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The Centre for Women’s Development Studies(CWDS) was established on 19th April 1980, in the middle of the International Women’s Decade,  by a group of m
en and women, who were involved in the preparation of the first ever comprehensive government report on the ‘Status of Women in India’ entitled‘Towards Equality’ (Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, (CSWI), Government of India) and who were later associated with the Women’s Studies Programme of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR). The Advisory Committee on Women's Studies of the ICSSR recommended the need for an autonomous institute to build on the knowledge already generated, but with a wider mandate and resources to expand its activities in research and action.  The recommendation was accepted by the ICSSR, and communicated to the Women’s Bureau of the  Ministry of Social Welfare, Government of India.  

A few months later, under the leadership of late Prof. J.P. Naik, the CWDS was registered under the Societies’ Registration Act, 1860  in New Delhi and started functioning since May 1980, with a small financial grant from the Vikram Sarabhai Foundation, under the Chairpersonship of Dr. Phulrenu Guha and Dr. Vina Mazumdar as the Director. 

In 1984-85, on the recommendation of a visiting committee appointed by the Indian Council of Social Science Research, CWDS began to receive an annual maintenance grant from the ICSSR and became recognised as one of the Research Institutes supported by ICSSR.