The evolution of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS) can be traced to the emergence of the women’s movement in India in the mid-1970s and the publication of Towards Equality in 1975, the path-breaking report of the government’s national Committee on the Status of Women in India.
In 1974 the SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai, set up the first university research centre for women’s studies. Later, the Institute for Social Studies Trust (ISST), New Delhi, and the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), New Delhi, were started. The Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) also called for new research on the social and economic conditions of women. Inspired by the transformative goals of the women’s movement, women’s studies shared the critical trans-disciplinary perspective of feminist theory and the core concepts of patriarchy, the sexual division of labour, gender and power. With women’s studies being recognised as a politically significant activity in the quest for equality, some of the pioneers got together to organise the first National Conference on Women’s Studies in 1981 at SNDT University, Mumbai. This historic conference viewed women’s studies as a ‘critical perspective’ that needed to be integrated into all disciplines and recognised the need for universities to focus on the women’s question through research, teaching and engagement in activities. 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 official founding members of IAWS, most of whom formed the first Executive Committee, were the late Dr. Madhuri Shah (then Chairperson, UGC), Dr. Hemlatha Swarup (then VC, Kanpur University), Dr Jyoti Trvedi (then VC, SNDT Women’s University), the late Dr. Phulrenu Guha (Kolkata), Prof. Lotika Sarkar (New Delhi), Dr. Devaki Jain (founder-Director, ISST, New Delhi), Prof. Neera Desai (then Director, Research Unit on Women’s Studies, SNDT) and Dr. Vina Mazumdar (founder-Director, CWDS, New Delhi). Dr D Shankar Narayan (then Additional Secretary UGC) represented the government.
IAWS is a professional association that aims to further women’s studies as an interdisciplinary academic field concerned with women, feminism and the politics of gender and also to further women’s studies perspectives in different disciplines within and beyond educational institutions. IAWS is governed by its Constitution and registered under the Registrar of Societies, New Delhi. It is voluntarily managed by an elected Executive Committee. Members include academics, researchers, students, activists, social workers, media persons and others, women and men. IAWS completed 35 years in 2017