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Women around the world

solo travel

My big passion of mine is exploring women's socio-economic circumstances abroad. This interplays with power and control, resulting in the determination of a woman's worth in a particular society. Having studied sociology and psychology, along with a drive to learn about the cultural manifestations of violence against women, leads me to seek out women's life experiences. Quite often, it is the first time anyone has shown a woman any interest or sought opinions about her life. Dialogue and observation, leads to the consideration as to whether women are regarded as mere commodities or that the sexes actually appear pretty equal. Quite often, it falls down to the opportunities available to women.


In India and some other Asian countries, women are often very highly educated, with many going on to university. The sad reality is, that it often does not matter how well educated a woman is, it all changes with marriage. Many women refer to their lives 'before' and 'after' marriage. I have met women who had a good career they enjoyed, before entering either a 'love' or 'arranged' marriage. One woman I met in India, had been a nurse who loved her job. After marriage however, she came under the strict control of her husband and told she would no longer be nursing. He would not allow her to work night shifts. She could not argue, since her society respects the husbands ruling, as the final word. She must leave the job she loves and work in a low key beauty parlour, owned by the husband's friend. Having visited an Ayurveda hospital in India, the patient registration form asked for details of either the father or husband. Having neither was met with disbelief. Indian women are trained from an early age to conform to a variety of expectations defined by social tradition. Traditional choices focus on men, the relationship, the children with many ignoring or failing to identify their own needs.


I actually had a social experiment that happened in my living room last year. As an airbnb host, I had two Indian guests for a month, a mother and her teenage son. It was clear, the son was the 'boss', substituting the father's control. He held the money, she needed to ask, he often refused. She waited on his every need and whim and served him food before she ate. On repeating a story, she would interject 'he told me to do this or that'. He seemed like such a happy, positive guy but soon observed, over the period of a month, this was only when he was doing exactly what he wanted.

He ignored her when she spoke to him. He told her he did not like what she wore. This is only what I picked up, when the spoke in Hindi, I had no idea. He owned a football club in Pune, and came to take a course with the Scottish Football Association in coaching. As well as being his companion, his mum's role was similar to home, fawning over him and cooking and cleaning up. She grinned when telling me that before marriage, everyone thought she could something great with her life, being very intelligent. Of course, that all changed when her marriage was arranged with the son of a friend of the family. They had to accept the role of the constant, caring mother and wife, from dusk till dawn. As a mother she needed to do these things. 'Need' as a personal desire or 'need' as social responsibility? She remained silent and only smiled when I put the question to her.


Purdah is the practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of screening women from men or strangers. Communities use purdah to segregate the sexes, requiring women cover their skin and conceal their form. After all women are the gatekeepers to their own sexuality and given the task of ensuring men do not get aroused by glimpsing raw female flesh. There is a whole range of clothing the sari, shalwar kameez, veil, chador, burqua to help women ensure their skin is covered and body shapeless. What is clear however, is that women in purdah still experience rape and sexual assault, as well as being blamed for the violence. Some societies go further, with women being forced to marry their rapist, to preserve family honour .


The closest I have come in contact with a family that practices purdah, was in Karachi, Pakistan. Although more lax, not total seclusion for the women, there were elements of purdah. Knowing my love for travel, my friend suggested I join her to visit her husband's family. Their house was boxed in with high walls and the females went out only when accompanied by another family member. The men being free to come and go as they please, and go they went aplenty. When they did leave the house, it was mainly to the supermarket to buy food. It became clear pretty quickly, the women existed to serve and attend to the needs of their male relatives. Going with tradition, the home contained the extended family. Both the son's wives and the daughter's husband lived together, along with single siblings; co-existing in a tense environment.

The frail mother, the matriarch, demanded constant attention from her sick bed. She favoured the company of her son's, who would stroke the back of her hand whilst glancing at their watch. Although it was the women who attended her during the long nights, caring for and soothing her. One day I was sitting chatting to one of the sisters, when a shirt was thrown into her face. In a flash, she jumped to attention and disappeared along with the shirt. This was her brother telling her to iron his shirt. Blown away by his shocking behaviour, I asked a young cousin, who is modern minded, why the sister did not challenge her brother. She explained that the family would be shocked and wonder where she got such ideas, knowing her role has always been to care for the men living under the same roof.


