The Nagaland State Commission for Women (NSCW) advocated redefining the Naga customary laws from a gender perspective.
NSCW chairperson Dr Temsula Ao said this can be done by re-doing or changing the existing entity or concept of the customary laws to give it a new meaning in the current context.
She was speaking at the launching programme of “16-days of activism against gender-based violence”, organised by the NSCW on the theme “End Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work” at its office in Kohima on Saturday.
Ao proposed redefining the existing Naga customary laws with special focus on women’s acceptance into village councils, town committees and the legislative Assembly and equal inheritance of parental property for women.
However, the state women commission chief said redefining the Naga customary laws does not mean abolishing them.
She pointed out that the Naga women are still struggling to find their place in decision-making bodies and in inheritance of parental properties despite the general assumption that there is no gender discrimination in the patriarchal Naga society.
Ao also expressed reservation whether the orientations advocated by NGO pressure groups or even the government’s ostentatious efforts to promote gender-equality through adopting concepts like gender budgeting and gender-safe working environments in work places could change the situation of women in the Naga society.
“Whatever be the results of such efforts, they will be superficial at best because the core of gender-discrimination lies at the very heart of customary laws which direct and govern Naga life even in the twenty-first century,” she said.
Ao said the NSCW had initiated dialogues with the apex bodies of all the tribes in order to facilitate the process of giving the women shares of the parental property. However, it remained “half done”, she lamented.
She stressed that it is imperative that redefining customary laws must begin from within the patriarchal set-up “who are the custodians of the laws as the fundamental discriminations against women are enshrined in these very laws”.
She also reminded that the NSCW’s approach was of dialogue and not confrontation. “We do not want to challenge or upset the customary laws which form the bedrock of Naga society,” Ao said.
She hoped that the Naga women, even after “accepting” their status as “subordinate” or “secondary”, would be able to achieve what they envisaged even if it takes years.
Secretary, department of social welfare, Sarah R. Ritse said gender-based violence was posing a great hindrance to achieving gender equality. She pointed out that the number of crimes against women was on the rise in Nagaland even though the state was considered one of the safest states for them.
She underscored the need for a collective responsibility by men and institutions such as schools and colleges and religious institutions like churches to address this issue together.