“Break Silence! They want to break our success. Time demands that we break this silence. If we are raising our voice, why should they get angry? We are fighting so that we have equality. We are fighting so that we have dignity. We are fighting so that we have justice. We are fighting for women’s liberation.
Break Silence! They are scared of our strength. They are scared of our struggles. They are scared of our unity. They are scared of our organization. They are scared of our emancipation.
Hence, they are trying to break us by creating barriers of religions, caste, ethnicity, and tradition. Break Silence!” (Women’s Rights Song, Desai & Patel, pg 86).Women have long been fighting for equal rights in every sphere of society. Those in the western world have been luckier.
They are not faced with the daily conflict of discrimination like those who live in third-world countries. Westerners can go to school, vote, and work whereas there are still women in developing countries which cannot. The song above is an example of women in a developing country, fighting for their own rights.
Its origin is from India.Indian women have had an extremely difficult time developing under the oppression of a male-dominated society, class and religion. Women’s place in society has been extremely fixed in nature, and has kept women at a low rung on the status ladder. Traditional beliefs on whether or not women should be educated or whether or not the should work outside the home have also aided in their suppression. Although the Indian women’s workforce is still relatively new, it has had some real successes (as well as failures) along the way, and some of the organizations involved are beginning to make a true difference in women’s lifestyles.”It is not the characteristic of the true Hindu or Mohammedan woman to desire to be independent of a man” (Billington, pg 22).
Women’s status in India has generally been poor since colonial times. Prithvi Nath Tikoo identifies that “the treatment of women in ancient Indian culture was, however, different. Here the concepts of male chauvinism did not start as early as it did in other countries. This sort of mentality took roots in this country (India) years after the Aryans came and settled here” (Tikoo, pg 5). Here is it identified that the maltreatment of women did not truly begin until India was colonized, and Tikoo also goes on to say that Christianity gave Hindu leaders (among others) the justification that they needed to make the claim that women should be kept in the “guardianship” of males. The main disability of women in India, and truly worldwide, has been that of childbirth.
The “bondage of reproduction” as Tikoo works it, had left women reliant on men for food, protection and shelter (Tikoo, pg 3). Tikoo also noted a “curse of women” in India which have lowered their place in society which is that of early marriage. In India, “Hindu religious leaders all decreed that a girl should be married soon after the beginning of puberty.” (Tikoo, pg23), and that the age of ten is considered puberty.
For Hindu girls, this means that they have little chance at education past this age, and truly many do not even receive education before. One reason for this is that many prospective in-laws would not want an educated girl, since they believed that she would not want to be a virtual servant.The plight of women becomes very apparent in the sphere of marriage. Women are expected to marry, and many call it the “aim of her existence” (Billington, pg 22). There si a general belief of parents that if their daughter does not marry, she will go to hell, and any woman in this society which does not marry is not seen as a real woman. At this point she is forced to go into the workforce.
Other statistics from India are shocking. Seven out of ten non school going children are female, females are infinitely more likely than males to drop out of school, and the literacy rate for women is guessed to be eighteen percent of the female population (Tikoo, pg 121). As seen above, many Indians traditionally do not want women to work.
Many female children do not go far in education because of this view, as well as the custom of child marriage, leaving them with few practical skills later in life. In general, females are not encouraged to be educated, and few learn of education’s positive benefits. Tikoo gives an example of another phenomenon, “where the son and a daughter are studying in some school or college, it is always the daughter who is asked to perform all of the culinary operations…” (Tikoo, pg 120).
This is an example of how women are expected to remain in their traditional roles, even thought they are working or becoming educated. In Kaur’s survey as to when women should work the top answers were: 1. Only when it is economically needed. 2. Only as long as the woman is married. 3.
Only when does not result in neglect of the family (Kaur, pg 52). There is a common fear among many that if an Indian woman works outside the home, their family will suffer from neglect, since all household duties are thought to be the responsibility of women and women alone. Still, in modern India, when a child is sick, it is only the woman who is expected to take the time off of work to take care of them, and working women are expected to still maintain all of their household duties. Because of fears of neglecting their family, as well as other reasons, many women still show preference to working at home, rather than outside of it.
“Even in the western countries, educated married women taking up jobs is not an old phenomenon” (Kaur, pg 46). It has been traditionally thought throughout time that women did not work outside the home, unless it was economically needed, yet, around the world, a middle-class working woman’s movement has been taking place. In a place such as India, the conditions of the masses have hardly been satisfactory, let alone that of women, forcing many to enter the work force.
Traditionally, Indian women also did not work unless forced to economically, but in recent times, some women have begun to realize that work “gives them personal status and independent social standing” (Kaur, pg48). This has meant that women from all classes have begun to enter the workforce, instead of it being predominantly those from the lower social strata, yet most of these women are from the city, rather than rural areas. The tendency to work is now more predominant among middle class women, although every Hindu caste wants a chance to work. Another major change today is that younger adults, as well as younger generations, wants to work, and it is the older generations of women who still wish to stay at home. In Kaur’s survey, employed women were asked what professions they were in. The results were: Technical workers 17%, Service workers 15.
7%, Crafts, production, and process workers 12%, Sales workers 9.8%, Clerical work 5.5% (Kaur, pg48). Kaur also interviewed many women (employed and unemployed) to see what professions the wanted to go into.
The ranked in order from one to ten as, college teachers, secondary teachers, university teachers, nurses, doctors, typists, engineers, military service, government officials and social workers (Kaur, pg 51). This shows that most women want a job in a teaching position, and this is not surprising since one of the first female positions established in India was that of a schoolmistress, or teacher. This position was set up by Christian missionaries in their attempt to educate the “savages” of India (Billington, pg 32).
