It’s amazing to see how far women have come in the last century: voting rights, moving into the world of work, while balancing motherhood, and even running for the highest office in the land, President. We have such amazing figures to inspire us: Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy, Indira Gandhi, Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Clinton, and Condoleeza Rice, just to name a few politically inspiring ones.
In Indian culture, similar to many Asian cultures, parents, especially fathers always want a son. A daughter also causes excitement, but there is always the underlying thought that the girl will eventually get married, and will have to leave her parents’ household and take her husband’s name.
In Gujarat [the Indian state where my family originates] the woman takes her husband’s first name as her middle name and takes his last name. Any children born to them also share their father’s first name as their middle name. In essence, as a daughter the girl must listen to her father, and when she becomes a wife she must listen to her husband. In this culture and this setup, I come from a very remarkable group of women, who set their own rules.
My grandmother on my father’s side was a remarkable and strong woman. In 1933 when Mohandas Gandhi inspired Indians around the country to walk with him in the Salt March, my grandmother wanted to join their cause. Her mother-in-law was not happy with her decision, gravely concerned that she would ruin the family status and appearance in society by doing such a thing, threatening her to never return to the household. My grandmother stood her ground, she was part of the Salt March, and returned home to her family, regardless of what anyone thought. This was just one of her many strengths. After my grandfather died, she raised 5 children in rural India on her own, a remarkable feat on its own..
My grandmother on my mother’s side was just as remarkable and strong. She grew up in a large family of 13 as the youngest daughter. She was married off to my grandfather at the fragile age of 16 and then they were shunned out of the family home. My grandparents created a life for themselves, my grandfather working as a tailor (Yes, that is how we got our last name! Occupation of both sets of grandparents), and my grandmother with her knack for numbers, became the business manager.
My grandfather was a kind soul, could not hurt a fly, and rarely raised his voice. The shrewdness of business or managing of money was not in his constitution. My grandmother was a natural. By being his business manager, she essentially became the head of the household. All my grandfather had to do was work. This relationship was just so novel for a woman in that day and age in India.
As I look back on these two remarkable women from my own life, it may not seem like much but what they did was ground breaking for women in their own time. We can all look back at the great historical figures I mentioned above and see how they helped women progress on a wide scale. Though, it is the women who have touched our lives- our mothers, our grandmothers, our aunts, and if you are lucky enough, our great grandmothers who leave the lasting impact and inspiration. These are the women whose lives you can point to and say these women are my heritage, and if they could do so much, then I can too.
Family members aren’t the only ones who can empower and inspire, its other women too who touch our lives- our teachers, our lawyers, our doctors, our writers, and our housemakers. I share this with you for that reason.
I have been blessed with so many wonderful women in my life, the two most important being my grandmothers. These women empowered their lives in the India of the 1930s-1940s. They inspire me and I cherish their memory every day. Today I feel more empowered by honoring their memory and by the opportunity each one of you has allowed me by sharing my voice with you.
Happy Women’s Empowerment Week!