Focusing on an ongoing grass-roots campaign of rural women in North India, this article examines how feminist activists strategically use and create social spaces to generate collective dialogue and critical reflection on issues of patriarchy and violence. The author highlights the ways in which grass-roots activists theorize the interrelationships among their own political actions, their visions of empowerment, and the everyday gendered spaces they seek to transform. The article demonstrates how a serious engagement with social spaces in grass-roots activism can enable us to overcome the conceptual gaps in feminist theorizations of empowerment and violence, and to apprehend more adequately the nature, content, and meanings of women's political actions.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The Mahila Samakhya program (henceforth, MS) was launched in 1989 by the Government of India in three states—Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat—with joint funding from the Royal Dutch Government. Envisioned and guided by dynamic feminist activists such as Vimala Ramachandran, Kamla Bhasin, Runu Chakravarti and Abha Bhaiya, this innovative scheme for women’s education explicitly committed itself to women’s empowerment, and operated in collaboration with gender-progressive NGOs at the district level. Departing from traditional literacy campaigns which had very limited success, MS drew upon the National Policy on Education (1986), which emphasized the need for a ‘positive interventionist role’ on the part of the Government in the empowerment of women (Agarwal, 1994, p. 497).