I recently came across these two articles [Men Loiter, Women Cloister; The Virtue of Visibility] which beautifully articulated the feelings I’ve been having about being a woman in public in India. The male-dominated public sphere can be taxing to handle day-in and day-out. I’m always hyper-aware of my gender and my presence. I had a similar experience in Turkey when I turned to Oyumaa and asked: where are all the women? She responded with similar curiosity and when we asked a hostel employee about the whereabouts of Turkish women, she responded that they probably were at home-why would they want to be out, anyway?
In Kolkata too, this is often the case. If I’m walking home at a perfectly respectable 9 PM, chances are I’ll only see women on the street if they are with their partners or children. It is men who staff the tea stalls along my lane and work most service jobs–the taxi drivers, shopkeepers, and waiters are all male. I have long associated NGOs with women as all the non-profits I have been associated with have had a sizable female workforce. However, this doesn’t hold true at the nonprofit I’m involved with here! As far as I am aware, there is only 1 woman on a staff of 13.
Do the women not work then? (At least in service jobs, outside a few department stores, I never encounter women) Do they only walk outside with purpose? (E.g. to purchase something, to walk a child to school, etc.) I’m not sure where the women are–but through conversations with my peers at my new dance class (where my instructor happens to be male…but the majority of students are women), I hope to figure out how women navigate and occupy public spaces in India.
Note: A related annoyance of mine is that when filling out forms in India, you often need to provide either your father/husband’s contact information! I was appalled the first time that I read the line-maybe emergency contact would be a more suitable title?