I somehow feel disillusioned by the image of an empowered woman. It seems to be a myth. We have several women who are bread winners of their family but are they empowered in the real sense of the word? Education seems to sometimes act as an impediment rather than a tool that ensures the empowerment of women. Let me explain-
Sandhya was brought up to believe that it was wrong to be vocal. Her parents never encouraged discussions let alone arguments. She never ever learnt that one did not have to be aggressive to be heard. Raising one’s voice beyond a permissible level amounted to quarrel. Decent people did not argue. It was no wonder that when she got married she was at a loss not knowing how and when to be assertive. She had a job alright but it was her husband who’d decide if she needed to buy an umbrella or a raincoat during monsoon. He would ‘permit’ her to draw money from her salary account and assert to anyone who cared to listen that he was the provider in the family and that he never touched his wife’s money. If one were to believe him Sandhya’s bank balance had to be in lacs if not millions. But it was not so. What then happen to all the money she earned? She did not own jewelry or property, did not invest in stocks and shares. She could not bring herself to admit even to herself that while her husband was repaying their house loan and educating their children it was her salary that helped in running the house. It somehow seemed sin to say these things. The house as well as the husband and children were her own. She was not supporting someone else’s family, was she? But there were times when she felt that her contribution be recognized. Okay, if recognizing a woman’s contribution punctured her husband’s male ego, could he not refrain from claiming that he did not use her money? Was it too much to ask? But girls from decent families did not say such things. They simply swallowed the insult being directly or indirectly heaped upon them.
Rani on the other hand worked as a housemaid and earned around Rs.2000/- per month. Her husband was a vegetable vendor. It was her decision that her earnings would be spent or saved for her children’s future. Their education, school books, tuition fees etc were her responsibility. She puts aside a tidy sum for her daughter’s marriage. But food and provisions were to be taken care of by her husband. When he worked the family had enough to eat. However, there were days when he would get drunk and refuse to do business and there would be no food to eat. Rani would then take a stand. She would not cook food when the husband was around. She’d cook for her children, feed them, wash the vessels taking care not to leave any trace of having cooked a meal. She herself would make do with food given by her employers. This policy of ‘no work, no food’ would go on for sometime. The husband would finally have no option but to start selling vegetables once more. She would give him some money as capital, through someone else without letting on that the money came from her.
“I feel bad doing this didi,” she says. “But I want him to take some responsibility instead of squandering all his money.”
When I think of these two women I wonder which of them should be called empowered. Lack of education has not been detrimental to Rani’s feeling empowered. She has been able to take a stand that does not fit into the projected image of soft feminine energy but she, like Sandhya, has the family’s welfare in mind and asserts herself in a manner that seems appropriate to her.
Sandhya, on the other hand, though financially empowered, perhaps allows herself to be emotionally and psychologically exploited and is therefore not empowered in the real sense. I had suggested that education was perhaps instrumental in making women subscribe to a certain expected behavior. I feel that I am not absolutely right. Education or the lack of it cannot be detrimental to women empowerment. Being/feeling empowered is actually the result of a good deal of mental training and conditioning. If one is able to play an active role in decision making processes in her family and society and is able to express her opinion with confidence she has the right to call herself empowered.