGBTQ+ community in India, for example, in recognising relationship status for same sex couples. This was met with stiff opposition that led to coercive therapies, forced separation or forced marriages and state custody. In the absence of any legal recognition of long-term LGBTQ+ relationships, surviving partners were disregarded when it came to claiming insurance or employment-related benefits, nominee rights for healthcare or even share of property.

In 2022, several Writ Petitions seeking marriage equality for LGBTQ+ couples were submitted in the High Courts and the Supreme Court of India. The key asks were that LGBTQ+  persons should have a “Right to Marry” the person of their choosing, regardless of religion, gender and sexual orientation; and that the Special Marriage Act (1954), which enabled two people of different religions or castes to marry, should also include LGBTQ+ couples by using gender-neutral terminology; likewise, the petitions called for changing the Foreign Marriages Act (1969).  In addition, the petitions also called for changes in the Child Adoption laws and regulations to enable LGBTQ+ couples to adopt children together; one petition asked for the right to ‘chosen families’. The final ask was for preventive and protective measures by district and police authorities to ensure the safety of adult consenting LGBTQ+ couples from the violence they faced from their birth families.

The Supreme Court ruling and its impact

The petitions were all clubbed together and came up before a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court that gave its verdict on the 17th of October 2023 (Supriyo@Supriya Chakrabarty and Ors vs Union of India), denying the claim for marriage equality. Although all five judges accepted that any two people have the right to live and build a life together and that such relationships should be protected from violence and discrimination by the State, they failed to reach a consensus on giving queer couples the status of a legally recognised “civil union”. Three of the judges argued that any legal status to such unions can only be granted through enacted legislation. Disappointingly, all five judges unanimously found that there is no “fundamental right to marry” within the Constitutional framework, a position that is in contradiction with Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) that recognizes the right to marry and start a family. The court refused to propose any change to the Special Marriage Act (1954) or Foreign Marriage Act (1969) to make the terms gender-neutral, on the grounds that this would be intruding into the legislative domain.

On the issue of transgender persons, all five judges agreed with the proposition that a transgender man has the right to marry a cisgender woman under current laws; similarly, a transgender woman has the right to marry a cisgender man. A transgender man and a transgender woman can also marry. Intersex persons who identify as a man or a woman and seek to enter into a heterosexual marriage would also have a right to marry.

The minority opinion said the LGBTQ+ community has a fundamental right to form relationships and that the state was obligated to recognise and grant legal status to such unions, so that same-sex couples could avail the material benefits provided under the law. The right to choose a partner was the most important life decision. This right goes to the root of the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The minority judgement went ahead to declare that not granting the same rights as those that accrue within marriage to those in civil unions would be violative of the Constitutional promise of no discrimination on the basis of sex. Regarding the Child Adoption issue, the minority opinion was that adoption Regulations discriminate against unmarried couples.

In terms of protection from harassment by families and the police, the Chief Justice of India made very compelling directions to the State to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ couples against discrimination and harassment, especially by the police. Even in the absence of formal marriage rights, this specific instruction for law enforcement agencies could go a long way in easing the problems faced by couples exercising their choice of intimate partner, especially lesbian, bisexual, intersex and trans women.  This is something that needs to be widely spoken about.

What will the future look like for the LGBTQ+ community in India?

Despite not granting new rights to the LGBTQ+ community, the judicial discourse has certainly moved ahead in terms of recognizing the various forms of discrimination acknowledged earlier in NALSA and Navtej Johar.  The Constitution Bench firmly countered the government’s claims that queerness was an alien, urban or elite phenomenon, asserting “pluralistic social fabric” and an “integral part of Indian culture”. All judges acknowledged the inequity and intolerance faced by the LGBTQ+ community, as well as the denial of access to certain benefits and privileges that are available to heterosexual married couples.

In other gains, the State had volunteered to set up a committee chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for the purpose of defining the scope of entitlement of queer couples who are in unions. They may pass an Act creating civil unions, or a domestic partnership legislation, or perhaps, rather than the Union Government, the State legislatures could take action and enact laws or frameworks. The possibilities are not encouraging, however, given the government has already expressed that same-sex marriages are not “comparable with the Indian family unit concept of a husband, a wife and children”.

The split verdict is a clear setback to the long struggle for equal rights of the LGBTQ+ communities, who remain unsure about how far the conservative forces will take up the directions of the Court to bring about the much-needed changes. It is imperative to continue to discuss and engage with familiar and unfamiliar groups and social institutions. This fight shall continue until no one can deny the rights that are due to the LGBTQ+ community as equal citizens of the country.

