Tale of a migrant worker’s wife
Shamoli was an empowered spouse until her husband, a migrant worker, retuned from Saudi Arabia. "I took training on animal husbandry and was trying to get seed money to start my own business. Meanwhile my husband returned home and he did not allow me take the seed money and start my business. In his words, I would be a characterless woman if I start working and earning money. Societally I am not in a position to leave my husband and start afresh. Therefore, I do not dream anymore to be a financially independent woman," shared Shamoli with antipathy.
The constant moral policing that society and families do over a woman is one of many challenges a woman face on a daily basis. Empowerment of women helps them to raise their voice against injustice, manipulation and abuse--mental and physical, they go through. But very often the societal pressure--given the patriarchal rural setting, and fear of being shamed as 'bad woman' make them step back a little.
Today is International Women's Day--a day of activism to celebrate the women and their movement to abolish discrimination, stereotypes, and inequality. Woman from all walks of life are sharing their voices on social media platform with the campaign called #ChooseToChallenge. In Bangladesh women are holding more political power than ever before. There is also a remarkable number of women in power position which are mostly urban based. But if we look at the rural women's life, the struggle of breaking stereotype and raising their voice against gender based violence or any other forms of oppression is grinding.
Shamoli somehow managed to convince her in-laws who were stopping her to take the training. She was determined. Now that she was just one step behind her destination of starting the business of her own, her husband became the real problem--although he returned empty handed from abroad. Neither did he arrange any work after returning home. Yet he has the power to stop his wife from taking decision for her own.
"It is a matter of self and family respect to let my women work outside home. I am not a shameless person. If she disobeys my order, she will face the consequences," says Shamoli's husband.
In the above-mentioned event (of Shamoli's husband) it is clear that Shamoli (the woman), is her compelled to obey her husband and she is not allowed to do anything which denies her husband words. As the theme for 2021 International Women's Day is #ChooseToChallenge--a call to challenge gender bias, stereotypes, inequality and a call to stand for own self. In such societal structure when women are bound not to do their own, even to some extent they dare to do their own but somewhere along the way they face more difficulties and leave the path in the middle just like Shamoli.
Shamoli's husband is willing to send her abroad as a migrant worker but not willing to let her work while she is in the village. The reasons that prevent him to do so is that he would not allow her to earn her own money and spend her money by herself. Whereas when she would be working abroad, he will be getting more money and Shamoli would not be able to spend her salary.
Many men are willing to send their wives and sisters abroad as domestic workers but they are not willing to let them work in the neighbourhood. According to them, society will consider them as shameless who send their women at work. But the question is who represents this society? And what is that society's opinion when men want to send women from their family to abroad as workers?
The way of suppressing women in this society is not a new phenomenon or the ways of doing it. Somehow women are also accustomed with it since hardly they have other options to protest. Shamoli choose to challenge the custom of getting family's approval 'being allowed' to get out and work but she could not challenge her husband in fear of getting physically abused or getting divorced.
She could not manage to convince them finally. However, this is how many rural women challenge the norm and end up getting shamed (most of the time) for their actions which are supposed to be normal actions to empower an individual.
To some extent when we focus into women empowerment, we tend to forget that we need to address the barriers which are mainly the external forces--family, society, husband, son, neighbourhood etc. We need to make aware our men who are the 'head' of a family. If men in the society think twice when taking decision on behalf of their family's women, the society and community would serve better the women.
The writer is Chair, Ovibashi Karmi
Unnayan Program (OKUP)