WOMEN FOR WOMEN: ROLE OF NGOS AND LITERATURE IN
EMPOWERING WOMEN IN THE THIRD WORLD
PadamPreet Kaur , Research Scholar, Department of English, Punjabi University
Democracy implies equality to all human beings irrespective of race, gender or class. As against this notion of democracy what is normally seen is that women are excluded from different walks of life especially in patriarchal societies. The following research paper deals with the present condition of subdued women particularly from Asian and North African countries. They are emerging out and breaking their silences with the help of other educated women or creative writers. The literature and nongovernmental organizations help to empower these women by giving emotional support as well as educate them to be independent.
The lives and experiences of Asian and North African women living under the pressure of stringent cultures/communities have been under the spotlight for quite some time now. As the victims of the rooted patriarchal systems within their communities, these women continue to live under the shadows of civil wars, foreign intrusions and invasions, which make their lives more precarious. These discords have led to the exposure of enshrouded women to the other world where they get chance to emerge and speak.
The women in the war torn countries are standing at the cross roads while struggling to create a new identity. The exposure and awareness of their position in the world has come through the disruptions in the third world countries like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and many more, thus making the situation complicated for them. They are subjected to all forms of physical, sexual and psychological violence. Besides battering the lives of aboriginal women, these incursions have also exhibited them to the ‘world outside’ through Nongovernmental Organisations which offer to provide humanitarian assistance and organize awareness workshops to assist them to withstand their traumas. These NGOs try their best to play a significant role in backing women in reconstruction, reconciliation and rehabilitation even in the face of the hidden agendas that often render these organizations to fall short in their goals.
A coterie of women from the well meaning and humanitarian Non Governmental Organisations, having themselves survived wars or exile due to civil disputes have been striving to channelize their experiences into helping the women of the war torn countries to define themselves in the light of new exposures. However, there has always been much more to be handled than what appears on the surface. Nonetheless a plethora of NGOs like Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), Asuda, Women for Women International, Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange (WICCE), Voice of Women Organisation (VWO), Women without Borders, Egyptian Feminist Union and Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) have to quite an extent sparked awareness among women and called on them to congregate for their rights.
The main objective of these NGOs has been to mobilize women to change their lives by holistically addressing the unique needs of women in conflict and post-conflict environments, with the assistance and help of European and American women. The focus is on despondent women to unfold their faculties, to discover their own truth as individuals and further to evaluate their own possibilities. Though NGOs try their best to assuage the agony of women, there are hidden agendas that need to be interrogated as even these organisations often fall short in their goals. They can’t cross the theoretical boundaries as they have to work within the strictures of the Coalition Authorities that are often resisted by the target patriarchal societies in the pretext of the social fabric. The ‘honour’ question amongst the communities to which target women belong is often the orbit which the most well meaning NGO workers cannot break through. Usually denial and fear of social rejection prevent women from seeking help. Not many women raise their voices against dishonour due to the fear of rejection in public.
The transformation of silence into language is an act of self-revelation which is not always an easy and acceptable process in the lives of all women. The word/language initiates a reversal of voice being controlled by the reins of patriarchal oppression. Glancing back into the history of the Third World, not many among the developing countries could enable the ‘voices’ of their women to be heard and to reach out to the fast developing world. The subdued women of the Third World didn’t have the social and educational means to express themselves beyond the borders of their own countries. Especially in the patriarchal societies, from the moment of birth to the moment of death, women have been cast into the roles which are rigidly defined and there is no opportunity to ‘grow out of’ or ‘grow beyond’ them.
However, during the mid of 20th century some of the educated women highlighted the plight that they faced in their societies and scrutinized their own subordination through their writings. This was an attempt to raise ‘the women question’ but their voices failed to evoke any fruitful movements. Though feminist movements in Asian, Middle East and African countries have been initiated in the 20th century, these movements are not identical in nature due to different political and cultural situations.
