Dealing with Gender in Health Awareness

Discussion: A widow with 3 year old daughter wants to marry a boy younger than her.

Comment. No comment with lot of disbelief in their eyes that a lay could at all ask such questions without being embarrassed herself. “What was so embarrassing at all?”That a lady who is a widow, and has a three year old child, should want to marry again. Wouldn’t the life of her child be put in jeopardy, in her second husband’s house?”But in this brutal world, is the lady herself safe despite being a mother ? Would the society treat her as a mother? Won’t she be treated as an object of exploitation?”No takers. May be it is true for the urban people. In the village, a widow can not think this way. There are girls who are waiting to marry. Who should want to marry a widow with a child? At best, some one would get involved in an affair with such a lady.

�·Discussion : The mother is the first teacher of a child. What a mother aged 16/17 can teach her child? What should a girl learn before getting married?

But the girls are going to school. They are no more married off early. Girls were innocent before hand. They could shoulder responsibilities as soon as they went to their in-law’s place. The girls now-a-days have changed a lot.”Earlier the marriages were different. There was friendship between two families with a marriage. The girl felt at home. But now a days she has to prove herself. At such a tender age, it is difficult to understand the relationships and responsibilities. Earlier, her responsibilities to teach the child were shouldered by her in laws and there was traditional learning of one’s ancestral background, respect towards elders etc, which are outdated things today. She is expected to teach the alphabets and books through which one is taught to recognize one’s heritage. This warrants good education on the part of the would-be mother.”But if she doesn’t get married at 17/18, she won’t get good proposals after that. We didn’t have a reply to that. According to our advice, the women are advising the girls-to-be married to delay motherhood by at least two years. But the father’s dilemma about the dowry persists.

Discussion :What do you understand by the word “Family Planning?” Operation? Spacing between children? Development of the family? Good Education?

They replied that it is about the no of children, oral pills and operation. “Why to worry so much, the ladies have the facility of operation now a days.”We told them that family planning operation is done only when no more children are wanted. To prevent pregnancy, there has to be some measure undertaken by the couple. This was shocking information to the older age category. Some of them have never known what the wife does to prevent pregnancy. They hardly notice anything beyond the routine meal and 4-5 children. The women consider themselves lucky if the husband is nonchalant. They think that it is being un-intrusive. For them, the husbands start beating and abuse them if they are to be consulted every time. So we asked the men , “if they have children without much spacing, won’t their up bringing be a burden? The girl child would have to suffer in such a case .”We wait for the second round when the men would reply to our query. We anticipate a reply like this : ” Children are God gift . “We think that we can counter them by asking : ” Would you accept the child of an unwed mother without malice : as the gift of God?”The discussion may lead to sin and illegitimacy perhaps. Is it not sin to deprive your children of proper upbringing ? Is it not sin to make the wife share her share of food with the children, and later on, make the girl children forgo education and get trapped into the cycle of poverty by pushed into marriage into poor families?

Follow up question : a) What should be the relationship between husband & wife? Friends, Master- Servant/God-devotee? If they are friends, from when this friendship starts building (because she becomes a wife only when she brings adequate dowry)? b)Does the wife get scope to talk to the husband during whole day to plan out something? Does the husband at all thinks it to be apt to discuss with the wife about most affairs?

Discussion : Why a parent scolds a teenage daughter for? Venturing outside the house? Staying late at friends/ Frequent visit to theatre/Asking for pocket money/Coming to attend our meeting/Watching TV always/ Not attending school/college regularly?

�·Discussion : Who is the woman character in Ramayana/ Mahabharata you admire? Why?

We have put this question to the women and the adolescent girls also. They know better about the women characters. The men could remember Sita, Radha, Yasoda. But they thought that these are goddesses to be worshipped who can not be subjected to admiration.So our question was : The story of Radha Krishna is about an extra-marital affair. Why do we worship them?They answered that that was Godly affair again. So we asked them as to why descriptions of Radha’s blemish galore in Odissi songs if it was Godly? The men appeared confused. We compounded their confusion by telling that if we worship them, we were making wrong signals to our girls and women So we put an apparently simple question : ” Do they take exception if the ladies worship Radha-Krishna at home?”No : was the reply.What is it that we worship them for?We also talked about the five Mahasatis who were the , embodiment of Chastity, Kunti, Droupadi, Ahalya, Tara & Mandodari, who had flaws which are socially intolerable even now. We tried to give them clues that women are not only bodies, their substance that celebrates life is what makes them equal to goddesses.The men in their lives have been relegated to a position behind them. They took their decision, and stood by those decisions all through which is what has made them tall and celebrated.So when women is empowered, she can achieve the unbelievable while the all powerful men can only marvel in disbelief! The Govt. has realized this that’s why the women are approached to be part of the mainstream because the men alone could not make any progress during the last 50 years even after independence. Prosperity has to be in the hands of Mahalaxmi, the women!We thought we received the amused half nods from them as solicitation of our views.

Follow up question : To err is humane – can we give a women her space in this context (accept her wrongs even once) There is a limit to tolerate the extremes by the husband. Even Sita, preferred to take to the womb of the earth, rather than taking the fire-test of Sri Ram second time. Is your woman so equipped to walk out of an undignified marriage? If not, is she not a destitute under a roof?