The first three days in Karachi were torture, as I came under the patriarchal gaze. Instructed by my friends husband, I was unable to venture beyond the walls of the house on my own. To make matters worse, nobody else wanted to go out. However, I really wanted to go out alone to explore the city, meet people and get different perspectives. Apparently, my friends husband was not concerned for my safety, it was because I would get lost. Explaining via my friend, that by using Uber, I would not 'get lost', managed to convince him. So on day four, the Uber arrived and I was soon on my way to Jamshed Memorial Hall. Freedom!

I randomly chose to visit this site and was so glad I did. It turned out my time in Karachi coincided with the week long K7 Biennial arts festival. This was an opportunity to not only visit some great exhibitions over the next week all over the city, I met a lot of interesting people. One woman I became friends with was an artist in her 70's who had founded the VM art gallery. Spending enjoyable time together, I learned about her life and art, with the subject of women popping up occasionally. This brave women had rejected the tradition of marriage and children, concentrating on her passion, art. She was supported by her family to follow her dream, given her age, at a time when even fewer opportunities outside marriage existed for women.

During our conversations, it became clear that levels of education and social class, often underpinned the value families placed on marriage. She had faced no such pressure, other women I encountered agreed, some having great careers and married, with children.


My experiences in India and Pakistan found that higher levels of education, more importantly, educated parents, together with social class, led to improved opportunities for women. Whereas, those from the middle and lower classes, even if highly educated, once married any dreams of a career faded. These findings could be perceived as simplistic, since other detriments including caste, also interact and dictate employment opportunities.

Women I encountered from the higher classes, had a more modern outlook, having studied, worked or traveled abroad. Being privileged enough to afford foreign ventures, they may have led to new ideas of what they could achieve in their own society. Finally, I had a conversation about arranged marriages with my guest from India. She taught me that 'marriage' is not between two individuals. With an arranged marriage, rather than marrying the man, you are marrying his family. If there are problems within the marriage, the 'elders' of the family can step in to resolve them: since they arranged it. I was led to believe that people often preferred arranged marriages for that reason. Whereas, if they decide on a love marriage, it is a case of 'you've made your bed so lie in it'. This stance means there would be no interference if any problems arose. Perhaps that would be better?


Posted by katieshevlin62 07:52

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Very interesting post. I have observed similar tensions in places we have visited, and it seems to me that a lot of countries claim to be more supportive of women and their rights than is actually the case - perhaps because they have moved on to some extent compared with past practices. For instance, our (male) guide in Oman was keen to tell us that women were considered equal there, could take any job or role in society etc. But when we passed a group of men coming away from a funeral in one village and I commented that there were no women with them, he told me that women weren't allowed to attend a funeral, even that of their own father or husband, but instead had to stay at home preparing food for all the guests. It wasn't 'appropriate' for them to mourn in public.

by ToonSarah

Thanks Sarah. Yes I agreed that that folk claim to be more supportive of women than is actually the case. The women staying with me says she can go anywhere and do anything. However, she is totally dependant of money for her husband; so to what extent can she do what she wants? Also women aren't able to attend funerals either and she believes this is due to women being "emotional". Also folk from higher classes argue that equality has been achieved in India, without any consideration that some communities still practice purdah or that honour killing and gender based violence exist. x

by katieshevlin62

Yes, I think that point about women being too emotional to attend a funeral was mentioned in Oman too

by ToonSarah

what an interesting entry ... what you write I have seen myself in person and perhaps being from a western countriy it sometimes makes me angry and want to step in. I cannot understand that women endure that submissive role and when talking about it to other people, they often say that I have to mind my own business. It is something which is really hard for me because I believe that all beings are equal, I guess many think otherwise! :sad:

by Ils1976

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