Women’s Empowerment

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India is a dichotomy on many issues especially women’s issues. There is a big push for female empowerment which was evident in the school. The young women we interacted with were very academically successful, well spoken, and aware of a variety of global issues. We had the privilege of attending a Women’s Empowerment Panel Discussion where 4 students had been asked to give speeches on the topic and then lead a question and answer session.

Indian culture is a patriarchy. Many students not only live with their parents but also their paternal grandparents and dad/grandfather generally have the final say on issues although many girls are starting to speak up more in the home. This is not the norm though. The two big things that I noticed were:  most men that I saw in the 3 cities that we were in wear western style dress. In Bangalore and Kolkata, women wear saris or salwar kameez which is the more traditional dress. The few women wearing western business attire work for the multinational tech firms or were flight attendants in uniform.  In Delhi, some women wore skinny jeans, shirts, and heels and I even saw a few women wearing shorts. I wonder why women wear traditional dress and the men don’t. Because we flew from Bangalore to Kolkata and then from Kolkata to Delhi, we had to go through airport security for domestic flights. There are “women only” lines for going through security and I was not allowed to go through the men’s line in Kolkata and had to walk over to the women’s line to be body scanned with the hand scanner by a female TSA type officer. If the country is pushing for more equality and empowerment, why are there still separate lines? We also experienced this going into different cultural attractions and restaurants. Apparently there are also female only train cars for train travel. How is the concept of “separate but equal” going to bring true equality to both genders in India?

Here are 2 articles that take the issue more in-depth.

Gender Equity Issues in India

Women’s Rights Issues in India: Problems and Prospects

School Culture at Shri Shikshayatan School

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Shri Shikshayatan School’s culture is strong. Students are proud to attend what is one of Kolkata’s best preK-12 private schools, they want to do well, and exhibited great respect for themselves, each other, and their teachers.  We learned through  a walk through of the primary grades that students learn early to stand when a teacher enters or leaves a room and to say “Good morning ma’am.” Leadership is stressed and students had a variety of opportunities to practice speaking in public, get involved with a variety of co-curricular activities, and engage in community service.

The young women with whom we interacted asked excellent questions and were so interested in talking with us and finding out how we liked their school and what our schools were like.  Because students have to wear uniforms it was difficult to tell who the in and out groups were and with 4000 students in one school there must be a great number of cliques. Grouping patterns weren’t obvious to me during our 5 days there but human nature certainly says that they exist. I also wondered about the level of bullying and  harassment and didn’t have the opportunity to ask that question.

I really enjoyed the time I had to talk with students in class, observe their learning and co-curricular activities, examine their student work, and see their smiling faces first thing in the morning.  They are adolescent girls who want a good education so they can attend college, they care about global issues, have pride in their country, like Katy Perry and One Direction, and spend too much time at night on Facebook. These young women are one of India’s most vibrant and important resources.