Partner event: BIGD discuss the implementation of Bangladesh’s Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act

Countering Backlash partner BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) hosted an engaging and important workshop with representatives of the Bangladesh Government and advocates. The workshop was hosted by BIGD in partnership with the Citizen’s Initiative against Domestic Violence (CIDV) at the BIGD offices in Dhaka’s Azimur Rahman Conference Hall.

The session discussed the implementation of the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act (DVPPA) 2010, and shared key findings and recommendations from BIGD’s Countering Backlash policy brief ‘Backlash in Action? Or Inaction? Stalled Implementation of the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2010 in Bangladesh‘. Despite being approved in 2010, the Act remains underutilized and commitment to its implementation has been low, often treating domestic violence as a family matter. There is an immediate need for changed norms and attitudes among those who are implementing the Act, along with better victim support, procedural revisions for effective implementation of the DVPPA.

The session featured a presentation by Maheen Sultan, Senior Research Fellow, and Pragyna Mahpara, Senior Research Associate, both from BIGD. Expert insights were provided by Dr Shahnaz Huda, Professor of Law at the University of Dhaka.

The event offered crucial insights and perspectives, emphasizing the ongoing effort to combat domestic violence and create a safer environment for all.

Read BIGD’s update about the session on their website

Countering gender backlash in Africa and Asia

Countering Backlash partner, Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), recently participated in the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF) in Nairobi, Kenya and RightsCon in Costa Rica. During the two events, WOUGNET led discussions on the challenges faced by women’s rights advocates and the broader gender justice movement in the face of increasing online gender-based violence and shrinking civic space.  

Joined by Countering Backlash partners BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD – Bangladesh) and NEIM (Brazil), along with a representative from the Ugandan police force, sessions highlighted the emergence of new forces and alliances that are actively pushing back against the progress made in achieving gender equality and justice, both globally and in Africa.

Participants discussed the various manifestations of gender backlash, such as the formulation of restrictive laws and legal frameworks, attacks on human rights and defenders, and the use of digital technology to propagate misogynist narratives.

WOUGNET spoke about the continuous attacks on gender activists and human rights defenders in Uganda, where laws and policies are enacted that restrict their activities, such as the recent Anti-homosexuality Act 2023 and amended Computer Misuse Act 2022. The blocking of online platforms also further erodes gender justice, minimising the potential for collective action and the amplification of marginalised voices.

Countering Backlash partner BIGD reported on their recently published research on online gender-based violence and backlash against women gender justice actors in Bangladesh. Currently, the south-Asian country is seeing a rapid increase in internet usage, particularly on Facebook, though evidence shows that almost 68% of Facebook users are men. According to Iffat Antara (Senior Researcher at BIGD), digital space has become an essential medium for activists and individuals to reach global audiences with messages on human rights, gender justice, and other critical social issues. They also addressed opposition from religious leaders towards comprehensive sexuality education policies and the push for discriminatory legislation such as the Anti-homosexuality Act 2023 of Uganda which argues that children’s understanding of their sexual rights makes them ‘pro-sexual’.

WOUGNET’S role in Countering Backlash

Sandra Aceng, Executive Director of WOUGNET, introduced the organisation’s work. WOUGNET has focused much of its research on online gender-based violence, and is currently implementing a project supported by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) called Our Voices, Our Futures, which aims to improve civic space online in Uganda for the women human rights defenders and feminists. WOUGNET’s goal through this project is to enhance its research on online gender-based violence and empower women actively to actively participate in shaping inclusive policies.

Efforts by the Ugandan Police Force

Francis Ogweng, Assistant Superintendent of Police in Uganda, shared the initiatives undertaken by the Uganda Police Force to promote gender justice. He said that the police are making progress towards promoting gender equality, thanks to the establishment of several directorates and departments that have an objective of reporting, analysing and tackling online gender-based violence, including the Gender Policy 2018. Besides these, there has been increased engagement with men on gender equality work as a strategy to reduce gender backlash in policing. Ogweng reported that senior officers have been promoted to higher ranks as a strategy to promote gender equality.

Ogweng is a He-For-She champion of UN Women and Uganda Police where he has promoted positive masculinity within the police. His role as champion resulted from the Uganda Police’s negative image when it comes to working with women and girls.

