Woman’s Day

A peaceful Sunday morning. Leisurely cooking, unlike the frenzied dabba-packing of weekdays. A friend of the kid is here and the two of them are studying for a Math test on unit conversions and ratio and proportion. Around 12 noon I stick my head in the study to say lunch is ready, and find them giggling helplessly. 

“What’s so funny, guys?” I ask.

My little one buries his face in his books. The other one tells me, “Aunty, he says one boy is equal to thousand girls.”
“Is it in one of the sums?” I inquire.
“No, he just made it up.”

I clutch at the doorknob for support as my knees threaten to give under me. Pure anguish. How, oh how, could my child-raising have gone so horribly, horribly wrong?

A few hours later  . . .

I am marking student assignments while the kid is sprawled on the floor, reading. 

Suddenly: “Ma, what’s abo- shin?”
My pen freezes in mid-air.
“Is it in the book?”
“No, I heard it somewhere.”
“What’s it mean?”
“Did you look it up?”
“Yes, but I didn’t understand.”
“OK.” (Can he hear my heart thumping?) Carefully sanitized explanation follows.
“Hmmm. Did you have an abo-shin?”
“I think you must have.”
“Why do you say that?” (Surely he must hear the tom-toms beating in my rib-cage?)
“See, everybody has a brother or a sister. So it’s not possible not to have a second child. So you must have abo-shin-ed.”
(The tom-toms are deafening.) “No, da. It is possible not to have a child if you don’t want one, without an abortion.”
“Oh. How?”
“Er… I’ll explain after dinner OK?”
“OK. It’s complicated, eh?”
“Y-yeah. Sort of.”

I walk into the bedroom, lock myself in and call up the spouse who’s traveling. “Can you take the first flight back home, please? I’d like to have a nervous breakdown.”

(Not to worry, people. Adequate talking it over with the kid followed both incidents. An attempt that left me wishing I’d done a Ph.D. on the language of children rather than the language of Amitav Ghosh.)

Facetiousness aside, a year before the 100th celebration of Women’s Day, it’s worth asking what we’ve achieved.

I’ve resisted the temptation to read the many inspiring voices in the blogosphere on Women’s Day. As someone who knows only too well the deep-rooted gender biases of academic and commercial publishing, I see the alternative space that blogs provide as oxygen for women. And yet this is primarily a space for the English-educated, internet-accessing elite.

Ground reality appears to tell a different story. In decision-making bodies women’s voices are still a minority the world over. According to the UN’s Inter-Parliamentary Union’s report (Source: The Hindu, March 7, 2009) women hold just over 18% of the seats in parliaments around the world. And since parliaments are popularly elected bodies, this can only mean that women still lack any real, equal power. Even in the world’s supposedly most advanced country (US) this figure is 17% for both houses of Congress, still less than the global average.

Whatever the evils of “reservations”, it is crucial for women to have a significant presence in administration and governance. Problems and crises very often have a woman’s face that gets ignored. Even the current global economic crisis has a gender bias. As Amelita Dejardin of the ILO points out in this article, “what is lacking in the debates surrounding the crisis is the realization that, especially in Asia, working women are affected more severely, and differently, from their male counterparts.”

Sadly, though, the few women who do get elected into the legislative bodies in India do not always conduct themselves creditably. The recent widely televized  (in Andhra) slugfest between women leaders (who will in all likelihood get elected to the state Assembly) of two political parties, trading charges over who was sleeping around to get party positions, just goes to show that women continue to undercut their own cause.

Education, in my view, holds the key.  And it is vital for women to play a key role in their own education. A fine example that deserves to be celebrated today is the book Shareer ki Jaankari (published jointly by Kali for Women and IDRC). A book written, conceptualized, and illustrated by 75 rural women from Rajasthan’s villages.  The fascinating thing about this book is, in the words of the publishers,:

. . . because it was about women’s bodies the village women had to find a way of depicting this. They drew pictures and then tested these in the village and everyone laughed, saying you never see a naked woman in a village, how could these pictures be realistic. But of course their problem was, how to show the female body in a book about the body without showing the naked body? So they went back to the drawing board and came up with an ingenious plan. They’d show a woman fully dressed, covered from head to toe, but then you would have a small flap you could lift up and you’d see the vagina, the breasts and so on! You’ll have to see the book to see what I mean, but it was a wonderful solution.

I have seen the book, thanks to a friend in Hyderabad, and the reason I think it is so effective is that rather than blindly ape Western models and standards it takes into account, is rooted in, the culture of its audience. 

You can read about this book here. (Thanks to Jabberwock for pointing to this online mention of the book in his blog a few months ago.)

So yeah, Happy Women’s Day. And thank you too, all the men in my life, out of my life, unconnected or distantly connected to my life. You help make me feel . . .  well . . .  a woman!




  1. Prasanth said

    Late but very much in earnest! 🙂

    Nice one!…I am sure the “adequate talking it over” that followed both incidents would have been as fascinating.

    That aside, it is truly admirable that you have chosen to explain all this to the kid. So many would take recourse to more convenient methods. I am sure your son, when he is older, will look at these moments as very special ones. Cheers.

    Thanks for the link to the book. People generally scoff when one tells them that education is the key to so many problems. What they don’t understand is that it means a specific kind of education, let us call it education of the more involved sort, that is really implied.
    Although very belated, a very happy Woman’s Day to you.

  2. Prasanth:

    Thank you, you very earnest young man!

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