“Nothing will change if we do not work for it, and who but women know how to turn things around?” Says Pramila Bisoi, an MLA from Odissa, an advocate for women’s education and employment.”
26th August, 1920 was the culmination of the peaceful civil rights movement led by women, the 19th Amendment to the constitution that granted women the right to vote. We’re only an year to a century of the first step towards equality. Over the last 99 years, there have been several efforts towards equality at home, at the workplace, in the constitution, — bringing together the social, economical and political sphere.
The Indian scenario is contextually complex with religious beliefs, social institutions, and the patriarchal construct of the society with practices like Sati, female infanticide, domestic violence. Women’s rights and education in India has chosen to take its own path to evolve. To name a few, pioneers like Savitribai Phule, started the first school for girls in India in 1848; and then Tarabai Shinde, who wrote India’s first feminist text Stri Purush Tulana (A Comparison Between Women and Men) in 1882. Further, Pandita Ramabai, who criticized patriarchy and caste-system in Hinduism, and married outside her caste. From then to today, we’re still fighting the good fight.
Apart from all the unpaid household chores, child bearing and rearing, women handle massive emotional labor. Even after the responsibilities they manage, often the important decisions lie with the financial breadwinner in the family, usually a patriarch. This slowly has taken away social and cultural agency from women across various economic strata. Imperatively now it is necessary to bring women towards economic self sustainability to bring their say in their lives, and decisions in the family, and further the larger societal systems.
Statistical data from the World Bank says, “Women make up 48 percent of the Indian population but have not benefited equally from India’s rapid economic growth. Female child mortality is still a grave concern, with over 239,000 girls under the age of 5 dying each year. Sixty-five percent of women are literate as compared to 80 percent of men. India has among the lowest female labor force participation rates in the world. Less than a third of women — 15 years or older — are working or actively looking for a job.”
Women led organizations across the world and in India have been trying to create economic and employment opportunities for women. There are initiatives like SEWA established by Ela Bhatt in 1972 in Gujarat as a trade union. Snehalaya has been working with women and children, providing a safe space to build capacity and sell art, rescuing from human trafficking. Further, Vimochana in Bangalore set up as an activist group has provided a platform for activism towards rights of women, along with aiding medical help. Janodaya is another such organization working for the social and economical development of women, and former prison inmates to rehabilitate their lives.
At Happy Faces, we often find women from all social and economic backgrounds to share stories of how becoming a breadwinner at home has made a significant difference in their lives.
Rupa Dave, a women maker in the foundation shares,
“As a woman, I don’t want to be shut behind the four walls of my house. Since now that I am earning money myself, I no more have to ask for money from my husband every time I need something. I can take decisions myself.”
The nation shall celebrate the 72nd Independence day today. We shall pay tribute to the sacrifices of our jawaans and the freedom fighters. We shall commemorate the political figures of those times, who charted out the journey for the future of the country. We will probably discuss political matters of the formation of the new state and the amendments in the constitution, we will contemplate how far we have come in these seven decades, and where we hope to move forward. In these discussions about independence, and the way forward with larger political debates, we need to also have a discussion on how far we’ve moved ahead as individuals, in family structures, in gender — based biases, and the significance that the idea of ‘independence’ has in our routine lives.
Historically, women have been privy to oppressive practices, and bound in patriarchal ideas, often imposed by several centuries of conditioning. This has led to a system where the it becomes the woman’s ‘duty’ to take on all the domestic responsibility, child-rearing responsibilities along with physical and emotional labor for the husband’s family. Between all her responsibilities, often the idea of the ‘self’, and what her own identity is, is lost. And since, most women take care of the home, and aren’t the primary breadwinners for the family, the power game is always on the side of the patriarch. Women have very low agency over their emotional, economic and social freedom.
While tending to her Mother-in-law in severe sickness, Mrs. Rita Bhagat was surrounded by women carers of varied social strata, and she observed this situation in their lives. She saw how women were mistreated often, although they were dutiful wives, mothers, sisters and daughters. In the many expectations of who these women had to be, there was a loss of ‘self-awareness’ and ‘self-confidence’, due to which women ended up being mistreated and putting up with disrespectful behavior.
Questioning a solution to this over the years, the idea of Happy Faces emerged, to build a collective platform where women could grow, discover their own identities, build confidence within a support system of a community.
Independence here is to bring an idea of self-reliance among women, so that their voices became stronger, and life and breathing became happier. Starting with a small network of women, and growing to a community of more than 500 women, impacting as many families, and the larger society, we’re building a collective society where everyone has equal agency.
Starting with simple traditional snacks, to textile based skills and products, women learned re-articulated the skills they already knew and built on newer ones. These products were then placed with large corporations, hotel chains, and lifestyle spaces — that accepted these outcomes, building even more confidence, and sense of pride among the women.
With more than two years of the initiative, we’re a young foundation. The women in the collective have grown to become confident, bold, independent, self-reliant women who have learned to balance between home and life beyond home and family.
A thought to leave you behind with, Mrs. Gita Rawal’s, a macrame maker, has a beautiful thought to leave you with, an articulation of what independence means to her, and to the society,
“Independence is in agreeing to disagree, in having the space to have your own opinion and thought, while being with everyone. Independence needs to thrive in togetherness, not in mere individualism. If individually we can have independent mindsets, and ideas towards life, together, we can grow.”]]>