Being a woman

With the International women's day being just one day away, I thought this might be a good occasion to write about what being a woman is all about.

However, this is not about me the woman who can write and express herself. This is about those women who are voiceless- women who form a large segment of our population! Women from the villages of Southern India- women who I met on Saturday in a  small village of Cuddalore district.

We began by asking women what they liked about being a woman. It was sad when almost all said "nothing"! This takes  me back to an expression that my mother often uses to signify her disgust or displeasure about something- "Naan ponna perinda madiri irrukkum"- meaning "it is as awful as my being born a woman!".

But coming back to my friends from Cuddalore, we probed more to understand why or what they did not like about being women. Then, it all came out... experiences about taking on the complete responsibility                 ( "burden"?) of the family , inability to take any decisions on their own and when they did earn some money from labour that they did, they had to hide it. If they managed to earn something large enough to buy a sari or some other trinket they had to tell their husbands that it was a gift from their mother.

So what would like to see as change in their lives? What are their dreams?

We were again surprised...! "Our husbands should  love and trust  us more". " They should share some of the responsibilities of the family"( please note that they are not talking about helping out at home. What they meant was responsibility as in parenting and other more basic functions).

How will we know that our husbands love us ? We were curious to know about the expression of love as they defined it ... "We would like them to beat us less". said one of them.. We were appalled! Is this then a regular part of their lives? "Yes ofcourse"said one of them ! Life goes on despite all this..

What are your dreams we asked?

" To be able to send our children to a better school", "Be able to have some property in our name""Be able to go and come without having to seek permission"

"What about your ability to decide on the future of your children"" - I asked?

"When cannot decided on how many children we want to have how can we decide on their future" asked one of them.

I came back to my hotel room with a heavy heart and mixed feelings..

If this was the condition of the women from a so called "more developed"state of our country what about the women from Bihar and Uttar pradesh where they probably had to struggle for more basic requirements?

Somehow friends , this experience has a been a very humbling one for me as a woman- I have realized what I took for granted was a dream for my sisters in the villages. Unless we change that we can never call ourselves a developed country.

Poverty unfortunately is not a uni dimensional thing- it is different for different people and obviously for women it means more hardships, greater burden . If we super impose caste on poverty and then look at it through a gender lens the picture is even more grim.

As I am writing the conclusion of this post , I look at the televison. I see  an advertisement about a "beautiful"woman laughing with lovely lipsticked lips and holding a painted finger nail across her mouth. Now is this the what we think being a woman is all about?

To me the most beautiful women are these ladies from the villages who toil hard bearing the responsibilities of home and life on their frail shoulders. Their bodies  covered with dust and sweat and disfigured by years of child bearing are far more perfect than the hour glass figures that I saw on television just moments ago!

This is the woman of India ( or probably for that matter from any developing country).

But where is the pride about these beauties on whose labour rest our lives? If she does not toil in the fields in the harsh sun then we will not the food that we eat. I remember a song by Shubha Mudgal a wonderful Indian singer. It goes like this "Tere baansuri se chulhe jale. Tujo saaz chhede to jeevan chale". which means that your flute lights fire ( she refers here to the pipe used by women to blow into a cooking fire) and when you play the flute life goes on.

If we cannot make every woman in our country enjoy being a woman then we have a society, as a culture and as a nation!


  1. Brilliant.Left me sad at the pitiable condition of rural womnen.
    I just wish to add an extract from an article written by me a coupole of yeras back.There is no change.
    " Six decades have passed since we are free and it is appropriate to take a look at the condition of women in rural India who represent the majority. The answer to the question whether the condition of women is better is a resounding no. The health and the wealth of the country wholly rest on the well being and condition of the women. An illiterate, famished and oppressed woman cannot bring forth and rear healthy children both physically and mentally. An hungry woman with no regular income living in unsanitary slums with no access to potable water, primary school facilities and health services can hardly be expected bring up good citizens of the country. Sad but true, the benefits of growth in the last ten years have not touched them appreciably. The growth in recent years is lopsided favouring the urban areas to the near total neglect of the rural side.
    Poverty is not a function of income alone but also comprises of low levels of education, hygiene, and health. The rural side is still very poor, large portion illiterate, virtually non-existent job opportunities and still gender-sensitive. It is important to point out that only a very small percentage of womenfolk are economically active in comparison to men folk. Female literacy in the rural side is abysmally low and maternal mortality continues to be as high. Forming more than 50 per cent of population, the women face the pangs of poverty much more than the men.
    The glitter and glamour of city ramps, the endless fashion shows and burgeoning apparel shops and the highly visible office going urban women do not present the real picture of the country. The emancipation of rural women not belonging to this visible class and their empowerment continues to be a distant dream. They are still under subjugation and victims of social prejudices. Even in these poor families the girl child gets a raw deal in the matter of food, health and even the right to live. It is only the political power given to women that will witness the gradual removal of their marginalization and lift them from lives of deprivation, hunger and malnutrition. Our priority must be to vest in the women their rightful share of political power through larger representation in legislatures and panchayats. The resistance to this should be overcome by a chorus of voices across the country in all forums. The power of women through their ballots can work miracles. This alone would unleash the social energy of half the population that we had all along consciously prevented "
    Alcoholism is the bane and responsible for many ills that women suffer.Prohibition and stricter administration of its law is a must

  2. I LOVE this post, you are right women should be aprpeciated and respected more! my mom was abused by my dad until she had the courage to divorce him and move on with ehr life. after htat she wen ton to medicine school... i pray that the abuse against women ends soon.

  3. *sigh!*..:(...same happens in Nigeria.

  4. I understand the feelings behind the outpour.It is true.
    But then,poverty and the sufferings that accompany it,is not only the problem of the women.The men also have tough lives. After a days hard work,when they return home,there is nothing much waiting for them.Women end up as their only sources of entertainment and relief,and in the process,they produce many unwanted children.The vivious cycle goes on.

    There is no point in talking about the 'secrets of happiness' to the poor and the sick.Being poor itself is part of their destiny,compounded by the injustices in this world.

    Happy womens day.

  5. Really touching post....We have failed as a nation, society and as individuals. Any society that ignores half its population is simply uncivilized and i am sad to be a part of one such uncivilised society. But compared to the lives of many counterparts whom i see in the Gulf, our Indian women are blessed...Women of rural areas still toil. Urban chic women flaunt their rights, whereas uneducated poor rural womenfolk do not even have the right to express their thoughts. What disparity....sickening. Anyway, Happy Womens' Day!

  6. Thanks all for your encouraging comments. @ Emmy your mother is one great woman...! Hats off to her. Yes,cloud nine women in India may be better off than those in the gulf but that is small consolation. Partha, brilliantly analyzed. Ibade, sad but sigh. Dr. Antony the poor also have their dreams just as the sick do. It helps to articulate it. We in the non profit sector believe in the dreams of the poor and work towards making it a reality...

  7. heartbreaking answers were those given by the women..You did a great and wonderful job by trying to understand what they really want..


Post a Comment