Those Poor Rural Women

A still from the film “Parched” (2015)

Those poor rural women. Look at them. So oppressed, uneducated, helpless, rural. They’re just so heartbreakingly rural. Do you know what they need? No, no, not for us to ask them what they need. We already know what they need. We live in cities! We wear trousers and shirts and speak English to each other! We’re self-actualised and liberated!

We know what they want — to be just like us. They look at urban women with longing, eyes moist with emotion and the reminder of what might have been. Of course they want to be like us — we can read and wear jeans and don’t have to cook all day. We have it so much better! Or, you know, we are better.

“If only I could be like her,” they think to themselves as they work the fields and care for children. They wait in their dusty little villages, hopeless with despair at their lives, until that joyous day a car rolls in filled with NGO staffers (from the nearest city, probably) to save them from themselves. The NGO workers hop out of the car, chests puffed out, hands on hips to survey the village they’re saving. “I’m totally saving these women,” they think to themselves. “I’m amazing. Those assholes from college are going to shit themselves when I update ‘Where I work’ on Facebook.”

Indeed, shit themselves they will. Because we like seeing our peeps saving people who we think need saving. It makes us feel good about ourselves. It makes us feel like we’re paying the price for our privilege.

A year ago I submitted a blog I’d written about how good volunteering for a domestic violence/tech charity in India made me feel (lol) to a really cool website that I’m a huge fan of. Chayn, the charity I volunteer at, operates mainly in areas with internet connectivity because we build and distribute digital toolkits for women experiencing domestic violence and other forms of oppression. The header image the website chose for the article depicted sari-clad tribal women sitting in a village classroom, hands raised, faces aglow with the joy of being saved. I rolled my eyes when I saw it, but kept my mouth shut. If this was the image of empowerment in India that was palatable for people who read the article and decided to volunteer with us then I had to suck it up.

In Indian cities rates of domestic violence are shooting up. These are women like you and me, who wear jeans and have jobs and use Facebook. Violence against women isn’t called “violence against rural women” for a reason, which is why when we want to be saviours we need to start by saving ourselves. Community action is important because you understand your community and the women who live in it - women who feel ashamed, or weak, or like imposters for experiencing abuse. Of course, there are fantastic NGOs who do ground work in rural India who should be lauded and what they do is incredible work. But let’s not forget the women in cities who we meet at parties and business meetings and bars whose Jimmy Choos we envy, and the men who wear suits and Rolexes and hurt them.

Nida Sheriff is a Chayn volunteer and Manager at Chayn India 
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