A few months ago, a friend of mine finally left an unhappy marriage after years of struggle. Her husband was emotionally and mentally abusive, but she was expected to be patient and tolerant like a good Nepali wife and daughter-in-law. She also had to put up with his wandering ways.
When she mustered up enough courage to tell her parents about it, they told her he would change if she worked on her marriage. When her in-laws found out about her son, they blamed her, saying she was not a good enough wife.
But after years of working on her marriage unsuccessfully, and with support from her parents, she decided it was time to call it quits. But this decision was met with harsh criticism, people called her an “embarrassment to the family” for leaving her husband.
How is her walking away from an unhappy union and an abusive husband a disgrace to our culture, but not his cheating? Why is she being called names, but her husband’s philandering does not even raise an eyebrow?
Our society accepts these double standards with closed eyes. Men and boys get away with doing whatever they want, no one bats an eyelash. But if a woman or girl chooses to prioritise her well-being over ill-treatment in her own family, it is everyone’s business, she is labelled immoral and disrespectful of our culture or traditions.
When her husband’s cheating and abuse of her was exposed, no one questioned him about disregarding the sanctity of the marriage or his lack of morality. But when she decided to pursue her happiness, she was called out for her lack of respect in ending a relationship after years of trying.
How is this ethical or even logical? When men choose to stray, our society stays quiet and looks the other way, but when women try to stand up for themselves, they are met with societal threats and shamed.
If it is strength and courage to tolerate injustice and abuse, why does anyone not talk about how wrong it is to cheat and mistreat others?
What is more shocking is how some women choose to blame the woman instead of the man in these matters. How can they not feel the pain and suffering of women living in hell, but pretending to be happy?
It was not easy for my friend to walk away, she knew her choosing to do so would be met with more obstacles and malicious rumours. So the least we can do if we do not support the women is to not make it harder for them.
The Tij festival is approaching and soon, women will be fasting for the long lives of their husbands. They are taught to treat their husbands like gods. But this is not how a god would behave. If we give that level of respect to men, they need to live up to it.
Men are raised like they can do no wrong, and from a young age are taught that they are better than women. This is not the Middle Ages, and men need to learn to act responsibly. They need to control their egos, and learn that their actions and choices have consequences.
Men might have got away with mistakes in the past, but not anymore. The world is changing and women are speaking up.
Of course, not all men are like that and our society knows right from wrong, but the selective discrimination between men and women is hypocritical and shameful in today’s time and world.
The foundation of a strong and respectful society is not based on lies or hidden truths. We have to go a long way in terms of equality for all genders, but acknowledging the person at fault for the breakdown of a marriage instead of a default setting to blame a woman is a good start.
Society must learn to be kind to the women who have suffered. Do not berate them in the name of culture and tradition, but support them. Stand by them when they are standing up for themselves. Encourage them to seek happiness instead of continuing to suffer in an abusive relationship.
Every woman who suffers in these loveless marriages is someone’s daughter, sister and friend. Everyone deserves to be happy, and it is their life to live.
My friend left her husband, and her parents supported her decision. She is a strong woman, she continues to struggle with unkind treatment. But I am proud of her, for her courage. I know it has not been easy on her, but she is happier.
Anjana Rajbhandary writes this fortnightly Nepali Times column Life Time about mental health, physical health and socio-cultural issues.