“Look at yourself dear, you’ve grown so weary, you should marry now before it’s too late! How long will you study and what for? You’re beautiful, educated; and now is the time to get a fine groom! Women’s true home is the heart of her husband and family no matter how educated they are or how much they earn” said she as I stood puzzled unable to figure out if that was an intended taunt in disguise of a ‘genuine’ care or just a simple statement. It’s not something very unusual especially to a marriageable woman in Nepalese society and I’m also not immune to these apparently ‘caring’ words, often expressed in casual meetings with relatives or neighbours although many of us may find it absolutely unwanted and absurd. Every woman would hear it now and then from elders, relatives and at times colleagues too. It’s just an example of our society’s perception on women and the moral and social pressure that almost every woman and girl has to face regardless of being a member of an educated, civilized and urban society; where, at least we assume, rights are respected, space is given to exercise one’s personal choices and customs are made to help good practices thrive. At times, you’re compelled to feel a sudden pang of guilt for not marrying and having children because all they care for is your marriage and their prime concern is always and all the way is your ‘Marriage’.
It hasn’t been many years when I used to think marriage was a private affair but in a place where your values and systems are so deeply rooted and placed before everything, it is quite absurd and almost impossible to imagine so. Even today, people still have stereotypical concept of marriage where the woman must marry while she’s attractive, young and beautiful. It is not acceptable for a woman to follow her passions, to pursue her dreams and to desire happiness on her own, but somebody else would decide on her behalf. Justice and the only salvation for her is to get married, to settle down, to have children and anything beyond that must not be her priority. If ever she is allowed those whimsical fads, it must be after her ‘sacred rites’ of marriage and children. In such a situation, a woman’s staying single or unmarried for the rest of her life means paying a huge social price. If the girl or her parents and family realises this it’s normal, if not, they are always given the ‘much needed’ suggestion to rescue and liberate the girl by marrying her as soon as possible.
Even parents have been the victim of this gross harassment that continues in the name of social relations, courtesy and neighbouring care, which renders them deeply humiliated and psychologically vulnerable, and buries them under the moral pressure of their social obligation to marry off daughters before its ‘too late’. More often than not, mothers have to bear the brunt of social stigma if they are unable to fulfil their ‘great obligation’. There are many cases of such silent, secret and creeping pain that hundreds of parents, families and daughters are forced to experience without committing any crime, any sins, but solely for being the parents of daughters whom they haven’t been able to marry on the socially ascribed ‘right time’.
And honestly, I’m still not sure about this age factor. Since women are married off at any age starting from 15 to 40, when exactly is a woman considered young enough to marry or old enough to be shunned as spinster? There are scores of cases where young girls are married off while there are other instances of educated women who choose to stay single until they are done with their education and become financially sound. Men don’t find a woman charming if she’s old and ugly, if she loses her beauty to lure him and if she denies the prevailing customs, traditions. From soap operas, popular culture to media everything has contributed to this concept in one way or the other. It is extremely sad to see people judge women by their age, their beauty, how and to what extent they could charm men and just how long they could cling to the idle customs and traditions and offer themselves for ritual sacrifices.
There are yet many facades to this issue. Our society doesn’t permit the matrimonial bond between a so-called higher and lower caste and any such inter-caste marriages. It is a general practice to ostracize the divorced and widow women, while the divorced man is free to remarry keeping his dignity intact. How many of young bachelors would want to marry a divorced woman or a widow in our society? Perhaps none or may be a few of some really ‘kind hearted’ old men having no one to take care of them. I agree, this may be wrong in many cases but it does hold the truth in thousands of cases which we have been witnessing, hearing but we often choose to ignore and take for granted. In our context, when and how a girl is married is rarely her alone or even her parents’ or family’s choice, their discretion. It is rather a hugely socialised phenomenon, where woman is expected to maintain her submissive silence at all times. The supreme importance of our value system has posed a lack of clear demarcation as to what extent it should be of public or social interest which has worsened the matter. Marriage as such is essentially and inherently a social affair in many societies and perhaps will remain so unless we rise, deviate and take the lead for a positive change.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Ending Gender-Based Violence 2012.