Women at the head of the household

Kohinur Khuyum | Update:

‘What does your father do?’

‘Don’t you have a brother?’

‘What do your brothers-in-law do?’

I have been encountering such ice-breaker questions since my schooldays.

I grew up in an all-women family. There simply was no room for me to think that a woman could be incapable of anything.  And yet most people want to know me and identify me by the professions of the male members of my family. I hardly met people who asked what my mother did, what my sisters did or what the other female members of my family did for a living.

There is probably a preset notion that a woman’s role in family is to do household chores while the man in the family provides financial support as the head of the family.

Reality is, she can run the family, she can protect her children, she can pay bills on her own, she can take tough decisions—a woman can do a ‘man’s job’.  

Statistics say a significant number of women have joined the workforce.  However, a woman running her family all by herself is yet to be accepted as a norm by the majority in this society.

There are many out there who raise an eyebrow or even frown at a woman family head. But it is something to be respected, not to be ashamed or apologetic about.

Sharmeen Zaman was married off without her consent to a man twice her age when she was should have been busy playing with her schoolmates.

The marriage, predictably, didn’t work out. She barely got any financial support from her former husband.  However, she did not give up. She worked doubly hard to establish her business and raised her daughter and son by herself.

Her daughter is a photographer now and has joined hands with her mother to run their family.

People around them tend to sympathise by saying, “We understand you woes. It must be very difficult to do a man’s job.”

Her daughter Jessica said, “There are people who think two women running the family means we are not a happy family at all.”

Ayesha Banu, associate professor of women and gender studies department of Dhaka University, thinks people here internalize materialistic changes with more ease than changing their mindset.

Women joined the workforce significantly in past three decades. However, only a few want to accept women running her family and being the main decision maker of the family, she said.

There is a preconception of an ‘ideal woman’ in this society. Ideal woman are perceived as a woman who does not want to step outside of the stereotypical role of a woman in this society.  

There are also many men who think women are taking their position, she added.

Ayesha Banu emphasised gender training. She said the fallacious ideas of gender-specific roles should be dispelled by proper gender training.

“We think the idea of gender equity should come only from the family and education institutions , however children can internalise the idea of gender disparity from television, movies and books,” she said.

Writer Virginia Woolf once wrote that a woman needs a room of her own if she wants to write fiction. The ‘room’ is a metaphorical one. Every woman in her life needs a place for herself; a woman needs an identity of her own.  

When a man introduced himself to me once, the first thing he wanted to know about me was what my father does.

I said, “My father died many years ago. My mother ran our family since I was a kid. She paid for our education and everything.  Now she and her three daughters run the family together.”

There were a few seconds of silence.

Then the man said, “Your mother is indeed a successful woman.”

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