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Single, but not alone? Focus on erosion of women's rights outside institution of marriage

By Jayashree Velankar* 

A 3-day consultation on Single Women was recently organized by Jagori at the India International Centre in New Delhi with the objectives of refocusing the spotlight on the need to collectively evolve the definition of “single women” to include all those outside the patriarchal institution of marriage and be inclusive of single women across identities including Dalit, adivasi, devadasi, sex workers, lesbian, trans, women with disability etc., critically assess policy gaps, discuss grassroots-level perspectives and develop concrete action plans at both the national and state levels to serve as roadmaps.
The consultation kicked off with a trip down history with renowned feminist activist and Jagori founding member, Abha Bhaiya, who spoke about one of the first surveys conducted with single women by Jagori in the 1990s, how the discourse surrounding single women’s rights and identities has changed, how there is an erosion of the rights of women outside the institution of marriage, and which identities hold power and privilege. 
Against this context, set brilliantly by Abha Bhaiya, gender and development researcher Ranjani Murthy walked the participants through the diverse identities of single women, lack of agency or rights-based approaches to single women’s development and the current policy context.
Single women and organization representatives from Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bihar, Assam, Rajasthan and Delhi made presentations on the status of single women in their regional contexts as well as lack of policies for single women at the national level. 
Single women across identities and on the margins highlighted the criticality of truly intersectional approaches for both policy and practice and shared their lived experiences of exclusion, physical, sexual and emotional violence, negative impact on mental health, difficult access to entitlements, and denial of agency, integrity, voice and choice.
In the true spirit of co-creation, the group collectively charted the way forward, amplifying policy and recommendations and collating a charter of demands. 
Some of these included social security for single women recognizing the unique needs of single women across identities, the need for disaggregated data on single women along the categories of caste, class, age, occupation, gender and sexual identity, disability etc., priority to single women in government schemes, de-linking scheme benefits for women with marriage, self-governed welfare boards with multiple representation etc.
This consultation brought Jagori back full circle as it was one of the first organizations to take up the issue of ‘single women’ (‘ekal aurat’) as a definitive category of women outside the institution of marriage and bring it into the women’s movement. 
The motto of "Single but not alone," evolved by Jagori will only become a reality when there is concentrated and sustained effort by stakeholders at multiple levels and a strong mechanism to hold them accountable. 
Towards this end, this national consultation on single women aims to be a significant step towards addressing the unique challenges faced by single women in all their diversity in India.
---
Director, Jagori

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