Our History and Milestones

Our History and Milestones

Our History

  • The doctoral thesis study by Dr. Martha Alter Chen (Marty Chen) in the early 1990’s looked at the economic survival skills of widows in 7 states of India. The study was later published as a book, titled “Perpetual Mourning”. The study documented the lives of over 500 widows in both South and North India, and gave details such as –
    Very few widows received widow pensions
    Very few widows lived with their in-laws
    Very few widows had possession of land or property
    And the India Census data for 1991 showed that there were over 33 million widows in India!
  • The Numbers – Marty Chen alerted us to the fact that the numbers of widows in India was huge. Having been involved in the Women’s Movement since the early 1970’s and 1980’s, we knew that the Movement had not made any special effort to bring widows in from the margins! And they were “marginalized”, kept out of mainstream society. Customs like “widows don’t remarry although widowers can!”, “widows must not take part in ceremonies in Hindu marriages, as they are inauspicious”, “many widows are called ‘Witches’”. “Widows must look plain, stay inside the house, because if they go out and get involved with a man, they will give the family a bad name”, etc.
  • The work came out of the NGO “Astha Sansthan” based in Udaipur, Rajasthan. “Astha” was called “Astha” because “Astha” means “faith”, and we had “Faith in The People”. Working in the field with the people in the villages in South Rajasthan for almost 15 years, had confirmed the truth that there is strength, ability, analysing power, tenacity, goodness in The People. And the Strength in Women of this country had not yet been realized.
  • With the realization of large numbers, and the “faith in the People”, we thought that we must do something to bring all this women’s potential out, so that they and the society could recognize it and benefit.
  • From our earlier work, we knew that Organization is Strength, and Knowledge is Power. And so an initiative that organized Widows, and gave them training in knowledge and skills needed for a productive and empowering life, would certainly enable these millions of women to move into new lives of dignity and happiness.
  • We started from a residential Widow Convention, in Bassi, Jaipur District in 1999, in which 450 widows participated from 21 district of Rajasthan. The convention was for 4 days, which on the last day formed a Follow-Up Committee of 3 Widows from each of the Districts of Rajasthan present in the Convention. This Committee met in January 2000, and the first step in working to bring into existence an organization that would help widows help each other to solve their problems, was to expand the scope of the work to include not only widows but separated and divorced women. Soon, it was further expanded to include older-never-married women! And so, we had laid the base for work, not with widows only, but with “Single Women”
  • We knew that there are Single Women in all classes of society, and each one has problems. But we thought that if the person-power to work with the Single Women would always be few, and the resources to support the work would be limited, it was better to work with the “low-income Single Women” rather than with all Single Women, or middle class Single Women, or upper class Single Women.
  • The focus of the work was not “an issue” – health, literacy, income-generating training, etc. It was on solving the problems of the Single Women – and therefore, we had to remain open, and to listen to them about what issues to take up – their issues.
  • The leadership, ultimately, of the Organization must be of Single Women, many of whom will be “low-income Single Women”.
  • And so, with our Faith in the Single Women, we started off! The Organization has evolved over more than 22 years. Over time, in the “Sisterhood of the Sansthan” we have grown to love one another, and work for a society where all live with dignity!

Milestones

November 16-19, 1999 -
The Rajasthan Widow Convention at Bassi, Jaipur District, Rajasthan. 450 low-income Widows from 21 Districts of Rajasthan attended, shared problems, and formed a Follow-Up Committee to the Convention.

January 2000 –
The Follow-Up Committee from the Rajasthan Widow Convention met in Udaipur, Rajasthan, and decided to form an organization of not only low-income Widows, but of Separated and Divorced Women too, whose life experiences all were similar. Soon, Older-Never-Married Women also were included. As were Women who, for some reason, were heads of their households, responsible for their own survival, and the survival and upbringing of their dependent children and family members. They formed the Organization to help each other solve their problems.

Soon After Gujarat Earthquake of 2001 –
Gujarat Widows Visit Rajasthan - After the January 26, 2001 Earthquake in the Kutch Area of Gujarat, a group of 10 “new widows” whose husbands had perished in the earthquake, came to visit the Rajasthan organization of Single Women to learn from their experience. This visit was organized under the leadership of Action Aid. As a result of this visit to the Rajasthan Single Women, the “Gujarat Ekal Nari Shakti Manch” “The Forum of Strong Women Alone” was formed (It exists to today).

