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The worth of a girl is non-existent in India - we need to understand why, if we are to solve the problem.
This post is part of the #GirlsROCK initiative on Women’s Web that we will be running all of October, in honour of October 11, the International Day of the Girl Child. Each day, we will share one beautiful blogpost on the theme. We will also showcase one organization that is doing positive work to empower vulnerable girls and women in India. If you’d like to write a post for #GirlsROCK, please drop us a note at [email protected]
Some days ago, I was walking back home after a visit to the local vegetable market when I overheard two women walking ahead of me and talking to each other. It looked like they had got down from the bus stop and were walking home. The conversation was centred on the tough life of a working woman, and it went something like this.
Woman A: Life is not easy these days…both spouses have to work. And it’s not like we can just come home from work and put our feet up and relax, unlike the men!
Woman B: True, just the thought of having to go home and cook dinner is tiring.
Woman A: Well, at least you have a daughter, who can help you with the housework. How can I expect my two sons to work at home? I have to do everything for them myself…
Woman B: Ha, ha, there is some value to having a daughter!
It saddened me to think that in many places, a daughter is not valuable in herself, but for the work she does as part of the household, and that work is of course, training for the chores she must take on once she is married and goes to her ‘own house’ (never mind that rarely does she have a stake in it legally.)
In these houses, a daughter is a work in progress, to be moulded into the good wife, homemaker and mother. It doesn’t matter if she earns – better if she does (we are ‘modern’) but the job of managing the household is still her’s.
In these houses, the worth of a daughter is zero because she costs money to ‘give away’ in the form of marriage. And if she isn’t given away, she costs the family in the form of social stigma.
To me, this is the underlying problem behind most of the problems facing girls in India. Until we raise the worth of a girl in our society, laws that prohibit sex-determination in-utero will continue to be flouted – if not brazenly, people will do it furtively.
This is not a problem because of class, although poverty can aggravate the poor treatment of girls. The worth of a girl is poor in the richest of families, although perhaps better disguised.
The ‘small problems’ we seen in our everyday life as girls like:
– Training a daughter to cook and letting a son assume someone else will cook for him
– Telling a daughter she should choose to be a teacher because it is a ‘suitable occupation for women’
– Refusing to pay for a daughter’s choice of educational course because that money is needed for her marriage
– Scolding her for wearing Western clothes when she complains of boys following her/passing comments
Are all linked to the ‘big problems’ we condemn like:
– Women not being able to progress in their careers because they are tired out doing a double shift at work and home
– Women unable to support themselves after a divorce/abusive marriage because they’ve never been allowed to go into the wider world
– Sex selective abortions, because who wants to foot the hefty marriage-and-dowry bill?
– Acid attacks and revenge murders because no one takes stalking seriously or does anything to prevent it, except shutting girls up
If we don’t see those connections, we will never be able to realise the true worth of a girl, or help her realise it.
Today’s changemaker that we’d like to highlight is Protsahan, a non-profit that works in Delhi with vulnerable children from the street or living in slums, to help them get back to school and/or work towards finding livelihoods appropriate to their skills and interests. To this end, Protsahan uses innovative tools including art, photography and technology.
Protsahan also works with women from disadvantaged backgrounds and helps them learn design skills that can be used to make functional and saleable products. You can read more about their work in the words of their founder, Sonal Kapoor.
How can you support Protsahan’s work?
Volunteer, or find an internship
If you need festival gifts or other such products in bulk, you could support Protsahan’s work by ordering from their community
Pic of female symbol credit crl! (Used under a Creative Commons license)
Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas and conversations to create change. She has been writing since she was ten. In another life, she used to be read more...
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