Studying Gender and Mobility in India

3rd Year BA Student Becy Ainsworth is the latest student to write about her dissertation research for the LivUniGeog blog.

“This summer I spent two months in Jodhpur in northern India volunteering for a local NGO whilst conducting my dissertation research. I was able to combine my desire to volunteer and travel with my academic work, each of which benefited the other. Having the basic knowledge of India’s politics, economy and society from various modules allowed my research to delve deeper into issues, which at the start of my trip I would probably have overlooked or misunderstood. Coming from the ‘western’ world, it was extremely challenging for me as an outsider to grasp the complex and diverse values in India that were so alien to me. As someone who loves travelling and understanding local culture, I found that combining that with my research abroad changed my entire understanding of the country.

The City of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

The City of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

My research was a response to the horrific gang-rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi in December 2012. Shocked that such an act could occur on public transport, I decided to investigate wider practices of mobility – which is do, how and why people move around on a day-to-day basis. I particularly focussed on how women used public and private space and public transport systems – as a country that is strongly patriachal, Indian women often have many challenges in their daily travels around urban areas like Jodhpur. I conducted interviews and focus groups, and kept a detailed research diary noting my conversations and interactions with local people and my own experiences of mobility in the city. The language barrier was only an issue for the focus group (everyone else spoke perfect English) and I needed a translators during and after the group (when transcribing the recording) – both translators had quite different interpretations so that was my greatest challenge during the research process. The women were so open, enthusiastic and willing to share their experiences and opinions with me, which made my research a really insightful process.

Teaching some of the Women at the Sambhali Trust

Teaching some of the women at the Sambhali Trust

My role in Sambhali Trust was teaching English and maths to low-caste women and children, and to run workshops that would help with the empowerment of women. I was fully absorbed into Indian culture, which meant my daily interactions with the men, women and children of Jodhpur were valuable for my research and more general understanding of Rajasthani society. I was fortunate in that my everyday conversations revealed mobility to be a prevalent issue in women’s lives, as it was important to me that my area of research was relevant and addressed serious problems.

A notice for a women's helpline on a bus in Jodhpur

A notice for a women’s helpline on a bus in Jodhpur

Working with and researching in another country with a completely different culture to my own was a challenge and a very steep learning curve. In India, things tend happen very ‘last minute’, which was stressful for my western mind-set at times. For example, Sambhali Trust organised a conference on child sexual abuse, which is an incredibly taboo subject throughout India. We invited 60 local professionals and dignitaries related to the field, but only began doing so five days before the event (which we had spent six weeks planning). This was obviously very nerve-wracking for the European volunteers used to planning events far in advance, however most people invited to the conference attended and it was a real success, with Sambhali Trust establishing a new project two days later. Another example is how I tried to interview someone that I was living with; we set a time and place every day for my final two weeks but only on the morning before I left did we both find the time for the interview to actually happen. I definitely learned the art of patience!

I kept a blog during my time at Sambhali Trust explaining about the charity’s projects, campaigns and workshops if anyone has an interest in women’s empowerment or development work.I would really recommend students to consider researching abroad. The endless possibilities of the research subject, the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of another culture, and the skills you develop from the daily challenges of the research have made it an incredible experience that I would love to do again (minus the dissertation write up bit!).”

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