The Power of Perspective

Author: Jamie Humphrey

Becoming a global citizen requires patience, tolerance and experience which all depend on the power of embracing different perspectives. Being able to accept and learn from different beliefs and practices allows us to adapt and work together towards global goals such as gender equality.

Studying abroad gives us the opportunity to use cultural perspectives as a learning tool to develop understandings about the world and our fellow global citizens.  In terms of culture, India is paradise of diversity. Residing in the beautiful southwest coastal city of Kochi, Kerala for the past month, I have only just begun to understand some of the unique aspects of Malayalam culture that dictate the way women live their lives.

I am currently an intern with Global Vision International (GVI) Women’s Empowerment project. This project aims to enrich the lives of Keralan women by increasing their access to opportunities through education. Our work primarily consists of offering English lessons, leading discussions on women’s issues and assisting women in developing vocational skills. GVI aims to develop projects that cater to the specific needs of the local community which requires careful consideration of the cultural context. This includes being mindful of the power of perspectives. India is a geographically, ethnically and culturally vast nation. Each Indian state can have its own language, religious influences, customs and cultural priorities. This has made it difficult for me to feel like I truly know anything about India, as statistics and ways of life can vary so much by region. Kerala is known as “God’s Own Country” and I have spent my short time in this state meeting locals and Building friendships in order to embrace their perspectives and focus on understanding this particular coastal, green wonderland.

Before joining the Women’s Empowerment project, I focused my research on the challenges and consequences of gender inequality in India. This provided an overview of the dominant patriarchal influences that exist in most Indian societies. I felt relatively equipped with an understanding of key concepts and characteristics of Indian culture, but that soon changed after becoming immersed in Kerala. For example, many Indians have marriages arranged for them by their parents. My initial perspective of arranged marriage in relation to my own culture was that it is a restrictive, outdated practice. One of GVI’s project partners is an English School where adults (mainly men) come from around the state to partake in an extensive, live-in English course. We have the opportunity to conduct English lessons at this school on topics such as domestic violence, gender equality and consent. This is a really unique opportunity to engage with men in the community and have their input on, as well as raise awareness about, important women’s empowerment topics.

During one of these lessons I had a conversation about consent with a group of male students that provided me with a whole new and uplifting perspective on arranged marriage. I asked the group whether or not an individual needed his or her parents’ consent to marry someone. All five men said yes for varying reasons, mainly emphasizing the necessity to obey one’s parents in exchange for financial and emotional support later in life. However, one man said that he absolutely needed his parents’ consent because his love and respect for them are most important, and that they are the ones who know him best and will therefore choose the best partner. He said that he and his siblings are his parents’ whole life. “They live for me”, he said. This man was in his early twenties, seemed genuinely hopeful that his parents would arrange a marriage for him, and had complete faith in their ability to do so. Later I met a woman who had studied abroad in America, had a successful career, and also hoped her parents would arrange a suitable marriage. I learned from both their stories. I’m very aware that this does not represent the opinion of all, or perhaps even many, Indians. However, it was an incredibly valuable perspective that allowed me to consider arranged marriage in a whole new light based on the importance and respect of family in this culture.

Being a university student while juggling family life and a job is stressful. Before meeting my Women’s Empowerment Coordinator, a local woman named Midhu, I thought I had a lot of responsibilities. Only a few years older than I am, Midhu, like many Keralan women, has more responsibilities than I could have imagined. In her culture, after marriage, women are expected to move to live with and take care of their husband’s family. This expectation can bring them far from their own families, leaving potentially very few opportunities to visit. From my initial perspective, maintaining a career, a devotion to God, and two families seemed like three full-time jobs. However, Midhu manages to do all of this with a smile while going back and forth to her home to prepare every single meal for her family on her work breaks. She also somehow manages to be one of the most empathetic and kind people I have ever met. From her perspective, this is the life of a woman. Her goal is to raise her son and daughter to believe they are equal in this world, a perspective we both share.

QES has provided me with the opportunity to use these experiences and relationships as learning lessons. With the ability to embrace and learn from the power of perspectives, I can carry on Building international partnerships and work towards becoming a better global citizen.

 - Jamie Humphrey, VIU Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies Intern and Queen Elizabeth Scholar



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