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Is our culture detrimental to women empowerment?

, March 29, 2022, 0 Comments

In today’s world when women have entered and accomplished successes in every field starting from politics to armed forces, from entrepreneurship to games, we can’t call “Nari as Abla”. Indian women have broken the patriarchal norms and established themselves even in so-called male-dominated fields. So many Indian women have bagged their positions in the world’s most powerful women list that “what women can do” has become a redundant question.

But still now, in most parts of our country, women have been given limited opportunities in education, in career choice or given very less liberty in the name of our “Sanskar”.  This made me rethink and realise the need to critically investigate whether our age-old “Sanskar” is detrimental and acts against women’s liberalisation. This article is not a feminist’s voice neither a slogan on NariMukti; nor a protest against our traditional practices. Rather it is an attempt to analyse the root causes which left the women behind.

Sanskar No #1: Women are responsible for household chores

In our traditional culture men were considered bread earners whereas women should sit at home and be involved in domestic work. This age-old taboo has been broken by many Indian women who have made their way in all walks of life and granted equal status with men. Mostly either the girl or her family members have to come forward to break the stereotype. I was fascinated when I read the interview of a successful cab driver in the newspaper on Women’s Day. G Uma, the cabby said that her brother taught her driving with her parents’ support, especially moral support by her father (TOI, Bengaluru, March 8, 2022). This reminds me of my early days when my father used to encourage me in studies saying that girls are not meant for only household chores. Therefore, it is not the tradition but the desire of a girl or her family who can uplift and emancipate the status of women.

Sanskar No #2: Kanya Daan is the biggest daan 

In a typical Indian family, when a baby boy is born relatives and friends pray for his long life and success, whereas for a girl baby the most common “Ashirwad” is about to get her a good match. Till today, we can observe that rituals and charms are conducted to ensure the birth of a son in preference to that of a daughter. “Kanya” or girl was considered as a donation like other wealth and till today people are accustomed to thinking “Kanyadaan is the biggest Daan”. Whereas our history indicates that girls were entitled to education and many women like Gargi, LopaMudra or Maytree became renowned scholars. In fact, in Sama Veda, it was mentioned that the birth of a talented daughter was preferred to that of a son. She had the right to choose her life partner, especially in the well to do societies. So, the crux is “well to do” or the financial status of the girl or her family. The education and financial independence of a woman will ensure the changes. Time has come to rethink and to shed the light on the harsh obstacles and break the stereotype. “Sanskar” can’t be blamed alone, as a society we have to fight together to break the prejudices.

Sanskar No # 3: Patriarchy-Men are the decision-maker 

Surprisingly till in the 21st Century, many educated people propounded the theory of patriarchy saying that in the family male members are the primary decision-makers and women should play the role of subordinates. This sounds very orthodox and backdated whereas this practice still prevails in many so-called educated families, not often written in black and white. I can quote a recent incident that supports that the drawn line of hierarchy and authority among males and females is practised in many families till today.  In a recent get together one of my friends commented that in your Bong (Bengali) culture, you worship Goddess Durga and the wife dominates her husband. Before I said anything, to my surprise, the answer came from my husband. He argued that we don’t follow patriarchy and decisions are taken jointly in a family. Since this is not a common scenario in many others where a male member predominates decision making, it gives an impression of female domination. Are we not ready to accept that all family members should live, work and decide together to prosper and live in harmony and break the monotony?

Sanskar No # 4: Women can’t be the top leader

People from so-called progressive countries like Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US, are still not comfortable accepting that men and women are equally suitable for a leadership position.  Obviously, in India, we are far from utilizing the talent of our half population to lead in all walks of life. Still, in family-run businesses, women are not naturally selected as descendants. Reality is empathy, patience, humility, emotional intelligence, willingness to listen, some good qualities to be a leader are found in women more than men. All these qualities are taught to a girl child as a part of our traditional culture. This gender schema is now changing slowly. In November 2020, the election of Kamala Harris as Vice President of the USA has reached a milestone and disproved the bias against women-leadership. The other day, I was elated when my male supervisor wished me luck and encouraged me to lead in the education space. Time is changing and it is observed frequently that leaders are selected based on merit, competency and talent.

In a nutshell, “Sanskar”  can’t be blamed alone for the denied access to all the freedom and opportunities that men enjoy. Women have to come forward to grab the opportunity to regulate their day to day lives and enhance their position in society. All the best minds need to work together to achieve gender equality.