Women in rural India – An interview with Village Health Worker Sakhubai

Sakhubai is fifty years old. She has never been to school, but has been a Village Health Worker for sixteen years in her village Pangulgavhan (about 45 minutes from Jamkhed). Sakhubai was interviewed to find out more about her experience as a Village Health Worker and, more specifically, about how she views the situation of women in her village.

 

In the past, women in her community had no liberty, Sakhubai explains; they were always working, cooking, and producing children. That was it. Sakhubai, too, experienced severe discrimination because of her gender. Her husband used to beat her, and, as a child, her parents used to treat her brother much better than her. Sakhubai was not allowed to go to school because she was a girl. Her brother, on the other hand, was allowed to go, and was able to complete his education. Her brother also frequently got new clothes; she did not. Sakhubai was almost never allowed to play, whereas her brother played outside all time. Often, she was not given any food.

Fortunately, the situation is now changing, and women are treated more respectfully in the community. Women are becoming more confident, have more decision-making power and are not necessarily under anyone’s control anymore. Girls can now resist their parents. They can say: “no, I have to learn.” Indeed, almost all girls in Sakhubai’s village go to school now and women from Sakhubai’s village today work as district magistrates (i.e. government officer in charge of district administration and revenue collection), engineers and police officers, among others.

Nevertheless, despite significant improvements in the status of women, significant issues related to the health and rights of women still remain in Sakhubai’s village. Some issues that Sakhubai finds particularly important right now are poverty, education, female feticide, women’s treatment by in-laws, and sexual health. Female feticide, for instance, although it does not occur in her community anymore, some years back it would and the preference for boys still remains. People sometimes do not understand, she says. Even though the laws have changed, they feel like they simply need a boy. Getting rid of that misconception is difficult.

When asked what advice she would give to young women growing up in India right now, she responded like a true Village Health Worker. First of all, women should take care of their health. Additionally, she would encourage them to pursue a good education, learn self-defense and not have children too young. Earning some of their own money so they do not have to rely on others and having a good relationship with their in-laws is also important.[1] As for her own experience as a woman and as a Village Health Worker in rural India, Sakhubai explains that she used to think her life was worthless and that it would be better for her to die. She had no self-esteem. Now that she is a Village Health Worker though, she has gained a lot of confidence. She has learned how to stand on her own two feet and wants to live a long life. When she started as VHW, she was like a big stone with no shape, she says. Now, sixteen years on, she has become a beautiful statue.

 

[1] Traditionally, women in India move in with their husband’s family after marriage and abuse and harassment of women by their in-laws unfortunately remains common.

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