“Who is the head of family?” I asked a boy from Chikiti Block of Odisha. His response was the same as my earlier experiences of Tehri Garhwal, Uttrakhand.
“The father or the male member is the head of the family,” he replied. The same answer was replicated by many other individuals in my field. When I asked why the father is the head of the family, they concluded that the father is the earning member and thus runs the family. However, upon talking about the family structure and their daily lives, their conclusions about the head of the family seemed juxtaposed for me. It included women’s work more than the work of the male members – and here I am not only talking about the domestic work, but the work in fields as well.
If work actually matters to make a person the head of the family, then according to the labor a woman completes over her lifetime, no other member can defeat this. But it’s not about the work. It’s about the socialization and psyche of the person and the society which have this implanted notion that only a man can be the head or have the power to lead others. And till 2016, it was legally accepted that a woman can’t be the head of the family. Till the time a case was registered and the female won and amendment happened in the law, in which a news of Times of India concludes now “women are eligible to become the legal head of a family, a position hitherto reserved only for the eldest male.” Despite this legal landmark, however, I doubt the active implementation and awareness about the same to the majority of Indians.
I am working as an AIF Fellow in Chikiti block, Odisha. Here if you go around the area, you will definitely find either all females or majority females in the fields. Especially in the month of transplantation and cutting, the landowners need more laborers to get the work done fast. The majority of the laborers are women as per my experience. According to one analysis, women form 32% of the workforce that prepares the land for cultivation, 76% of those sowing seeds, 90% of people engaged in transplantation 82% of those transporting the crop from field to home, 100 percent of workers processing food, and 69% of those in dairying . So “she” works at home and outside the home still “she” doesn’t get recognition of her work and appreciation is something which is even harder to imagine.
Instead of recognition and appreciation, others generally dismiss her work as chota mota (of minimal value). In a conversation with a male member who works in development sector, I heard this expression. I was surprised by his answer, wondering if I’d heard correctly. I asked him again, questioning his referral of the women’s work as chota mota. I asked him what would happen if women would not work and not take care and do daily toiling in the field after the male migrants had left the field for cities. He remained silent. His silence for me affirmed the acceptance of the structural hierarchies that exist in the social structure. His usage of the expression chota mota reflects on how the work of a woman is looked down upon and valued less within the larger economic arena when it comes to the division of labor between men and women.
The fact is that rural women in Odisha play a significant role in agriculture and allied activities. They actively participate in all ranges of agricultural activities, including pre-harvesting and post-harvesting. The rural women, besides looking after the family and performing all sorts of household activities, very actively remain busy from dawn to dusk in such agricultural operations to supplements their family income. Despite such a huge contribution, her role has not yet been recognized .
Women who have always been considered the second gender, despite their hard work and contributions, are still struggling to be recognized as heads of their families. This hesitation comes even when we know that she can be the head. I always ask this question to every woman I meet: “what do you do?” Almost all of them will respond “nothing.” But when you talk to them further and ask about their daily routines, then they will tell you about the work which is hard to complete in a day, and yet they will feel inferior to others as that’s what they are made to believe about themselves from society.
“She” has been made to think like this because if “she” will recognize her work’s worth, then the power dynamics will take on a different shape and patriarchy would not be able to handle it. It’s hard to question norms and rethink the truths we are growing up with. It’s hard to question your own (self-) beliefs and values, no matter if we are old or young, educated or illiterate. As a woman growing up in a patriarchal structure of society and having studied in a top university, it took me 20 years to even realize what and why all this happens. I still find myself uncovering the layers.
- Sainath, P. “Visible Work, Invisible Women – A Lifetime Bending.” Youth Ki Awaz, July 2015. https://www.google.co.in/amp/s/www.youthkiawaaz.com/2015/07/indian-women-cultivators-labourers-photo-story/amp/
- Das, Lipishree. “Work Participation of Women in Agriculture in Odisha.” IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (20.7): July 2015. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/eca3/7d23cf8323b65b3155bdd5cd62dea969e2d0.pdf