by Preyanka S. Chowdhury
I am a citizen of the third world, a member of a nation where men reign supreme and women considered a shadow behind them. I am a woman. I am inferior to man and destined to stay at home, raise children and care for my husband. He is the center of my world after all, and his command is my calling.
This is the life of millions of women in under-developed countries. Denied opportunities and suppressed. Unable to seek self-development and barred from any form of free thinking. But why is it only in the under-developed nations that we see this over-bearing intensity of the patriarchal society? While a woman in the first world seeks equal rights, her counterpart in Bangladesh, seeks the permission of her father or husband to allow her to participate in society.
What are the varying factors which draw lines between two nations at opposite ends of the wealth ranking charts? Even though the existence of a patriarchal society cannot be denied in both these nations, the relationship of masculinity and power is a different ballgame in the poorer parts of the world. I believe amongst many factors, transnational marriage conforms women in the vicious cycle of oppression. Transnational marriage is the connubial affiliation that occurs between two individuals from different nation states. It may also be termed as international marriage, either a result of globalization in contemporary society or an attempt to implement one’s kinship and culture in a foreign land. At home, transnational wives are labelled as honeymoon brides, holiday brides, brides of cheat weddings or brides of passport marriages.
Women are often married off to men living and working in another country that offers greater opportunities. Often they are mistreated, perceived as mere commodities, a tool for implementing cultural values or simply a birth vessels to ensure the family lineage.
The prospect of marrying a non-resident man becomes incalculably glorified to a girl’s family when they envision their daughters facilitating the opportunities of the developed nations. Added to that, the family experiences an enhanced social status in their community by acquainting a presumed wealthier, non-resident man. Furthermore, these marriages are usually organized by the family elders based on cultural, religious, economic and many other aspects.
When the fate of two individuals are at the mercy of others, it may eradicate the possibility of love or any other form of romantic affiliation. The lack of input or consent from the participants may lead to bad outcomes. Marriage itself may become a demanding institution, with all the compromises required to make it functional. Furthermore, the aspect of marrying a man from another country, with all the cultural, language and socio-economic difference, may be excruciatingly difficult for a local girl. The concept of matrimony is violated when two individuals are involuntarily tangled together, an agreement to ensure the practical approach of life. The concept of such arranged marriages may further violate the rights of an individual, disabling them to exercise their freedom in terms of choosing their partners.
Not all women suffer in these marriages, however. The fact that women can be empowered through transnational marriage cannot be discarded. Women who are married off from underprivileged families may experience a better standard of living in terms of healthcare, proper nourishment and much more. Also, with time individuals in an arranged transnational marriage may fall in love, bond, develop a certain level of understanding as they struggle together to incorporate their culture amongst their children.
The glorified assumption of transnational marriage as passage to a prosperous life often entails violence, betrayal, abuse and oppression targeted towards women. In the course of incorporating kinship and religious practices within a confined structure, women become susceptible to ill treatment by their spouses and families. The concept of Marriage adds a legal connotation to the act, thus enabling men to justify their acts by adhering to their communal and religious paradigms. Furthermore, women are expected to ensure their kinfolk’s lineage through an heir which predominantly is a male in the patriarchal society.
The oppression is not only directed towards women in marriage but rather encompasses other women, like the daughters. In a patriarchal society, women are imperiled to oppression through lack of exposure to the cultures of developed nations, inheritance, and lack of education etc. Such acts are only to ensure the voicelessness of women and create further gender segregation and inequality in the society where they are viewed as subordinates to men.
However, there are many privileges endorsed by developed nations which can empower women. Women can access services from organizations that deal with women’s rights and may rise against oppression through legal aid. With the aid of education and employment, women can reform their position in the communal societies and also ensure a better life for their families. They can further utilize their education and various skills to pocket jobs, thus ensuring economic independence. Also they can support their poverty struck families back home, by sending back remittances. Finally, the idea of oppression and abuse can be the ultimate tool of motivation for the women to rise against desertion and violence by accrediting themselves through education, change in perception and employment opportunities.
Transnational marriage is multi-faceted. It has its sparks along with its shortcomings. Marriage across nations expose women to various vulnerabilities whereas it also enables them to empower themselves thus breaking away from the predatory clutch of the patriarchal society.
Preyanka S. Chowdhury is a final year student of politics, philosophy and economics with a minor in development studies at Asian University for Women (AUW) – Chittagong, Bangladesh, a liberal-arts university for women with specific emphasis on social justice and empowerment. She is also the community manager, researcher and contributor for www.urb.im, an online global network that connects 23 cities throughout the world with the aim of establishing an international community of practice and learning, sharing ideas and experiences in order to innovate, replicate, and scale working solutions to the problem of urban poverty. She is also a researcher for CODEC, an internationally funded NGO based in Bangladesh supporting and empowering the marginalized religious minorities and extreme poverty stricken communities of Bangladesh.