A Guest Post by Wordssetmefreee
Are freedom and fundamental rights only reserved for those who are academic or enjoy professional success?
Aarti brings up a good point in her comment in response to this post – How can forced marriages be prevented when the person being married off is dependent on the people forcing them to be married off?
What about girls who are not very academic? Must they be condemned to forced marriages? Are freedom and fundamental rights only reserved for those who are academic or enjoy professional success? This does not make logical sense – every human being must have the same rights – but let’s look at how this is possible in other societies and what the barriers are in India.
In Western societies (I live in the US and can speak for the US at least), a girl who is not very academic can still be independent, make her own decisions, and enjoy the same fundamental rights (as others who are academically or professionally successful) because she can,
– Work in McDonalds or Target or Walmart along with numerous other girls like herself, without anyone making unwelcome advances, passing rude remarks, checking her out, or making her feel uncomfortable.
– She can work as a nanny, babysitter, or tutor or a cook without fear of getting harassed by the kids’ dad or other male members of the family, who could get reported for harassment.
– She can clean houses without relatives and family judging her to the point of disowning her for bringing shame on the family.
– She can deliver pizza, drive a bus or work for a limo service, because the companies that hire her are focusing on the business not on her physical attributes and they want reliable drivers with a clean driving record, so again because she can be safe doing what numerous other women are doing.
– She can work on an assembly line along with hundreds of other male and female workers.
– She can work in multiple part time jobs.
– She can work late hours along with numerous other people who work the night shift to make ends meet, and not have people think she’s ‘asking for trouble’.
– She can go out by herself in public places, shop, spend her money, use the ATM, etc., without street harassment.
– She can rent out her own space without landlords and landladies giving her a hard time.
(For all those who think I’m trying to say Western society is perfect and devoid of sexism or misogyny, I’m not. I’m only talking about work options, public spaces, and non-academic work environments for women.)
Now, why can’t an Indian girl or woman who is not academic or professional do this?
I keep asking myself this question – why is this email writer in the grip of her parents/relatives/family etc? Why can’t this email writer have the same freedom and fundamental rights that Nina (my baby sitter when my kids were little) or Steph (the lady who cleans my friend’s house) or Amanda (the 20 something girl who works at the McDonalds near my house) has?
Trying to answer some of my own questions here. Indian women don’t have the same options because –
– No safe working environments in non-academic jobs
– A sense of ‘shame’ (‘Such jobs are only for the poor. Middle class women, if they are not professionals, must get married to be financially supported’)
– Lack of acceptance among families who will actively oppose a daughter’s decision to take up a job in a factory or as a nanny or at a restaurant.
– Lack of employers who will focus on the business and productivity and will be interested in hiring productive workers regardless of gender etc.
– Lack of supportive work environments (even if the employer is supportive, male co-workers can engage in sexual harassment and get away with it).
– Lack of strict laws against sexual harassment or lack of proper judicial process in such cases.
– General resentment when women enter unconventional fields for the first time (‘she’s taking away jobs from families’)
The above barriers are twofold. One set of barriers are created by our society and our way of thinking. Another set are created by our government (judicial processing of harassment cases). The latter are much harder to overcome. We could at least start with the former? We can start by changing our attitudes, perhaps?
In changing our attitudes, we must,
– Overcome class differences and class feelings. Respect anyone who has a job and is using an honest means to make a living. Respect every job. Respect every human being, no matter what their job is, because they are doing what they need to do to survive.
– Be willing to be uncomfortable and not always expect a cushy life supported by parents (here in the US, kids who grow up in middle class families, when they finish high school, some of them go to college, others go on to jobs. Both sets of kids struggle on their own initially to pay bills. They may not have a lot of comforts until about 5 to 7 years later. They expect to go through this struggle before they stand on their own two feet.)
– Make public places and work environments safer for women. Speak up! If you are being harassed, yell at the person, shame him. Then that person is somewhat unlikely to harass someone else in the future. Nothing is gained by remaining silent. ALSO – Stand up for other women being harassed.
Not sure what else we could be doing to make our country better for women. Any further ideas and suggestions are welcome.