This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Moving on up: South Asian women and higher education by Yasmin Hussain and Paul Bagguley Analysis by Nadir Sharif A summary of the text: In Moving on up, Hussain and Bagguley attempt to explore in detail the context in which the surprising developments among women of South Asian descent have taken place in Britain. The environment in which these women were being brought up over the last two decades was seen as restrictive, and one where women would find it difficult to continue onto higher education. Pakistani parents, in particular, were thought to hold the opinion that women need not obtain higher education since they will have no use for it once they are married. Contrary to popular belief and expectations the number of South Asian women in Britain attending higher education institutes has increased at a rate much greater than the corresponding rate for white British women. (Table 1.1, Page 11) In the course of this book, the authors explore the conflicts that arise with the interaction of national, ethnic and religious identities and the challenges that these conflicts present for South Asian women in Britain. It is noted that religious identity is a bigger concern for young Muslim women given the rise of Islamophobia in a post-9/11 world (Page 133). The affiliation held by Pakistani and Bangladeshi women to their ethno-national identities is found to be stronger than that held by Indian women. This is attributed in part to the diversity of language and culture that exists within India which leads to a very abstract Indian identity, whereas Bangladeshi and Pakistani women can relate more easily to specific groups that are significant in the respective national identities. (Page 24) The role played by parents in deciding whether or not their daughters attended college, or what subjects they studied at the high school level is also discussed in detail. Once again, the authors focus on parents‟ influence on the decisions of young Muslim women. While there is an increasing number of parents that want their daughters to continue on to higher education, the areas of study advocated by these parents are still very traditional. Law, medicine and other professional degrees were recommended to women by their parents as they saw the primary objective of obtaining a higher education to be the increasing of earning potential. While this view led to parents‟ approval of, and encouragement of plans to attend college, it also meant that young women were, more often than not, pursuing degrees in areas that they did not like and/or were not capable of performing well in. (Page 84)
While the interviewees quoted in the book did not look for ethnically diverse environments when considering what university to attend, they all attended universities that were relatively close to home (Pages 81, 84-85). This factor, like many other conservative ideals of parents, was more prominent in Muslim families of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin. There was a general concern on part of the parents that their daughters may become „westernized‟ and bring dishonor to the family by being involved in „bad‟ activities or – in the worst case – by marrying of their own will (Pages 92-93). Other factors that limited the choice of universities which young South Asian women could attend included class-related financial limitations (Pages 107). It has been highlighted throughout the text that young South Asian women, while restricted by parental choices, are for the most part not rebellious. They view their ethnic (or ethno-national) and religious identities as being important parts of their lives. There is an attempt in almost all cases to negotiate with the parents on all matters, ranging from dress, selection of courses, decision to attend university, and marriage (Pages 53, 69, 84, and 107). Varied strategies were employed by students and their parents when it came to financing higher education. A common denominator amongst all ethnic groups studied in this book was that none of them were willing to take out loans or use credit cards to support themselves (Page 117). In some cases, particularly young non-Muslim women of Indian origin, higher education was financed completely or to a great extent by the students themselves (Page 116). It was an eye-opener for me to realize the extent to which institutionalized discrimination still exists in Britain. Five times as many Muslims reported having faced discrimination on the basis of religion when seeking employment (Page 123). While the number of South Asian women being accepted into higher education institutes has been on the rise, this rise has not been reflected proportionally in „well-known‟ institutions. In some cases students avoided places like Cambridge and Oxford University even though they were qualified to attend, because they viewed these institutes as being homogenous and class-specific. In other cases there was evidence of discrimination within the admissions process at the concerned institutes. Racism was experienced quite frequently by students, both on and off campus. Many students were subjected to racist remarks that did not apply to them, for example anti-Islamic remarks being hurled at Hindu or Sikh women, or Indian and Bangladeshi women being referred to as Pakis (Page 132). The book is concluded with a word of caution about the existence of racism on campuses and the heightening of such sentiments since the events of 9/11. The authors also remind the reader of the significant, unexpected success enjoyed by South Asian women over the last two to three decades. Analyzing the information:
It is nearly impossible to create one or two characters out of the 114 women that were interviewed as part of the qualitative research project, the findings of which are presented in Moving on up. However, given the relative consistency within ethnic groups, I will attempt to present the experiences of young Muslim women of Pakistani origin. Perhaps I am choosing to focus on this group since I have something in common with these women. But I am also choosing this group because of the attention it has received in the post-9/11 world. Muslim women in general and Muslim women from countries viewed as conservative (read terrorist) Islamic states in particular, have been portrayed as victims of a cruel society. We are all familiar with the challenges of applying theory to practice. Attempting to analyze the research presented in this book, and looking at the lives of the women interviewed, is no exception. The study focuses on a group that is struggling with managing two national identities (one being British and the other that of the South Asian nation their parents came from), an ethnic identity (of being South Asian), and a religious identity. To further complicate the scenario, many of the women interviewed are also first generation students – adding another dimension to any analysis that needs to be done. Mindful of these challenges, I will look at the selected group (Muslim women of Pakistani origin) in the light of several theories. My general approach is influenced by Erikson‟s development stages, and I will rely heavily on models that are based on Erikson‟s work. In particular I will refer to Josselson‟s theory of identity development in women, and Phinney‟s ethnic development model. (1) I will also use the paper entitled First-Generation Student presented by Pascarella et al. (2) Josselson‟s model for women‟s identity development is summarized in the form of Table 1 below. Foreclosures: These women knew early on what they wanted to be/wanted to do and pursued these goals single-mindedly. Identity Achievements: These women identified separately from their parents, saw themselves as self-designed, taking pride in self. Moratoriums: These women are aware of multiple right ways of being, but are still searching for identity development, and their personal direction. Identity Diffusions: Significant problems finding self have a tendency to withdraw from situations and are unable to make commitments. Table 1 Josselson - Women's Identity Development
Because the focus of this book was to conduct a qualitative analysis of a sizable population from the selected area in Britain and support claims that South Asian women had made significant gains, it does not dwell for too long on any one interviewee. This makes it difficult to pick out traits that would show if a woman was in a particular stage of identity development. There were, I felt, a significant number of Moratorium and Moratorium Diffusion cases. These were women who wanted to be accepted at home as well as outside: “Well I‟m from Pakistan my parents are from there. Our culture is totally different to any other and I really like it. Although I wear English clothes but at home I don‟t wear them. I wear them here because to feel part of everything else. I speak Punjabi but mostly we speak English at home.” – Rafika Amin (Page 43) Meanwhile, other women were bolder and chose establish their own identities that were potentially in conflict with parental ideals and expectations. Some redefined certain terms so they would apply better to them and their unique situations. For example: “I define British my way not the normal definitions given to it. Like I have taken on the good points of Britishness that don‟t conflict with our religion or culture and left all the bad points.” – Tahira Safder (Page 47) Others were more straight-forward in setting themselves apart from their parents and recognizing the differences that existed between their generations: “I just don‟t really identify with it. I don‟t really relate to it… Just because my parents are from Pakistan… I wouldn‟t call myself a Pakistani.” – Ambiya Siddique (Page 44) “I wouldn‟t say they (the parents) have as much Islamic thinking as their children have now” – Farhana Sheikh (Page 45) “A lot of Pakistani-ness, is the cultural side of it. And there are a lot of things in my culture, not in my religion that I don‟t accept…” – Parveen (Page 44) At the same time, there were also cases where there was an implicit acceptance of the fact that even though they were able to negotiate with their parents on matters like attending university, there were other matters like marriage that were not open to negotiation in a similar manner: “I think it is important to have links there because you don‟t know; I might get married to someone from there.” – Shahnaz Ali (Page 43) Such attitudes presented an interesting situation, because even though these women were aware of their own identities and their differences with their parents, they were willing to compromise in order to avoid conflict and to save their parents from social embarrassment.
