The global education market in Sri Lanka

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CHAPTER FIVE Women’s attitudes towards men and marriage


The preceding chapter has shown how the gendered position of the young women in relationship to their parents underwent substantial change as both parents and daughters adjust to the effects of the migration on their relationships. This chapter is about the changes to the women’s ideas of relationships with men and marriage. It discusses how far they are able to negotiate within the family expectations of marriage and their own expectations. It also examines what they want from relationships and how they are negotiating these new expectations within the new context. The data analysis has traced their interests in terms of ethnicity and religion to look at possible transnational and cross-marriage options. The extracts show how the young women are re-positioning themselves in terms of the public self and the personal self. The young women have chosen New Zealand as their home saying that they do not want to return to Sri Lanka and have given reasons. As a result alternatives have been considered about how they will live in New Zealand. The theoretical discussion integrates the women’s comments into the analysis under three sections: the changed expectations of young women, what they want from relationships, and how they are negotiating these new expectations. The final section of the chapter develops the theoretical discussion further with reference to the literature. The new phenomenon of professional women re-positing their social relationships as global knowledge workers and as migrant young women within the host country is characterised by constant negotiation. The research shows how they grapple with what is appropriate in the new context. They change their ideas about fundamental matters such as whether to raise a family or to marry and if so what sort of partner. Interaction with men too is another area where the women test out new ways of being. These young women are part of the rising numbers of unmarried educated women who contribute to the declining birth rate in developed countries. One survey (Survey of American Society- 2001) found that educated, unmarried females in their thirties have the most negative attitudes to marriage and parenthood. These women often face criticism from relatives and friends for not performing their role that of marriage and childbearing. This is something the young women in the study had experienced. While, it is assumed that a Sri Lankan young woman will not leave home until she gets married, changes in contemporary Sri Lankan society have meant that increasing numbers of young women find their marriage partners themselves and then introduce them to their parents. Following negotiation the choice may change because while there is some choice involved, the parents’ preferences are still considered important. In terms of choosing a marriage partner young women consider the man’s status and qualifications in order to find a degree of equality. Class status, education qualification level, family background, and the in-laws intervention are all taken into account. The study shows that six participants were heavily influenced by the Western model of marriage. The women said that their major concern is to be able to share their lives in a relationship characterised by reciprocal roles but with a man of the same social status. This latter requirement shows the continued Sri Lankan influence. However, they thought that marrying a non-Sri Lankan would enable them to avoid traditional cultural restrictions.

