In 1999, activists and development professionals in India got together to discuss what they saw as a glaring gap: the lack of prominent feminist voices. They decided they had to do something about it and began planning an organization that would foster and provide a platform in India for these voices, particularly focused on sexuality and reproductive health and rights. In 2000 Geetanjali Misra and Pramada Menon founded CREA (Creating Resources for Empowerment in Action) with three main goals: to explore issues of gender and sexuality from a human rights perspective; to expand communication between countries in the Global South around these issues; and to foster a new generation of feminist leaders in organizations.
Today, CREA looks at the intersections of reproductive health, sexuality, and human rights, advancing dialogue on issues like preventing gender-based violence and meeting the needs of women and girls with disabilities.
CREA is one of the few international women’s rights organizations based in the global South, led by Southern feminists, which works at the grassroots, national, regional, and international levels. It was also one of the first organizations to bridge both the women’s movement and the fight for LGBTI rights.
CREA builds feminist leadership, advances women’s human rights, and expands sexual and reproductive freedoms.
In many ways, CREA is best known for its "Institutes," short-term courses and trainings that strengthen the feminist movement and build collective power for social transformation. CREA aims to increase women's and girls' self-confidence, leadership, and knowledge of sexuality and human rights. They do this by cultivating critical thinking and empowering individuals to make their own decisions, exert control over their bodies, and demand their rights. Ms. Misra has said, “We never gave them answers. We just rattled up their minds.”
These Institutes are conducted throughout India and South and Southeast Asia, as well as in East Africa and the Middle East. They bring together women, advocates, and others from different walks of life to talk about issues related to sexuality, reproductive health, gender, rights, feminist leadership, and movement-building. More than 1500 activists and researchers from over 50 countries have participated in CREA’s highly reputed institutes, study tours, and exchange programs. "Donors who have taken part [in the trainings] have told me they changed the way they fund," said Ms. Misra. "Researchers have changed their research questions. Media people have told me, 'I never thought of including this in my radio program before.'"
The impact of these trainings extends from the professional to the personal, with attendees reporting powerful transformations: "Looking at sexuality, gender, and rights from different perspectives has made me personally feel more a human, less a ‘woman,’ and professionally stronger to explain sexuality, gender, and rights," said one Institute participant.
Because they promote and facilitate dialogue on topics that are highly taboo in Indian society, CREA has faced backlash from communities, fundamentalist and religious groups, and certain politicians. Over the years, they've also confronted bad policies and achieved policy wins, including Section 377 of the Indian Penal code, which criminalizes homosexuality. This section was declared unconstitutional by Delhi's high court in 2009. Four years later, India's Supreme Court overturned this decision, and the section still stands.
While advocating for change at the policy and social levels is a long and challenging road, some results are more immediate. "We've really created a cohort of practitioners at the global level and in India that work on sexuality, gender, and rights in a much more careful way," said Ms. Misra. "They bring the affirmative side of human rights to the work on sexuality and gender."