Literature provides a great assistance as writing not only pulls the women story tellers out of anonymity but it also proclaims voice, visibility and mobility afforded by and through writing and right of access to writing. Impressive corpuses of paper, periodicals, articles and literary works are in the process of consistent production and publishing and have been appearing in a bulk for the last few decades. Women behind the veils belonging to the Asian and African continents have lately drawn the attention of writers and publishers worldwide. Over the previous few years, there has been an influx of popular narratives in the West by these women, which show some promise to unravel the situation and unmask their lives. Titles and covers, blurbs and promotions for those books often draw on the notions of silence, veiling and unveiling, oppression and imprisonment and highlight acute difference between the women over the world.
Memoirs or autobiographies by women in literature are the stories of violence, terror and repression as well as narratives of emigration and exile. These narratives enable one to express how a woman endures an invasion of self, the intrusion of inner space and a violation of her sexual and physical autonomy. These Memoirs have challenged the dominant image of subjugated women of the third world at two levels: at one level is a woman, also an articulate writer, who sees and talks about the problems of women in her society; at another level, is the depiction of women who refuses to remain silent and oppressed when faced oppressive forces. Therefore these memoirs portray women’s societies as black and white and devoid of any complexity. These memoirs, when compare and contrast with each other offers insights into alternative representations of the third world women, challenging the monolithic descriptions of identity.
The ‘native voices’ of women are either heard directly through the narratives/memoirs assertively articulated by the ‘silenced’ women or through a mediating assistance in the writings by the western women who make an attempt to bridge the gaps between a ‘silence’, the ‘voice’ and the publication. The texts like Disfigured: A Saudi Woman’s Story of Triumph over Violence (2009) by Raina Al-Baz; Infidel: My Life (2007) by Ayaan Hirsi Ali ; Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadows of Saddam (2005) by Zainab Salbi and Laurie Becklund; Memoirs from the Women’s Prison (1986) by Nawal El Saadawi are direct expression by these women who themselves narrate their woes. On the other sides, texts like I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced (2010) by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui; In the Name of Honour (2007) by Mukhtar Mai; Mayada, Daughter of Iraq: One Woman’s Survival under Saddam Hussein (2003) by Jean Sasson; Aman: The Story of a Somali Girl (1994) by Virginia Lee Barnes and Janice Boddy are the expression given by the western women.
The central metaphor in these narratives is ‘voice’. The emphasis is on the way humans construct and reconstruct themselves through language. It is through discourse and dialogue that meaning is interpreted. The study of the narratives/memoirs aims to look into the autobiographical expressions of the women who are stirred by the experiences of dislocations, transcendence of physical and cultural borders, in the light of the global developments. The select narratives portray the traumas of women narrators as an individual as well as their societies.
Employing a broad, interdisciplinary perspective, the proposed paper questions the long stereotyped acceptance and reconciliation of women in the countries where a process of gender construction is in constant turmoil and upheaval. An examination of complex relationship between ‘the silences’ and ‘the voices’ would pore over the developments of identities including gender, class and ethnicity in the directly or indirectly Occupied territories of the Asia and North Africa. This is where relationships between gender and power associations are unvaryingly contested and re-negotiated between nations and between men and women.
To sum up other than the mentioned narratives and memoirs, there are achievements by the transnational/transcultural women that are rapidly growing and attracting the wide attention. Number of women like Haifaa Al Mansour, Amani Mustafa, Malalai Joya, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Malala have been emerging and using various resources like Media and Literature to highlight their dilemmas; thus becoming not only visible but conspicuous by their attainments to the world. Moreover, the narratives of Asian and North African women portray that they are no longer passive recipient. They have capacity to act and also participate in the development process to improve and create a new identity for themselves.
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Ali, Nujood and Delphine Minoui. I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. Trans. Linda Coverdale. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2010.
Al-Baz, Raina. Disfigured: A Saudi Woman’s Story of Triumph over Violence. Trans. Catherine Spencer. Northampton: Olive Branch Press, 2009.
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