In India, when a girl is born, her parents start saving up. Buying gold, opening fixed deposit accounts, you name it. You’ll now be thinking, “That’s wonderful! Such loving parents❤“. Well, think again.
Here’s a clue – this is NOTher college fund.
They are saving for her (eventual) marriage!
Amusing, right? Why would parents worry about a wedding, when a baby is just born? Shouldn’t they be thinking along the lines of, “Who will wake up for the 3am feed?“, ” What are we going to name her?“, “Look at her tiny nose and fingers and toes!“, “Oh, she is sooo cute!” 😃. Sure these thoughts are in their minds. Along with gems like, “OMG! How do we pay for her wedding?” and “I must guard her like a hawk so she doesn’t ‘besmirch’ the family name“. Because, in India, a family’s reputation rests solely on the frail shoulders of the little baby girl!! 🙄
A vast majority of the Indian subcontinent still prefer a son. I know some folks whose faces fell, right after hearing they had a healthy baby girl. And some others, who preferred not to marry from a family consisting entirely of daughters – because – the women may not be capable of producing a male child! Imagine such thoughts, in this day and age!
A girl is a responsibility to the Indian family. Even if her parents don’t see it that way, the relatives will ensure that her parents eventually fall into this line of thinking. She is on ‘loan’ to them, and her ‘real home’ is supposedly with her husband (and in-laws). Her parents’ duty is simply to ensure she is brought up a well-mannered woman, who doesn’t bring a ‘bad name’ to the family.
From the time she can walk and talk, she hears – “Sit properly!” , “Cross your legs when seated!“, “Stop playing in the sun, no one likes a girl with dark skin“. If she fools around too much, then it is, “You are a girl! Behave like one“. I am curious – is there an instruction manual to explain life rules that apply to females of Indian descent? 🤔
According to local wisdom, an educated girl may become too ‘difficult to handle‘ after marriage 🤦. Subscribers to this archaic theory believe that, once educated, a woman may begin to think for herself and not silently accept everything dumped on her. When educated, it is often so she can secure a good match (read ‘husband’), rather than for her benefit or so she can support herself in life.
At home, she is ‘privileged‘ to learn the secrets of cooking and cleaning along with her mother. Her brother is frequently given a free-pass by parents citing, “Oh, he has lots to study“. Obviously a boy’s education is more important than a girl’s, and he doesn’t need to spend time learning life skills! And this ideology imparted to him in childhood towards girls, carries on for the rest of his life.
After working so hard for an education, does she get to pursue a job? Not necessarily. She may have a great job before marrying. After marriage, her holding a ‘job’ may be deemed unsuitable to her husband’s family circumstances. So much so that in India, this is a question of paramount importance to ask the groom’s family when they come to ‘see’ her as part of the bride-seeing ceremony. A strange family decides whether a woman gets to go to work while her own family watches in silence, and tells her “Just adjust my dear. It’s for your good future”.
I know women who were brilliant at their jobs, and then settled down to a life of domestic duties after marriage. Why? Because their husbands didn’t want a wife who went out to work. I know girls who were stopped from learning to dance – all in the name of “What will others’ think?“. Choosing to stop doing something that brings them joy, or to stop working and supporting themselves as they no longer felt fulfilled by it, is something the woman should be able to decide. But having to cave in to pressure from others, and then being made to feel like it was their own choice and for the good of the family – this is how many women are put under invisible shackles by society.
What of women who decide they want to choose their own partner? God forbid! Either cast out, labelled black sheep of the family, or both – she is forever a warning to future generations.
Alright. Now the Indian daughter is (presumably) enjoying wedded bliss. What’s next?
A month into marriage, well-intentioned relatives descend like locusts and ask that dreaded question – “Vishesham vallathum undo?“. Apologies for reverting to my mother-tongue, for there is no other phrase that sounds perfectly innocuous and yet deadly to the new bride! The literal translation is “Is there any news?”. The so-called ‘news’ everyone is awaiting is that of her pregnancy. Regardless of the answer, there is nothing for them to do; but they will persist in asking the question every time they meet the girl or her parents. Strangely enough, they don’t usually ask this to her husband. Hmm….must be because human pregnancies are achieved via parthenogenesis*🤨
Continuing the family line also seems to be the sole responsibility of a woman. Women are often blamed for failing to give birth to the all-so-desired male ‘heir’. This must be why women are referred to as ‘goddesses’ by the Indian media, since a woman can apparently choose the sex of her unborn child. Many families have persisted in producing progeny till the desired gender (i.e. male) could be achieved, regardless of how many times the woman had to give birth to attain this state.
And thus the vicious cycle begins anew.
Sometimes, the sole purpose of an Indian woman appears to be: be born, stay home, be good and obedient; marry; stay at her ‘real home’ and be good and obedient; and bear sons.
I’ve heard it on a movie once – “Akeli ladki khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai” – meaning that a girl by herself is like an open safe. She is (supposedly) game for anyone. She must virtually fear for her life if she goes out after dark. In spite of being a country that prides itself on its cultural richness, many men haven’t imbibed that ‘culture’. To them, culture is a woman who stays home after night, has no boyfriends and marries at the right age to someone chosen by their family. If ever found alone or with a member of the opposite sex (maybe she is hurrying home after a day of classes or work, or after buying groceries, or even after a movie with friends) at night, then she is the antithesis of their ‘culture’ who must be punished and ostracised.
What I’ve described here is merely a tip of many icebergs faced by women in India everyday. There are visible and invisible restrictions imposed on them – through family, society, religion, employers, legislation, and even by self.
Is there an escape? Will anything ever change?
Maybe. If parents mold sons into men that respect women, and do not objectify them.
Maybe. If women of the country stop accepting the current state of affairs, and try to change the system by being the change.
Maybe. If men were to challenge the patriarchy that diminishes a woman’s rights, and support them more.
Maybe. If society stops accepting men/boy with the adage “Boys will be boys”, and instead hold them accountable for their actions.
It will take the concerted effort of several generations and education, before women can even hope to be freed from several of these confinements. But most of all, I think, women must begin standing up for themselves and other women to break off the chains. Unless we want something for ourselves, no one else will want it for us.
Be the light for others to follow.
*parthenogenesis: human conception without fertilisation by man
Would you raise your child differently from the culture you grew up in because of his/her gender?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by World Mom Veena Davis of Singapore.
Veena has experienced living in different climes of Asia - born and brought up in the hot Middle East, and a native of India from the state known as God’s Own Country, she is currently based in the tropical city-state of Singapore. ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ Several years ago, she came across World Moms Network (then World Moms Blog) soon after its launch, and was thrilled to become a contributor. She has a 11-year old son and a quadragenarian husband (although their ages might be inversed to see how they are with each other sometimes). ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ On a professional front, she works in the financial sector - just till she earns enough to commit to her dream job of full-time bibliophile. ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ You can also find Veena at her personal blog, Merry Musing. ⠀
“Abu Dhabi is a great place to raise kids,” said the repair guy in our New York apartment building, about a month before we shlepped ourselves and our two kids halfway around the world. “My brother and his family love it there,” he added.
His words surprised me. Everyone else we talked to worried about our safety; my father-in-law kept asking if we’d made our wills.
That was ten years ago. The repair guy was right. It is safe. I never lock my car; I leave my purse on the table in the coffee shop when I go to the bathroom.
We moved for what I thought would be a year of Big Adventure—but we’re still here and it has been, on balance, a great place to raise kids.
Or at least, that’s my perspective. My kids, who were 7 & 11 when we moved here, have a different view: it’s the most boring place; there’s nothing to do; it’s so hot. Maybe their dissatisfaction is age-appropriate: other than those kids who live in glittery cities like London, New York, Hong Kong, does any kid in the years just before university like where they live?
What I see and my kids can’t, because their ten years here is all they know, is that their center of gravity has been forever shifted. They’re mixed-race American kids who grew up in “Arabia” and went to a British-style school, which meant GCSEs and A-levels and needing boots to play football on a pitch (translation: cleats to play soccer on the field). A mishmash, in short. Not quite third-culture kids but not not third-culture kids.
It’s true that if you live in a big city in the US or Europe, you’re likely going to bump up against other cultures, ethnicities, and languages. As Westerners living in the non-West, though, the learning, or maybe the un-learning, comes from living as a guest, living in a place where yours is not the dominant experience.
Because they’ve grown up in this (boring) Muslim country, my kids are comfortable with practices that are still regarded with suspicion by far too many people in the US (and elsewhere). I remember a few years back when I was about to take a gaggle of boys to the waterpark. “Just a few minutes, Mom,” my son said. “T. is doing his prayers in the other room and then we can go.”
Living in a Muslim country also means adapting to religious holidays that appear according to the lunar calendar: the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) had been marked on the school calendar as 19 October. . . and will now be celebrated on the 21st. Same with Ramadan: we know approximately when it will start, but the exact date depends on when the moon-sighting committee sees the new moon, which signals the start of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
Granted, living here also means that when the school year started, my younger son had to dye his hair back to its normal dark brown after a summer of being a glorious silvery lavender, but I think that’s more to do with British prep-school fussiness than anything else. At the American school here, kids have hair in every shade of the rainbow. I reminded him that he’s graduating at the end of this year, and then he’s got an entire lifetime to experiment with wild hair color.
The UAE is a very young country in an ancient part of the world. For the entire decade that we’ve lived here, my kids have delighted in reminding me that I am older than the country, which really isn’t as funny as they think it is. What I hope is that by growing up in a country that is itself growing up, they’ve seen how change is possible: Abu Dhabi, for example, is in the midst of an ambitious plan to transform its economy away from reliance on fossil fuel (there are a lot of Teslas on the roads here). More importantly, they have grown up with the lived experience that the US is not the center of the world. Their adolescent boredom with Abu Dhabi seems to me a small price to pay for that awareness.
After twenty-plus years in Manhattan, Deborah Quinn and her family moved to Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates), where she spends a great deal of time driving her sons back and forth to soccer practice. She writes about travel, politics, feminism, education, and the absurdities of living in a place where temperatures regularly go above 110F.
Deborah can also be found on her blog, Mannahattamamma.
As the world struggles with the pandemic and increasing political division, it is more apparent than ever that government policies – local and global – greatly affect the fates of our families. Many moms have awakened to this reality and are trying to be strong advocates. Yet many don’t know what to do beyond protesting in the streets to get the attention of decision makers. They get frustrated to the point of throwing up their hands and saying, “Why even bother?”
I encourage every mother to engage in the next steps of reaching out personally to elected officials, because we have the motivation and skills to change hearts and minds! For over a decade, I’ve coached everyday folks to meet with members of U.S. Congress. I continually see the characteristics that mothers have that make us powerful advocates.
Here are five reasons that you should tell your government what’s on your mind:
#1 Moms are powerful
Have you ever been reduced to a weeping heap after watching a news story or a movie about children in distress? In those moments, many of us think, “I wish I weren’t so fragile.” Yet those maternal moments of vulnerability are precisely what give you special strength to speak out for those who needlessly suffer. As mothers, we often find ourselves momentarily consumed by crushing empathy when we encounter stories of parents who can’t give their children what they need. But this emotional response isn’t a sign of weakness. Instead, this ability to internalize another person’s story gives you great power because caring and empathy are contagious.
Your passion can incite a riot of emotion and resolve in your hearers even if—especially if—your voice cracks when you retell it. If your audience is a senator, a congressional aide, or anyone in the path of power, you are in a position to create change. Your emotional retelling is more likely to inspire action than a dry recitation of facts and figures.
Your vulnerability can be your strength. And the ability to turn your emotion into positive, constructive action can be your superpower. When you learn to combine your emotions with information and clear requests, you become dangerous to the status quo. You threaten systems that keep families stuck in cycles of suffering. And that is a very, very good thing.
#2 Moms explain things
If you can sit on the floor and explain a concept to second graders, then you’re speaking plainly enough to be understood by a member of Congress. That may sound like a joke, but I’m quite serious. Explaining concepts to kids means boiling your message down to its most basic parts and delivering it in an engaging way. Even though U.S. representatives might sit in high-level briefings all day, that doesn’t mean they relish listening to someone reel off a bunch of statistics out of context. Children love to hear clear explanations accompanied by stories, and so do adults! Never forget that they’re as human as anyone else.
#3 Moms are persistent advocates
It would be nice if governments were so efficient that a single conversation could convince a policymaker to support your request. In reality, it usually takes time, patience, and more reminders than you give your children to get their laundry off the floor.
Unfortunately, no matter how urgent you feel your issue is, there will always be hundreds of other matters clamoring for a congressperson’s attention. Plus, if the office staffers are not already aware of your issue, they’re going to have to research and consider your request even if they don’t oppose it. A mother’s touch to provide helpful information and consistent reminders is an incredible advantage.
#4 Moms are responsible
Once you’ve been the sole person standing between a happy family and total family chaos, you start to view your place in the world a little differently. Some moms are fortunate to have responsible spouses to shoulder a lot of familial tasks. But women in every part of the world bear the heavier responsibility for household chores and child-rearing. Moms are generally the ones making lunches, outfitting diaper bags, scheduling play dates, and making sure you don’t run out of toilet paper or cheese sticks. Moms are chess players looking two, three, and four moves into the future.
So, how does a responsible nature translate to successful advocacy? It allows you to stay organized and prepared to react to the needs of your volunteer groups. It gets you to meetings on time with all the materials you need. It helps you respond to emails from congressional aides in a timely manner. Moms are welcomed at advocacy conferences because we are low-maintenance, responsible, capable people who get things done.
#5 Moms are experts in the most important skills
I won’t tell you that everything I needed to know about advocacy I learned in kindergarten. But I insist that the most critical lessons were learned around age five, especially since the most successful advocates believe in strong teamwork. Advocates should always be prepared to:
Treat others with respect;
Give everyone in the group a turn to play;
Avoid calling anyone a hurtful name;
Apologize when you hurt someone; and
Say “please” and “thank you” (this is the number one lesson and the step that is most often forgotten when talking with members of Congress as well as other volunteers).
Moms keep all of these skills top of mind because we coach our kids to use them. We should be able to follow them even when our children aren’t in the same room. We can model these important skills for young college activists and aging senators alike.
Our mom voices need to be heard more than ever before in our political climate of nastiness that permeates cable news and social media. Mom advocates can be at the forefront of carrying a positive tone of reason, kindness, and respect into politics. Whatever the cause is that drives you to protect your children, put yourself forward. You are more powerful than you think.
Have you, or would you, approach your government with issues in your community? Has being a parent helped you in this quest?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Cynthia Levin. Photo credit to the author.
Cynthia Changyit Levin is a mother, advocate, speaker, and author of the upcoming book “From Changing Diapers to Changing the World: Why Moms Make Great Advocates and How to Get Started.” A rare breed of non-partisan activist who works across a variety of issues, she coaches volunteers of all ages to build productive relationships with members of Congress. She advocated side-by-side with her two children from their toddler to teen years and crafted a new approach to advocacy based upon her strengths as a mother. Cynthia’s writing and work have appeared in The New York Times, The Financial Times, the Washington Post, and many other national and regional publications. She received the 2021 Cameron Duncan Media Award from RESULTS Educational Fund for her citizen journalism on poverty issues. When she’s not changing the world, Cynthia is usually curled up reading sci-fi/fantasy novels or comic books in which someone else is saving the world.
Yes, you read that right: “Something WORTH doing is worth doing BADLY.” When I first read that sentence in an email from one of my mentors, I thought that he had made a typo. Surely anything worth doing is worth doing WELL I thought. In his email, he went on to explain that people like us (perfectionists) tend to put off doing something—or don’t attempt it at all—due to our fear of not doing it WELL enough.
That really hit home for me. I have a very large number of examples from my own life of when I have done just that. The one I am sharing with you is something that has been stuck in my craw for most of my life.
Ever since I was a little girl, I have wanted to write a book. Since then, I have spent more money than I care to admit on writing courses and programs like Scrivener. I have started (and abandoned) numerous manuscripts. I let my personal blog die from neglect. I have made friends with a lot of people who have had books published (some of whom are probably reading this with some compassion…. at least I hope it’s compassion!). I read and watch everything I can about how to become a published author. I am doing everything… except actually writing! I am doing everything EXCEPT the only thing that truly matters, if I genuinely want to achieve my goal.
It’s Ok if it’s Not Perfect
I wanted to share this to encourage you NOT to be like me. DO the thing that you want to do because, odds are, people will admire your courage for trying, and NOBODY will judge you as harshly as you judge yourself.
This advice is as much for me as it is for you. A couple of years ago I attempted NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) which takes place annually in November. Of course I sabotaged myself and didn’t finish. Last time I told everyone that I was writing a nove, because I thought that it would keep me from chickening out but it didn’t. I don’t know if this is the year that I finally will get it done. What I do know is that nothing and nobody (apart from my own inner critic) is stopping me from doing it.
What is the one thing that you have always wanted to do but haven’t done out of fear of failure? What do you think would have to change in order for you to go for it?
This is an original post to World Moms Network from our contributor in Spain (formerly from South Africa), Mama Simona. The image used in this post is credited to Rebecca and used with permission from Creative Commons by Flickr.
Mamma Simona was born in Rome (Italy) but has lived in Cape Town (South Africa) since she was 8 years old. She studied French at school but says she’s forgotten most of it! She speaks Italian, English and Afrikaans. Even though Italian is the first language she learned, she considers English her "home" language as it's the language she's most comfortable in. She is happily married and the proud mother of 2 terrific teenagers! She also shares her home with 2 cats and 2 dogs ... all rescues.
Mamma Simona has worked in such diverse fields as Childcare, Tourism, Library Services, Optometry, Sales and Admin! (With stints of SAHM in-between). She’s really looking forward to the day she can give up her current Admin job and devote herself entirely to blogging and (eventually) being a full-time grandmother!