Equal relationships between men and women

Asanka discussed the reasons for changes to gender roles in Western and Eastern culture. She compared the old ways to the new and declared her strong commitment to gender equality. She talked about the importance of women having more opportunities to work without experiencing gender bias and referred to situations she had encountered where women are in positions of power and authority over men noting considering that this will change the perceptions that women have of men. Asanka: In the workforce, there is no significant difference between men and women and there are more opportunities and responsibilities to share together. Why are women inferior in the domestic space? Why can’t we share our roles? We need flexibility. The main thing is we have to make up our minds first. Sri Lankan men are reluctant to respect women as equals. Men are not willing to honour or respect women, because culturally they are taught to be inflexible. You know, some men are like puppets, they are under control of their mothers and old sisters or aunties. In-laws intervention is a big issue in Sri Lankan family structure… (After a little pause she spoke thoughtfuly) you know, some families are under threat because of the in-laws involvements. Normally, the recorded family violence related incidents have been rooted in in-laws involvement. Simply, every woman has a dream to make her own home on her own way. You know…but some mother-in-laws are so…so…you know… It is of huge significance that these young women professionals are in a position to change their lives. While gender equality is always important to them, especially as they moved into higher educational study, in Sri Lanka it was not possible to reject the conventional social order. Migrating to New Zealand has changed that. Now they are permitted a new home, and it is believed that they can apply what they learned. In-laws involvement in particular was a feature of Sri Lankan life that they were happy to leave behind. Asanka’s brief journal note mentioned how ‘the interview engaged me with home and sweet memories but also some of the unpleasant memories back in home’. This was a reference to in-laws interference in the family. Sanjula too was happy to change and become integrated into New Zealand society. Sanjula: As migrants we tend to change. Some others are changing their way of life very slowly. Some of them get only what they needed or like…what they can get easily. Obviously, young crowd, love to get something that they can admire in fascinating…as educated people we should know what we have to get or avoid. I believe, we have to fit with the new society and it’s necessary to change. Sanjula believes that just because she is from Sri Lanka she shouldn’t be stopped from selecting those new ways of living that will benefit her. She is quite definite in her view that women should change to fit with the new society. Sanjula: The social values are changing because of educational improvement. I think that…because it is why traditional role of women are changing now…Generally, Sri Lankan women choose employment in the field of education and health care sectors, as teachers and nurses. But, the young generation has a tendency to be looking at highly respected fields in Sri Lanka, like medical personnel and engineers, lawyers, accountants and IT experts, which is a significant improvement of the position of women in Sri Lanka. They are highly respected at work or in their profession but: the same woman at her home will become insignificant. It’s a shame! Now, women are going abroad for job opportunities, and both men and women are sharing their roles, it is very positive improvement. They are doing well. Some professions barred women because of childcare responsibilities in the family. In the contemporary society, most cultures are blended with each other and traditional social structure and the social values…and ideologies are changing. So…women have to change according to their work and study environment or work place responsibilities…I think. Inspired by the other female professionals, Sanjula is confident in negotiating herself into New Zealand ways of living. She justifies her new values and behaviours both in terms of her status as an immigrant and as a member of a new ‘liberated’ generation. Sanjula: These days, there are enough opportunities in educational development in Sri Lanka…and parents are aware their children’s education in every level of society, from rural to urban areas. Now, most women choose non-traditional jobs rather than government jobs. Once, traditional roles limited the potential of women, but now it is changing. You know, in my mother’s time, teaching was the best option for a woman. Even though, now, my mother hopes that we should be doctors, engineers or IT specialists. Everything is changing and why shouldn’t we? Our roles have to change in a timely manner…I think. She recognises that adjustments are needed. Migrants should be flexible and willing to mingle if they wish to be part of the host society. Asanka: Well, throughout the last three generations, the role of the men and women has been changed. Our attitudes, values and thinking patterns are different from that of our parents, and more than our grandparents…so…we are as professional women, definitely… I think… somebody those who are living in western countries are not living as people who are living in Sri Lanka. It is hard to accept…because, we, migrants, have to survive in another society…you know, you have to follow the rules, values and follow the social conduct, like people who are living in those countries. I think that we have to change our attitudes towards others. We have to respect and value their social norms. Our generation is very radical and self-sufficient and are more liberal thinkers than the previous generation. They were involved in different roles and responsibilities…I mean women are earning well in different fields. They are more valuable than ever before. Like Sanjula, Asanka values her autonomy. She would not venerate a man in the traditional Sri Lankan way given her respect for equal rights for women although as she notes, the role of women in Sri Lanka is also changing. Asanka: Nowadays, there are some business women in Sri Lanka, and they are holding executive positions, or are bosses of companies and projects. I know one of the friends of my mother, runs a very successful business back in Sri Lanka. She is amazing! A tough woman…very strict…very masculine…She has developed her personality to fit with the job, not actually her job but her career. Such woman should marry a man who has good understanding about her role. That’s the point. She seems to be suggesting here that these new roles require as women to become like men, a change that will affect her ‘domestic self’. Marriage will be a challenge for herself and the ‘professional self’ that she is keen to develop. Thanuja: I think that gender roles are changing all over the world, ‘the world’ means, men and women…, basically, I think that the reason is subsequent educational advancement at the end of the last century. This is the 21st century; there are rapid improvements in the IT sector. We are enjoying more opportunities than our parents did. The effect of communication progress and the use of the internet and other high technology usage have made significant impacts on the lives. Because of that, lifestyles have changed very fast… you know. The speed of the change is very…very…fast, between my mother’s and my generation. When the games change, the players have to change… and the rules of the game has to change (she justifies her opinion)…And the purpose of the sport has to change. Changing social structure anticipates different goals from people you know…. Nowadays, traditional social norms are changing in Sri Lanka…and the western influences are dominating all over the world…more changes are taking place because of the influences of equal opportunities for women. Thanuja is quite clear that change is acceptable. Women, as co-players in human relationships, have to change if they want to benefit. In her understanding of how women have changed, she says: Women writers, and women organizations…and the…UNO and… the human rights organisations are now addressing women’s issues. World organisations and groups are concerned with women’s rights. Through the Mass media all those ideas informing people…and these NGOs and the governments have co-operative plans for development because of that, the thinking patterns of women are changing. I think that it’s very positive mode of change, because women should get to know what are their rights and their position as human beings. Now, men are begun to look at women as human beings and… assessments of the importance of women have progressively changed. Once, some jobs were banned for women. I mean the jobs are segregated or gendered. And now status is changing significantly. Why would women want to be inferior to men? She is confident about the new order, indeed looks to a future in what she sees with enthusiasm as a world of increasing gender equality. Thanuja: Well, now, there is no difference between male and female in the job market. Only work quality and skills become measures of the suitability of workers. So, women have proved their potential skills in the work force. I am qualified and I am confident about my capacity. I always think that there are no superiors over me. (Her looks serious). That’s why we are…I am here. (She smiled triumphantly). Thanuja emphasises the skills which empower women and give them access the labour market. She played down the reality of unequal power relations between men and women that still exists. Her emphasis is on equality.

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A new phenomenon of migration
Sri Lankan women and education
“Footloose” women
“Brain drain” dynamics
Women migrants
Research design
Thesis structure
1. Background: The migration context
Women’s migration
Contemporary globalisation and its features
The global education market in Sri Lanka
Migration pattern change
Changing class structure: Emergence of the middle class women
Women in the global knowledge labour market
The global labour market
Biographies of the six women
2. Sri Lankan migration
Sri Lankan migrants in New Zealand
Migration and identity
Contemporary Sri Lankan migration
Reasons for migration
Ethnic conflicts…
Gender and migration
Sri Lankan labour in the global economic system
3. The research process
Research design
Case study approach
Sources of data
Interview schedule
The participants’ journals
The researcher’s journal
The sample selection criteria
Overview of the research
Data analysis and interpretive criteria
Ethical consideration
Being an insider and a researcher
4. Migration and gender
Reasons for migration
The politics of gender in Sri Lanka
Parents and daughters
Changing daughters: Changing parents
Career aspiration as the turning point in negotiating relationships
5. Women’s attitudes towards men and marriage
Equal relationships between men and women
Marriage expectations
The women’s variety of marriage choices
6. Professional lifestyle
Women’s attitudes towards work
Lifestyle and income
Leisure and lifestyle
Young women’s saving and spending
Global context
7. National belonging
Where do I belong?
Being independence and enjoying freedom
Intercultural sensitivity
8. Phenomenon of professional migration
Educational achievement as a key factor of transformation
Daughters and parents relationships negotiation
Perception of marriage and choice of partner
The lifestyle changes of professional women
Negotiation of identity
Professional class
Cultural idealism
A solid rock or rolling stone
Conclusion: Becoming ‘Kiwis’
Implication and recommendation


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