Advancement of women

I was lucky to be in India for International Women’s Day, March 8th. The country celebrated their many social advances and a law was passed requiring a minimum of 30% of parliamentary seats be occupied by females.

Unfortunately, women have held an inferior position in Indian society since the middle ages (some believe since ancient times). They were often relegated to roles as servants and property. However, over the last two centuries, things have slowly changed. I will discuss some of the changes below.

Childhood marriage was extremely common centuries ago. The youth of girls was sacrificed to please and pacify the man. Finally, in 1860, the government banned child marriage. Most people view it as illegal but it has remained a common tradition in some cultures. Currently, 40% of the world’s child marriages occur in India.

Women and their families are expected to provide the man a dowry with marriage. If a woman’s family cannot provide a sufficient prize, the wife may be murdered (bride burning being the most common) or coerced into suicide. The practice is termed dowry death. Fortunately, many laws have been passed to curtail the practice, namely in 1961, 1983 and 2006, but the government continues to report between 6 and 8 thousand dowry deaths per year.

When a woman becomes pregnant, she may be pressured to have a male child. The practice of female infanticide was relatively common and modern technology brought about an age of selective abortion in the case of a female fetus. Currently, medical tests that may be used to determine the sex of a child are banned. However, some regions of India, the ratio of males to females has been reported to be extremely skewed.

Hundreds of years ago, when a husband died, the wife was expected to set herself on fire. Her death would purify the couple of their sins. If she refused, it may have been forced on her. This practice is termed sati. Fortunately, strict laws have banned the tradition and these events are now extremely rare.

Overall, India has come a long way regarding women’s rights….but there is still much more work to do.

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One Response to “Advancement of women”

  1. Kathleen Yago Says:

    Coincidentally, I was talking to one of my female Indian friends about this yesterday. I was asking her how Indian women can be treated this way, yet, there are Indian women presidents and spiritual leaders (or gurus), it just doesn’t make sense. In the U.S. we rarely see women spiritual leaders and we have never had a woman president but “common” women enjoy much more equality. I know her family sacrificed a lot so that she could go to college, the first in her family to do so, but because of her culture she is not permitted to send money back to her parents (all of it must go to her husband’s parents). She is also not allowed to buy things for herself, although she works very hard, because all extra money must go back to her husbands parents. Also, her oldest brother died a few years ago (I believe Leukemia) and his wife and child continue to live with the in-laws. Of course her own marriage was arranged and she was also very happy to report that, on her trip to India over the summer, they “found” a wife for her younger brother. Another Indian woman friend, who has two girls, has been encouraged strongly by relatives to have another child, in hopes of having a boy. She also said that sadly, many of her own relatives would get back alley tests to determine the sex of their child and then have an abortion if it is a girl. The most interesting thing, I find, is when they talk about their husbands. They seem to have genuine concern and care for their husbands, even love, although these were not men that they chose. They seem to learn to love their partners and are committed to this. I wonder how much more fulfilling their relationships would be if they could choose their partners, or, if somehow they are more ambitious about “learning” to love their husbands because they don’t initially have a natural attraction to them. Its intriguing. I would love to go to India.
    Enjoying both blogs and hope you are both doing well!
    Kathleen

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