Sure, we all feel it now and again. But recently, I seem to encounter this word more than usual. It pops up on my Instagram feed and lingers in the air from overheard conversations at work. A few weeks ago, Singapore was even cited in an article as being the most fatigued nation in the world. This article, by a UK bedding manufacturer, based this by calculating working hours, time spent in front of a screen and sleeping hours; it concluded that Singaporeans have the highest levels of fatigue. Now, while my competitive, cosmopolitan city loves coming in at number one, this is a ranking that we should be concerned about. Do we really not get enough rest? And do we even realise it?
These days however, the fatigue I hear about and which is more detrimental, extends far beyond work hours and screen time. It’s an exhaustion that has recently set in, an exhaustion brought about by battling the Covid pandemic, an exhaustion that we cannot so easily remedy with some extra rest or time off from work.
As I thought about the kind of fatigue that I experience (because it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘how much’), I asked some friends if they felt this way and the majority of them answered with an overwhelming ‘YES!’ The most common factor was the inability to travel. We probably took spontaneity for granted, underestimated the freedom to travel, and never truly appreciated how some time spent abroad was like a magical reset button. The friends who find the county’s closed borders much harder to bear are my expat friends who have not been able to return to their home countries in close to two years as well as those with families living abroad.
Having been an expat, I truly empathise with these friends as the trips back home are necessary to re-establish familiarity and comfort, to reconnect with your loved ones or just to be around for important life events. I appreciate that this is an essential part of an expat’s life. So it’s understandable when my expat friends commented that they were tired of waiting for big changes. There have been many smaller targets in Singapore, for example, of breaking transmission chains, controlling the cases in the foreign workers’ dormitories, or achieving a national 80% vaccination rate. But for many expat families, these provide little concrete relief or hope that they will get to go home for a visit anytime soon, and I can sympathise with their tired frustrations and impatience.
The exhaustion could also stem from an imbalance of work and home time. Many people here have switched to a default work-from-home arrangement. While working from one’s laptop at home, it seems even harder to tear ourselves away from our work. The overlap of spaces creates an inability to properly draw a line and cease working. Just yesterday, I had to stay home and conduct lessons remotely from my dining room table. Between lessons, marking and the preparation of examination revision material, I sat in my dining room for the most part of twelve hours.
On usual days, I try not to bring any work home when I leave the school. I feel like the extra hours I put in may have resulted from an overcompensation on my part. Since I was not in the classroom and teaching the students face-to-face, I felt like I had to make up for it by preparing extra notes. This overcompensation has been obvious among my other colleagues after each lockdown or period of home-based learning. While we comfort our own students and try to ensure that they are coping well with the changes of this pandemic, we attempt to make up for precious lost curriculum time and interaction with students, forgetting that in the end, we’re overloading ourselves and the kids. And as I say this, I will guiltily and sadly admit that in doing this over the past year and a half, I have had much less time, energy and patience for my own child.
Emotionally, I think many people are exhausted too. We’re all tired out from trying to be positive all the time and hoping that things will turn around quickly. As part of a bigger community, people living in Singapore have rallied together to abide by restrictions and measures, minimised social interactions and worn our masks faithfully. It’s amazing how we’ve been plodding on in the hope that life can soon return to normal. But with recent spikes in cases in May and with another surge in cases happening at the moment, our synchronised steps are getting more and more weary, and it is of no wonder that we are fatigued.
Do our kids feel this too? My 8-year-old daughter says she misses everything pre-Covid – fun celebrations in school like lion dances during Chinese New Year celebrations, running around with her classmates in the playground during recess, and most of all, she’s really sad that she hasn’t been able to visit her cousins and extended family in Australia for such a long time. Even though kids might not be able to fully process these changes and communicate this like we are able to, I’m sure they too feel these losses in their little lives. Kids and adults alike are facing both immediate and long-reaching effects of this unprecedented global issue.
No matter how well we are coping with the pandemic, there is no doubt that we are fatigued. Do you feel it? Maybe one way we can cope with this, is to share something that enables you to tend to your health, your mind and your heart. For me, yes I acknowledge that I am feeling burnt out, and I shall go text my sister in Melbourne and commiserate with her.
This is an original post by Karen Grosse from Singapore.
Karen is a Singaporean with an 8 year-old daughter who’s a little fire-cracker version of herself. She’s spent the last 15 years in her various roles as trailing spouse, home-maker and educator. Having experienced 5 international moves alternating between postings and her home country of Singapore, Karen considers herself a lover of diverse foods and culture, and reckons she qualifies as a semi-professional packer. She is deeply interested in intercultural and third-culture issues, and has grown immensely from her interactions with other World Mums.