Women, Tradition and India

Exploring the complex intersection of these identities and navigating a new way of thinking.
Research Paper

Women, Tradition and India

We often assume that all women are advocates of the same ideas on feminism. This critical essay explores how this assumption is problematic.


For many, these are three words whichwhen combined together, bring tomind thoughts of subjugation, oppression and ‘backward’ customs. As a young woman of Indian descent living in ‘modern’ Britain this raised some questions:-Where did these perceptions originate? Arethey justified? What are the implications?

In the 21st century,women’s rights, women’s issues and thewoman’s journey are truly front and centre.From Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettemovement in the early 20th century to genderequality activists today, the story we havebeen told is that women have made greatstrides in our recent history. Yes, this istrue; however, the progress has been madeagainst the backdrop of cultural resistanceand oppression. The women’s journey hasbeen one characterized by struggle and hardearned freedoms. This journey is not completeand the woman’s struggle continues.Even today, the recent #metoo movementhighlights the ongoing challenges for womenin todays ‘civilised’ and ‘modern’ society.

The ‘journey of the woman’ inmodern western society is one that is definedby progress. While the popular view upholdsthe Western world as the most advancedin terms of the progress made by women, it is important to note that this sense ofprogression is built on an assumption thatwomen have always been subjugated andoppressed in the past. Therefore, whilstprogress has been made, one cannot ignorethe aforementioned backdrop of culturalresistance and oppression against which thisprogress has been made. Western narrativeson women and their roles in other culturesare often based on the assumption that the‘western women’s journey’ is universal. The‘woman’s journey’ in different cultures is oftenviewed as existing in the same paradigm andon the same trajectory, but further behind thanthe west. These narratives demonstrate littleto no understanding or appreciation for thedifferences that can exist in other paradigmsand cultural contexts. As a result, indigenousperspectives on the ‘woman’s journey’ areseldom heard and western ideas aboutwomen and empowerment are imposed andused as the yardstick with which we measureprogress and determine how it is to be defined.

Key Points

One of the key areas in which Western Universalism ought to be challenged, is in the area of understanding womanhood and ideas around feminity and empowerment.

That there is a complex intersection between identities, and that if one belongs to an identity (say 'Indian'), it not only is an addition to an identity of being woman, but it fundamentally interacts to build a completely unique experience.

That certain myths arouund dowry and tradition ought to be called out.


The impact of this critical piece of work can be judged by how well we can empathise with different realities and experiences and not be taken in so automatically by given ways of understanding issues like equality, feminism, empowerment, tradition and history.

Footnotes and Further Reading