By Prof. Anindita Paul
A lot is being spoken about on the need for representation of women in parliament, company boards, management and now lot more controversies surrounding women and her freedom not only on the streets but in buildings, elevators and in her own home, in general women in society. Adding to the hullah-bullah, a recent incident where the Indian actress Mallika Sherawat seems to have raised a storm over her comment about the state of affairs of women in India. All of a sudden it seems the topic on Indian women has caught a lot of attention in the news media. A parallel emergent theme about research covering different aspects of women and culture seem to be catching up as well and I acknowledge the need for the same. Indian society has changed in multiple ways. Amongst all the other changes a major change has been brought about by the information age and its related paraphernalia. “Information” through the news media, internet, social-media and the accompanying free flow of information through different sources combined has the power unleashed like never before. The enormous power of information has its multiple receptacles spread through the different dimensions of society and has proven repercussions on culture, tradition, politics, sports, medicine, technology, business etc. I am hinting at research studies involving women. There is a need to understand the women’s perspectives of things. And I say this with the hope that their perspectives have not yet been overpowered by the dominant perspective of our patriarchal society. There is a need to look at women and their needs that extend beyond that of jewelry, skin care, cooking and maybe other household care products. It is well known how traditionally women have been confined to a limited space, both physically and mentally. But the time has come to accept that they hold unique perspectives that have grown over time shaped by their thoughts, perceptions and intellect. By this, I don’t mean to fuel the stereotypical image of the different faculties of the mind but am suggesting the intangibles emerging out of the mind of humans who look different than the physically strong humans of earth, have been treated differently historically in most cases unjustifiably, have been seen as different beings when they grow up, are made to think they are inferior and are trained to be restricted in more than one ways. How do such beings think? Incidentally, these beings are called women and so the collective women seem to create a collective effect that cannot be ignored. The research cohort has a lot to study and understand.
At the same time, as is in most research areas, one cannot steer clear of the important question about the methodologies to be used to study culture, behaviorisms, and affect on technology. Is there a right methodology to study women in any aspect? I don’t know. As we all know there may be no right method but still there is a need to understand what methods may apply at this early stage of research on women in India. Say, for example if we want to study women and technology, are we studying how women affect technology or how technology affects women? Which is more important? Will quantitative studies help us in a better understanding of such a phenomenon or are qualitative studies better? Whatever the methodology may be, one needs to be cautious about misinterpreting data.
There are a number of research themes that come up when talking of women that may have seemed irrelevant so far. How do women access the internet? How does work take precedence over family and how families are able to support women at work? Are women challenged by the presence of really intimidating signs of ‘male-ness’ (eg., moustache, gestures and behaviorisms that speak out loud about men’s paternalistic roots). Businesses have definitely to gain from such studies and more. How women score as consumers that may bring attention to, say, ICT companies manufacturing gadgets. How women search the internet, what do they search for are going to help shape e-commerce target women audiences? Are women multitaskers between work and family responsibilities can help companies manage women talents? What is better for women, to use a mobile phone or to use the laptop or just call a friend to get information can help companies develop favorable information environments? There is no doubt that these questions may be prevalent for all irrespective of gender however, the reality stands that we need more research on women and maybe more so across cultures. It is plain and simple putting out a word from the women members of the Indian-society that seems to draw a lot attention now days, a possible shout-out to the researchers and the entrepreneurs. How about capitalizing on this new trend?
Anindita Paul is an Assistant Professor of Information Technology and Systems at IIM Kozhikode.