Women and children in women-headed families are often the victims of poverty, crime and violence. Experts call for psychological, legal, economic and social empowerment of single women to save them from exploitation and abuse.
A two-day national workshop focusing on issues and difficulties faced by women-headed families, sponsored by the National Commission for Women, was held at the Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham from June 14-15, 2016. Over a dozen academicians, lawyers and women rights activists assembled under one roof to address issues such as economic, social and psychological consequences of women-headed families in the Indian context, crime and violence against women and children in such families, and the role of the Government, NGOs and corporate world in their empowerment. The recommendations from the workshop will be submitted to the National Commission for Women to help the Indian Government formulate policies to support families headed by single women.
Delivering the welcome address,Dr. Sasangan Ramanathan, Dean, Amrita School of Engineering, Coimbatore, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, said: “This two-day national workshop aims to bring together under one roof various stakeholders from all over India, working for women’s development. I am confident that it will have a lot of deliberations and brainstorming, which will help foster a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of single-women headed families in India.”
Lalitha Kumaramangalam, Chairperson, National Commission for Women, was the Chief Guest while Swarnalatha J., Managing Trustee of the Coimbatore-based Swarga Foundation, was the Special Invitee.
Other distinguished speakers included Dr. P. Madhava Soma Sundaram, Head, Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice, ManonmaniamSundaranar University; Dr. A. Shahin Sultana, Head, Department of Social Work, Pondicherry University; M. Vennila, Advocate, Family Court, Coimbatore; Bagirathi Ramanathan, Founder, Wellbeing Foundation; and Dr. Meera Krishna, Director, Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development (CORD).
Delivering the inaugural address at the workshop, Lalitha Kumaramangalam, Chairperson, National Commission for Women, said: “India is witnessing a rise in the number of families headed by women. These families lack financial resources because of the low earning capacity of single mothers, absence of child support and meagre public benefits. In Indian society, there is a stigma attached to single women. Their identity is associated with that of their husband, so they suffer from a feeling of worthlessness and loss of identity after divorce or widowhood. The responsibility to take care of children and elderly members creates stress and health problems for them. Ineffective parenting and limited parental contact, such as father’s absence, is a huge disadvantage for children in single-mother families.”
Prof. P. Madhava Soma Sundaram, Head, Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice, MS University, Tirunelveli, explained, “Though feminization of the household headship in India is not a new phenomenon, it is increasing. Comparison of 2001 data with 2015 reveals that one out of every 200 families in the country is getting transformed into a female-headed family (FHF). As per the latest census, seven states in India have more than 20% FHF, including Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Gujarat. The reasons for this is increasing divorce/separation, death of husband, abandonment of women, and prolonged migration of husbands. In FHH, the family dynamics change, with financial repercussions, psycho-physiological impact such as increased stress/anxiety, problems in parenting, and issues in acceptance/ recognition. Women have to discharge multiple roles like the provider, protector and decision maker. In female-headed families, women and children often become the victims of crime due to vulnerability. Such families with limited economic resources may be at heightened risk of vulnerability, if they do not receive economic help during times of need. Government assistance is required to improve the economic status of low income female-headed families and protect them from abuse.”
Striking a strong note for single-women to be provided psychological help first and foremost, Dr. Suja M. K., Chairperson, Department of Social Work, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, stated: “Social Issues faced by single women in our society are manifold. They are often isolated and blamed for their single-women status. Many are educated, but not empowered. They still submit themselves to domestic violence and other forms of discrimination just because they are women and society expects them to be tolerant towards such misconduct. They are victims of sexual harassment which often happens within the four walls of their home. Their voices are seldom heard. The solution is to support such women with counselling and psycho-social care so that they become mentally strong. Giving other benefits like economic and legal empowerment without first providing psycho-social care is like putting money into a torn pocket. It just drains out. This national workshop would help formulate a policy framework that would benefit single women in combating the various issues faced by them.”