Despite the recent Anti-Homosexuality Act, Ogweng noted that there are a number of male-led organisations and Government initiatives promoting gender equality and ministries and other non-governmental organisations have programmes targeting male involvement in gender equality work.

Professor Maira Kubik, a Countering Backlash research partner NEIM in Brazil, defined gender backlash as a setback on rights that have not yet been achieved.

What are the trends in online gender backlash?

Antara’s research in Bangladesh explored online hate and threats of violence towards advocates for gender justice, and women in general, causing them to lose confidence and an interest in speaking out. The findings indicate that the violence women experience online has some common forms. These mainly focus on sexually explicit hate comments labelling women as sex workers, and particularly targeting women feminist activists, lawyers, and journalists. She then suggested the need to identify the severity of online gender-based violence against women on gender backlash and to improve the legal frameworks.

What are some of the achievements in gender justice?

Some of WOUGNET’s work on gender backlash is conducting research to understand the challenges that the communities we work with face. This research has shaped the capacity building work done over the years for women, and our community of practice around laws such as Uganda’s Computer Misuse Act 2011 as amended 2022, Data Protection and Privacy Act 2019, and the Anti-Pornography Act 2014 – three policies that significantly affect the meaningful participation of women in online spaces. WOUGNET also has a toll-free line 0800 200510 in place for the public to report cases of online harassment against female journalists.

Recommendations

In order to reduce gender backlash in digital spaces, laws and policies, panellists recommended conducting evidence-based research on gender backlash, building the capacity of men as anti-backlash actors, and training police officers on online gender-based violence so they can respond effectively to cases reported to their desk for investigation. Additionally, they recommended that the communities should know about some of the existing laws/policies so as to be able to fight for their rights, and to counter backlash.

Authored by: Isaac Amuku, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, and Irene Marunga, Communications associate, WOUGNET

Reversing domestic workers’ rights: Stories of backlash and resilience in Delhi

A period of crisis and upheaval is causing serious consequences for the rights of domestic workers. Conditions of economic precarity, work, and income insecurity have long characterised their lives. We are witnessing a clear backlash against domestic workers’ rights. Like other informal women workers who live and work in precarious conditions, they have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic and its lockdowns and continue to face its devastating impacts.

Countering Backlash partner Gender at Work Consulting – India is sharing their stories in a forthcoming storybook titled ‘Reversing domestic workers’ rights: Stories of backlash and resilience in Delhi’ and launching in August 2023.

A graphic illustration with blue, white and yellow colours. There is a women and you child standing in a room full of clothes, luggage and a CCTV camera. The woman is sweeping the floor.

Illustration by by Mrinalini Godara

Contextualising backlash against domestic workers in India

One reason for the intensity of this backlash is the systemic inequalities in paid domestic work in India. Although it is one of the largest sectors of work for women in urban areas, paid domestic work has been systematically undervalued and inadequately recognised as work by the state, society, and employers.

There are deep-seated reasons for this, including the highly gendered perception of domestic work as an extension of women’s natural roles, and its performance in familial spaces. Domestic work is also mainly made up of women from marginalised groups, particularly those from migrant communities, Dalit, and Adivasi groups, and +women who have not completed a primary education.

Domestic work is therefore characterised by informality and precarity, with poor working conditions, as well as discrimination based on gender, caste, religion, and migrant status. The vagaries and stresses of urban lives lived on the margins, of the inaccessibility of public services and resources, also encompass a key feature of the living conditions for domestic workers.

Domestic workers telling their stories of backlash

The forthcoming storybook shares glimpses into the lives of domestic workers based in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) in India. Launching in August 2023, it includes live-in and live-out domestic workers, who are both young and old, long-term and new migrants, from Dalit, Adivasi, and Muslim communities. The storybook  surfaces and makes visible the everyday forms of caste, religious, and gendered discrimination, violence, and backlash experienced by domestic workers, which took on monstrous proportions during the pandemic.

The storybook illustrates the backlash experienced by domestic workers, highlighting the worrying pushback against their struggles and their rights. This sense of ‘going backwards’ has been expressed by one of the domestic workers in the storybook as ‘10-20 saal peechche chale gaye’ – translated from Hindi to English as ‘we have gone back 10-20 years’.

