Ruth Manorama (India)


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“I have tremendous confidence in the capacity of the poor to transform not only their own lives but also to build a just, humane, and democratic society.”

Ruth Manorama (born 1952) grew up seeing her parents engaged in active social work. She has been consistently associated with a range of issues-the rights of slum dwellers, domestic workers, unorganized labor and Dalits’, and the empowerment of marginalized women. She sees the interconnectedness between these issues, and the common cause that marginalized people share the world over. Her work crosses the borders between grassroots movements, mass mobilization, and international movements.

Ruth Manorama began working with the urban poor-particularly slum dwellers-women workers, and domestic workers. The result was the birth of Women’s Voice, and the registration of the Bangalore Gruhakarmikara Sangha (domestic workers’ union). In 1988, a meeting of NGO leaders on NGO interventions provided the impetus for Ruth and like-minded people to set up initiatives, including Women in Development, one of the country’s premier gender and development training institutions. Ruth has also contributed enormously to mainstreaming Dalit issues, especially those of Dalit women. She realized that large, mass-based organizations were necessary to handle issues related to societal structures that affected vast areas. Thus was born the National Federation of Dalit Women. She was also closely associated with the mobilization of Dalits for the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, which put the issue on the international map. Ruth’s contribution also runs to breaking the upper-class, upper-caste image of India’s women’s movement. Her work on coordinating the south India chapter of the preparations for the Fourth UN World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 had a signal role to play in this. After returning to India, the advisory group decided that ten regional members of the task force would come together as the National Alliance of Women, with Ruth as president. “Whenever I feel discouraged or tired, one look at the dedication of the poor women to their families and society is enough to move me,” says Ruth. “I have tremendous confidence in the capacity of the poor to transform not only their own lives, but also to build a just, humane, and democratic society.”

National Alliance of Women National Federation of Dalit Women Women’s Voice

South Asia | India

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