Last month, World History 2 finished the year with a unit on gender equality. Students looked at gender issues around the world, including India. The purpose of the unit was to work on research, writing, and communication skills and to gain a deeper understanding of gender inequity around the world and at home. While I know, and my students now know, that India is a country with gender inequality, I did not expect to witness blatant gender discrimination in person while here in India.
Before I get to the discrimination incident, let me first say that I believe it was an anomaly. My first days in India were spent in Bangalore with several amazing women from the Teacher Foundation. The Teacher Foundation is working to improve education in the state of Kernataka by empowering teachers and working with them to improve their practice. (In this, they share a vision similar to that of the Rowland Foundation.) The traditional method of teaching in India is to stand and deliver and make students memorize facts, figure, words, definitions, and anything else that can be memorized and regurgitated. The women we met from the Teacher Foundation are great at what they do and we saw examples of teachers that they have worked with who are dynamic in the classroom. (In my opinion, the Teacher Foundation should win a WISE prize for education.)
My experience with gender in India began to change when we arrived at the Bangalore airport at the start of our trip to Malapurram, a city near the Arabian Sea in the state of Kerala. When our group of six got to the security lines, we realized they were segregated, one line for men and one line for women. Additionally, the body scan for the women was done behind a wall, while the men were screened in view of everyone. Finally, the men were screened and searched by other men and only women screened the women. Everything else at the airport was mixed, but security was clearly segregated.
I am spending a week in Malapurram with Robert Lurie, a fellow history teacher from Lansing, Michigan. We have been joined for the first few days by Emily Lester from IREX, who is doing a site visit to our school and another one. The three of us checked into our hotel, went on a brief tour of Malapurram with our host teacher, Thomas, and then returned to our hotel for a snack in the lounge before dinner. However, when we went to enter the bar, we were told that females were not allowed. Emily handled it with grace and accepted it. I was dumbstruck, it caught me completely off-guard. We quickly formulated a plan to have dinner elsewhere.
At this point, we still do not have an explanation of why Emily was told she was not welcome. Robert and I have not yet been inside, so we don’t know why women are not allowed in. We do know that Malapurram is largely Muslim, but that does not necessarily explain the discrimination. (I should add that Emily was dressed modestly, but that her head was uncovered.) This is one incident, in one hotel, on one night so it is clearly not representative of Indian views (or even, perhaps, Muslim’s views) on women, but it was upsetting and disappointing, especially given our experience with the women of the Teacher Foundation.