This is in a sector that has barely seen any gains on their rights as workers. There has been a systematic non-recognition of the rights of domestic workers as workers across the country despite persistent claims made by domestic worker groups. The few exceptions where their rights have been recognised (such as the inclusion of domestic workers in minimum wage notifications, their inclusion as workers for welfare, or the inclusion of households as a workplace under the sexual harassment law, all in just a few Indian states) serve as a reminder for just how limited the gains have been.

This sense of going backwards has taken a range of forms which are highlighted by each of the stories collated in the storybook in the context of the pandemic and prolonged lockdowns. Stories explore the:

  • increased levels of discrimination, as well as high levels of economic vulnerability including increased indebtedness,
  • devastating and widespread loss of livelihoods,
  • decreased wages,
  • food and housing insecurities,
  • increased levels of work for those who remained or have since returned to work,
  • and worsening physical and mental health.

In the wake of these troubling losses, domestic workers have suffered humiliations, indignities, and vilification at the hands of their employers and the state. They have been silenced and rendered powerless. They and domestic worker organisations, such as Shahri Mahila Kaamgar Union (SMKU – Urban Women Worker’s Union), have experienced further reversals in their collective negotiating power, which has set back their struggles several years. The pandemic served as the ‘moment of revelation’ of the backlash experienced by domestic workers.

We see this in Roopali’s and Sundari’s stories, where their lives have been overwhelmed by insecurities, family illnesses, and severe discrimination.

The storybook painstakingly demonstrates that the backlash experienced by domestic workers is built on a bedrock of systemic discrimination, marginalisation, and myriad ‘microscapes of harm’. Almost all of the stories highlight that the early lives of domestic workers were constrained by disadvantage, insecurity, and hardship. These are stories of early marriages, poor educational opportunities, and very young starts to working life in a context often circumscribed by economic distress.

The spectacle of backlash

Systemic injustices and violence that are rooted in caste and religious notions of ‘purity and pollution’ and experienced in forms such as ‘untouchability’, were heightened during the pandemic. Everyday events of marriage, divorce, illness, the birth of children, death of loved ones, migration, and more, have been experienced as ‘shocks’ by domestic workers. This has been alongside more systemic shocks of forced displacement, climate change, and the pandemic have been experienced in terms of the ‘spectacle of backlash’.

There are now immense challenges faced by domestic worker organisations such as SMKU in contending with this backlash in the context of the reduced negotiating power of domestic workers, as well as shifts in the sector with employers seeking more live-in, ‘full-time’ workers. Even so, as the storybook highlights, the crucial support offered by organisations such as SMKU through immediate relief efforts (such as providing rations or enabling domestic workers to access online benefits) proved invaluable in the critical months when domestic workers were facing perilous food insecurities. Their organising efforts have provided a critical lifeline of solidarity and support for domestic workers, even as they seek to collectively re-strategise their claims making efforts to contend with the backlash.

This story is also available in Hindi.

घरेलू कामगारों के प्रत्यावर्ती अधिकार : दिल्ली में प्रतिघात और प्रतिरोध की कहानियाँ

भारत का वेतनभोगी घरेलू कामगार कार्यक्षेत्र मौजूदा समय में उतार-चड़ाव के दौर से गुजर रहा है, जिससे घरेलू कामगारों के अधिकारों पर दुष्प्रभाव पड़ रहा है। आर्थिक अनिश्चितता, काम और आमदनी का संकट हमेशा से घरेलू कामगारों के जीवन की कड़वी सच्चाई रही है। लेकिन कोविड-19 महामारी और लॉकडाउन की शुरुआत के तीन साल बाद, इसके विनाशकारी प्रभाव घरेलू कामगारों के अधिकारों के विरुद्ध स्पष्ट प्रतिक्रिया के रूप में दिखाई दे रहे है। अनिश्चित परिस्थितियों में रहने को मजबूर महिला घरेलू कामगार महामारी व लॉकडाउन के दुष्प्रभावों का ख़ामियाज़ा आज भी भुगत रही है। 

A graphic illustration with blue, white and yellow colours. There is a women and you child standing in a room full of clothes, luggage and a CCTV camera. The woman is sweeping the floor.

Illustration by Mrinalini Godara.