Discussion : Why a child becomes wayward? Is it the fault of the parents? Can the parents confidently say that they have never scorned at their duties in life?

People blame the current trends and the Television at the root cause for their children going wayward. They are sure that the parents are not to blame.So we asked : Have you always treated well to your ageing parents? Have you thought equally for your brothers’ children as your own children? Have you discharged your duty well towards every dependant relative of yours?Everybody could not say yes confidently to each of these questions. So we requested them to give it a thought : The children are closely watching the parents. They are feeling for the disadvantaged relatives who ask for help. If the children sense that the parents are shrugging off their duties at some point, disdain and hatred for the parents grow inside them which manifests as irresponsible behavior.

Follow up question : Why have we become apathetic towards each other?

Discussion : Do you want to have a male child?

The answer is often yes. We then ask : “why it is so?” They reply that the male child alone can give ‘Sraddh’ and ‘Pinda’ to the deceased parent, which is the reason they long for a male child.To solicit their attention, we ask another question : ” What do you mean by Sraddh?” They say that ‘it is the food offered, some say that it is the form of affection in the memory of the dead.We continue discussion like this : If Sraddh, a sign of affection, can be showered better by a female children. And if we think that we are offering food to the deceased, then there are three conditions : a) if s/he goes to heaven, would get food plentily. b) If s/he goes to hell, then the lord of death won’t allow him any food anyway. c) If s/he gets rebirth, then the concerned family would provide the food. Let’s think this way: Suppose my grand mother-in law is reborn as my daughter. If I offer Sraddh to my grand-mother in law, wouldn’t my daughter get the food?]We haven’t heard much discussion at this point as yet. So we conclude the discussion with the following story:The Gajapati, the king of Puri, after building the temple for Lord Jagannath, prayed the Lord to make him childless so that nobody remained in the family to think proudly about the forefathers, (the Lord can not stand vanity in a devotee). We treat the King as the walking God, even today. Because of this reason, the reigning king’s own son does not ascend the throne, he has to adopt one. So what is in an ordinary person’s name that is to be remembered by posterity through a son? At some places, when we have somebody with a no. of girl children, we also add in the following manner : As it is, nobody remembers the names beyond the grandfather. Is it not foolish to have five daughters in the endeavor to have a son, by which the girl children’s lives are compromised ? But we expect that some people would retaliate with some absurd argument when we start our second phase.

Follow up question : What are the jobs that women can’t do?

The response to our questions were varied in nature. Some times they were amused with our way of reasoning. At other times, it was stun silence. But the expressions on their face have convinced us that they want to see our view point also , and the most important thing is, they would give us the opportunity to talk to them, be it an argument, during the next phase of our project. It should also be noted that, we have mobilized only two or three groups of men in every village. The men would be organized as a whole when there would be inter group and inter village communication during the next phase.

Ms. Sajani Sahu asked the card playing group to spare us five minutes for a meeting. “What would the Madam talk to us ? ” They asked. Ms. Sahu told that it would be about the health of the women in their family. They asked, ” She is already talking to them. Why again ask us ?” The PC arrived by then. They sat as they were. Some, even their backs to the PC. Since it was a group of all age groups, the PC requested them not to mind if some questions appeared offensive. They agreed. The PC asked, “is the health of the women now better than before?” One of them replied : ” Now they are going to the hospital at the slightest excuse. Beforehand, the ladies of the house were spending whole day making household recipes for the children. Now they demand biscuits for the children. Do you think that the biscuits would ever match the energy of rice porridge?””What are the dishes which were earlier there , but now nobody knows about?”An elderly man replied : ” The mushroom that was roasted with pumpkin leaves. Does anybody know the taste of it today? And this was the easiest of recipes. Leave alone the gamut of recipes, that nobody knows now with the vegetables like parwal, Brinjal , Ladies Finger etc. coming to the markets and everybody goes after those only. “”Don’t you think that ladies are burdened with child bearing and their upbringing? Also they have to consume regular oral pills which have side effects at a later stage?”Nobody had any clear idea about this. But one of them answered , ” Earlier there were more than 5 children in every household. Now there is the facility of operation. Why the ladies are not availing that?””But it is the male who should provide them the support for the better planning of family.”The men present appeared confused. “It is Indira Gandhi era. The ladies don’t need any support anymore. They now reply back. The girls are studying, staying longer at their parental houses. “Ms. Sajani Sahu started explaining about other family planning methods including condom.”So do you take the children to the hospital?”While a person with a little daughter at his side was responding to this question, the elders started leaving. So we requested them to have a little refreshment after the discussion. Few of them returned back. So we continued with the present group of about 5 people. When refreshments arrived, the gathering increased to about 16 people present there, most of them did not respond to any question of ours. Later on in the evening, after the meeting was closed, one elderly person commented to Ms. Sajani Sahu : ” Those ladies are from town. But you belong to this village. You are the wife of a respected person. Should you talk about family planning just because you hold a job?”After this incident, it took a lot of persuasion for Ms. Sahu to arrange a male meeting. It is to be noted that Ms. Sahu is without any children, and when she starts talking about the spacing between child births, even the ladies laugh at her.

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