Who is the boss here?12 Jul 2010, by Uncategorized in
One of the major goals of the jewelry program is to help facilitate financial independence for the girls and women who work with us. We invest in them with skills, training, and income. They dedicate themselves to learning and developing their impressive talents so that they have the skills needed to secure a good income for themselves.
This goal is both reasonable and admirable. But, to tell you the truth, I have a much larger dream for this program and for these women. It is my hope that financial independence will be a step towards a more holistic independence. Even if they are able to pay their own bills, these women still may not be treated as truly independent people. For example, when opening a back account, signing a lease, etc. women in India are made to include the name of either their husband or father. The fact that women are often treated as second class citizens is no secret here. To put it simply, women are not expected to be independent citizens. They are expected to be wives and daughters and sisters, but not independent women. What bothers me most about that is the fact that when you look deeper, it also becomes obvious that the women are the pillars of society. Without them, society would fall apart. For starters, no one would be fed. Laundry would never be done. Dishes would never be washed. Houses would never be cleaned. Children would not be cared for.
So, how is it that the very people who hold together these families are the ones most exploited? Well, such exploitation is woven into traditional family roles. Drunkenness, abuse, and neglect is acceptable behavior for men in many families. The women, on the other hand, are expected to selflessly serve the family regardless of how under-appreciated or even abused they are. Take for example, the daily routine of one of the women I work with. She wakes every morning at 4 am to prepare breakfast and lunch for the whole family and then send the children off to school. After ensuring everything in the house is in order and caring for her ill mother-in-law, she comes to work. Upon returning home, she cares for the children, tutors village kids who can’t afford to go to school, cleans the house, and cooks dinner. Despite all this hard work, she still has to put up with emotional and sometimes physical abuse from many family members. Societal customs restrict her from demanding that the men also help out or refusing to put up with abuse. Because of all the messages she received growing up about the role of a good wife and woman, it is difficult for her to understand that she is an incredible and talented individual who should never have to live with such restrictions.
I think the Jewelry Program has the power to help her see her own potential and recognize her rights. Through her creative work, she can see that she has the ability to produce things of value entirely on her own. I hope that this installs in her a confidence that will allow her to assert her independence. No doubt, it will be a long and hard fight. The fruits of her struggle for women’s rights are more likely to be seen in her daughter’s and granddaughter’s lives than her own. But, she has the power and the support needed to fight for the rights of Indian women, including herself. If only she had the confidence to see that.
One rather amusing conversation recently illuminated a growing confidence in her. She often helps me learn new Hindi words. I was asking about the difference between two words that both mean “home”. She mentioned that one of these words, makaan, can be combined with malik (boss) to mean either landlord or “boss of the house”. With a sly grin, she declared, “In my makaan, I am the malik!” I smiled and told her that she most certainly was.