Thus, it can be seen that many women are forced to work due to economic stress, while others still wish to enter the workforce to achieve a type of independence. Yet, the traditional view of women’s duties had worked against this want to work outside the home. This has created an environment for Indian women to work in which can be violent and negative. In response, many organizations have been created to assist women in the workforce.”Women employed in various income generating activities…
by liberal women’s organizations have complained that they are used as cheap labor” (Desai & Patel). Kaur recognizes that since women have a special circumstance in India, special measures must be taken to solve it. Although the purposes and objectives of men and women should be the same, it must be recognized that women have inherent responsibilities to the household, thus their education and careers must be realized in different ways. Today in India, both boys and girls are beginning to be taught and treated more similarly in the school setting, and hopefully this will have great affects on equality in the future. But, the superiority of males is still persistent and is recognized by many. Many women are beginning to realize that higher education means more income. Thus, there have been many women’s organizations which have attempted to bring more women into the workforce.
This has been met with both successes and failures. There have been several groups formed which have planned the making and selling of things such as crafts and food. These are run by upper-class women and the often receive government funding in the name of philanthropic activities. Organizations such as these employ women, but do not always treat them well and often these women work ten to twelve hour shifts of intensive labor with no breaks. Since this type of group is in the informal sector, the women who work there are not protected by any labor laws.
One example of such an organization is “Lijat Papad.” Before women would be hired into this group, they had to agree to accept whatever wages are given to them, and the also have to agree never to complain about the organization. Later, this group was closed down because the workers got together and complained about it. Even though there are some women’s work organizations which are complete failures, there have been many recent programs that have been successful. An example of this is “Annpurna” which means provider of food.
This group is a woman’s cooperative which provides lunch and dinner service to industrial workers, and the women involved are mostly from poor or working classes. It was started up by a loan from a national bank, and greatly benefits the women involved. Another successful program which has been set up to help working women is a voluntary organization that runs a day-care facility for women construction workers. This group started in Delhi in 1969, and now has 45 centers in Delhi, twenty-five in Bombay, and three in Poona.
This organization is funded by aid agencies and the contractors of construction sites. This in an excellent example of an organization which helps women go to work, and still be responsible for their child-rearing duties. In addition, since 1975, there have been several groups which have been formed to help women receive loans, especially those wishing to own their own business. One example of this is the Mahila SEWA Saharki Cooperative Bank, set up by two groups; SEWA and Ahmebedad. This is a cooperative bank, totally managed by women, and it is an alternative to the exploitative male run banks common in India.
Probably the most successful group is the Working Women’s Forum of India. This group began in 1978, with more than 800 women involved at the time. They describe themselves as a “mass movement of more than 450,000 poor women workers engaged in 167 occupations spread over fifteen cultural contexts organized into neighborhood groups of eight to ten members” (www.workingwomensforum.org).
Their main goal is to stop the oppression over Indian women, in regard to class and gender. They offer these following services to Indian women: Reproductive and Child Health programs, Vocational Training centers, Child labor rehabilitation, and Leadership training programs (WWF.obj.htm). They argue the advantages of these programs by stating that they do not require large-scale investment, or educational elites, rather this is a grassroots program designed for the soul purpose of helping women. This organization outlines its objectives and strategies as follows: “To unionize women workers of the informal sector on trade lines, providing a social platform.
To improve their living and working conditions and create visibility to their various economic roles. To adopt effective and needs’ specific program strategies in areas of credit, employment, health, family welfare and support services, and to adopt participatory training strategies toward unionization and empowerment of women workers” (WWF.org.obj.htm).
The women of the forum have also developed a successful grass root methodology and a way of life through the following strategy: “Identification of their own pressing problems and finding their own solutions to combat the same.” (WWF.org).There have also been many legislative programs set up by the government to assist working women in India. One example of this is the Equal Remuneration Act number 25 of 1976, which states that all people, men and women, should be treated (and paid) equally, and not judged on the basis of sex (Desai & Patel, pg 42).
This legislation, although it had good intentions in nature, failed since it was available against the state only. There have also been other legislators brought into existence that have helped the women’s movement. For example, to stop the problems caused by child-marriages, the age of consent was changed to twenty-one for men and eighteen for women, but some families who hold strict values go against this if they want their children married at a younger age. The Indian Constitution also attempts to abolish discrimination (Tikoo, pg 104). There have been many programs and legislation brought into being which has attempted to help the women’s movement but the struggle is far from over.
These programs are not only enough, but too few.Although Indian women have been entering the workforce in recent years, they have been met with serious opposition. Often Indian girls do not have the chance at education, unless their father somehow deems it important, which rarely happens. An Indian girl’s life is geared toward marriage, there is no expectation for her to train herself, or to ever work in fact she is told not to work. These women are subject not only to their fathers, but after marriage, are subject to their husbands and in-laws. They are given little freedom of choices, and often find it difficult to enter the workforce from this point, but there are still some of those who do.
Women who do manage to enter the workforce, often do so because they need to economically, and not because they truly desire it. Whether they desire to be in the workforce or not, these women face criticism of others because they are believed to be neglecting their families and other inherent responsibilities. They are not looked upon with great respect by other women. They seem to have failed in their life’s ambitions.Where can the Indian woman go from here? Several grassroots projects have been designed to attempt to help these women, but there is a lot to still be done.
First, education must be brought not only to girls and women so that they have the skills to find jobs, but also to the general community. If the general population of India agreed that it is all right for women to work, their conditions would improve a thousandfold. Kaur found that it is the younger generations which believe that women should be allowed to work outside the home, so perhaps in the future we will see a great change in Indian women’s lives. Perhaps they will one day have the tools to head toward independenceBibliography: