When my mother got married she was expected to look after her husband, raise children and manage the house. It was unthinkable for her to work or even go to family get-togethers without her spouse. But women's lives have transformed dramatically since then and sociolegal changes have supported and encouraged these paradigm shifts.
Work after marriage and motherhood
Today, many women continue to work even after marriage regardless of whether or not their income is necessary. The woman's career has become a talking point even in arranged set-ups when the groom and the bride's families meet to formalize the union. Fortunately, many men have no problem with their wife working and even encourage them to do so.
A quick scan of even matrimonial ads, which are a reflection of the marriage market, show that many grooms prefer a working girl. Even women who are not working in an office environment are running businesses out of their homes, with several making good earnings from traditional wifely jobs such as food preparation.
The most important thing is that women are now economic partners to men.
Recently, Ashok and Suzy (names changed), both airline stewards, came to me to find out how to go about getting their marriage registered. In the course of the conversation, it became clear that it was Ashok who was most keen for Suzy to continue working after marriage. He felt it would be better for their partnership. "Suzy will be financially independent and she has worked so hard to get through to the airlines and she shouldn't give it up just because she is getting married," he said. He also remarked jokingly, ''Perhaps it would be better for the marriage even from the point of view of reducing misunderstandings between my mother and wife!"
This really got me thinking that we have come a long way from the time when marriage meant the immediate cessation of all aspects of a woman's life other than housekeeping and child-rearing.
In fact, not long ago a couple Vivek and Geeta (names changed) came to me to understand the technicalities of a home loan that they were applying for together. Geeta was to be the primary applicant because she was earning more than Vivek. It's worth noting that this fact didn't perturb Vivek at all.
Vivek and Geeta even mentioned that their families had shared the wedding expenses. This was quite a refreshing change from the days of yore when the girl's family had to bear the financial burden of the wedding and even give dowry to the groom's side. The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 has also empowered women to say no to any demand for dowry, and other changes are taking place as a result. This law reflects the socio legal change in attitude towards women in marriage.
In fact, there are a number of laws in place which protect women in marriage and at the workplace. Significant amongst these are the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
Today, a woman often chooses to stay in a nuclear family where she is head and heart of the family.
The most important thing is that women are now economic partners to men. They contribute to the income of the house in a marriage and even home loans etc. are now in joint names because women are in a position to pay.
A recalibration of child-rearing
The style in which children are now being brought up has undergone a dramatic change. With more women living in a nuclear family, gone are the old traditional ways of letting the children be brought up by the elderly relatives in the house. Instead, the mother and the father both tend to play a more pro-active role. Children are exposed to plenty of after-school activities for all-round development and they get their knowledge from a variety of sources, including the internet, rather than having to ask the elders of the house for information all the time. This is again a socio-cultural shift from the way women used to bring up the children in the past. Today's mothers are the primary decision makers in the schooling and other extracurricular activities of the children.
No husband on the scene? So what?
Whether it's because of divorce or widowhood or because her husband happens to be working in another city or country, a woman on her own manages everything at home and also on the social front.
In the case of a husband working away, the wife would traditionally the wife continue staying with her in-laws, but this is changing. Today, a woman often chooses to stay in a nuclear family where she is head and heart of the family. The role of the in-laws is minimized.
The social acceptance of women in these roles is on the rise and there doesn't seem to be such brouhaha over it.
My father, too, broke convention and encouraged my mother to work and have a life besides husband, home and children. Women and men are slowly but surely becoming equal partners in a marriage, and this is a welcome social change that is here to stay.
So, I am happy peeping into Bharat Mata's handbag this Independence Day! I hope the bag gets heavier with each passing day with more positive changes for women.
Happy Independence Day and Jai Hind!