img_33765 December 2016, Masinagudi: A meeting on Gender Equality was held in Masinagudi Adivasi Colony on Saturday by Keystone’s Indigenous People’s Programme. The meeting was attended by 33 villagers, both men and women, and coordinated by Lalitha, Village Coordinator for Sigur, and Vasantha, Community Resource Person.

The meeting, which was scheduled to be held at the Keystone Resource Centre at Vazhaithottam, was shifted to the village because of bad weather which had deterred the villagers from moving out of the village. The meeting began with a discussion of a family and what their aspirations are for the children – both girls and boys. The responses revolved around education and jobs and there was not much vocalization regarding anything other than the obvious necessities of life. When talking about a ‘good life’, neither the men nor the women spoke about to the concept of ‘wellbeing’ or ‘happiness’.

So, the next question of “how do you keep a girl child happy?” did get them thinking. The women answered that the children, girls or boys, should never have to witness strife or conflict within the family. They were very clear that this does upset the children. The men on the other hand said that a woman would be happy as long as she got whatever materiel possessions she craved. This observation was in contrast to the answer to a different question placed later in the meeting where women replied that family time spent together simply talking or small outings made as a family, etc, are what give them the most happiness.

Some of the topics discussed were sharing of domestic chores, forms of relaxation, managing household finances, decision making within the family, women in leadership roles, choices regarding marriage and triggers for domestic strife. Discussing the restrictions that are usually placed on women’s movement outside the village, the women said that one reason was that their domestic chores did not allow them time to spare and secondly, there was also the issue of lack of trust between spouses. This has led to a lot of women opting not to travel outside the village in an attempt to maintain peace within the family.

Alcoholism is rampant within the community and many men are addicted to it. They are susceptible to suggestion when drunk and this is when suspicions take root in his mind. Very often, it is the wife who is physically abused in this situation. The woman is not able to defend herself because she cannot expect support from the in-laws and neighbours.

img_3408When discussing sharing of domestic chores, the men said that they help to gather and chop firewood and sometimes fetch water, but all the other chores are done by women. The situation sometimes changes after marriage when men have to care for their wife during illness or periods. Parents present during the meeting said that they would like both the children to study well, but it is seen that the boys have mostly studied only till high school while most of the girls are going on to do their graduation.

The twin triggers for domestic unrest – alcohol and lack of income were discussed in detail along with reasons for each. Overall, there was animated discussion where the men and women of different ages were able to share their thoughts on a common platform. Parents and children were able to share their hopes, fears and aspirations with each other. Lalitha and Vasantha, field personnel based in Sigur, will continue to monitor and motivate the community to vocalize and take action regarding issues related to gender equality.