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UC prof. addresses changing gender ideology in India

By Chengcheng Xiang

Section: News

March 3, 2017

Women are the ideal candidates for employment in cities in India, according to University of California, Berkeley professor Raka Ray. The gender ideology in India must change to account for an economy that is shifting away from farming and toward the service sector, she told a room of around 70 students on Wednesday, March 1.

Aspiring Indian women make an ambitious effort to job hunt while men are left in a precarious position due to the uncertainty of their potential career changes, according to Ray, a professor of sociology and South and Southeast Asia studies. Ray has studied gender, class and neoliberalism in India. Neoliberal economy refers to a situation in which all the economic exercises favor free-market capitalism. Today in India, as the major economic activity transforms from farming to the service sector, a number of young people from the lower-middle class seek opportunities for a decent vocation, although bureaucracy of the government still prevails.

Ray believes that the bureaucracy of the Indian government jeopardizes the job market. A host of well-educated young people struggle to search for a job. In 2017, 368 low-level job openings in the Indian government attracted more than 2.3 million applicants in which 250 were Ph.D. candidates, 2,500 had a master’s degree and 152,000 were college graduates, according to Ray.

However, ambitious Indian women are dedicated to their pursuit of a career. Many of them move to big cities from rural areas in the hopes of finding prospective job opportunities. Allahabad, a major city renowned for its education, attracts many young women to pursue a profession in fashion and textile design while most of the men intend to work in computer science and software engineering.

The sense of ambition shifts young Indian girls’ marriage ideology. Ray told the story of a 21-year-old woman she spoke to from an urban area outside Allahabad. The woman dreamed of becoming a university lecturer. However, the university was too far away, and her brothers said it was not safe for her to use the public transportation by herself, Ray said. Consequently, she had to give up on the university. Later, with her neighbor’s recommendation, she started a course in fashion design in Allahabad.

Speaking of marriage, the woman told Ray the speech she had preemptively prepared for her future husband: “I am willing to look after your house, but I want something from you. I want you to always support my mother. I want to work a job. But if you do not want me to work, at least let me further my education.” Aspiration motivates young Indian women to strive for a career. However, their gender role in a marriage can prevent them from pursuing their dreams. As a result, their life is about constant negotiation on how to work and still be a housewife.

Ray also spoke about the employment situation of men in India. In her opinion, young men are more precarious and obedient as the working environment keeps them disciplined. She mentioned a 19-year-old man, Rajesh, who takes computer science classes at an educational institution and wants to work in the industry. Born on a farm, Rajesh moved to the city, hoping to make a difference. However, his limited English skills have kept him from finding employment. Consequently, he works a part-time job as a driver while continuing to take classes. When it comes to marriage choices, according to Ray, Rajesh said he did not think he had a choice.

Likewise, Ray compares the employment situations of men and women in the film industry in Mumbai. “Every day, there are 20,000 young people arriving at Mumbai to get into film industry,” she said. Yet men have more advantages over women in the industry; “despite the determination, qualification and ambition of young women, the men clearly have more opportunities.”

The movement to empower Indian women still continues. “The journey is difficult, psychologically and physically,” Ray said, “but women take pride in endurance, pride in achievement, pride in relying on themselves.”

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