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Women Should be Younger than Their Husbands and Other Lessons of Patriarchy

Men and women alike internalise gender discrimination. Is there a way to unlearn patriarchy?

Saket is in middle school. But he’s very sure of the reason behind the difference in legal marriageable age of women (18) and men (21). “It is so that women can’t dominate us,” he says with a straight face. Community Correspondent Reena Ramteke interviewed men and women in her community in rural Chhatisgarh across age groups trying to understand how gender discrimination becomes reinforced through socialisation and everyday practices. The result is an engaging melange of opinion that reinforces but also challenges patriarchy.

Fourteen year old Heena has no restrictions on going out. “But, yes, I always have to inform my folks when I am going out,” she says. Reena astutely asks her if her younger brother also has to do the same. Heena shakes her head with a smile: “No.” Saket is even more sure about women’s ‘roles’. “They cannot work outside. They have to stay at home.” It is telling that even young boys feel certain about the hierarchy between men and women. It is no wonder then that older men, like  Deepak, who is in his thirties, feels comfortable saying that “If there’s a community meeting in the village, we can attend it. But women aren’t allowed.” This in a country where a 50% reservation for women in village panchayats is being contemplated.

Fifty-year-old Koulya Devi is certain about women’s place at home. When Reena asks her what happens if a person is unhappy about these differences, she is almost aggressive: “She has to swallow her grievances and keep quiet.” Ever the astute interviewer, Reena gently probes further, “Who teaches us to follow these roles?” “Our very soul, God teaches us!” replies the quinquagenarian.

These people, men and women, teenagers and senior citizens, are not reprobate monsters of inequity–they are normal people going about their daily lives. How is it that they so strongly support oppression of women. “They are only saying what they have seen, heard and imbibed: in their families, neighbourhood, in the society around them,” says Reena. But it is not entirely hopeless. Saket is also equally sure that men and women are equal and should have equal rights. Tikeshwari Sen, married and in her thirties, tells Reena “On the one hand we keep talking about women’s empowerment but we don’t even let women step out of the house.” Reena is hopeful of the possibility of change. “It is a long-term process. To make them unlearn the lessons of patriarchy, teaching about equality has to start from the homes themselves.” As Tikeshwari says “Nothing will change until women come together and show respect to each other.” Here’s to hoping for sisterhoods of solidarity that changes the status quo!

Article by Madhura Chakraborty

 

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