It’s 2017 and Malayali women are no longer content with complacency; neither is she grateful to have an overbearing but kind husband; nor does she consider child rearing her ultimate life goal. Here, Onmanorama Women takes stock of the changes in society’s attitude towards its women over the years.
Anju Bobby George, athlete
Anju is proud of the achievements of Malayali women in athletics and other sports events. The veteran long jumper, who has won numerous medals on national and international platforms, remembers how disappointed her mother used to be for not getting a chance to participate in her youth in sports events due to her gender.
“Sports was not considered suitable for girls at that time. They were not allowed to go out of the house. Now, our many talented women athletes make our nation proud. But compared to other countries, we are still behind in our efforts to bring women up.”
Sameera Saneesh, fashion designer
Sameera says times have changed for the better as women have a choice in what they wear now. “Kerala was a place where women were not allowed to cover their breasts at one time; those wearing a sari and ‘davani’ were looked down upon. Jeans and skirts were accepted with reluctance. That has changed now. Fashion is not a derogatory word anymore.”
Divya S. Iyer, sub-collector, Thiruvananthapuram
Divya is of the opinion that society’s attitude towards women has undergone a sea change. She attributes this to the self-realization of women that their lives are not to be confined to the kitchen. “Educated, financially independent women are one reason why Kerala has a better quality of life than several of the North Indian states.
“Equality between men and women still remains a green patch. Women should involve more in politics and governance and speak their mind. The aim is to make women feel safe in every space.”
Dr. S. Harikishore, Kudumbasree executive director
Kudumbasree executive director Dr. S. Harikishore is of the view that the government initiative of Kudumbasree has contributed considerably to the financial and social empowerment of Kerala women from poorer backgrounds.
Women born into financially sound families are far more socially empowered, they have the means to access education and change. Kudumbasree, a collective of neighborhood women, gives the less fortunate women the power to stand alone by standing together and helping each other.
Members themselves are entrusted with various responsibilities of the collective; each one has a president and secretary. This helps them to embrace their leadership instincts. In the last Panchayat elections, 15,863 Kudumbasree members fought as candidates and won the presidency in 255 Panchayats, 42 Block Panchayats, and two District Panchayats. 14 of them got elected to the position of Municipal Chairperson.
Still a long way to go
Actor Parvathy has a different take on the whole issue. “I have been haunted by assaults from the age of four. It took me another 13 years to gather the courage to fight back. Everyone I talked to naturalized these behaviors but none told me that it is my right to protect my body. In our society, women are still objects to be ogled at and controlled by men, not individuals to be respected for their mind,” she tweeted during the #metoo campaign.
Parvathy's words echo the sentiment of many women. We have pink police, State Women’s Commission and Women and Child Welfare Department in place to address the needs of women, but the staggering number of assault and harassment cases against women put a dent at the veneer of our progress.