Date of Degree
Joan P. Mencher
This is a study of the significance for women of college education as it occurs in colleges administered by Christian nuns in Kerala, India. Particularly, it looks at the paradoxical effects of the dramatic social changes Kerala underwent during the twentieth century that guaranteed, among other things, formal education, including post-secondary, to a large proportion of women. On the other hand, it shows not only the persistence of blatant social inequalities fed by class, caste, and gender distinctions but also the increase in inequality due to the forces of globalization. On close examination, there is little correlation between the vast numbers of educated women and those who possess personal autonomy along with meaningful employment. The interplay between gender constructions and the absence of symbolic, cultural, and financial capital can be seen as major factor in the processes leading to social reproduction through educational practices and institutions. The prestigious women's colleges run by nuns tend to reinforce the "traditional" roles of women as mothers and wives through enforced disciplinary measures that discourage independence and dissent.
Therefore, access to formal education is not enough to guarantee gender or even social equality. As elsewhere, in Kerala the cultural and social capital available to most young women is unequally distributed. The rise of distorted interpretations of "dowry" contributes to downplaying women's acquired formal education and the stress that the woman or her family has to undergo to arrange her marriage. All these phenomena, the dissertation shows, have their roots in historical developments related to the Indian colonial experience which resulted in the decline of social institutions such as matriliny that assured women's property, high regard, and home regardless their civil status.
Forero-Pena, Alcira, "To Stand on Their Own: Women’s Higher Education in Contemporary Kerala, India" (2004). CUNY Academic Works.