“The Hidden Faces”- Gender Roles in Families

Kochi, Kerala 

Recently, I got an opportunity to interact with the parents of adolescent girls in KGBVs as part of the Parental Engagement Program. It is a project to involve parents in the education of their daughters by engaging them regularly, through discussions and capacity building. These interactions were fully through phone calls. We have a list of numbers and alternative numbers for all the girls, which are mostly of their fathers or brothers, and we used them exclusively for this interaction. I tried to contact them between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. when both parents will be at home and are free to speak with us. Connecting them was not a simple task; it took time for them, particularly the mothers, to be able to communicate easily.

The experiences and viewpoints of the parents are very important to get the best results of the program, through proper conversation. However, when these experiences were taken into account, there was something different than what I expected. A few of the mothers were hesitant or unable to interact with me about their children’s classes/studies because they were not confident, interested, or permitted to do so, though they were the ones who were always with them. 

After the phone calls with the parents, I understood a few aspects of the gender roles of the families and the role of women in those families. There are two sides which I could observe. On one hand, they were very shy and less interested and on the other hand, they were not allowed to talk on phones, or they were afraid to talk or not given a chance to talk. That can also be due to less exposure or less experience of talking with an outsider. When I asked a question about the online class or mentioned that I am from KGBV, they either hung up or transferred the call to their husband or children. I also observed that many women were talking about/answering our questions in a way that their husband was directing them. I think they always believe that their husband is right and knows everything. While men in the family, in very few cases, didn’t have any interest in attending the call or responding to the question. 

“Women and the culture of silence “are not unusual in our country; we can witness this if we go around India. “The culture of silence”, which is seen mostly in the rural areas where women are not supposed to speak up or raise their voice against anything or for them or due to the patriarchy and rules in the community. All these are the product of subordination of women, where they are fully controlled and restricted, and this oppression of women still prevails in our society. Here, men hold  total power, and women are excluded from the system of decision-making and other important roles. Women are at the receiving end of the patriarchal structure and their liberation is very necessary for our society. Women do believe that being silent and obeying their husbands are the correct ways or the ideal ways that they should follow. These ideas are passed on to them by their previous generations. These ideas are not being challenged at any stage. SwaTaleem is attempting to provide the girls a platform where they get access to education and overall development. That includes leadership programs, capacity building programs, language learning, social emotional learning, gender education etc, which their parents lacked, that would help them in overcoming the above-mentioned issues in the society to a certain extent.  

In these places, all women perform traditional roles such as domestic work, childcare, and so on, while men work outside the home. Many women have various dreams that they have set aside for their families, SwaTaleem Foundation is paving the way forward for these community women to develop their leadership skills and commitment by introducing the Local Women Leaders Program, which is a social change program that seeks to generate job opportunities for women.

In many places, a woman’s life is very different. In today’s environment, empowerment and raising consciousness are critical. Generations pass down values and ideas, so now is the time to dispel them and pave the way for a better future for all generations.

About the Author: Ashly GopalakrishnanAshly Gopalakrishnan is the Fundraising & Partnership Lead in SwaTaleem Foundation where she works on liaising with partners and donors to mobilize resources for KGBVs. She is a graduate of Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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