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Dentists and bombers – good jobs for women?

March 8, 2012

There is an obsession in Tamil cultures about “ a good job for a girl.” That women should be educated is not disputed. Educated women make better wives and mothers. But they should not eclipse their husbands and they should make sure their hours fit in with children. This is not as dismal as it sounds. Tamils live in extended families, so there are usually grandmothers, older cousins and student aunts and uncles around to keep an eye on a child. So the “good jobs for girls” can be varied _ dentists, doctors in specialisms that keep clinical hours, teaching in a respectable school. Good steady jobs, with good incomes.

Growing up, this calculated, sexist assumption of how women should work infuriated me. But I’m at the other side now- clinging on to a job that frequently has long hours while dealing sleepless children and school runs. I can see how much more sensible it would have been, to have taken one of those “good jobs” and lived on the same street as my mother. All around me women are giving up. Nannies cost a fortune, grandmothers live too far away to help out regularly. And child rearing itself is becoming more labour intensive. There is a huge pressure on women to become stay at home mothers, while their husbands work ever longer hours to pay rising mortgage costs and bills.

Tamil girls in northern Sri Lanka had once thought they could have it all. They went to school, applied for college, practised for dance concerts and learnt to cook. They never got the chance to see if they could multi-task, juggle and manage a household. The war intervened. At first women were still asked to be wives and mothers, sending their sons off to war and comforting their bullet- wounded husbands.Later they were asked to work in field kitchens and hospitals, sing patriotic songs and speak at rallies. As shells continued to fall, they learnt how to use guns, to join in battle. But they were always the lesser sex, and could still be raped, belittled, shamed. Those Jaffna girls in their prisine white school uniforms who should have become teachers and dentists instead became fighters, suicide bombers rape victims, widows and bereaved mothers.

It’s International Women’s Day today. Whatever that means.

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