It’s that time of the year when words like strong, independent, multitasker and a whole lot of adjectives are used to describe women and various events are held, women are appreciated and then we move on. I pride myself on being one of these, strong, independent working woman. But often these adjectives conjure an image of a certain type or class of women (If I may say so), women with professional careers, balancing their home and work etc. Very seldom, have I used these adjectives to describe women in the place I work in and I have also not come across many whom immediately think of women in rural areas.
But today, I met somebody, who embodies all of this and so much more. Sushma Devi, is 21 years old from a village in the Satbarwa Block. I have known her for the past 4 years since her husband used to work with us in the project.
She had come alone to the hospital, to get her 3 months old baby girl vaccinated. As she waited to go back, I met her; we talked and ended up having lunch together. As we talked she shared the challenges of living in a remote village, her dreams for her children (2 years and 3 month old children) and their education, the plans they had as a family. She also shared the stress and challenges with her work. It was not very different from what I am going through.
I manage a project for People with Disabilities with 8 staffs. She works for an organization in the post of “Active Woman”. The NGO works with SHGs and for women empowerment. She manages about 140 women in 14 groups. She attends 3 meetings, a day and supervises their work. In addition, she manages her entire household, takes care of both her children and her sick mother-in-law. She is 21 years old and hasn’t completed her graduation since she had her delivery during her exams. She plans to write it again this year and wants to try for a better job. She is both a mother and a manager, now that is multitasking.
Even though she has a job outside, since her husband is busy with his work, the entire management falls on her delicate shoulders. Through all this, she had found time to study and pursue a higher education.
As we talked, I reflected on all the times, I complained about the amount of work I have, the difficulties, the stress and many other silly things but compared to her life, I have had the luxury of a comfortable life. There are many people who appreciate the work I do, encourage me and support me when I am done. I am not so sure, if she even has time to ventilate to anybody and seek comfort and encouragement. Also there is almost no one in her social circle to encourage her and appreciate her work which could motivate her to try harder or try different things. But she continues this pursuit without complaining and with a lot of determination.
I thought, I was strong and independent but after meeting her, I feel there are so many women who go about their daily life, unnoticed, unappreciated and unrecognised. They work in adverse conditions, managing their homes and families, being strong for them.
It hardly makes a difference in their lives, if its women’s day or if their efforts are appreciated. While the world celebrates Women’s day or week or month or women as heroes, there are many whose lives are untouched by all this. But they silently live each day, move on, selflessly doing what they do whether they are appreciated or not. They keep going because the only way to survive is to ‘Stay Strong’.
She is one among many, many women who are in similar situations. But I would take the liberty to say that she is among the few privileged ones as she has a good family and a very supportive husband. A Majority of the girls get married early and that is the only thing they are prepared for since they are born. They don’t even dare to dream. Although there is so much work going on for the empowerment of women, there are so many who do not enjoy the basic right to life- a life of dignity and fulfilment.
Often it feels like things might not ever change or take a long time but when there are women like Sushma, there is a glint of hope. With every woman she meets, am sure she leaves a trace of her determination and continues to inspire them. It’s these women who are the real heroes, who need to be encouraged, appreciated and enabled to continue to make a difference.
“When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.” – Helen Keller