Last semester I had the chance of joining the Study Abroad program to spend three months studying at the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode (IIMK) in Kerala, South India. As was expected, India was totally different from everything I had seen before. It was a revealing experience full of joy, tenderness and inspiration.
In this post, I would like to give an insight to how I perceived the role of women during my time there (travelling and studying). As I am a curious person who truly wanted to learn about that culture, I asked as many questions as possible and it allowed me to learn a lot.
At IIMK, there is a clear predominance of male students over female. Per several conversations that I had, parents usually invest more in male education due to their traditional idea that women will marry and become a housewife. Nevertheless, modern times are coming and women are becoming more and stronger. There are many girls in finance courses. Very often, girls make more contributions than anyone. Foreign students got the impression that they must win the respect from their classmates so they have to show they are strong, smart and capable.
Onam at IIMK (Hindu celebration, traditional of South India)
Although many women who study superior education will work in their family business, there are plenty who will look for a job. As is known, India is a highly populated country where finding a job may be hard due to the competition. Important positions are usually occupied by men, as it happens in most of countries. However, I was surprised by my Indian friends telling me several times that women have a privileged position when looking for a job and they are employed more easily than men. I never knew whether it is true (but it could be great!).
Finally, my experience travelling allowed me to see the role of other women, those who seem to be the vast majority. Even though their main role is being mother and housewife, Indian culture has a striking feature: women control the finance. I was told by different people from different backgrounds that husbands go to work and every month they give their whole salary to their wives. Therefore, wives control the expenditure. They do not play a submissive role but an active and essential one. But, unfortunately, engaged marriage is still an ongoing reality in which women have low decision power.
A girl selling flowers in the streets of Mumbai
Finally, India is not only a strong patriarchal society but also a highly unequal one. In fact, talking about the role of any group is a tough topic. There are lots of social divisions that make it impossible to generalize. Life of low class women will be extremely different from those from high class, even the middle class too. Nevertheless, women are becoming aware of their strength and it is the first step towards a change.
Written by Paula Perez Romero – Masters Beyond Borders student at Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode, India