For women, by women, of women

Jun 06, 2012, 06:54 IST | Sudeshna Chowdhury

In a unique initiative, an all-women's forum to deal with problems faced by women in housing societies has been formed in Mumbai. The aim of the organization is to empower women and make them aware of their rights

Be it aggrieved tenants vs bullying builders or committee members vs owners—in a city like Mumbai, problems related to housing societies can be quite serious and complex. While various activists and forums in the city which fight for tenancy and ownership rights already exist; in a unique initiative, an all-women’s forum to deal with problems faced by women in housing societies, has been formed. A woman with housing society related issues can approach the forum for help.

Illustration/Amit Bandre

“This women’s group in a man’s domain intends to arm women with knowledge and help them to fight for their rights,” said Pearl Goswami, one of the coordinators, who claims to have faced harassment from members of the Managing Committee (MC) at her housing society in Marine Drive. “It was due to my sheer will power that I fought with the committee members for my rights. I had issues with the parking, etcetera, but I was aware of the laws. Therefore, no one could fool me. I went to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) with my complaints and even fought court cases. Not everyone has the funds or the time to pursue housing related issues relentlessly. So few of us got together and decided that an organization should be in place to specifically look at issues that women face in a housing society,” added Goswami.

Determined: Pearl Goswami, one of the coordinators. Pic/ Pradeep Dhivar

The group consisting of 45 members intends to later form a Non Governmental Organization (NGO). The MC at present consists of seven members. The objective of the group is to encourage greater participation of women in housing society related issues. Shahnaz Kader, one of the coordinators, explained, “Women can express their view points, voice their grievances and we will help them solve their problems. We will have discussions and take valuable legal advice and guidance from various activists and the Right to Information (RTI) Union forum to solve their problems.”

JB Patel, who is on the advisory committee of the forum believes that the bigger aim of the forum is to create, “mass awareness about irregularities in housing societies. The forum will ensure that members of MCs do not take women for granted. Members of MCs will realize that women too are capable of actively taking part in housing related issues.” Patel, who is also a housing society activist, believes that the forum will help to, “drive home the point of equality.” Such a forum is important because, “typically most women keep away from the MCs. This could be due to ignorance or domestic pressure. Under bye law number 115, atleast one woman is required to be on the MC of any housing society. However due to indirect threats, intimidation or sheer apathy, this condition remains unfulfilled in most housing societies of Mumbai.”

Sunita Godbole, one of the coordinators who is also a Cooperative Housing Society (CHS) and RTI activist further added, “As per the byelaws, if the strength of the MC is not more than nine, then at least one seat on the committee should be reserved for women. If a committee has 10-19 members, then at least two seats must be reserved for women. If a committee has 20 members or more than that, then at least three seats should be reserved for women.”

The first meeting of the forum, which was held on May 26 at Versova, saw participation from about 60 women. Coordinators say that more and more women are coming forward to join the forum. The forum will consist of CHS activists and legal experts in housing related issues. “We have legal experts in our team who will look into the grievances that come to us. We will then try to solve the issue within the Framework of the Maharashtra Housing Society Act,” said Godbole. Kader elaborates, “First, we will form an NGO. There will be seven members on the advisory committee. The committee will then scrutinize and prioritise complaints/grievances. We will then make a list of genuine complaints. After this we will write letters to the departments concerned seeking an appointment,” said Kader.

The coordinators intend to make this forum an all India organization. “Membership is not restricted to specific areas. The forum is for women from all over the country. Women in service, professionals in the field of law and those who have knowledge of the various laws and byelaws can actively take part in the functioning of the forum. Even men can support us in our cause. The aim is to empower women with the knowledge that is required for a just and honourable society,” said Patel, who feels that women, as committee members will be more efficient than men. “Women are more sympathetic towards family needs and demands. As committee members too, they will efficiently deal with problems related to the society,” said Patel.

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