As we arrive at Women's Day, we will no doubt celebrate our achievements, share the war stories of the difficult paths we have traversed, and also possibly highlight where there are inequalities. We will no doubt highlight that we do not want or need special treatment, but we expect equal treatment, regardless of gender, colour or creed.
In a country where for more than two decades the apex leadership has been in the hands of women, we can comfortably assume that this should be a unique country where women here have developed themselves to be the most "enlightened", compared to any country in the world. Not only can we be proud of women being in the leadership position in politics, but we can also find numerous examples of women leading the way in any and all sectors. We find women as senior secretaries, corporate leaders, leaders in social development organisations, and in all other roles.
However, this is a country of 16 crore people, and roughly half of them are women. There are certainly individuals with remarkable achievements. But what about percentages? What about volume? The sheer numbers? If we are to look at the state of affairs of roughly 8 crore women, we do find a large disparity between the achievement of the individual versus the state of the roughly 8 crore.
Having said that, I just want to highlight one singular aspect of the "masses" that I have observed and would like to share. And that is of child marriage. Throughout my life, from childhood till now, I have come across this scenario in homes and as an adult, in our factories. A girl, (and I say a girl as she has not yet reached our legal adulthood of 18 years) will get married even as early as by her 14th birthday, will get pregnant, the first child will die, she will be divorced within a year or so, and then reach "maturity". By maturity, I mean in the broadest sense of her getting a true "understanding" of life. She will then choose her companion carefully, raise a family, join the workforce and work seriously, and so on.
What I want to highlight is this: When the girl gets married even at that age, her upbringing actually allows her to think that it is a cause for celebration. Oh, how many times have I seen a 16 year old from the "8 crore" become elated when her parents inform her that she is about to be married!
Now, let's not comfort ourselves with the occasional report in the newspaper where an underage girl informs the local police right before her marriage and the UNO comes to her rescue. That has to be considered as an outlier.
There is a large and dark iceberg below these news stories where thousands do not have the sense of the imminent dangers of her being married away as a child bride. In fact, unknowingly, her upbringing allows her to be a consenting enabler. And then, after the tragic consequences, it is as if her life begins in a serious manner.
My question is, why can't she begin her life in "serious manner" before going through these tragedies of infant deaths, divorces and other pains that accompany these events? Am I going to propose a solution now? There is no simple answer to this.
However, what I propose is this: On the event of Women's Day, can all of us, from both genders, start to think about this and bring this up in our priority-agenda list? Can we start to think about ways to communicate to our 8 crore early on that the event of child marriage is not a cause for celebration, but of impending pain? Can we think about ways to communicate that this is not a rite of passage for us to become "serious adults''? Identifying the problem is the first step, isn't it?
So, as we women celebrate our Day, and there is much to celebrate regarding our achievements; lets combine our formidable brain-power to find effective communication and cultural techniques to let our girls know that child marriage cannot be a cause for celebration. Let's increase the number of newspaper clippings regarding the UNO's intervention, where the clippings become so numerous that it no longer remains a special news. And then we would have added another feather to the cap of Women's Day celebration.
Aditi Sonia Mansur is Senior Lecturer at the School of Business and Economics of North South University