Thank you to all my friends, colleagues and readers who took out precious time from their busy lives and read and commented on my articles. I have been posting some questions that I have been asking myself for sometime now, questions that perhaps we have stopped asking and about things that we have started normalizing. The idea behind asking these questions was not to find a solution, at least not at the beginning. It was perhaps to start asking the right questions and get conversations going. It was to make people (men and women) think about how we are living our lives and whether there could be a different way of living it?
You could say that I have grown up with reading, talking or hearing about women's rights since childhood. I came across many thinkers, change makers and even extreme feminists who spent their lives dedicated to empowering women. I have worked with organizations who work for women and run many interventions for women. I must say that all these efforts have definitely resulted in a change. More women are working, more women are literate, more women are enjoying freedom like never before. However, I have some concerns that I would like to voice out today
My first submission is that education and financial literacy (or independence) is necessary but not sufficient condition for women empowerment. Most of the interventions towards women and girl child focus on education and financial independence. It could be the "Beti bachao, beti padhao" andolan (Save the Girl Child, Educate the Girl child movement), the Self Help Group movement, the skill development programs or the Financial Literacy campaigns run by various organizations. And I will definitely say that they have worked. More and more girls are getting educated and thus the age of marriage is getting pushed ahead. With financial independence, you get a kind of confidence that you perhaps didn't have before. But does financial independence and education really helps women and girls take important decisions in their lives?
If that was the case, then issues like dowry, domestic violence, even the subtle kind of verbal abuse the women live with in their marriages, would have happened with women who are illiterate and not working. But you have lawyers, doctors, engineers and what not's who live with these kinds of problems. The women who live under immense amount of stress are women who have to juggle the responsibilities of home and office, alone. In most families dowry is still very much a part of marriage and most educated and working women turn a blind eye towards it and accept it. I personally know many highly educated women with high flying careers who are currently living in abusive marriages. I know many highly qualified women who truly believe that for a marriage to work, women have to make sacrifices.
Moreover, I have a problem with giving importance to financial independence. While the practical side of me realizes that if a woman decides to move out of a house (whether it's after marriage or before), she needs to be able to support herself. But I have seen many women who keep working after having children or after getting married so that they have some money that they can call 'their own'. And I wonder about those women, who, for whatever reasons don't work. Which money will they call their own? Why isn't the income earned by their husband, their own? Why does the women have to earn her own money to be able to call it hers? A man calls the house that he lives in, his own, despite the fact that he may not lift a finger to make it a home. But the house that you live in is the man's, the money earned by the man is his, then how is the responsibility of the home and marriage a woman's?
Most of these are very complex problems and there may not be easy solutions to it. While we need to start somewhere, and education and financial independence seem to be a good place to start with, I believe the time has come to pick up things a notch. Here are some of the things that I believe we can do to change things around us (and it doesn't need to be only women-women conversations)
Start with having conversations: you may know women around you who may be living in stress and who find it perfectly acceptable to be secondary people in their marriages. Have conversations with them. Share that there is another way of looking at things, and things don't have to be this way. Create spaces at workplace, homes and educational institutions for women to have such conversations. Most organizations have some kind of program organized for women's day. Usually (and with all due respect to the organizations), it's about some kind of skill or lecture on health and etc. Instead organize workshops where difficult questions are asked and conversations are had.
Ask Why: Many times we are told, this is how it is. It's time we start asking why? If you are told that women should be the one making sacrifices in marriage, ask why? If you are told that your needs come last, ask why? You may not always get an answer, but you will be asking the questions. And things may start changing.
Speak Up: For me this is the most important thing. Speak up. If your husband refuses to take care of the children on weekends so you could go out, speak up, Don't accept it as normal. BTW speak up doesn't always mean fight. You could also share your thoughts and feelings in a calm and non-judgmental, non-threatening manner. It is about saying "You know what, this doesn't make me feel loved/cared for, or this makes me feel unappreciated, unwanted". Most of the times, we wait for the last straw, before our emotions pour out as a volcano. Then it is seen as a tantrum and making a scene and the whole point is lost. Write about it, discuss about it at places that you feel safe discussing it, not as a way to vent out and complain, but as a means to find solutions.
These are some of the suggestions that I had. So my question for you today (boys and girls, men and women) is "Is education and financial independence enough or something more needs to happen? What could that 'something more' be?" I leave you with these questions, this thought and a wonderful quote by Mother Teresa.
P.S. Feminism, for me, is not about women being stronger than men, or women bullying men. It is about being able to fulfill your dreams without being judged, about living your life with dignity and respect and about finding happiness without having to compromise self identity.