Imagine a quiet village setting. Homesteads made of earthen tiles, bamboo walls caked over with mud, a few affluent homes of baked bricks. It is morning, almost lunchtime, women in the houses are cooking: some using fuelwood, some using dry dung, and some using liquid petroleum gas.
The younger women, the new brides of the village are abuzz, they have a thing planned for today, a place to get to. No, it’s not a religious ceremony, it’s not a festival or a party that brings them together. They have actions that need taking. They have been training, they have been starting businesses and 80 brides of the community are in the process of a big venture—they are planning a cooperative.
There is energy among these young women of the village today. They finish their work and with the blessings of the family elders, they bid farewell to everyone and they stream out of their houses to meet each other.
Six months ago, they and their families joined the FCDO-supported Sahaj program. There were discussions regarding what women can do, how they can help each other, how young people can be taken care of and how they can contribute to their families.
Fathers-in-law, mothers-in-law, husbands and wives, sisters-in-law and the whole family took part in sessions where traditional practices, both positive and negative were discussed, ideas on how to improve the lives of women were generated, tolerance and acceptance, better interrelationships, improved health and sanitation, and income generation were discussed.
After much back and forth, training was held: 92 percent of the women who died during maternity did not make cash incomes, according to recent study by MIRA. And there was consensus that young women had to be more in control of their lives.
They and their families learned about gender rights, potential for violence, how to break the cycle of dependency, and they learned how to make money! Everyone learned business and transactional basics, some trained in tailoring, running ration shops and food stalls, some chose to learn goats, cow or buffalo farming.
This knowledge and their comradery made them confident. The 80 young brides built a network that spanned Siraha and Saptari. They identified need and trained under the local municipality. They sought and received the support of their family and communities, they arranged access to security and phone lines and identified who they could turn to for help within and without their families.
Their fathers-in-law, mothers-in-law, husbands and other member of the family joined them and helped improve their conditions, helped them seek solutions, achieve income generation. Some went back to school, and they achieved a right to self-determination. They took a step beyond and are themselves supporting each other.
The meeting has started, the young women are full of questions. One young bride has a tailoring shop, other brides go to her to get their sewing done. So is the kurta finished, the blouse has a slight problem on the shoulders… sure, everything will be taken care of as soon as possible! Another just started a grocery store, what is the price of a half-liter packet of oil, does she have rice flakes chiura? “Ok, you are offering a much better price, I am coming over to get some stuff.” To the young woman who has a buffalo, “A family celebration is coming up, do you have yogurt?”
Then comes the serious stuff. There is a need to save money. If a collective can be up and running, they can pool together all the monies and then give out loans at decent interest rates so the brides can themselves generate capital to establish and improve their businesses and help those that are in the danger of failing.
Problems are addressed, need for counseling for a specific family, greater learning of gender rights, a husband who is insensitive, a mother-in-law who is supportive, are brought up and solutions arrived at.
Then after the main discussions are over, the facilitator smiles goodbyes, but wait! There is talk of another family where a marriage is taking place. A new bride is coming into the community. The women have ideas on how to welcome her, bring her into their fold, support her in her new community, make sure that her family gives her justice and care.
There is a different feel in the villages now, a coming together of the new and the established. There are actions to take, goals to achieve. There is greater justice for women, especially young women who have left all that they have known to enter a different home, a different family, and a different community. The 80 brides who came into the village wearing bright yellow saris of weddings shine like 80 new suns filled with hope.