These stereotypes are perceived differently in more archaic forms in rural areas, where women lack a popular voice.
Gender-based discrimination manifests as tightly-knit stereotypes in society such that failure to act on them can lead to an individual’s isolation within the community. This risk and fear of ostracism, however, exists more in disadvantaged rural communities. Additionally, cut off from the fast-paced, ever-changing world of urban areas, villages are almost always stuck in a time warp. These stereotypes are perceived differently in more archaic forms in rural areas.
This factor becomes particularly influential when it comes to shaping the perspectives of Aboriginal communities. In Garur and Kapkot blocks of Bageshwar district in Uttarakhand, adolescent girls’ views on gender stereotypes associated with different occupations differed from those seen in urban areas. This difference varied in degree, but interestingly the degree continued to increase with distance from the villages.
In Charson village in Garur block, which was closer to Bageshwar’s main market, girls had access to tools to critically examine common practices in their society. Anjali Arya, one of the girls from this village, expressed how unfair it was that the boys could wear all kinds of “modern” and “Western” clothes, such as jeans and t-shirts, which the girls be questioned and scorned by companies for wanting to do the same.
Additionally, Jyoti, who had been a state-level athlete, pointed out how inaccessibility to cities and hence sports stadiums and sports training centers robbed girls of their dreams of playing for the country.
The girls of Baghar, a remote but picturesque village in the Kapkot block of Bageshwar, experience a slightly different reality. There was a teenage girl sitting quietly in a barren, empty space near one of the houses. She had a stick with which she kept any child from approaching her while she was combing her hair, with a pile of utensils lying beside her. It was pointed out by a local that this girl was on her period and that was why she had been isolated from all community space.
For seven days, she would be forced to stay inside a stable intended for cows and buffaloes. He would be served food separately and asked to take a bath separately, perhaps even in the river. As an article on feminism in India puts it, a “culture of invisibility” is imposed on women from birth. They are made to live a life where they don’t even realize that they suffer injustice every day. But once they realize this, their life becomes a constant struggle to make themselves visible, audible and perceptible. Modes of resistance vary according to regions, cultures and patriarchal traditions.
In some cultures, women use the medium of “folk songs” to talk about their life, their culture and their society. They don’t have the eloquence to type pithy tweets or captivating Instagram captions; they do not have the privilege and accessibility to participate in candlelight marches or participate in a demonstration at Jantar Mantar.
The marginalization of these women and girls is therefore compounded by their socio-economic status and even geographic constraints in some cases and we in urban areas do not hear their stories, represent their concerns and conveniently forget to hand them the microphone .
Now the question arises – even if the understanding and perception of ideas of empowerment are different in different places, why does this have a consequence for us? It is important to understand that policies are written for “civil society”, but especially that part of civil society, which is able to mobilize as a pressure group for the government. However, more often than not these pressure groups represent the people who had previously expressed their self-interest, not those marginalized groups who have been silent or silenced through centuries of patriarchal traditions – like the daughters of Bageshwar.
Again, it’s not like these girls or women haven’t tried to get out of the “invisibility spell” on their own, but the bridges we’ve built for us in urban areas are out of reach for many of them. these girls. So, first, they have to start building roads to cross the barriers erected by their socio-cultural challenges and for that, we have to provide these girls with the necessary raw materials, because if they do not find their interests represented in our movements, then we need to make room for them to establish their own narrative.
(The author studies public policy at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. Charkha Features)