Husband for a day
International women's day 2015 Make it Happen
For International Women’s day I would like to dedicate a film I made in India, to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality.
The film ‘Ordinary secrets’ was made during an art residency in Partapur, Rajahstan, in India in the summer of 2014. The film highlights traditional relationships within Indian families and questions the role women and men play.
The film was made in collaboration with a group of women in a small community, Semeliya. In the film I offer to be a husband for a day; the woman could decide what I would do. First they helped me dress like a man. Which in itself was hilarious. In their eyes I was crazy; a tall blond lady dressed like a man wearing Indian cloths. Of course nobody does a thing like that and they were all laughing about me.
But my role was carefully chosen. In this role I had nothing to loose. It was a performance and everybody could play along. Hiding behind my role as a man made it easier to discuss underlying values about gender equality in Indian society. Being aware of my position as a young European woman, I was not forcing anybody to take position. The script was open and we were writing it together as we played along.
The outcome was nothing outrages; I had to buy jewelry (everything is mainly from plastic) for ‘my wife’. Then in the morning I had to bring tea so ‘my wife’ could sleep longer. Then I had to milk the cows, sell the milk and give ‘my wife’ the money.
Basically the roles were reversed, and she took great pleasure in telling me what to do. To be honest, I took pleasure in doing what she told me to do because I knew reality was different. For a start we had to keep this performance completely secret from her real husband, because he would not approve.
Nevertheless, the surprise for me was the reverse role-play, which did not change the equality but shifted the power from one to the other. Even though, I knew this was a small step in sharing thoughts on a topic not often discussed among the women in the village.
Times are changing rapidly, women demand different things, girls want to study, be more independent and choose love marriage. These women are on the verge of becoming more independent, stronger and celebrating this clearly but also dealing with the problems of re-defining their role.
With help of government schemes and collaboration projects, these women receive this extra support. I was very honored to spend time with them because times are changing and they are changing fast.
The best thing was, that we had the greatest fun on earth. These women showed me pure joy. All the time they were singing, dancing, laughing and making jokes. They have less but own more. They touched me with their hearts. The power of these women, their curiosity and endless energy was mind-blowing. There was a mutual understanding. We were both looking for new experiences. I was curious to hear their wishes for the future, to share thoughts on happiness, to get an inside in their relationships. They equally wanted to learn something from me.
A simple playful experiment showed hidden power structures in India, a society with a constant struggle between the powerful and the powerless, where either one or the other takes charge. The song the women were singing illustrated just this;
Earlier the daughter in law used to be scared of her mother in law
Now mother in law you should be scared; the time has changed
Earlier the younger brother was scared of elder brother
Now elder brother, you should be scared, the time has changed
My work can be seen as an exercise to break away from old conventions. It is a step towards equality by changing perspectives.
If we want real gender equality we have to to change our mind-set with a mutual understanding, this is the responsibility of men and women together all over the world.
The film will be screened on April 2, 2015 at W139, Warmoesstraat 139, Amsterdam, 7-10 PM, as part of the show Does Not Equal.
For more information on my work see
The work was made possible by EQUILIBRIUM which is an international cultural initiative that aims at building creative contexts in villages and towns in India. Currently located in Partapur, the main aim of this project is to provide a platform for artists from Asia and Europe to enter into a dialogue with local communities via members of women’s self-help-groups in and around Partapur.
Partapur is a town located in the district of Banswara in Rajasthan. It falls in the largely tribal region of Vagad, and the Bhil tribe forms the largest section of the population. About 4 hours drive from Udaipur – the world-renowned ‘tourist city’ of India, Partapur has very little stake in the tourism industry of Rajasthan. It has very recently been recognized as a Nagar Parishad or City Council, though agriculture still forms the mainstay of the economy.
Equilibrium is a project or Sandarbh, in collaboration with Beneshwer Lok Vikas Sansthan [BLVS] and Walpodenakademie. The project is supported by Creative Encounters: Cultural Partnerships between Asia and Europe by the AsiaVEurope Foundation (ASEF) and Arts Network Asia (ANA) in collaboration with Trans Europe Halles (TEH).