Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Time to Introspect

With the women who shaped their own destiny in Vijayawada.
March is women’s history month, an important time to think about where we’ve been and where we’re going.  I’ve just finished reading a report put out by the White House on the status of women in the United States (Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being).  I am very conscious of the fact that the situation of women in my country has changed enormously over my life time, and many changes have occurred since I last lived in the U.S. in 1998.  This report, though, shows how far women have come in just about every area.  It got me thinking about how fortunate I am, compared to my mother and grandmother.
Education:  I’m the first woman in my family to complete a bachelor’s degree, but my mother and grandmother, unusually for their time, both enrolled in university before dropping out to get married.  Today in the U.S., there are more women than men enrolled in higher education at every level.  And they aren’t dropping out to get married.  Women earn 60% of bachelor’s degrees and about half of all law and medical degrees.  They lag behind only in science, technology and engineering. 
Family:  My grandmother was sixteen when she married, my mother was 18, and I was 44.  Since 1950, the average age at first marriage for women in the United States has increased from 20 to 26.
Employment:  Both my mother and my grandmother worked all their lives, but in their day, that was the exception.  In 1950, only 33% of adult American women were in the labor force.  In 2009, that figure was 61%.  During the recent recession in the U.S., unemployment rose rapidly in professions dominated by men, like manufacturing and construction, but much less so in professions dominated by women, like education and health care.  And even with recovery, the fields in which women work are expected to represent a growing share of the U.S. economy of the future.
Income:  My mother worked two or even three jobs throughout her life to earn enough to support a family.  I am grateful to have a job that provides a secure living and know how lucky I am to have a husband who was willing to put his career on the back burner to support me in mine.  American working women have made strides toward equality in recent decades.  Earnings of women working full time in the U.S. have increased 31% since 1979; men’s earnings have increased only 2% over that period.  However, I’m more fortunate than most American women.  Although they are making up ground, women still earn only a little more than 80% as much as men with the same qualifications.
I know that that situation for women in India today is very different from that in the U.S., and that there are large differences in society, culture and history.  Women may have more political representation in India than in the U.S., but less economic power.  I suspect, though, that today’s urban, educated Indian women are living very different lives than their mothers and grandmothers.  I’d be interested to hear their stories.


  1. Dear Katherine Dhanani I am really impressed the way you have come up in life, you being the first generation in your family to have gotten the University degree and made it to the prestigious American Foreign service posting.what really sets u apart from others in this regard is the firm belief that one should never forget their roots.it is evident when you have sighted your family history , how hard ur elders had to putup a good show in life to be on the brighter side of it. More interestingly, i think you had sort of really reached out to the banks of the river krishna and Godavari areas to sort extend the Indo-US relations for peace and prospertiy of the two great countries in the modern world. since you have openly asked for your role in uplifting the womens status i would like to bring to your attention the status of working women in Advaced centre for American Studies, osmania university formerly its known as ASRC.these women have been working for many years without hike in their salaries for as small as $100 per month which deplorable and they are not able to feed their children with this kind of meagre amounts. i sincerely request you to comeout with some kind of appreciation for them. i have learnt that under your guidance and spirited leadership the US consulate has many more gigantic tasks which will cement the Indo-US relations for a more dynamic and fruitful future. I am sure with many shared values and shared vision both the US and India would be set for higher goals.About myself just joined here in the Advaced Centre fotAmerican Studies as an Asst.Professor, i have a Ph.D in American studies from School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) New Delhi. worked on US-Israel-India strategic triangle as part of my Post-Doctoral work in Israel recently.i sincerely and earnestly request you to look into Tenali Assembly constituency for the upliftment of the status of women, children and a great deal of business and commerce relations between the US and this area. any kind of assitance in this process is swift and quick from my side since Tenali is my birth place i have good relations there with the local administration, the present Deputy Speaker of the AP Assembly is the MLA from Tenali constituency. Iam the first generation from my family to go to school and college so there is the this particular similarity which bonds us well in our overall working partnership to tkae forward the Indo-US relations in the broader framework. thank u. waiting for ur feed back.

  2. Thank you for sharing your views. I’m pleased to know of your strong interest in American studies, and I congratulate you on your achievements. American Studies is a subject that we at the Consulate care about deeply. We do not have the resources the U.S. government once had for the subject, which is why we no longer provide broad support to Osmania University for American Studies. Instead, we have looked for opportunities to use modest, targeted grants for specific projects, such as grants made in the last two years to the OUCIP to update its book holdings, access online journals and databases, establish an audio visual room and improve infrastructure. Currently, we are in the process of setting up an American Corner at OUCIP. I hope this will contribute to improved understanding of American society, culture and institutions. I wish the Center the very best.

    I did not get to Tenali on my first trip to Vijayawada and Guntur, but I’ll try to make sure I get there next time I travel in the area.

  3. Katherine,
    I believe that the status of women in India today is changing but has not changed completely. I look around me and I see that women today are working in different areas - from working in a Petrol pump to being a CEO. Lot has changed with respect to gaining financial independence. But, very little is changing in the culture. Women are still expected to be subservient to Men. But I believe that this will change too. Women today are almost doing all kind of jobs. There will come a day when every lady will step out and breathe the air of Freedom!
    My salutes to all women who so efficiently manage work, home and society!