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"Sweden taught me practical lessons of gender equality"

Read Akhila Murugan's report on her stay in Sweden as part of the Linnaeus-Palme exchange programme. Akhila Murugan was part of the program as a student from Department of Communication and Journalism at University of Kerala in Trivandrum, India.
Andreas Mattsson (Program Director), Akhila Murugan (Former LP-student) and Mia-Marie Hammarlin (Head of Department)
Andreas Mattsson (Program Director School of Journalism), Akhila Murugan (Former LP-student) and Mia-Marie Hammarlin (Head of Department of Communication and Media)

I am jealous over people who can transform indescribable emotions and feelings into marvelous words. To me it would not come out that easily. Especially when writing something that is very much close to my heart, let it be memories, events or feelings. My trip to Sweden is one such experience that I consider to be influential and precious in different aspects.

It was on January 9, 2017 that I and Rukku Sumayya started our journey to the exciting Nordic country of European Union, Sweden.

We received the opportunity to go there as a part of Linnaeus-Palme student exchange program, which is an academic collaboration between the journalism departments of University of Kerala and Lund University in Sweden. I still can recollect four perplexed eyes looking out of the window of the flight after the announcement that it is three degree temperature outside during its landing. And as soon as we reached the airport, everything has changed. Life has taken me to another world under the same sky. And from that moment everything I saw, felt and understood were totally different from whatever I have experienced in India.

I went there without much background knowledge about the place, people or culture. But the country was so receptive that nothing was difficult. I must acknowledge that, the comfort and confidence that I enjoyed is also the result of the presence and guidance of our professors in the Department of Communication and Media at Lund University, Andreas Mattsson, Ola Isaksson, Helena Stenkvist Söderlin and Mia-Marie Hammarlin. This trip is so much special for me as it is my first foreign trip and which would not be possible without the efforts of many.

The ravishing beauty of the European streets, its cleanliness and the traffic system, respect and consideration given to pedestrian rights, roads paved with cobbled stones, eye- catching shops, the traditional brick buildings built hundreds of years back, etc. made me think that I am in a dream land. But I must say nothing is flashy or luxurious in Sweden. