After I leave India, there will be things that I will never forget and then there are things that I don’t want to ever forget. On the top of the list of “things to remember” are the women I have met here along with the incredible challenges women face in India. As Americans celebrate Mother’s Day and the many women in their lives, I want to share some of the hardships that women in India face, and a few things I have observed and been inspired about:
- Married life in India for a woman is much different. For many women, marriage means you move out of your home and into your in-laws home. A woman shifts roles by doing many tasks and assignments that are given under the direction of her mother-in-law. You can then understand why there is concern from the bride’s parents that things feel good to them before marrying off their daughter. Among the more affluent and educated people, I see more nuclear households happening. Some that live with their in-laws choose to work outside the home telling me it has brought them relief to create a life out from under the scrutiny of their in-laws. For many women, there is constant pressure for the woman to keep her in-laws happy.
- Women work VERY hard here. If you walk through any community or neighborhood, I have observed that the women rarely get a break and they are constantly working. I see men sitting around everywhere, but never a woman. If the woman is married to a man and caste that is involved with building, she works just as hard, and just as long as the men, carrying bricks on her head, doing all sorts of manual labor while watching that toddler sit in the pile of dirt day after day until they move to the next work location. After dark, she starts her little fire on the sidewalk and cooks the dinner. I have never seen a man cook dinner over that fire. Our maid is the sole breadwinner of her family and has never been allowed to marry because her parents cannot lose her income. She has a brother that doesn’t work, a father and mother that are both frequently sick and unemployable so she provides the food on the table each day and the rent each month.
- Women are not treated with the same respect as men. This incredible country has had women leaders in the highest positions, have some of the brightest women I have met, and yet, they are often treated differently than men. One of the expressions I heard at the beginning that amused me was when I would talk with a mother who had a daughter and she would say, “I love her like a son.” It took me a while to figure out why she would express it that way, but have learned that she was stating that she placed as much value on that daughter as she would a son. Finding out the sex of an unborn baby is against the law here because so many people will abort a female fetus because it does not bring the same value to the family as a son. I have witnessed so many individuals trying to help the value of woman be elevated — ensuring there are educational opportunities for them, and skills to be learned so they find value and meaning personally. “Eve teasing” and rapes are a constant concern for women here in Delhi and many parents just will not let their daughters walk outside their homes after it gets darks for this reason. I have had some very frank discussions with educated, Indian women about this problem here and they have concurred that as hard as it is to admit, it really comes down to women still being looked at as a piece of property instead of an individual.
Women are the same around the world — they love their children, they love their families and they have an innate ability to want to nurture and help others. I have been amazed at the women here in India that I have met that have sought after those feelings inside to help those less fortunate around them. Founders of non-profits that have battled social norms to better society for individuals that are cast off and thought less of due to birth defects and disabilities. They will often tell me, “how could I live with myself, if I didn’t help them.” I love the spirit of the Indian woman who has an alcoholic husband, is beaten, yet still smiles every time I talk to her, is working hard to ensure her children get an education and make her little home as nice as possible.
At a recent fundraiser, I purchased a photo of a woman sitting in the dirt with her child. My daughter asked me why I would want that picture. Well, let me share why — I don’t ever want to forget — forget the great spirit of the women I have met here, the determination, the hard work, the grit that I have seen. I also don’t want to ever forget the life I have been dealt — one that put me in a country and a home where I was valued as a woman, where I was given the same privileges as a man, where I have conveniences and opportunities that are incredible. Thank you women of India for opening my eyes, of increasing my understanding of what happiness really is, of not getting caught up in silly artificial things, of being grateful that we share the great role of being women together.