Evolution of the IAWS
The formation of the IAWS can be traced back to the resurgence of the women’s movement in India in the mid-1970s and the publication of Towards Equality, the path-breaking report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India (CSWI) set up by the Government of India prior to the First UN World Conference of Women held in Mexico, in 1975. Several social scientists and academicians in India were associated with the CSWI process, many of whom chose to develop initiatives in the field of Women’s Studies. The SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai, set up a Research Unit on Women in 1974, and the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) set up a Women’s Studies Unit in the mid- 1970s, to facilitate research focusing on women through Fellowships/ grants. The early 1980s saw the setting up of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS) and the Institute for Social Studies Trust (ISST) in New Delhi. Several of the pioneers came together to organise the first National Conference on Women’s Studies in 1981, held at SNDT University, Mumbai. This historic conference identified women’s studies as a ‘critical perspective’ to be integrated into all disciplines and the need for universities to initiate activities focusing on women’s struggle for equality in independent India through research, teaching and other interactive platforms. To further these aims, the conference resolved to set up the Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS) which was registered as a membership-based organisation in 1982. The SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai and CWDS, New Delhi are Founding institutions of the IAWS.
Inspired by the transformative goals of the women’s movement, women’s studies has emerged both as a separate discipline, taught at the level of Masters and research/ Doctoral studies, as well as to critical trans-disciplinary perspectives to understand the gendered nature of hierarchies, discrimination, exclusion and marginality in historical and contemporary contexts. It has contributed significantly to debates on conceptual frameworks and feminist theory to advance critical perspectives on patriarchy, the sexual division of labour, gender and the axis of power as also the intersection of these with caste, class, region, religion and ethnicity. It has emerged as a critical lens to understand the ideological and political underpinnings of the challenges faced by movements for equality, democracy and social change from secular democratic perspectives.
The official founding members of the IAWS, most of whom were also on the first Executive Committee, included Dr. Madhuri Shah (then Chairperson, UGC), Dr. Hemlata Swarup (then VC, Kanpur University), Dr Jyoti Trivedi (then VC, SNDT Women’s University), Dr. Phulrenu Guha (Former Minister/ Chair, CSWI) , Prof. Lotika Sarkar (Dean, Law Faculty, Univ. of Delhi), Dr. Devaki Jain (Founder-Director, ISST, New Delhi), Prof. Neera Desai ( Director, Research Unit on Women, SNDT), Prof. Vina Mazumdar (Founder-Director, CWDS, New Delhi / Member Secretary, CSWI). Dr D Shankar Narayan (then Additional Secretary UGC)
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IAWS has emerged as a premier professional association that aims to further women’s studies as an interdisciplinary academic field concerned with women, the politics of women’s studies and the women’s movement, feminism and gender. It undertakes independent and collaborative activities with Universities, Women’s Studies Centres and other institutions/ organisations to promote discussion on women in emerging fields including the fields of citizenship, legal rights and environment.
The IAWS is governed by its Constitution. It has built up its own archives, which is housed at the SNDT, Mumbai while its financial secretariat is housed in the CWDS, New Delhi. Its activities are coordinated by an Executive Committee, elected every three years by its members and organises a National Conference every three years alongside regional workshops and other research based activities.