I have a habit of listening to Ted talks while I am working or cleaning or doing any other random stuff. I find it inspiring and helps me dream bigger. A few months back I found a similar Malayalam talk show and was eager to listen to the stories there. Interestingly, I found that it had several videos of women sharing their success stories. I started listening to it one by one. After a week I couldn’t help but notice that all of these stories were of ladies who were successful as Youtuber/influencers/artists/fashion designers and media personalities and none from ladies pursuing a professional career in Engineering/ Science. Some of them were Engineers or students of Science but they were brought to the stage since they were successful influencers on Instagram/ YouTube.
So, I decided to make my search more specific and typed talks by women Engineers from Kerala and it was shocking that I did not get back even one good result. Desperate, I tried searching with other keywords, changed women to lady/ female, Kerala was switched to Indian, and yet none. Finally, YouTube suggested to me if I would like to watch the following related searches – which were onam dance engineering students, jimmikki kammal dance, outfits for female engineers, Malayali actors who are engineers, etc.
This was a bit of a surprise since, when I was in college pursuing my degree in Civil Engineering, the male: female ratio was almost 1:1, and during my masters, we were an all-female batch. I dug a bit deeper into statistics and found that in India, out of the number of students who complete Engineering each year, more than 30% are women and yet somehow very few of them actually make it to building a professional career. Some of the reasons sighted for this include fewer opportunities for Engineers in general, companies are reluctant to hire female engineers, motherhood, and family responsibilities. And this is from a survey in 2018 and I am sure, now in 2021, these numbers have gone higher.
Considering this not so bad male: female ratio in our engineering colleges, one might start to wonder what actually happens to female engineers after pass out. This is what I know from my search. Some of them go for teaching soon after getting a Masters. This is prior to acquiring any professional experience. I have often wondered if that is enough to teach a course such as Engineering, but no comments here since I am not the one to talk. Also, I have been blessed to have some really good mentors while in college. Some get married and start building a family. Another good percent of them go for bank coaching, and some go for UPSC/Civil service coaching, etc. The remaining tries for a job, some succeed some don’t. And no you can’t blame them for this because, to begin with, it is actually very hard to get a decent engineering job due to a lack of opportunities. On top of that sometimes girls have additional restrictions for career choice such as finding a job near the in-law’s house so she could stay there or find a job where the husband works so they could stay together. Also, night shifts might turn out to be a big NO for some. Plus too many permissions needed if she has to travel outside for work.
Recently I had put up a story on my Instagram calling for girls to try and be financially independent no matter what, even if they have a safe family background or rich husband/father. A few of the comments that I received on this said that it is the girl’s choice to stay home.
Well, it is not a choice, if there aren’t any options provided, right?
And then they say, she is happy with her life now, she was happy to get married then what is the issue. Many a time, girls do not know/ realize that they have more options other than getting married as soon as they reach the age. They do not even know of their opportunities or career prospects because it is never put forward to them or they are forced to build a career within the boundaries that have been set by others. And of course, the well heard argument that- you can do all of this after marriage stands firm in all cases. The thing is, yes one can pursue all of this after marriage as well, but it all depends on the life partner and other variable conditions. So if you are lucky enough to find the correct soul mate you can pursue all of this after marriage. But it is not carved on stone. So unless she has been provided with all the options and from there she chose to stay at home and look after the family, until then it is not her choice!
In our state, Engineering these days has been merely reduced to a subject of comic relief in trolls and movies. The common idea that has been portrayed these days is that it is better to cultivate banana plants rather than raising sons/ daughters to be Engineers. Also painted is a picture where Engineering graduates are forever a burden at homes where they just sit watching television and browsing Instagram all day. Personally, I never enjoyed these trolls, since, for those who know, Engineering is a pretty hard course to pass. It is tough and requires hours of study. There might be a debate on the current syllabus or teaching methods, but whatever that be, we still have to pass all the exams to get that degree.
