Ruwaidah’s untimely death made this issue even more pressing. Women in Mauritius face severe social issues tied to both our culture and religious upbringings and nothing has been done as of yet to amend the constitution to reflect the changes that have occurred in the entire world in terms of women’s rights.
The news has been very dark lately for the state of women, and it has been like that for the past 50 years. Just last week a young girl (not even a woman) of 13 years of age died for us to realize just how bleak this whole situation is. In a patriarchal society like ours-and this isn’t a critique of patriarchal societies-we often forget just how vulnerable and underprivileged women are.
This girl was allowed to be married at the age of 13 and to even conceive a child at an age deemed illegal by our constitution and psychologists all over the world. This tragedy doesn’t stop here. It was revealed another 13 year old was in the hospital following a brutal beating she endured at the hands of her older, 19 year old boyfriend. She too was pregnant.
So many more cases exist on our island but we turn a blind eye to them. Very often we see girls as young as 12 walking around with a toddler at their side, their own child. How can a society tolerate such a thing?
Civilized societies the world over enforce their laws regarding teen pregnancy and do their best to curb this occurrence but not here. The word ”abortion” is a taboo in this country where prejudices and hidebound beliefs dominate societal consensus and yet, how can any sane person believe a 13 year old would make a good parent? This kind of thinking is going to sink us down even further, in terms of the kind of society we want for the future.
Women in Mauritius are by far the most oppressed group even though on paper it might not be the case. Archaic traditions ask of us to be exemplary mothers, sisters and daughters but rarely expound on the type of individual we should aim to be. Anyone who fails to live by those very oppressive standards is deemed a pariah.
Domestic violence often goes unpunished as authorities routinely advise domestic abuse victims to bury the hatchet with their abusers and very often we read about those tragedies that involve that final beating that ultimately ended a victim’s life. Many men who were brought up in a setting where women were always inferior to men, feel entitled to own women, to the point where they see domestic abuse as their moral prerogative.
Mauritius will lag behind in terms of gender equality if it doesn’t grant women the basic right to exist safely in society, to make decisions concerning their own body and to eschew these uncivilized traditions that hamper their individual freedom. Reproductive rights ought to be inserted in our constitution, as well as more serious penalties for domestic violence.
Girls should be taught early on that their sexuality isn’t something to be shared but protected, and that their individual growth is more important than romantic relationships. School curricula must include texts that study women’s issues so that children and adolescents are socially aware of the divide between the genders, a divide that causes some women to forgo all ambitions to bear children, not out of commitment but out of helplessness.
We cannot hope for an inclusive society without addressing these issues that hinder our progress and endanger our young girls.