Arpita was married at the young age of 15. She lived in Durgapur of Kolkata. Her parents married her off to a family that appeared to be well-to-do and a man who was apparently caring. But within a few years of marriage, Arpita’s husband started drinking, selling off her jewellery and torturing her daily. Arpita, who didn’t have enough education and was dependent on her husband and in-laws, couldn’t muster the courage to leave the marriage. She also had a daughter from him who was scared and scarred by what she had to witness.
But then, one of her friends encouraged her to seek divorce and promised to be her biggest support. Fuelled by the encouragement, Arpita left the marriage and started living her life as a divorced woman. She completed her graduation online and sought a job in beauty parlours. Today, she works in a famous family salon of Dehri-On-Sone, Bihar and takes care of herself and her daughter on her own. However, Arpita is forced to concoct stories about her existing marriage and wear indoor just to escape the scrutiny that single women undergo in our society.
Single women in our countries are wrapped in stereotypes of being “incomplete” and “characterless” for the reason that they haven’t married. Whether it is an unmarried woman, a divorced woman or a widow, social scrutiny doesn’t spare any of them. But dear society did you know that the population of the single woman is the highest today when compared to the entire history of India? Did you know that single women are potential drivers of the country and the world economy? Then why aren’t single women given the respect they deserve? Why is singlehood is seen as a sympathetic state of loneliness or hypersexuality? Why can’t single women be given the right to be who they are?
According to the census of 2011, which is the most recent census. There was a 39 per cent increase in the population of single women in India. In 2001, there wear 51.2 million single women and in 2011 the statistics touched the mark of 71.4 million. Also, there are as many as three times widowed, separated and divorced women as men. In a way, single women form half of the population of India and it is just not fair to ignore their concerns and shame them. However, it is undeniable that spending life as a single woman in India is a tough task. If they are unmarried, they are constantly forced to get married and “settle down” without considering their aims and goals in life. And if a woman is a widow or divorced, she is made to reel under the burden of the blame of the failure or end of a marriage. They are constantly shamed as “used goods” who have no future or happy future to dream of. Moreover, every single woman is always under the threat of being targeted by sexual predators because they don’t have the hand of a husband over their head to protect or own them.
It is because of all the stereotypes that single women find it very difficult to survive on their own. Nevertheless, they do survive to gain stability in life. According to economists and statistics, the rate of employment among single women significantly increases after they are widowed or separated in marriage. The workforce participation for these women has risen from 26 % in 2005 to 47 % in 2011. While the average workforce participation of women in 2011 stands at 27 %. These statics clearly prove that single women are the potential drivers of the economy. Increased participation of women in the workforce, as studies have proved, will pull up the GDP of India by as much as 30 per cent.
The reason why there are more single women, single unmarried women is that today women are seeking education and employment. The enrolment of women at graduation, post-graduation and other higher studies has seen a rise. There has been an increase of over 18 per cent in female enrolment in higher studies between the year 2015-2016 and 2019-2020. In 2018-19, women represented 53 per cent of Undergraduate students, 69.6 per cent of M.Phil students and 41.8 per cent of PhD students. So women are now investing their time in education rather than getting married. Although not all women use their education to get employed, most of them do which is the reason why there is an increase in the employment rate of single women. Single women are choosing to live on their own rather than depending on their families or husbands. Moreover, in India, more than one-quarter of the entire population is that of people younger than 15 years old. Only 6.7 per cent of India’s population is older than 60 years.
In the case of widowed, separated and divorced women, the rate of their population is high because the rate of remarrying is higher among men than women. Divorced men are at the receiving end of sympathy and so their remarriage is most likely to happen. While divorced, or widowed women are expected to live their lives in anonymity and seclusion. Ultimately, women have to earn a living rather than expecting their in-laws or parents who most probably abandon them.
Moreover, as per Morgan Stanley study, single women become potential consumers in the market. The study points out that single women spend more money on footwear. Food away from home, personal care, luxury and electric vehicles than married women. This helps the brands to contribute to the demography of the economy in a country. This explains the reason why single women’s concerns should be included in the products that are sold in the market. The brands must bring policies for single women too rather than subsuming woman’s identity into that of married women.
However, many single women, especially from rural areas lack the skills to secure a good job. So they end up in hard labour that pays less. The reason behind this, according to me, is that women are never taught to be empowered enough to provide for themselves. More often than not, they are raised as care providers and expected to depend on husbands whom they should be married to as soon as possible.
But if we start realising the impact that single women can create in our country, their identity will receive validation. Unlike the idea that validation of a woman lies in the identity of her husband, people will start recognising single women as a valid identity and singlehood as a valid choice. The workforce participation is still lower in India than in most of the countries. And since single women are potential workers and consumers, they can play a vital role in improving female labour participation and the presence of women’s needs in the market.