Role of Women in Rural India


In the small rural village of Thrikkaipatta, in the Wayanad rainforest of Kerala, India, Shylaja and Vidhya, are pounding a biscuit dough mixture into the worktop. Baza the new start-up agro-bakery in the village opened 6 weeks previously under the combined efforts of local community group Eco Links. Keen to provide employment opportunities and use organic ingredients from the surrounding farms, this forward-thinking group hope to produce healthy biscuits to sell to a wider market. They are a clean and organised business eager to improve in sustainable ways. 


The biscuit mixture contains a few simple ingredients with four different biscuit flavours produced: curry leaf, chilli, pepper, and ginger

Giulio & the bakers

Italian Ristorante Posto Pubblico’s baker Giulio, standing about a foot higher than the crowd, shares some European baking techniques using the local ingredients on offer. Villagers stop by to watch, take notes, take selfies, and excitedly try savoury bread, banana bread & cinnamon buns. 

Packaging Biscuits

We had been coming to the bakery for a few days when I decided to ask Shylaja & Vidhya if they would mind me interviewing them. “Of course!” they smiled, making me another cup of steaming sweet chai & a plate of biscuits. I have a deep interested in the global role of women in societies and was keen to understand how securing a job at this exciting new bakery has impacted their lives. 

Suneesh, a trustee of Eco Links, assisted in the translation from their local language:

Age: 35
From: Muttil
Children: 3 (ages 15, 14, 12)
Previous job: housewife 
Education: school til 18
Married: age 19
Husband’s job: tuktuk driver 

Age: 31
From: Mukkamkunnu
Children: 2 (ages 12, 7)
Previous job: street & river cleaner,  plantation worker 
Education: did not finish 
Husband’s job: farmer

What is your daily schedule?
Wake up early before the family, cook breakfast for husband, in-laws & children, clean the home. 
Work at bakery 8.30am - 5pm
Home to cook dinner for the family before husband returns from work. 

How did you get a job at Baza bakery?
We saw the bakery being built so we asked about jobs. 

What is your salary? 
250 rupees per day (£2.55)

How do you spend your earnings?
We don’t. Our husbands are in charge of the family spending. We give all our earnings to our husbands as soon as we receive them. 

How do you like working at Baza bakery?
We like it. The conditions are more comfortable than previous jobs. We have a 1 hour lunch break. It is not strict and often we chose to start back early because we enjoy it. 
We feel more appreciated here by this social enterprise and we hope to grow with the business. 

What do your husbands think about your work at the bakery?
They are ok with it as long as we don’t neglect our household duties. Our responsibility is to look after the family first and foremost. If we can keep that up then our husbands allow us to have this job. 

Side note from translator Suneesh:

On one hand Kerala is a very progressive educated & radical state, but when it comes to home-life we are still very narrow-minded & passive. Mental struggles are rife. Male hierarchy dominates with the husband deciding whether or not his wife works depending on how she is managing the household chores. There is often no respect shown to women who do financially contribute to the family income. Sometimes women with jobs will also beg on the streets to supplement a low income. 
A male child receives more attention and support within the family dynamic. Girls are suppressed and slave-like, being told how to behave, what to do and what not to do. There needs to be bold steps to make a shift in male mentality. 

The interview left me feeling despondent. I had automatically presumed that Shylaja & Vidhya’s husbands would be supportive and proud that they were financially contributing to the household income. The fact that neither woman seemed to question having no access to their earnings or the choice to work if they wished only highlighted the level of suppression. I suppose I had hoped India’s most developed state had made leaps in gender equality. The tangled web of inequality is far more complex and deep-rooted than one generation of women will fix. 

It is not only male mentality that needs a shift; females need to understand self-worth, to feel valued, capable and deserving. Empowerment is not a buzz word. 
It is a feeling of being enough. 
More than enough. 
Standing comfortably in your power. 
It’s a beautiful gift we can give one another. We can lift each other up, gently instil esteem with a kind word or gesture. It doesn’t cost us anything and the results can be seen and felt instantly. 

If you see an opportunity to empower another female, don’t delay. It’s our human duty. 

International Women’s Day 2020

Sheila   |   Shylaja   |   Vidhya


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