Married for 26 years, Phoolkumari has been deprived of her share in the family property. The reason? She has six daughters. “My relatives told me you have no one to continue the family lineage. What will you do with the property? Give it to your sons-in-law?” she says. She works as a cook in a government school, which pays her ₹30 a day.
“I can’t sleep at night. People mock me because I wasn’t able to give birth to a son. They ask me to beg for a living,” she laments.
A 2014 study on masculinity and son preference by the United Nations Population Fund and the International Centre for Research on Women conducted found that 81% women in India felt that it was important to have at least one son. Son preference is the primary reason for India’s skewed sex ratio. Uttar Pradesh, the state Phoolkumari is from, has a sex ratio of 912 women per 1000 men and a female literacy rate of just over 57%.
As Phoolkumari’s story shows, the ‘inability’ to have male children severely affects a woman’s status in her family and society. Abandoned by her mentally unstable husband ten years ago, the 46-year-old, mother of 6 daughters fends for herself and her daughters and is at the receiving end of stigma and ridicule instead of support. This is also a story of lacunae in policy. While the government has enacted laws to ban gender-biased sex selection and sex determination and has rolled out schemes that provide monetary incentives to send daughters to school, nothing has been done to address the root cause: the patriarchal assumption that women are inferior to men.
Struggling single mothers like Phoolkumari have no social security and no safety net that complements their struggle to be financially independent and raise educated, able daughters. Government policy is blind to the needs of single women and mothers in rural India. Unless this changes, men will continue to be seen as the sole bread earners within the family unit thereby perpetuating a “need” for and dependence on male “heirs”. The government’s policy to ensure girl children are valued needs to move away from conforming to existing stereotypes. The current scheme is named “Ladli-Laxmi Yojana”. Laxmi is the goddess of prosperity associated with the well-being of the household. There needs to be a valorisation of struggling working women like Phoolkumari who are the real heroes, the providers and earning members of their families.
This video is made by community correspondent Anil Kumar Saroj, Uttar Pradesh for video volunteers. This series is supported by UNFPA and documents everyday patriarchy.