Continuing with our series of articles capturing the ascent of Indian women, we found this lovely piece by Divya Arya. The insight she has captured is counterintuitive: as rural men migrate to cities in search of employment, their wives are becoming the head of the household in the village. As Ms Arya explains this is a relatively new development: “”Everyone now knows me by my name,” said Usha Devi, sitting in her modest home in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states.

“Identity is not a small thing,” the 38-year-old persisted. “Earlier only men were known by their names, now women are identified by their names too.”

Usha Devi was made to quit school and marry at the age of 15. Forced into repeated pregnancies in the family’s desire for a son, she had little control over anything in her life.
After her husband had to migrate in search of work, the mother to three daughters and a son rose to take charge of the house and their children’s lives. She moved out of her in-laws’ home into a separate house in the same village. She now earns money and takes all decisions for the family and is considered the head of her household.

The United Nations says there is no fixed definition for women-headed households but they are often defined as homes where either no adult men are present or they do not contribute to the household income.

Economists and demographers understand the term head of the household to refer to someone who earns money and has authority to take decisions in the family. In case of married women, when husbands migrate and do not live at home for six months or more, women are counted as the head of household. These are often self declared.

It’s a story repeating itself across villages and small towns of India where distress-related migration by men is leading to an opportunity for women.”

Just so that urban folks like you & me appreciate the importance of a women becoming the head of the household, Ms Arya gives you the relevant insight from the appropriate expert: “Sociologist and demographer Professor Sonalde Desai says this opportunity hinges on the wife’s ability to move out of her husband’s family home where she may remain dependent on other male members like her father-in-law and brothers-in-law.

“In cases where a woman is able to establish an independent household by herself, we see a real change in her ability to make decisions, her likelihood of taking care of some financial responsibilities, even managing and running the farm,” Prof Desai says.

Over the past three decades, the proportion of households headed by women has almost doubled, data from the National Family Health Survey shows.”

So why does it matter whether a woman is the head of the household? Ms Arya’s article is worth reading in full to understand the reasons why it is a good thing for India to have women boss things around at home.

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