29th March 2015
On Sunday 8th March 2015, it was international women’s day. It felt like more than luck that we would be here on such an important day. It fit within advocacy, cross-cultural learning and with self help groups. It was a great opportunity to gather together with the women and girls from the village.
We decided that a mothers and daughters picnic would be a great idea. We knew that the International women’s day colors were purple, green and white so we encouraged the women to wear them. We were so relieved and we rejoiced in that.
It was a little hard at first to get the girls to join us, but after a little coaxing they relented and joined in eating, laughing and dancing with us. They taught us Indian games that reminded us of schoolyard games just played and talked of in Kannada. This was the definition of cross-cultural learning and was so much fun. We had gotten to know so many of the women and girls that it was a lot more relaxed than if we would had tried to do this in the first week of our stay in Siluvai Puram.
We then did a question and answer session on, what are your rights?
We wanted to know what they thought about their rights in the village, their state and in India and how that translated to the world. We first asked as an entry question -what rights did they feel they have? They said that they had the right to vote, the right to education, freedom of speech and the rights to free movement. The older women were optimistic talking about the harsher legal and cultural differences from when they were young that prevented them from these same rights. They believed that it was an amazing improvement and they were happy to see it.
Then we asked them perhaps an even more important question, what rights do they think they don’t have? The general consensus was that although they felt equal to men, they felt pretty sure that men felt they were not equal to them. When asked if men were co-operative, they said sometimes. The women had great attitudes which was unsurprising and got involved enthusiastically. We then asked them how well they thought the self help groups were run. They responded with just okay- as the timings of the meetings are sporadic at best and a lot of the women who do go are close friends.
When we asked whether they trusted local government, i.e. the Gram panchyat- they responded with resonating NO. There representative was aloof and there had been no schemes implemented in the village or any representative in the village to listen and respond to their problems and queries. When asked whether they had a community leader, they explained that though there isn’t a permanent and official leader- they all understood that the elders were considered to be important figures within the community.
We then asked the young girls who had gathered around, what their hopes and dreams were. There were many different answers such as doctor, accountant, police, teacher and Nun. They were all enthusiastic and though some were shy discussing their dreams, there was strength of will in their determination to succeed which was beautiful to watch and be a part of.
We asked the adults what they would want for their children and Mary-Ama summed it up quite perfectly in one sentence, all they want is for their children to search for a good way to live their lives.
We asked whether the girls felt equal to boys and they said in a sense, but that they knew that boys were better at things than them; such as physical labor. They said this in a matter of fact way which was self assured in its rightness. We then asked even if they are smart, do they think a man is more qualified for the job, they answered the same way as the last question.
There was also the issue of unequal pay which they deemed unfair unless there was an obvious reason as to why men are paid more. They felt that if they did the same work as a man, that they should be paid the same in wages.
They asked us many questions about our lives and experiences in the United Kingdom and told us about the differences in culture, law and systems which we found thoroughly interesting. We told them about the similarities between us that we thought were striking as there were certainly more shared sentiments that we felt as women, even if the countries we resided in are quite different. This bonded all of us together and the women proclaimed that they loved and enjoyed this session as it was relaxed, informative and fun. It was a spectacular day for all.
We finally asked what their role in the community and quite seriously, they told us, everything.