Were you made to drop out of school when you started menstruating?
Did your parents get you married when you were 18?
What about being told to not work or to quit your job lest you become undesirable to potential in-laws?
For many of you, these may be unlikely or unrealistic scenarios. But for millions of girls and women in India, this is their reality. Before even turning 18, the lives of all these adolescents would have been predetermined. And when they do disobey the will of their families or communities when carving out their paths, they often have to face dire consequences.
When you were a young woman, did your parents save up money for your higher studies, or was it for your dowry?
From being dropped out of schools to being discouraged from pursuing higher education or a job, many an Indian woman’s independence is compromised.
Most individuals seek to become financially independent in the present day and age. This often translates to being able to pay for one’s needs and wants. Why is such a thing denied or seen as undesirable when the individual is a woman?
Even when there are thousands of young women graduating and entering the workforce in today’s India, why are parents still more concerned about saving enough to ensure that their daughter’s worth meets the whimsical calculations of potential in-laws rather than make sure that she can stand on her own two feet?
Young women aspiring for jobs often have to make career choices tailored around mobility and safety even when we have robust and affordable public transport systems. Single working women often struggle to find housing if they shift out of their hometowns for work as people are reluctant to rent out to women who are or seem single or independent.
All of the above are inevitable yet wholly unnecessary barriers to an individual’s path to economic freedom. Is it too much to ask to want to become self-sufficient – just because you happen to be a woman?
To erase all these problems, we need individual perseverance and a concerted effort at the community level. VOICE has been intervening with this vision in mind by teaching adolescents about their right to education, rights against dowry and child marriage, critical information on puberty, mental health and career-and family-planning. In addition, imparting negotiation, advocacy and problem solving skills to adolescents have proven to be critical. Our adolescents are sharing the knowledge they gained within their communities and advocating for themselves or their peers if need be, whether it is by approaching the adults in their families, or their teachers or govt. officials. In addition, adolescent boys are also reflecting on gendered socialisation and working towards promoting gender equality in their communities. This way we create a generation which is aware of deep rooted gender biases in our society and will work towards uprooting it.
India celebrated its 75th Independence Day a few days ago. This year, let us work towards dismantling gender roles and expectations so that individuals of any gender have one less barrier to surmount. And maybe, by the 100th year of our Independence, gender based discrimination would become a thing of the past.