भारत में घरेलू कामगारों के विरुद्ध प्रतिक्रिया की प्रासंगिकता

इस प्रतिक्रिया की तीव्रता और तीक्ष्णता का एक कारण भारत में घरेलू कामगारों के भुगतान में की गयी व्यवस्थागत असमानताएँ हैं। हालाँकि यह शहरी महिला कामगारों के लिए सबसे बड़े क्षेत्रों में से एक है, लेकिन भुगतान के संदर्भ में घरेलू काम को व्यवस्थित रूप से राज्य, समाज और मालिकों द्वारा नज़रअंदाज़ कर इसे कम महत्व दिया गया है। इसके पीछे की जड़ें काफ़ी गहरी हैं, जिसमें घरेलू काम को लेकर पितृसत्तात्मक जेंडर आधारित दृष्टिकोण है, जो महिलाओं के लिए बतायी गयी उनकी प्राकृतिक भूमिका (घरेलू काम) का महज़ विस्तार और इसका पारिवारिक जगहों पर प्रदर्शन है। साथ ही, घरेलू काम मुख्य रूप से हाशिएबद्ध समुदाय की महिलाओं द्वारा किया जाता है। दलित, आदिवासी और प्राथमिक शिक्षा से पूरी तरह दूर महिलाएँ वृहत स्तर पर इस प्रवासी कार्यबल को बनाती है।

यही वजह है कि अनौपचारिकता और अनिश्चितता घरेलू काम की विशेषता होती है, जिसमें घरेलू कामगारों को जेंडर, जाति, धर्म व प्रवास के आधार पर भेदभाव और बुरे हालातों में काम करने को मजबूर होना पड़ता है। शहरों में सार्वजनिक सेवाओं व संसाधनों तक की पहुँच से दूर अनिश्चितताओं के साथ हाशिए पर बसने को घरेलू कामगार मजबूर है।

अपनी प्रतिक्रियाओं की कहानी बताते घरेलू कामगार

दिल्ली और नेशनल कैपिटल रीजन (एनसीआर) के घरेलू कामगारों की जिंदगियों की झलक पर केंद्रित आगामी स्टोरीबुक ‘जेंडर एट वर्क कंसल्टिंग – इंडिया’ द्वारा तैयार की गयी है। इसका लोकार्पण अगस्त 2023 में किया जाएगा। इस किताब में दलित, आदिवासी, मुस्लिम समुदाय और अन्य समुदाय से घरेलू काम के साथ और इसके बाहर जीने वाले युवा-वृद्ध, लंबे समय से इस काम में लगे हुए और नए प्रवासी के अनुभव शामिल है। ये स्टोरीबुक उन जाति, धर्म और जेंडर आधारित हिंसा और इससे जुड़ी प्रतिक्रियाओं को सामने लाती है, जिसने महामारी के दौरान विकराल रूप ले लिया है।

ये स्टोरीबुक घरेलू कामगारों की प्रतिक्रियाओं के अनुभवों को दर्शाती है और अपने अधिकारों के चिंताजनक दमन और जारी संघर्ष को बयाँ करती है। इस पिछड़ेपन से जारी संघर्ष का अंदाज़ा एक घरेलू कामगार के वक्तव्य से लगाया जा सकता है जब वो कहती है कि, हम दसबीस साल पीछे चले गए

यह एक ऐसा क्षेत्र है, जिसमें काम करने वाले लोगों को उनके अधिकारों के संदर्भ में कोई फ़ायदा नहीं हुआ है। घरेलू कामगारों के लगातार जारी संघर्ष व आवाज़ उठाने के बावजूद देशभर में श्रमिक के रूप में घरेलू कामगारों के अधिकारों को व्यवस्थित रूप से मान्यता नहीं है। कुछ अपवाद हैं, जहां उनके अधिकारों को मान्यता दी गयी है (जैसे कि कुछ भारतीय राज्यों में न्यूनतम वेतन अधिसूचना में घरेलू कामगारों को शामिल करना, कुछ राज्यों में कल्याण के लिए श्रमिकों के रूप में उन्हें शामिल करना या कार्यस्थल पर यौन-उत्पीड़न के रूप में घरों को शामिल करना) जो काग़ज़ी तो है लेकिन उनके लाभ का असर बेहद सीमित है।

सालों पीछे जाने की इस भावना के रूप ने कई रूप ले लिए हैं, जिन्हें महामारी और लंबे समय तक लॉकडाउन के संदर्भ में स्टोरीबुक में संकलित कहानियों में उजागर किया गया है। ये कहानियाँ उजागर करती है –

