Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 4 Issue 14 | September 24, 2004 |

   Cover Story
   News Notes
   Slice of Life
   A Roman Column
   Time Out
   Human Rights
   Straight Talk
   Book Review
   Dhaka Diary
   New Flicks
   Write to Mita

   SWM Home


Men and Women
Two Different Worlds

Kavita Charanji

Life begins at 40. So they say. Is that really true, I wonder on days when the sun doesn't shine, when one feels older than one's age or gets stuck with unflattering labels that are so easy to dish out. Yes, I've learnt to be thick(er) skinned from my salad days but it's not easy to give up a lifetime of introspection.

At various points in my life, I have been perplexed by issues such as gender inequality, parenting, the unpredictability of relationships and death. Here I seek to focus on a subject dear to me--the yawning chasm that separates the lives of men and women in our region.

Look around and you will see the picture of happy families. But often behind the facade is the shaky edifice of relationships based on inequality, self sacrifice and the lack of acknowledgement of women's role in society. To illustrate my point:- someone I know compelled his would be wife to give up a prestigious job so that she could devote her energies to 'home and hearth'. Then there are several acquaintances who expect their wives to be clones of their mothers--complete with culinary and flower arrangement skills. Still others --and this is a majority-- are content to sit back after a hard day's work and let their wives handle the drudgery that goes with homemaking even if the latter are equally exhausted.

And when the children come along, the burden of parenting falls squarely on women. Did anyone say that women are instinctively better at this task? What absolves fathers from doing their bit by helping out with homework, meals and outings? Most fathers feel that their responsibility ends with dishing out the finances for the family.

You can't blame men for this blinkered view of life. From the time they are born, they are made to feel that they are God's answer to womankind. In this part of the world at least, pride of place is given to boys, after all, it is they who will carry on the family name. The woman, so the reasoning goes, will ultimately go into another family and --unhappy or not--she has to stick it out since her rightful place is beside her husband.

What is the way out? Women activists in Asia are of the opinion that financial independence is the key to women's equality. In a previous generation it may have been possible for women to stay away from the workforce. Then it was taken for granted that women's role remained confined to the home and children. Today they not only supplement domestic earnings but carve a firm place in professions such as journalism, teaching, medicine, corporations, banks and law.

Even at the grassroots level, women from rural areas have transformed themselves into wage earners through income generating activities such as poultry farming, mulberry tree plantation and fish culture. This revolution in women's lives in Bangladesh has been aided by the indefatigable efforts of NGOs such as BRAC, Proshika and Banchte Shekha. These organisations, with their extensive network of field offices, have helped to empower women through education, health care, legal education and poverty alleviation measures.

To be fair, there are many women who are content with domesticity. Indeed, unlike in the West, it is still possible to find women who derive fulfillment from nurturing their families. These are women who are on par with even the brightest career women and derive a different --and possibly greater-- satisfaction from their lives. And indeed what could be better than to be an anchor for those who are dependent on one? Many are the cases of women who have looked after the elders, been good mothers and managed a home with effortless ease. Is their contribution to society any less than that of working women?

But for those who think about issues such as gender equality, a word of advice from Indian writer and historian Bilkiz Albidin who writes, "Life is very difficult and strange. People who sacrifice their dreams for others often do not receive anything in return. Every woman must have a goal and an ambition of her own."

Words of wisdom for any thinking person.



Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2004