A choice of her own
Lately, I read about the struggles of a single Indian woman (28), who was not yet ready to succumb to the pressures of society that seeks to get a woman married by the time she steps her early 20s. The case in Nepal is no different. Values and traditions which may no longer be relevant are often imposed on especially young women. The pressure is beyond imagination for those who have already taken the bold decision to remain single. With the changing time and context, a renewed perception on women’s identity detached from their marital status is today’s need.
Traditionally, marriage is often considered salvation of woman and the most important responsibility of parents; while remaining single is seen as socially and psychologically deviant and a big failure, often with lingering stigma. Her worth, morality and value are all measured in terms of her marriage. To return to her normalcy, she must at any rate marry and settle down with a man, who might not always be as educated, competent and smart as her. This pressure is so palpable that many women often decide to stay abroad than in their country just to live in peace. This being said, my purpose here is not to demean a man (women) who may be less educated than his wife (husband), but respects and loves her (him) as an individual. The argument rather is to establish a need to dismantle the socially stigmatized status of women who are not married or are widowed, or have decided to remain single, while stressing the importance to advocate women’s freedom to exercise her choices and allow her more space in selecting right partner.
Among educated mass of urban women, staying single in her late 20’s or early 30’s is not something very uncommon today as it was some decades ago in Nepal. With more freedom in education, opportunities and travel, Nepalese women in cities are now more educated and professionally competent. The attitude of our society however carries the same primitive stereotypes of judging women on the basis of their marital status. She is constantly harassed by her neighbors, relatives and friends taunting her and her family about marriage or her less chances of finding a good man with her growing age. It instills a deep psychological trauma into the parents’ psyche regarding her future, which they see completely dark in absence of her groom. Moreover, she is expected to lower her standards regarding her would-be groom just to ensure that she gets married on time. The ever fleeting right time of marriage for a woman however is another subject of debate.
The conflict here arises with her independent choices (including marriage) which she is not ready to compromise with, and the consequent stigmatization. A woman’s being independent and attaining higher education hence is considered less important due to society’s perception of a woman’s appropriate age within which she must marry, or else be sympathized as having a lower value and status than her married contemporaries. This association of a woman’s value and identity with her being married or single is hence a disrespect to her right to live in dignity as a human being, while a huge demerit in exercising her active choices. A woman deserves respect because she is a human, irrespective of her married or single status, her physical beauty, age and chastity or impeccable moral standards or any other such ascribed values that society tags with her identity.
Society cannot tolerate that a woman has her views and opinions on how their husbands should be or allow women the luxury to choose her partner, hence maintaining the status quo. She’ll be showcased to potential men and their family, who might like her. Quite the reverse, the woman wouldn’t be taken her consent for the show, while in many a case, won’t even be informed that someone was coming to see her. This trend is gradually shifting with allowing both men and women to take their time to see each other and understand. It will not however allow women to have upper hands because ultimately it’s the man and his family whom the society by default entrusts the divine right to select or reject the woman. The good news however is that women are refusing to give in to the pressures and coping with the staunch criticisms. They are exploring a new realm of their power to persist and fight back against the patriarchal stereotypes that sees woman’s world in her man’s refuge.
Women nowadays seek men on par with their educational and professional capacities. They prefer intellectual and emotional compatibility and chemistry before finally getting married. Mindsets hence need to be changed with time. Nepalese women are not only limited to being mothers and home makers today. They are artists, writers, researchers, academics, entrepreneurs and pioneers in various fields with potentials of achieving yet more. It’s high time to change this mentality and accept the fact that women just like her fellow men exist as intellectually capable and independent individuals with brains to think and choices to make, which should be recognized and respected.
There is an urgent need to change the attitude of individuals and society where relatives and neighbors are much more desperate to see a woman married than her own parents. Let her take time and decide when and to whom she really wants to marry. Or, does she want to marry at all? Surely, daughters are not burdens the salvation from which is getting her married off to anyone just because of the imposed pressures. The sooner we realize this truth, the happier and healthy our society will be.
(This oped was published in Seto Pati, a local digital newspaper on 11th June 2014. Link: http://setopati.net/opinion/1923/A-choice-of-her-own/#sthash.bjMafFwZ.dpuf )