Teach newlywed women how to navigate space

I was born in Raswada in Rajasthan’s Alwar District. My family consisted of my parents, three siblings, and one brother. When I was eight, my parents moved to Gurugram in Haryana. They were looking for better opportunities. I finished my schooling and married in 2001 when I was 18.

My husband, my daughter, and my son now live in Alwar. My husband works as a daily wage earner. He whitewashes houses and earns INR600 per day. After getting married, I realized I would need to work to pay for our expenses. We needed basic amenities such as water and proper sanitization.

Early in my life, I realized the importance of women creating their identities. I began by working for nonprofits where I taught Jeevan Kaushal Shiksha to teenage girls to teach them critical thinking and problem-solving skills. To continue working in this field, I needed to do more study. After nine years of marriage, I obtained a BA degree and a BEd. I am a field coordinator with Ibtada in Alwar. I offer career counseling to young women and facilitate their computer education. I also conduct sports programs for these women. I work with Ibtada to teach newlywed women communication skills and inform them about their reproductive health needs, nutritional requirements, etc. I also help them navigate patriarchal environments and understand gendered violence, its layers, and how to combat it. My life and my experiences in the development field have both influenced me.

6.30 AM: When I get up, my husband has finished his puja and yoga and made tea for us both. We divide chores according to the amount of work so everyone can get started on time. My husband chops vegetables, I prepare breakfast, and sometimes my son helps me with the laundry or ironing clothes. Next, the children are ready for school. My daughter allows me to cook when she isn’t at school. My son or husband cleans my scooter, depending on their schedule.

My husband realized the value of my contribution when he fell ill and left us with no income in 2016.

It was sometimes different from this. I was responsible for all household chores for the first fifteen years of our marriage. In 2016, when my husband became ill, and we had no income, he realized the importance of what I did for the family. I ran the household and handled the bills, chores, and hospital expenses. He realized that if he could support his family financially, he needed to help around the house. I earned not only for myself but also for my family.

My in-laws were resistant. They didn’t want me to work. They chided my husband when he started doing chores and said he was dancing to my tune. He held fast to his beliefs. I would like to see the same changes in the homes of newly-married young women I work with.

Very early in my life, I understood the need for women to create their own identities. | Picture courtesy: Raj Bala Varma

10.00 am: I plan my workday and meet with women in the newly married women program. Currently, I work with four groups of 69 women. Three of these groups began in May 2023.

It is a long process to convince women and their families. They must trust that I will be there without judgment and that I understand the situation they are in. I use examples from my life to show them that I know what they are going through. I ensure they know that the change process is slow so that their patriarchal structures at home don’t seem impossible. Communication and minor, incremental changes are required to change behavior.

To build trust, I offer solutions for the problems women are facing. In one conversation, I asked the women what was their most common physical problem. They correctly replied, “Infections caused by Leukorrhea.” They didn’t understand why this happened or how to deal with it. The girls don’t know enough about the symptoms to recognize them, and their family does not consult a doctor. I show them how to talk to their families about their challenges and seek treatment when needed.

I also convene joint meetings between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law to convince them. They usually make decisions in regard to their daughters-in-law. They often resist me, and even the husbands sometimes do; they ask what I will teach the young woman. I listen carefully to what they say and keep an open mind when discussing issues.

I build a personal relationship with the women in the newlywed program so that they feel comfortable confiding in me about their problems.

What will you teach to our daughter-in-law? Why don’t I join your group? I tell them they have already accomplished a lot. You’ve been working all your life and have made decisions in the home. So you don’t need the group. Your daughter-in-law is the one who needs to be taught how to run a house. She must learn to respect you and not fight or argue with you. “Don’t you wish she lived happily with you?” I ask them with sensitivity and thoughtfulness.

This will convince them that I am not going to teach their daughters-in-law anything they consider “wrong”, but instead, that I’m going to help her learn skills that are beneficial for the whole family.

I build a relationship with the women so that they feel comfortable confiding in me. Often they feel frustrated by their mother-in-law. I may also hear the husband or mother-in-law complain about their daughter-in-law. It is not my job to interfere but rather to listen. Information exchange can cause conflict, so I avoid it. Sometimes, I act as a mediator. I will try to help the wife understand the husband’s perspective if he can explain it. This is how I maintain the trust of my family and strike a good balance.

Once I reach the office, I plan my day at work and conduct meetings with the women in the newly married young women program. 

My schedule is usually flexible. Some days I go to the field for training. We host orientation meetings at other times for the families of women who join us. 

 

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