Reflection on the In-depth Interviews Conducted, Summer 2014
In my family, discussion of gender issues: women empowerment and education have helped me to learn about my rights and setting a future goal from the very early age of my life. However, whenever I would go out of my comfort zone: my family; I will be depressed and angry as the picture of our society was totally different. The majority of the women are obliged to stay at home to do chores and not allowed to educate themselves. Besides women are constantly harassed while they are outside home; as a result, women getting married at the early age has become a social norm. Thus despite setting a goal for my life, it would look very distant as if I will never be able to achieve it. I would complain to my parents all the time about this issue of women being subject to oppression. On the other hand, they would constantly encourage me to study hard for myself so that I can contribute to the society. Being involved in this Ford Foundation Research Project as a research assistant has helped me to learn more about women’s empowerment and education; in addition, I feel I am contributing to the betterment of the women’s condition.
Ford Study In-depth interviews that I have conducted during summer 2014, contributed a lot to my learning. Interviewees’ different perspectives have influenced me to think about this issue of women empowerment in different ways as well. It was also inspiring that nowadays many people hold a positive attitude towards women education and empowerment. Among thirty interviews most of the interviewees showed positive reaction towards women’s education; they think women should educate themselves. However, it was surprising how in terms of job sector, interviewees’ overall response wasn’t forthcoming. Some parents think only professions like teaching are best suited for their girls as in other corporate jobs there will be more challenges that women have to face. Besides, many respondents also mentioned that if there is enough income for the household than it would be better for women not to go for any employment. However, almost all the respondents supported women working at home and earning for their family.
Even after noticing improved positive mentality towards women’s education and empowerment, one of the issues that still upsets me is that blaming women for others behavior and the stereotypical mentality. In one of the households that I interviewed, the husband said “If women don’t take care of house chores and children then who will take care? By doing so there will be a bond between child and the mother.” It seemed like wives are there only to take care of their family. Besides, when he was asked: what is a woman’s responsibility in keeping family honor, he mentioned: “Women should behave in a way that no boys/men can say anything bad towards her.” I was disappointed when I was listening to his interview during transcription. Why do women have to be the one concerned about what others will have to say about her? How come a husband care about what other people says about his wife and judging her according to others comments? Here I found that women are still like a scapegoat in the society which was disappointing. Another noticeable issue was that most of the female interviewees seemed hesitant when I asked the question whether there is any male person who inspires them. Most of the time, they would answer with a straightforward no. However, the hope in many housewives’ voice was encouraging. Those respondents who got married early and couldn’t finish their education; they want their children to be educated despite their sex.
During conducting the interviews some respondents were blaming social barriers as the main cause for women not being able to educate or empower themselves; for instance, many of them mentioned about the harassments. Similarly, even though my mother knows about my interview work with the male partner and she doesn’t have any objections, she was still concerned about the society: what would other people think? Therefore, it seems though we support women education and empowerment, social norms and taboos have bonded us in a way that we can’t come out of the boundary and take women’s education and empowerment to a new level. Then again the question rise that isn’t we the one who are making up those norms and taboos?
Furthermore, I mainly interviewed the women respondents. It seemed that the female interviewees preferred talking with a female than a man. I think the female interviewees were able to share their opinions more comfortable to me. As a woman, I also had the benefit to interview women from conservative families where women won’t come and give their opinion in front of the male research assistant.
I would say the whole time period of interviewing participants was challenging as sometimes their opinion would conflict with mine. Then, I had to keep calm and listen to their views, couldn’t engage myself in any argument. For instance, almost all the interviews went well for me except for this one family interview where the family members were angry about the religion-related questions. The question asked: In your religion how is women’s education/employment/ownership seen? The family members were angry why we are asking this question to any families, those family members might not know the correct answer. They suggested we should choose the families who know about Islam much better and can answer the questions correctly. They even asked me to cancel the interviews that I conducted in their family. Later, one of the family members came to my house and argued with me. In one point of the argument, she [the family member who came to my house] also said that I am brainwashed by my foreigner professors that’s why I am not trying to understand her. I was really angry but still I was calm and I told her that our goal is not to judge people’s religion related knowledge or what is right or wrong rather what is people’s perspective. At the end, she allowed me to keep the interview recordings.
Finally, it was surprising for me to see that women whether from rural or urban areas are engaging in discussion about this women’s education and empowerment issues. I had my biases that due to the social taboos, norms, and negligence towards women in our society, female respondents mightn’t be responsive. Besides, in terms of my male partner, during this in-depth interview period, he was co-operative which helped me to conduct the interviews successfully. Overall, the interviewees were also supportive rather than explaining the questions several times for their understanding, the interviews were successfully finished without any further trouble.