Amid the Covid lockdown, a well-known author from our valley invited me to join a webinar on “Rural and Urban Divide among Women”. I was excited at the opportunity to talk about women with women. We hardly discuss or deliberate upon women’s issues in our everyday conversations.
The webinar began with the usual discussion about the criticism or disdain that rural women face from urban women for their attire, their accent, and how they seem to have no manners, how their language is peculiar especially when they speak English. Such distinctions between the rural and urban class have been there since ages, but the internet has possibly bridged this divide to some extent. However, there is more to it than what our ears hear and our eyes see. This divide is not just about attire or the ability to speak fluent English. It is about the persistent structural constraints that rural women face, much more than women living in urban areas. Rural women have to deal with patriarchy on everyday basis. Urban women are more independent but women in rural areas are still struggling to come out of their family ramparts. There are many aspects in which urban women are better off than rural women. First, access to education: women in rural areas have less opportunity to receive education. According to several surveys, most of the world’s illiterate women live in rural areas.
Second, child marriages happen more in rural areas than in urban areas. Women in rural areas succumb to societal pressures, whether it is about wearing clothes, veil, or even speaking to a male audience. Rural areas are bedraggled by patriarchy in many ways. Third, there is more female feticide and domestic violence in rural areas compared to urban areas. Fourth, there is more gender-based violence and denial of rights such as of inheritance in rural areas. According to the WHO, rural women report more experiences of physical abuse than urban women do.
There is also a basic divide in terms of job opportunities, access to services, electronic connectivity, awareness of rights, etc. Rural women suffer more from such disadvantages. I feel over-ambitious targets won’t cater to their needs. What they need is speedy implementation of development projects which provide better education, better infrastructure, awareness about sex education, better internet connectivity, and job opportunities. That’s all we aspire to or ask for right now.
To lessen this divide we must work together and address this issue both at public and individual levels.