Will Raising A Woman’s Marriageable Age Ensure Her Safety On The Streets And In Homes
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan suggested that the marriageable age of women should be raised to 21 to ensure women’s safety. His words resonate with the Government’s decision last year of raising the marriageable age of women from 18 years. However, the positive impact of this change on women empowerment is still a debated topic. It is being said that the raising marriageable age of women will either have no impact on women’s issues in India or it will only worsen it.
If we follow Chouhan’s idealogy, another question is raised on the efficacy of increasing the marriageable age of women in India. How can a woman be safe on streets and homes if her marriageable age is changed in the constitution? Why should a woman’s safety have to do anything with her marriageability? Moreover, don’t we already have laws that prohibit crimes against women? If the society cannot adhere to those laws, how can we expect that it will diligently implement this law?
Even though a woman’s marriageable age is increased to 21 years old, it will not change the male-child preference which is the root of many crimes against women in India. We live in a society where daughters are considered as a burden that makes a family vulnerable to financial pressure and harsh social judgements. Even today, a woman’s education and employment are less important than those of men. They are rather married off as a child than raising her and paying for her needs. This bias exists because India accounts for the largest number of child marriages despite being criminalised years ago.
Moreover, the dowry system which is completely rooted in the male-child preference continues to oppress women and their families. Despite being criminalised years ago, a man’s family proudly demands heavy dowry from the woman’s family who is obliged to pay and cry over their ‘ill-fate’ of bearing a girl-child. And later the man and family feel free to harass the woman and demand for more dowry.
So how will increasing marriageable age of a woman change the mindset of the man’s and the woman’s family? Will families be more accepting of a girl child and stop considering her as a burden? This is possible only if women’s education is encouraged, equality in employment opportunities is achieved, dowry system and child marriages stop, and the divide of poor and rich is removed. But will changing a woman’s marriageable age alone in the law book change these ground realities? Don’t we need a practical approach that moves beyond the marriageability to the empowerment of a woman?
Just a few days ago, a 50-year-old Anganwadi worker was gangraped in Badaun district. An NCW member blamed the woman for going out alone (without a male company) in the evening which made her susceptible to getting raped. If our politicians believe in blaming and restricting women for getting raped, how can safety be ensured? Not only politicians but families too restrict women to keep them safe but no one questions the perpetrators and their mindset.
Society still finds it reasonable to judge women by their sexuality, restrict them and render them vulnerable to male-dominance. How then the increase in marriageable age will change this reality?
It is important to note here that raising marriageable age will only increase the restrictions on women. Not every parent would afford a woman’s education and care for her till she turns 21. They will either get her married before the minimum age, force her to labour and earn for the family or contribute to the increasing number of female foeticide and infanticide. Moreover, the question of parental pressure for marriage, marital rape and domestic violence still remain unaddressed and unresolved despite being the major causes of women’s oppression in India irrespective of her marriageable age.
Whether married or not, a woman is unsafe in society that doesn’t believe in providing her with the basic freedom to speak, read, wear clothes of their choice or even loiter. So is the system even aware of the problems that women in India face? And if it is, is it possible that their perspective is largely biased that believes in selective freedom for women that allows a woman to fly but on the gunpoint?