  • आजीविका का व्यापक स्तर पर विनाशकारी नुक़सान
  • उनलोगों के काम में दबाव जो काम पर बने रहे या फिर वापस लौट आए
  • वेतन की कमी
  • भेदभाव का बढ़ता स्तर व आर्थिक असुरक्षा से क़र्ज़ का उच्च स्तर
  • भोजन और आवास की असुरक्षा
  • शारीरिक और मानसिक स्वास्थ्य बिगड़ना

इन चिंताजनक नुक़सान के मद्देनज़र, घरेलू कामगारों को अपने मालिक व राज्य से अपमान और तिरस्कार का सामना करना पड़ता है। उन्हें शक्तिहीन बनाकर चुप करवा दिया गया है। उन्हें और घरेलू कामगार संगठन जैसे ‘शहरी महिला कामगार यूनियन’ को सामूहिक तौर पर वेतन को लेकर मोलभाव करने और सत्ता को चुनौती देने के आधारों को उलट दिया गया है, जिससे वे सालों पीछे चले गए है। महामारी ने घरेलू कामगारों के विरुद्ध की प्रतिक्रियाओं को ‘प्रकटीकरण का क्षण’ बना दिया है।

हम इसे रूपाली और सुंदरी की कहानी के रूप में देख सकते हैं, जहां उनका जीवन असुरक्षाओं, पारिवारिक बीमारियों और भेदभाव के कड़वे अनुभवों  से घिरा हुआ है।

घरेलू कामगारों के विरुद्ध व्यवस्थागत भेदभाव, हाशिएबद्ध पर बसने को मजबूर और उनकी जिंदगियों में हुए ‘ढ़ेरों नुक़सान के अनुभव‘ को ये स्टोरीबुक सामने लाती है। घरेलू कामगारों की क़रीब सभी कहानियाँ उनकी जिंदगियों की असुरक्षा, संघर्ष और कठिनाइयों को उजागर करती है। ये कहानियाँ बाल विवाह, अशिक्षा और पारिवारिक आर्थिक संकट की वजह से उनके काम करने के संघर्ष को उजागर करती है।

प्रतिक्रियाओं का चश्मा

महामारी के दौरान व्यवस्थागत अन्याय और हिंसा का अनुभव बढ़ा, जिसकी जड़ें जाति और धर्म पर आधारित ‘पवित्रता’ के विचार, प्रदूषण और छुआछूत थी। शादी, तलाक, बीमारी, बच्चे का जन्म, किसी प्रियज़न की मृत्यु या प्रवास जैसी रोज़मर्रा की आम घटनाएँ भी घरेलू कामगारों के लिए एक सदमे के रूप में सामने आयी, जैसे कि अधिक व्यवस्थागत सदमे के तौर पर ज़बरन विस्थापन, जलवायु परिवर्तन और महामारी को उन्होंने लगातार अपने जीवन पर होने वाली ‘प्रतिक्रियाओं के वीभत्स अनुभवों के रूप‘ में जिया है।

अब एसएमकेयू जैसे घरेलू कामगार संगठनों को भारी चुनौतियों का सामना करना पड़ रहा है, जिसमें वे घरेलू कामगारों के मोलभाव की क्षमता के साथ-साथ इस क्षेत्र में बदलाव के संदर्भ में घरेलू कामगारों द्वारा सामना किए जाने वाले विरोध का सामना कर रहे हैं, जिसमें मालिक अब ‘पूर्णकालिक’ कामगारों की माँग कर रहे हैं। इसके बीच ये स्टोरीबुक एसएमकेयू जैसे संगठनों द्वारा महामारी के दौर में राशन की मदद, घरेलू श्रमिकों को ऑनलाइन योजनों के लाभ तक पहुँचाने में सक्षम बनाने जैसे ज़रूरी राहत प्रयासों को भी उज़गार करती है जो घरेलू कामगारों के लिए अमूल्य और इस मुश्किल दौर में उन्हें कुछ राहत दिलाने में मददगार साबित हुई। साथ ही, संगठन ने एक ऐसी जगह तैयार की जहां वे संगठित होकर अपने अधिकारों व संघर्षों के मुद्दे पर एकजुट हो सकें। संगठन के प्रयासों से घरेलू कामगारों के लिए एकजुटता और समर्थन की एक ज़रूरी जीवनरेखा तैयार हुई है, जिससे अब वे सामूहिक रूप से प्रतिक्रियाओं को चुनौती देने व अपनी माँगों को उठाने की रणनीति तैयार कर रहे हैं।

Women domestic workers in India are demanding respect. Here’s Sundari’s story

A hand-drawn illustration of a domestic worker. They are on the floor, holding their head as their husband is on a hospital bed. On the right hand side is a young version of them, sweeping the floor.