April 23, 2002 –
The Ekal Nari Shakti Sansthan (The Organization of Strong Women Alone) was registered in Jaipur, Rajasthan as a Registered Society under the Rajasthan Society Registration Act of 1958

October 5-8, 2004 –
A National Single Women Convention, (Ekal Nari Shakti Sangham) was held at the Scouts and Guides Camp Ground at Woodlands, Jagatpura, Jaipur, Rajasthan – a national convention of 1,500 Single Women and Supporting Organizations from the following states: Bihar, Chattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh. The objective of the Convention was to share the work of the Single Women’s Organization in Rajasthan in the previous 5 years, and show the way how a large-scale movement could benefit Single Women through united action.

Follow-Up to the 2004 National Convention – 2005 -
After the October 2004 National Convention (“Sangham”) - Single Women in “support organizations” in 2 states showed particular interest in starting a Single Women Organization in their states. With the help of the Rajasthan Organization of Strong Women Alone, the following state-wide organizations were formed:

  • Jharkhand - “Ekal Nari Sashakti Sangathan” or the “Organization of Empowered Single Women” was formed in Jharkhand, with the support of SHARC organization ( Samuel Hahnemann Associates and Research Centre), and Shramajivi Mahila Samiti. SHARC’s support continues until today.
  • Himachal Pradesh - “Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan” or the “Organization of Strong Women Alone” was formed in Himachal Pradesh with the support of SUTRA (Social Uplift Through Rural Action)
  • Bihar – Bihar state used to be larger than it is today, and included what is now Jharkhand. When the Jharkhand Single Women got organized, the Bihar friends of SHARC who had all been associated with the “J.P. Movement” from 1974 onwards in the undivided Bihar, contacted Binni of SHARC and asked for their help in starting work with low-income Single Women in Bihar. The "J.P. Movement was a Gandhian Youth Movement led by Jaya Prakash Narayan". By 2007, work had started in Bihar supported by AZAD, and JAN (Joint Action Networking).

October 7-8, 2009 –
About 200 representatives of civil society organizations working with low-income women came together at the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi to bring into existence the National Forum For Single Women’s Rights. There was an Organizing Committee made up of key Single Women leaders and supporting NGOs in: Rajasthan, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, and Maharashtra. There were Single Women and NGO leaders from 13 states present in the 2-day event which included –

  • Day 1 – The launch of the National Forum for Single Women’s Rights
  • Day 2 – A Public Hearing of Cases and Problems of Single Women

2012-13 – Then March 8, 2014 -
During 2012-13, the National Mission for the Empowerment of Women (NMEW), an initiative launched in 2011 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, supported the work of the Organization of Strong Women Alone. The support was with the help of Astha Sansthan. The NMEW was very happy with the development and the work that was done with their support.

Subsequently, in March of 2014, the work done by the Rajasthan Single Women was honoured with a Stree Shakti award by the Government of India, the Rani Rudrama Devi Award, for work in the area of Women’s Social and Economic Development. The award was presented by the then President of India, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee.

November 3-4, 2016 – The First “Sisters’ Day” Celebration –
The first “Bahina Dooj Samelan” or “Sisterhood Convention” was held in Kota, Rajasthan on November 3-4, 2016. There were 220 Single Women in attendance, from various Districts in the State. The single women of the Organization of Strong Women Alone, gathered to take part in their programme that gave space for solidarity, joy, celebration of Sisterhood; new information helpful to life; an opportunity to affirm peace and absence of violence; and recognition of Single Women who had done outstanding work in the previous year!

The single women themselves raised the money for the Sisterhood Convention, and brought “cash” and “kind” donations to the event – containers of buttermilk, rice, spices, etc. etc.

It was decided to hold a Sisterhood Event once a year, shortly after Diwali. State level Conventions were held in 2017 (Jhalawar), 2018 (Ajmer), and 2019 (Jaipur). Covid started early 2020, and with curfews from March 2020, local transport disappeared, and so from October 2020, the programmes have been held at the Gram Panchayat level / Village or Local level, organized locally, and the participation has increased phenomenally – smaller gatherings, in more places, all over the state, programmes organized by local Single Women leaders. Total participation to date (2020, 2021, 2022) – total each year between 5,000 – 7,000 women, spread over hundreds of villages! The visibility of the Organization locally has increased, and so has the support!

November 5-6, 2019 –
Celebration of 20 Years of the formation of the Organization. The event was held in Jaipur, Rajasthan. About 500 Single Women from all over the State of Rajasthan attended, to celebrate their Sisterhood, and also to celebrate the 20 years of growth of the Organization of Strong Women Alone! The Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Shri Ashok Gehlot, was a chief guest, and released a book of case studies of the Rajasthan single women, titled: “Single Women – Agents of Change” published in both Hindi and English.