For girls, Engineering seems more and more like a degree that will raise their prospects in marriage. Everyone wants an educated girl, preferably/ at least a B.Tech but no she is not allowed to work. Some people, who consider themselves to be open-minded says –‘ She can start working once she is settled and has a family, once kids are big enough to be sent to school’. Or they say things like – “Of course, she can work, she could easily find a job as a teacher in any of the countless Engineering colleges. And you know what, there are some good colleges just nearby our home, so she can reach home early’.
They are right – Women are safe at home, but is that all that matters? Is that all that she can do? And is that what she wants to do?
The saddest thing is that the very few females in Science who are pursuing a good career that we can all be proud of as a society are never brought to the limelight. They are never discussed. Because of course, the glamour world is just for the so-called ínfluencers. My search for female influencers having a professional career led to me watching videos by several female influencers/ vloggers from our state.
Mostly the content included home tour, day in my life, day in my weekend, day in my life working day, closet tour, shopping haul, and so on. One thing the influencer culture has done to society is that these days ladies, instead of moving forward are taking a huge leap backward. You see these Instagram celebrities come online and shout out stuff like, this job makes me spend more time with my child because the child needs at least one parent while growing up. They say stuff like it is very hard to manage the needs of the family along with my job and yet I do it. They add a disclaimer then, just because I do it, it doesn’t mean you have to. But the mistake has been done, Knowingly or unknowingly ladies have started believing that this is what defines a successful personality, and this is evident from the comments section.
Also, who are these people who keep insisting for day in my life videos?! It is a hardcore proof that our society never gets tired of peeping into other people’s lives. They make so many memes these days mocking kudumbasree ladies claiming they are nothing but gossipers and yet I see no difference between that and the YouTube comment section. It is full of unnecessary poking to other’s life, home, and never-ending advice/ opinions! It is as if, now that lockdown has happened and they can’t personally go and peep into other’s lives they have resorted to free advice on YouTube.
Anyways, the point is If you are someone who is currently pursuing/ planning to study Engineering/ Science, I recommend you to please search and find out ladies (or anyone) who are working in that profession and get to know how exciting the work is. Know what you are learning and how you can put it to use. And if you don’t like it, learn something you like, develop a hobby that you are skilled at. Get to know of the millions of opportunities and career paths that lie ahead of you. Most importantly, unless you are absolutely confident that you can pick up your studies after marriage please do not say yes to this. Wait for a couple more months until your course is over and you have that degree. Talk to your partner about your career plans before committing.
To end with I would like to quote Gertrude B. Elion, winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine;
“I hadn’t been aware that there were doors closed to me until I started knocking on them’’
Get inspired, promote and celebrate women in Science.
PS: Here, I have specifically talked of Engineering because that’s my field, however, the intention is to promote ladies in all branches of Science in general.
Bincy · January 31, 2021 at 2:34 am
NIDHI MURALI · January 31, 2021 at 7:23 am
So honestly written Afiifa!!!
It is so unfair that most of the women pursuing/pursued Engineering have their predefined societal goals to be fulfilled soon , either during/after the degree.
What we lack is Women supporting Women, Women having bigger dreams , Women who are ready to break the stereotypes…
Change is indeed inevitable. Let us hope to see that soon.
Afifa · January 31, 2021 at 12:33 pm
Thankyou so much for the feedback:) and yes, let us hope things change soon!
Sheba N.Rajan · February 12, 2021 at 9:38 am
Nice article Afifa. Enjoyed reading it. It is true that it has become dangerously normal to expect a girl compromise her dreams about her own life and career for the sake of family. After marriage/maternal break , it is quite common for the so called ‘supporting society ‘ to encourage sacrificing her personal life and career dreams to something ‘acceptable and convenient ‘ for others, no matter how much time and effort she has put in to have a proper academic background. Hope this mentality would change,and ourselves bringing it out.
Afifa · February 22, 2021 at 4:12 am
Thank you so much for the feedback!It means a lot to me 🙂