It was also of particular interest that, even though these women were, for the most part, FirstGeneration College Students the role played by social and cultural capital in inequalities that exist in higher education in Britain is not as significant as may be considered by the respective schools of thought. The cultural capital school has treated class inequalities as being closely related to ethnic inequalities; meanwhile the social capital school treats ethnicity as a distinct factor causing inequalities in higher education. While these theories are helpful in the contexts they were developed to address, they are not applicable to the complex, and more importantly, dynamic situation that this book analyzes. Changing ethnic identities and a huge transformation in the participation of South Asian women in higher education are difficult to analyze using the concepts of cultural and social capitals. Barring this significant difference, the Muslim women of Pakistani origin fit well into the FirstGeneration College Students model developed by Pascarella and his peers. These women have obligations to their families that affect their ability to attend certain schools or universities and also affect the choice of subjects that they are able to study. Even though Pakistani women are now in a more comparable position, where 14.5% attend university, compared 17.0% among white British women – the inequalities are very significant when we consider highly selective institutions. This can be attributed in part to the unwillingness of Pakistani parents to allow their daughters to attend universities away from home, but is also caused by poor performance in high-school level examinations like the A Levels. Many young women were not allowed by their parents to take subjects that they liked. Instead they were forced to take subjects that were more difficult. Such cases are mentioned by the authors on multiple occasions in the text. The section „Choosing subjects‟ in the fourth chapter of the book cites many examples of young women who had to choose law, medicine or engineering over their preferred courses of study because of parental pressure. This puts the claim that First-Generation College Students are as successful as others who are not from First-Generation backgrounds into a new context. While women who enrolled in courses of their choice did well, others suffered throughout their time at college and high school. Jasmine Ali pursued a degree in Law upon her parents‟ insistence. She is regretting this decision now. On the other hand, Simi Banu, a student who was able to resist pressure from her parents to study Pharmacy, is studying English and loving the experience (Page 68). I will now move away from the focus on development in women and first generation students to ethnic identity development, and identity development in general. For this purpose I will use the support of Phinney‟s Ethnic Identity Development and Marcia‟s model for Development and Validation of Ego-Identity Status. (3)
As is the case with most identity development models, individuals go through a crisis that challenges their views or pushes them out of their comfort zone. As one student said “When I interact with people I don‟t think I am a brown girl and you are a white man, but it was other people that made me aware” (Page 128). Such experiences were more common in environments where the numbers of minorities were small. These crises were delayed, and identity development slowed in environments that possessed the „critical mass‟ of minorities: “Most of my social circle is in the Asian community, I mean I can speak to my white friends up until certain point… but there is more common understanding between you and your Asian friend.” – Fatima Begum (Page 129) While some women were able to avoid confrontation on a regular basis by attending university in more diverse localities, incidences of explicit abuse outside of university made most think about the hatred that existed. Since most of the women who were interviewed are still quite young, and may have just recently finished college, not many can be said to have reached identity achievement. Most are angry and frustrated with their environment. It would be interesting to see how these women‟s ethnic identity develops as they mature and wade through the crises they are currently faced with. Indications of higher levels of identity achievement can be seen in the remarks of some. For example: “Talking to students they were like asking questions „is you mum allowing you to come and study?‟ „is your husband alright about it?‟, yeah there are myths… you just have to tell them things are changing and put them rights.” – Zoreena Bibi (Page 136) We can see from Zoreena‟s remarks that even though she is frustrated with the situation, she understands that stereotypes exist and that she can explain matters to her peers, correct them often and that way these stereotypes will be weakened. Conclusions: As we have seen often during our study of student affairs, theories are great tools but they require skilled users. There is no situation involving human development or human interaction that can be dealt with using a cut-out, ready-to-use approach. Each situation demands a close study and an appropriately developed response. Student affairs personnel need to, as I attempted in this analysis, relate theory to practice as appropriate.
There may never be a situation where we can directly apply the knowledge learned inside a classroom to understand an individual or group‟s development. But we can use these theories to select factors and parameters that we can then study closely to understand almost every situation. With a medley of identities being developed inside their minds, the young Muslims women from Pakistan that we took a look at here have reacted in a more or less consistent way. They have all tried to negotiate – to the best of their abilities – with their parents so that they may attend university, and study subjects that they like. Some have been more successful than others, but they have all had a similar approach. None have attempted to neglect their parents‟ wishes, both in terms of education and with regards to arranged marriage. They have instead built parallel identities to satisfy themselves, their parents, and the general British environment in which they live and go to school, college or university in – and in an increasing number of cases, go to work in. The predictions made regarding young women of South Asian descent, and of Pakistani origin in particular relied on some of the same theoretical models that I have used to analyze this group. It is interesting then to see how the differences that make the context being studied different from the contexts for which these theories were created may very well have contributed to the failure of these predictions. One general concern I had while analyzing the study presented by Hussain and Bagguley in Moving on up is that the sample of South Asian women used for this study was very specific. Even though this was declared at the beginning of the text, it would be difficult to say if women living outside of Leeds would relate to all that was said by the interviewees. This is part of the restrictions that are applied when conducting a qualitative research. It would have been difficult for the authors to conduct a qualitative research project, with a significant sample size and achieve the geographic diversity that one would desire.
1. al, Evans et. Student Development in College. San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, 1998. 2. First-Generation College Students/Journal of Higher Education. al, Pascarella et. 3, s.l. : Ohio State University, 2004, Vol. 75. 3. Marcia, James E. Development and Validation of Ego-Identity Status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1966, Vol. 3, 5.