Women domestic workers have been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In India, Countering Backlash partner Gender at Work Consulting – India have been collaborating with domestic workers in Delhi and compiling their stories into a storybook, launching on 24 July 2023.

India’s women domestic workers are demanding justice. Anita Kapoor, co-founder of the Shahri Mahila Kaamgar Union (SMKU – Urban Women Worker’s Union), argues that ‘it is important for domestic workers to speak together about what happened during the Covid-19 pandemic and about the issues that we continue to face to this day.’ Here is Sundari’s* story, prepared by Chaitali Haldar, an independent researcher and trainer, with the support of SMKU.

A life of struggles in the city

Sundari was 20 when devastating floods forced her and her family to seek a fresh start in Delhi. Their financial situation was proving difficult with only her husband’s earnings, so Sundari took a few cleaning jobs. None of the work arrangements were long-term, so she was stuck in a cycle of losing jobs and searching for new ones. For women, especially those who are migrants and from a ‘lower’ caste, finding well-paid, long-term employment is difficult.

The slum in which Sundari and her family lived was demolished due to the Delhi’s so-called ‘beautification’ plans, and their lives were disrupted again. Sundari’s children were forced to leave their school as it was now too far away, and she was struggling to find new schools for them as they did not have the necessary documents. She also had to search for a new job again, now with the added challenge of being in an unfamiliar part of the city. Sundari’s sense of stability was shattered.

Sundari continued her daily struggle to provide for her family and managed, after much searching, to secure a job as a cook in a household. However, the employment did not last long as Sundari injured her leg as was let go of. Although India’s Employment State Insurance (ESI) scheme was extended in 2016 to include domestic workers, their eligibility for medical benefits is limited. Accessing these benefits under the scheme remains challenging for domestic workers.

Challenges faced due to Covid-19

At the age of 56, Sundari, as with most women in India, faced an unprecedented challenge in the form of Covid-19. Reports show that only  19% of women remained employed during the first lockdowns in 2020. During this time, it was near impossible for domestic workers to find employment. Any attempt Sundari made to secure employment was rejected, either due to her age or because she did not yet have the Covid-19 vaccine. On top of this, Sundari’s struggles were worsened by her husband’s declining health. Just before the start of the pandemic, Sundari’s son was helping her, and her husband, complete the government’s pension scheme forms. This would have enabled them to access monthly financial support from the state. However, he became addicted to alcohol and was not able to submit the forms before the first lockdown was imposed and it became impossible to submit them. This continuous cycle of financial crisis left Sundari and her family in a state of perpetual uncertainty.

It was after the lockdowns were imposed that Sundari began associating with the SMKU. They provided Sundari and her family with ration supplies and cooked meals, which was vital for them at this time.

A hand-drawn illustration of a domestic worker. They are on the floor, holding their head as their husband is on a hospital bed. On the right hand side is a young version of them, sweeping the floor.
Illustration by by Mrinalini Godara

Sundari’s struggles continue

In 2022, Sundari was able to find and secure employment at a private school in Badarpur, southeastern Delhi, but she was not happy there. The school’s principal bickered continuously with Sundari and imposed numerous constraints on her, limiting her work. At the start, she often contemplated resigning but felt that she could not, due to her financial situation. Sundari was constantly reminded that if she were to abandon her employment, they would struggle to afford her husband’s much-needed medication, so she persevered.

However, over time, Sundari lost her job at the private school. At the same time, her husband’s health deteriorated significantly, requiring him to undergo treatment at hospital. Sundari spent many hours by her husband’s side, while the medical bills piled up. It was becoming difficult to manage the hospital fees and food expenses for Sundari and her husband.

From the devastating floods in her village, to the wave of displacement in the city, the challenges in Sundari’s life felt relentless. She felt stuck in a web of challenges, each one more daunting than the last.

While for many individuals a sense of normalcy has returned post the pandemic, the circumstances for women domestic workers remain exceptionally precarious. Many of them are having to rebuild their lives, intensifying their vulnerability and marginalisation.

*Name changed to protect the person’s identity

This story was originally written in Hindi (translation provided by Sudarsana Kundu and Shraddha Chigateri from Countering Backlash partner organisation Gender at Work Consulting – India).