photo by TRUTH AND EYES COMMUNICATIONS (Nema Etebar)
By Gosia Wojcik, IDEX Fellow
I never really gave much thought to women’s issues. Sure, I knew about the choices a woman has to make about being a mother, a career woman, or both. I heard and thought about the feminist movement and gender inequality, but that did not concern me to a large extent. I knew about the differences between men and women, but I never thought of these differences as particularly restricting. I would not give up being a girl for the world!
Much of the reason for the way I think is the way I have been brought up. I was brought up in to not think about inequalities, not intentionally of course. We were two girls at home, my sister and I. My dad never wanted a boy, or at least he never let us know about it. We always felt loved and important—and very independent. In our upbringing, independence was the most important thing. Our dad didn’t want us to be vulnerable just because we were girls. We were taught to be able to be anything and everything, not to owe anything to anybody. We were not raised to be someone’s girlfriend or a housewife; we were raised to pay for ourselves, and to be strong and self-sufficient. “Men’s” world? Well, if it exists, certainly women are the rulers.
Upon my arrival in India, however, I was forced to think about gender inequalities as well as women’s role and position in the Indian society. Suddenly I was observing live all the issues I had learned about during my international development studies and read up on before I came to India to work at VOICE. Many women here don’t have choices. They are being suppressed, don’t get to be educated, and marry and have children way before they are ready for it. Everyday, when I leave home for work I see this girl. From her height, I would say that she is no older than 15 or16. She wears an oversized backpack, making her lean forward a lot; it looks like she would fall backward if she wasn’t doing that. She is no more than 16, and the other day, I found out that she was already married. Every time I think about her being married, I can’t help but think to myself, “Thank god she has a good husband who lets her finish school.” But, every time I think that, I hate the fact that early marriage and oppressive husbands are common realities in India.
It is beyond the scope of my imagination how strong this girl must be, how strong all Indian women grow up to become. They don’t show it publicly but, they survive their oppressive husbands and families. They know their strength; they know they are just as capable as man. But, without publicly standing up for themselves, the oppression and restrictions will continue.
I never really gave much though to women’s issues. I never did, but now, it’s all consuming. Women’s issues are more than just statistics – there are real girls and women facing daily obstacles just because they are a girl. Women’s issues are not just to be thought about or debated, they must be dealt with and solved, because communities cannot thrive without basic human rights for all humans. Women around the world must discover their strength and stand up for themselves, and the men must be educated to the importance of supporting women’s education, entrepreneurship, and power over her own body. For each woman who can actively stands up for herself, a piece of the oppressive patriarchy crumbles.