Connecting local responses around the world
A simple 35 year old woman Usha (name changed) was married into an aristocratic, traditional political family. Many restrictions came after marriage. She had to do everything with the permission of her mother-in-law and husband. She was restricted to the home, her opinion was not considered in any important decision of the house. She could never leave the house alone for any work. Usha had a lot of interest in sewing, but she was not allowed to go alone to the market to buy sewing material because it was outside in the city about 10 kms away from her village.
Before I started SALT, I tried hard to improve her situation. Whenever I would meet her I would tell her how important it is for women to do something for themselves. I would teach her, advise her, and tell her what to do. She was very scared to do anything. Women do not have a voice in her family, how will her husband and mother in law respond.
However after SALT I began to appreciate what she had done in her life. She said in spite of difficult circumstances she had been able to study. Now I stopped telling her what she should I listened more to her, what she was going through, what were her dreams.
Through these SALT conversations, she felt safe. She slowly started opening up with me. Rupali cried a lot. Rupali wanted to study further, but since her father had expired, her mother quickly got her married to get rid of the responsibility. Girls are considered a burden. SALT made her feel that she had the capacity to achieve her dream. I started seeing changes in her behaviour. As her confidence grew, she realised that if her husband who is less educated than her, can do so many things, she too can take many responsibilities.
She decided to have a conversation with her husband. She asked him husband why you are ignoring me. Why don’t you give me freedom? Her husband didn't say anything about it, but Deepa didn't stop asking him. She had daily discussions with her husband about the restrictions on her mobility. It was not safe for woman to go out on her own was the response. A male had to accompany her.
Deepa had to depend on her husband to bring her the material she needed for sewing. Sometimes she had to stop sewing, if her husband did not have time, but she did not dare to go alone to the city to fetch the material. But SALT had build her confidence that she can do anything if she sets her mind to it and that too without anyone's help. So, one day she asked her husband but he refused to go with her, so she went out on her own to the city shops to get the sewing material. First time she had gone to the city on her own! She was very happy as she realized that she won’t be dependent on others anymore.
A few days later Usha’s relatives were going to the theatre to watch a movie. They also invited Usha. She was able to convince her husband. After almost 12 years of marriage, Usha went to see a movie with her husband.
SALT has changed Usha. she can now speak freely at home. She asserts her opinion, she used to be very shy. Now SALT has given her confidence to negotiate with her husband. She did not have a phone but now has been able to get a new mobile phone. Her son’s school sends information on the phone but she was not able to access the information as the phone was with her husband who was away the whole day for work. Now she not only has information from the school but she is able to order sewing material, see new designs on internet and also get more orders.
Usha lives in a joint family. None of the women are allowed to go out alone, but now Usha discusses different issues in the family, so her status in her family has changed. An example of this is when we did collective dream for the village, despite the evening time, she brought her nephew and her sister in-law along with her.
However, there are challenges. Her mother-in-law does not approve of the growing independence in Rupali and feels as if her daughter-in-law is over taking her. I have learned that for a transformative change, I will need to work with the family. Working with one person will not be enough. Next, I plan to have SALT conversations with her husband and mother-in-law.
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