Women firefighters extinguish stereotypes in India's land of child brides

Wed Feb 11, 2015 8:33pm EST
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By Nita Bhalla

JAIPUR, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Married before her 18th birthday, Nirma Chaudhary could have ended up like thousands of other child brides in India's desert state of Rajasthan - forced to quit school and consigned to a life as a wife and mother.

But the village girl's conviction to study after marriage, support from her family, and a government initiative aimed at empowering women, transformed her from being another invisible child bride to one of Rajasthan's first female firefighters.

"I used to see firemen on television and in the newspapers. Everyone would say 'Girls can't do these jobs'. So I thought I have to show that I can do this," said Chaudhary, 24, wearing a uniform of khaki shirt and trousers, as she sat on duty at Jaipur Nagar Nigam fire station.

Battling age-old patriarchal attitudes in her village, Chaudhary is one of around 30 women recently recruited from Rajasthan's towns and villages as part of an affirmative action policy to encourage women to join the fire service.

The policy reserves 33 percent of government jobs for women candidates and has helped increase the number of women in the police and administrative services but it was not implemented in the fire service until last year.

In a region where child marriages are widespread, the recruitment of these women is not only increasing their participation in a male-dominated profession, but also helping to dismantle a harmful practice which affects generations.


Students douse a fire during a training session at a fire and safety college in Sikar district in the India's desert state of Rajasthan February 9, 2015.    REUTERS/Stringer