“My sister used to go to school everyday. Then one day, my father decided that she should stop. She wanted to study so much. It was unfair to stop her. I fought with my father to allow my sister to go to school. I told my parents that I would help with the housework but they must let her study,” said Sirajuddin, age 17, in Banaras, a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
It remains true that young women and girls in India face barriers and restrictions in their lives – they are not allowed to go to school, are often married young and are not allowed to work. When it comes to deciding what girls can and cannot do, it is their brothers, fathers and uncles who act as the gate keepers for girls: they decide what their sisters/daughters/nieces can do. For many years, this has just been the way have been.
But things are changing. Our research revealed brothers who when asked the wide open question ‘what problems do you face?’, responded, ‘I need to figure out how to let my sister do what she wants to do but I don’t know how.’
This is good news. Because where there is empathy, there is hope for change.
Many brothers who feel empathetic towards their sisters are moved and driven to make a better life for the girls who have somehow become part of their responsibility. They feel very sad that their sisters cannot go to school or are not allowed the same freedom they are allowed. Very often, brothers negotiate with their parents for their sisters – trying to convince them.
Irfan, age 16 says, “There is a marriage proposal for my sister. I know that she doesn’t want to get married. Even though she says that she is ready, she is under a lot of pressure. I can tell how she is actually feeling. I don’t think that this is right so I told my parents that it is not the right time to get her married yet.”
Sometimes, they go a step further than just talking to their parents. Vicky, age 16 from Madhya Pradesh said, “When you [referring to the interviewer] speak to me, you are actually talking to a child, a young boy and an old person – because all three people are inside me. I am young and old at the same time. I feel I have so many questions about my home, my life. I have questions about whether I should work for my home or for myself or for others and I feel I am not being able to do anything for anyone. So I have left everything behind, even myself, because I have found one thing to work for – my sister. I think for her, I feel I may not be able to do anything about my life but at least my sister can have a good life so I am working for her happiness. If there is anything that I am willing to fight for, it is my sister.”
At the same time, they face a dilemma: how do they negotiate between greater freedom for their sisters and being responsible for their sisters’ safety? These boys, these brothers, have no role models that they can emulate. From the perspective of creating Be! media, it is very important that we show and create new role model ‘brothers’ who face similar dilemmas. Sirajuddin, Vicky and Irfan have decided to support their sisters. Does the entrepreneurial brother ‘allow’ his sister the freedom to start an enterprise?