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India
In Odisha Too, No Room For Strong Political Women
Rakhi Ghosh

In India's eastern state of Odisha, the presence of women in the political arena is not a new phenomenon. The state saw its first women chief minister, Nandini Satpathy, come to power in June 1972 and she ruled until the end of 1976. It has also seen many prominent women legislators – both at the parliamentary and state levels. Sadly, however, the state seems to have regressed. Today, although there are a number of female politicians in all the major parties in the state, each one of them has had to contend with deeply patriarchal biases. Male chauvinism marks all aspects of the election process, from the selection of electoral candidates to electing women office-bearers and, unsurprisingly, it is the men who corner the lion's share of the posts and tickets. Elections to Parliament and the Assembly will be taking place simultaneously this year in Odisha – comprising 21 Lok Sabha and 147 assembly constituencies. The three major parties, the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the BJD, have together fielded only 32 women candidates for these seats, in comparison to 441 male candidates.

“Personally I am convinced that women today are capable, intellectually speaking, of competing with men. But instead of welcoming this trend, it only creates insecurity among male politicians.”

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India
Food Is An Election Issue, Say Deoghar's Women
Saadia Azim

Thousands of women in the rural heartland of Deoghar, one of the most backward districts of Jharkhand and home to the Santhal tribals, have joined hands for a crusade against hunger and malnutrition in the region. Even as the election fever gripped their Sonaraithadi block, these women diligently campaigned for the right to food and for promoting good nutritional practices in the community through personalised training and awareness sessions. Besides this, Shakuntala Devi, Putul, Sudama, Sunita and Kajran Bibi and others, who have successfully taken on the role of educators and social mentors, are keeping a close watch on the distribution of food grain through the public distribution system. Along with the assistance of the local panchayat they are advocating the fair enforcement of the MGNREGA, to make their respective villages hunger free.

“Earlier, it was very difficult to get things from the ration shop. Now at least as a group we can ensure that everyone gets what they are entitled to. Gradually, the elected panchayat members too have become more supportive of our efforts.”

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 WFS Ref: INDN408D 1160 words


United Kingdom
From London To the Andes, Devika Dass Knits A Fashion Space
Smitha Sadanandan

UK-BORN INDIAN DEVIKA DASS IS DESTINY'S child. For someone who had always planned on making her mark in the courtrooms as a lawyer, not only did her best laid plans change but they turned out to be pretty fashionable. An education in fashion design at London's Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design catapulted her into the world of haute couture where over the last few years she has rubbed shoulders with fashion giants like Mathew Williamson, worked for the iconic Italian brand Emilio Pucci, launched her own label and wowed people with her collection at the ‘Estethica’ showroom for new business at the London Fashion Week AW/14. Of course, Dass flags her unplanned trip to the Andes – where she had a chance meeting with a group of women knitters in Peru and discovered the love of her creative life, the rich Alpaca yarn – as the highlight of her journey in becoming one of the most fashion-forward knitwear designers in the UK today.

Women in hats wearing multi-layered petticoats sat in a courtyard busy with their knitting needles and conversation. “When I saw this I knew that something had led me to this point in my life, where I could finally give back.”

[Photographs Available]

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Global
An Italian In India: Sculptor Simona's Ode To Women
Humra Quraishi

When Simona Bocchi, a specialist in contemporary sculpture, first landed in India four years back, she knew she couldn't be just another tourist visiting an exotic, spiritual country. The Italian simply had to live here, get a feel of the land and its people, soak in the diversity and channelise all those valuable influences and impressions into her work. Living in the romantic city of Udaipur in Rajasthan, her home away from home, Bocchi has been collaborating with local marble carvers and inlay work specialists to turn lifeless pieces of stone into evocative sculptures. At the heart and soul of her work is the spirit of womanhood, especially that of the hardworking Indian woman, which she tries to capture every time she steps into her studio. Today, as she takes on a different creative medium to express herself – she is penning her biography – Bocchi is also hoping to establish a movement of artists and researchers, where these two categories could exchange ideas on existing in harmony with nature and awakening the consciousness to create a better world.

“I like the feeling of turning a shapeless block of stone into a monumental work of art. When I am in the middle of creating something I eat dust for 12 hours a day for weeks on end.”

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India
Meet Lakhimi, Financial Whiz For Rural Women
Ratna Bharali Talukdar

Is the banking sector in India women-friendly, especially for the poor and distressed? According to Lakhimi Baruah, 65, who spent a better part of her life working for a bank before establishing the Kanaklata Women Urban Cooperative Bank - the first all-woman bank in the Northeast –commercial institutions have been largely unable to address the needs of those for whom stress-free banking services could be their only way out of a life of penury, providing them freedom from shady money lenders. Years ago, Baruah had realised that for women in difficult circumstance, like someone fighting a bitter divorce battle with an alcoholic husband for instance, approaching a ‘regular’ bank for even a small loan was nothing short of a nightmare, given that there would be complicated paperwork to negotiate and uncaring personnel to deal with. That is why she quit her secure banking job to set up Kanaklata women's bank in the upper Assam town of Jorhat. Overcoming teething troubles and stiff fiscal challenges, Baruah today has not just managed to keep the institution going but is expanding it to reach out to a customer base that chiefly comprises poor, abandoned, single women.

“A woman who is facing discrimination at the hands of her male family members would obviously find it tough to approach a male employee in any financial institution. This is just one of the women-specific issues that our traditional banking system has failed to address.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDN410 1240 words
 
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