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Educated Women in India: Caught between Dichotomies of Globalization and a Patriarchal Social Matrix

After several studies on women and empowerment in rural India, Ratna Ghosh has now turned her attention to the smaller percentage of urban middle class women for whom globalization has meant profound changes such as substantially increased access to education, a wide range of professions, technology and consumer goods. But its impact has been dichotomous in that despite higher overall education and employment levels, traditional influences of a patriarchal system have become more deleterious: education and professional advancement of women have not led to enlightened social attitudes and practices but instead to a further entrenchment of oppressive traditions.

Education and employment are necessary but not sufficient to develop agency to challenge discrimination in society. Much is being written about the benefits of globalization for educated urban middle class women. What is not known is how their daily lives are affected by the dichotomies between globalization and media images of what they can aspire for and the traditional oppression of the patriarchy that engulfs them. 

With a middle class already larger than the entire population of the United States, within two decades its upwardly mobile middle class will surpass Germany as the world’s fifth-largest consumer market. The explosion of the information technology (IT) industry has created an upwardly mobile urban middle class represented by media images of professional women projecting an identity that is both global and Indian (in order to gain legitimacy with the traditional/patriarchal values of Indian culture). 

This new India is global in scope yet Indian in essence and relies on the ability of professional women to make a “global” Indianness by delicately balancing a “global” professional life with a personal life prescribed by the boundaries of tradition, across contexts of personal struggles. 

The main questions of this research are:

  1. How do young professional women, especially those who have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, deal with the apparent paradox between their positive perceptions of empowerment through education and employment and the overall confinements of preexisting patriarchal norms? 
  2. How do they locate themselves with their high levels of education and earning in the modern consumer culture on the one hand and the traditional expectations of patriarchal culture on the other hand? 

Using video production as a main tool for data generation and analysis, research participants are exploring the contradictory influence on their everyday lives brought by the conflicting combination of higher levels of education, globalization and the patriarchal order. This influence is so subtle and deeply ingrained in the rhythm of daily life that even those affected by this social phenomenon often do not recognize it as problematic. The analysis of this influence, therefore, needs to be re-contextualized so that one could see it from a new standpoint. Communication among the research participants helps develop certain themes that have emerged from this new outlook. The expectation is that the presence of video will reveal thoughts and emotions hidden in daily lives. 

Ratna Ghosh, CM, OQ, PhD., FRSC
(514) 398-4527 Ext. 094761
Department of Integrated Studies in Education
3700 McTavish, Room 322
McGill University
Montreal, Quebec H3A 1Y2

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