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I am a professional Indian Classical Singer. I hold a Ph.D. in Economics and Master's Degrees in both, Economics and Business Management; and I also work as Faculty in Economics for Management students. I have a passion for writing and this blog is a platform for me to share my experiences and express my thoughts and ideas, views and opinions, gathered while working in diverse fields.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

My Presentation in Istanbul on The Sustainability Paradox of Gender Equality in Higher Education in India

It was sometime in September-October last year that I got to know about the International Federation for University Women (FUW) inter-disciplinary seminar topics for the 31st Triennial Conference which was to be held in Istanbul in August 2013. Working in the field of Higher Education, more specifically in Economics and Business Management, the ID seminar on ‘Gender Inequality in Higher Education: A Threat to Sustainable Societies’ caught my attention.  I felt it was a nice area to work on and it got me thinking about the status of gender inequality in higher education in my own country, India. Contrary to public opinion, as an individual and as a woman working in this sector; and in the city of Pune (which is a seat of Education and Culture in the country, and is often referred to as the Oxford of the East); I hardly ever saw gross gender inequality in the educational system. The educational system I feel is quite egalitarian in terms of opportunities offered in education and further in employment in the education sector. I always felt it was the social system which was more to blame, it is the family, their role expectations about women, particularly married women, and that was where the gender inequality issue stemmed from. So it was worthwhile to explore the problems of gender inequality in higher education in India in a systematic and scientific manner.

As a result, I studied this question more in detail, by referring to a lot of secondary data on this subject, quantitative as well as qualitative, referring to research work already done in the area of gender inequalities and also the systemic realities in terms of rules and regulations made by the Government and other regulatory bodies. This opened in front of me, new dimensions of the problem and I then started looking at it as an Economist too! I realized that wherever there were problems of capacity, quality or accessibility in Higher Education institutes, the onus was knowingly or unknowingly shifted on the Government to provide for everybody, particularly in a welfare state like India. The Government in turn has to combat several macro-economic issues like inflation, growing fiscal deficit and a high subsidy bill. Moreover, even if it were possible for the Government to provide everyone with everything, would it actually help in increasing female participation in higher education or in reducing their drop-out rate? The answer to this is not a complete yes, because the problem, as stated earlier is neither completely systemic nor economic; it is socio-cultural and socio-economic.

There is a social and attitudinal change which is required, something which is far difficult to achieve than merely subsidizing education or increasing the number of seats. Two main conclusions, or rather recommendations which emerged out of my research paper were that sensitization of gender issues should start at the school level, as the same school child becomes the adult of tomorrow, and becomes a part of the higher education system. This will work on two levels, of sensitizing the child and also the parents indirectly, thus making a humble beginning towards changing the social fabric and bridging the gender gap. Secondly, it is very important to link education to employability, so that it leads to economic independence of women, so that they are empowered to make their own choices and decisions. It also makes their families and the society at large respect and understand the importance of education in their lives.

My seminar at the IFUW conference in Istanbul was scheduled on 19th August, and I was the first presenter of the day. My paper was extremely well-received as the members in the audience, belonging to various countries, were all interested in India, the emerging economy. It was also interesting to point out to them that in the context of employability during the global recession and recovery, India still fared better than most ‘developed’ economies! At the same time, it was also interesting to discuss the problems of social dualism and regional imbalance prevalent in India which were greater causes of worry than the depreciating Rupee!

The amount of discussion in the audience which my paper stimulated was by itself an indicator of its accomplishment and left me satisfied with the entire exercise which had lasted almost a year! It was also nice to interact in person with my convener and the other presenters, with whom I had been in touch via email; also for a year! It was a good idea on the part of the organizers to have a pre-seminar meeting of all the conveners and paper presenters, so that we got to know each other well before our actual seminar.  It was also extremely interesting to listen to the other presentations in my seminar which acquainted me with the condition of fellow-women in other countries in the context of higher education. It was the perfect platform for sharing of ideas, experiences and future goals. At the last IFUW triennial conference in Mexico, my paper was read out in absentia as I could not attend it due to other pre-determined assignments. Having missed that chance of interacting with IFUW members from all over the world, I felt this one at Istanbul was all the more special to me!

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