Gender Parity,  World Around Me

Must You Only Empower Yourself?

“Why do you want to write about me Didi? I work as a domestic maid and barely make ends meet,” said Poonam. I replied, “It is not often that you meet a person with guts to stand up for themselves and, also for others in a similar predicament.” The creases on her forehead leveled out as she picked up the hot cup of chai.

“I miss my home in Firozabad. The lush green fields, my father’s charpoy, and my school near the Talab. I left everything to marry Rajbir. He was good, until the day we discovered my first pregnancy- when the pressure to give birth to a boy surfaced. I realized the outcome would not be pleasant, if it was otherwise. I delivered a baby girl and overnight Rajbir changed into a beast, coming home drunk and sexually abusing me. In a matter of 3 months I was expecting again. This time around, Rajbir was more cautious. I was told my second girl was a stillborn, however I had my doubts. I lay in the hospital bed weak and exhausted when I saw another woman in the same ward rejoicing the arrival of her new born. It was her fourth child- a boy, after three successive girls. The proud father held his prize as the family hovered around the woman. At that moment I felt a chill run down my spine. For the want of a male heir, I did not know how many more pregnancies I would have to go through. I shut my eyes and walked out, my baby in arms, determined never to let anybody exploit my womb in the name of tradition.”

Poonam paused to sip the chai.

Happy Times- Poonam With her Daughter

Her story though doesn’t end here. With life having given her a sour taste, Poonam gathered up enough courage to not only walk out of the traditional set up of husband, in-laws and home, but also move a step forward- empowering others in a similar situation. She now spends hours talking to those living in slums and to street dwellers, about gender equality, spacing pregnancies and contraceptive options, all on her own, without any agency, NGO or Family Welfare Centre backing her. “Didi, in our country, the men are the main decision-makers. So instead of speaking and reaching out to women I talk to the man of the house. Automatically women come in line.  Most men hesitate to talk to me. Some even ridicule me for intruding into their personal life. But I don’t give up. A change has to be brought about in our whole thought process. I do it because I believe I can bring about a change. Even if it is a miniscule one. I go on and on… I stand outside hospital wards and counsel the ones with a glum face as I know their wives have delivered a baby girl. Some listen and give it a thought. Some walk away”.

The 2011 census showed the child sex ratio at an all-time-low of 914 females for every 1,000 males. We are a highly patriarchal society where daughters are often looked at as a burden. Hence it doesn’t come as a surprise to hear of pregnant women being forced to undergo illegal sex-determination tests and abort the foetus if it was female.

A favourite quote of mine from a journal on women’s empowerment says, “Women’s empowerment is all about being able to think take action and control one’s life in an autonomous way. One should gain control over one’s destiny and the circumstances of one’s life.” It’s inspiring to see that Poonam didn’t just stop at walking out and leading her own life. But she chooses to work towards empowering many more lives.

Poonam got me thinking that day. It isn’t enough to just empower oneself, it must extend to the larger sections of the society too…

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