Women Professions in India
In the Early XX Century
“He that hath a trade hath an estate, and he that hath a calling hath a place of profit and honour. A ploughman on his legs is higher than a gentleman on his knees.”- Franklin
When so many callings are now attracting women’s attention, it might not be amiss, before considering in detail the chief of the more novel professions open to them, to note briefly the general conclusions arrived at concerning their success or failure in such occupations as engage their activities at present.
First of all, it should be observed that the task of improving woman’s position must be undertaken by woman herself. If she desires a higher and securer condition, she must work out her own salvation. So far women, even in the West, have not been resourceful enough in seeking out special lines for themselves. They have been too content to follow one track, so that Europe and America are swamped with poorly paid governesses and half-educated girl-clerks. For such want of originality their education is partly to blame. Their training has been far too abstract, too intellectual; it moves on a uniform plane, forgetting that feminine character is as diverse as the masculine, that some girls have a practical bent, others an artistic or intellectual tendency, which, if fostered, would produce good results. Even for the sake of the added enthusiasm with which anything off the beaten track can be pursued, it is worth while to look about for fresh spheres of action. Therefore, in our detailed discussion of the various professions we shall omit practically all account of the stereotyped ways in which an Indian woman may get a living, and pass on to consider other callings which she, by means of organization, might divert partially or entirely to her own profit.
In this connection, a great aid to women’s work in India would be the establishment of a Central Society, with the object of studying the fluctuation of supply and demand in different occupations in various Indian Provinces, to collect information as to new and interesting lines available for women, and to raise the general level of efficiency, by giving precise details as to how a special training could be obtained by those who are unqualified. Such a Society could also use every effort to raise the standard of women’s salaries, and might, in addition, act as a Registry to bring its clients into touch with suitable employers. Certain Associations in London give gratuitous advice about women’s work, and even have loan funds for apprentices or training-fees, which are granted under conditions to those who desire to enter on a course of professional education, for which they have not the necessary means at their disposal. After employment has been obtained, these loans are repaid in instalments by the recipients. Another society for promoting the employment of gentlewomen has, as well as a free registry, a central depot for the sale of work, including garden and dairy produce of all kinds, and even jams, cakes, sweets, etc.
There is a quaint old Western saying, applicable alike to either sex of all nations, “There are no foolish trades, only foolish people,” and this brings us to the question of woman’s capacity in the various branches in which she is engaged. Hitherto, for reasons not altogether due to her own fault, she has frequently been lacking in efficiency, the main cause being that the majority of women are not educated with any earnest intention of gaining a livelihood. In India matrimony is the goal of all, for which no serious preparation is deemed necessary. Even in the West, only a small minority expend any ingenuity in choosing out an original career for themselves, and pursue their training with the same zeal as that which the boy devotes to his apprenticeship, or to his course of professional study. This want of the definite purpose in women is the rock on which they have hitherto split. In England many methods have been adopted to remedy the evil, and to fit girls for their several walks in life. Such are Science and Art Classes; Technical Art Schools; classes of instruction in manual training, cookery, needlework, dressmaking, basket- making, lace-making, gardening, wood-carving, metalwork; lectures on such subjects as bee-keeping and poultry-rearing; Domestic Economy Schools, Day Trade Schools where girls are taught the latest method in dressmaking, up-holstery, photography, etc. In the latter schools the system resembles an apprenticeship, and, after a two years course, the pupils are supposed to be capable of taking a beginner’s posts and commencing to earn a salary. Various scholarships are offered at these classes to assist the cleverer students. To the learner the result of the scientific method adopted in teaching the trades, is a thorough and more speedy mastery of the subject.
The question of salaries is a much-vexed theme, for there is no doubt that women’s wages are, as a rule, smaller than would be paid to men for the same quality of work. The remedy, perhaps, lies in efficiency and proper organization, by which women may get the control of certain industries more in their own hands than they have ever clone, or tried to do, before. women have not as yet the faculty of banding together for the protection of their interests. They more apt to work individually, and accept the present conditions as incapable of improvement. But when it is found that they are able to execute really good work, and able also to combine to prevent the undue exploitation of their services, it is more likely that the higher salaries will be forthcoming.
Education, organization, specialization-the women of India who purpose entering on any career of usefulness, will find these three points essential to their success in life.
Source: The Position of Women in Indian Life (1912)