Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Lives of Women in Rural Rajasthan

Do you really want to know what it means to be a girl in a small village somewhere in the desert of Rajasthan? What do you want to listen to? What should I tell you? A lovely story about one single girl whose parents always treated her the same as her brother? A girl who is not damned to live the life of an obsequious housewife? Or do you want to hear the stories of the hundreds of girls who are not wanted since their first day of life?

First of all, I will never understand what it's like to be a girl growing up in a village like Setrawa in Jodhpur. I was born in Germany into a loving family, a privilege I wish everyone could experience in this world. I enjoyed twelve years of free school education and I was free to become the person I am today. Of course, sexism and gender equality is also a big topic in European countries, but my experience is not comparable with the daily suppression and contempt to which these girls are subjected . It is time to give to these girls a voice in society and a chance in life.

Try to imagine how big the pressure is for a young woman to give birth to a boy. A boy will guarantee the family protection in old age, but a girl means high expenses or even debt for the marriage dowry. If a woman gives birth to a girl people in her village will say to her, "Try again next year,” and if she has a boy everybody will congratulate her. I can't imagine how it must feel for girls to be unwanted from the first day of their birth.

As she grows up, her whole life is shaped by inequality. Her parents teach her to stay at home and to do housework while her brother goes outside to play. In many families the boys are prioritised where nutritious food and education are concerned - the parents believe it is more important to ensure the success of a boy than a girl. She's taught that she's worth much less then her brothers. She's taught to be a good housewife, to carry small sisters and brothers and to obey what boys and men say to her. She's taught to ask her brother, father or husband before she can do anything.

There is a long list about what “good girls” do. Girls should be home before dark. Girls are not allowed to go out alone. Girls have to cover themselves, married women even have to cover their face in front of other men. Girls are not allowed to speak with boys or even to make eye contact on the street. The girls are taught that it is their own fault if they get raped or experience violence. Society does not teach the boys to respect girls. Society teaches the girls to hide themselves from the greedy eyes of the boys.

Often girls get married very early because it doesn't make sense for the family to provide for their daughter longer than necessary. The girl’s parents have to pay a dowry to the husband’s family in the form of presents and money for taking their daughter. From the first day of marriage she has to serve her mother in law and her husband. She has to do everything her husband requires of her. A “no” is not allowed and could end in physical violence. Moreover, rape in marriage does not exist. Women have no rights. They are at the mercy of the man. They have no chance to escape domestic violence. They have no right to get separated from the man. The pressure of society is so big that she risks being expelled from her society. A separated woman is considered to be a shame for the whole family.

There are many more stories about inequality, about child marriage, about men who have killed their wives to get married again and secure another marriage portion; many more heartbreaking stories about the fates of some girls and women in small villages in the Thar desert. It's a lonely place for women in Indian society where nobody is there to listen to a woman’s word or a woman’s scream for help.

Maybe you are shocked about their horrifying circumstances. You might ask yourself what you have to do with these girls and women who live thousands of kilometres away from you. I’ll tell you what you have to do with these girls and women; humanity.

Let us think one moment how we could change someone's life there. We are not in the position to question their traditions but we can distinguish between tradition and crime. We cannot change the society in one day. Modification needs time. We can also not change the thoughts of men suddenly, but what we can do is to give the girls and women a voice in our society. We can give them our attention and the feeling that they are not alone.

Education is the key to this, it opens doors and builds the feeling of self worth, self esteem and empowerment for Rajasthan's most marginalised women. Malala Yousafazi once referenced Brigham Young's quote “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a girl, you educate a nation.”Of course, it is also very important to educate boys, especially to teach them how to treat women with respect and love, and that it’s ok for them to show their emotions. But I am talking about school education - if we start to give girls a good school education, we could create a real change in their lives now and the following generations of women.

Just imagine a small stone which you throw in the water. First you will see just a small circle, than a bigger one, again a bigger one and in the end you cannot imagine how a small stone could create such a big water circle. The stone stands for one educated girl and the circles for the big results which she will bring in her society. If you educate young girls you will transform them into powerful and self-confident women who know about their rights and abilities. If you educate girls then they will start to work in better jobs and this will help to change society. Transformation of society needs time and will not happen by giving just 25 girls the opportunity to study, but it is the first step for gender equality and equal rights in Indian society. The girls will also pass their knowledge from generation to generation, to both their sons and their daughters. A small step will have big results.

So let us start to do something different. Not tomorrow or another time, but today, right now, in this moment. For the girls and women of today and tomorrow.

Thank you.
Aurelia, Volunteer for Sambhali Trust in Setrawa

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