Today I would like to share some thoughts about some of the choices women make. I have been thinking about opportunities and achievements in our lives and the effect our education, experiences and relationships have in shaping the two. My mother decided to drop out of school so that her younger siblings could graduate. Today my aunt, the younger sister for whom she made this sacrifice, is the Head of the Pathology Department at Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai and my mother takes pride in her sister’s success. My mother was like many other women who give up their dreams and aspirations to see their loved ones happy.
This brings me to a bigger question: why are women expected to make all the sacrifices? Why is only a son looked at as an investment? A girl is expected to stop going to school so that her younger brother can study, only because he is going to live with his parents forever and feed them (which does not always happen). And a woman continues to love her husband and care for him even if he abuses her (which unfortunately happens more often than not).
I have been thinking about the life of Sunanda, from Arpan Cooperative. She came originally from a small village in Satara distict of Maharashtra, and she went through the struggles and challenges that her life threw at her there. She managed to get admission in the village school and was able to study till class eight. After that she was forced to devote herself to household chores and her parents demanded that she give all her books to her younger brother. Her younger brother continued going to school and passed SSC (high school).
Sunanda was the middle child out of her three siblings. Her elder sister died immediately after giving birth to her first child. At the age of seventeen, Sunanda was forcefully married to her brother-in-law, her sister’s widower, and became a mother to her newborn niece. She moved to Mumbai with her husband. At first she was excited about living in the city that was home to many film stars. Like most people she thought that the glittering city would have many adventures in store for her. But Mumbai was not everything she thought it would be. Her village was much cleaner than the city. Like most housewives she took care of the house and her husband and her family, which grew to include two sons. But her husband was an alcoholic and he refused to give money for the household expenses.
In order to survive, she had to get herself a job. She secured a job at the cooperative as a trainee tailor and was later promoted to become the supervisor of her unit. Sunanda had learnt a new skill and she also started seeing the brighter side of life. She realized the meaning of identity and dignity. Her ability to earn and be the breadwinner helped her take independent decisions. She decided to educate her children. Her aim in life was to allow her sister’s daughter and her two sons to complete their education. While she earned and saved on a daily basis, she also moved into her own house. Her friends at the tailoring unit admired her will and determination. They all had their own struggles and supported each other by setting examples of how to overcome obstacles and become empowered. Sunanda’s friend Shardha is another example of a woman whose tenacity and drive took her to a better place. She had attended school only till the fourth grade. In spite of her lack of formal education, she taught herself to speak English. Being able to communicate with people who did not understand Hindi gave her a marketable skill and an advantage over her co-workers.
It is sad but true that opportunities for growth and development are not the same for everyone. People with unique skills and personalities are unable to develop to their fullest due to lack of opportunities. Which is why I wonder, what exactly is independence? Is it the chance to do what makes us happy, or is it not doing things because they make others unhappy? And I think about the choices some women have made and the different kinds of sacrifices that they have involved.
I would be honored if you could share your thoughts with me and the artisans.
Blog written by Nooreen Dossa, Assistant Director, SHARE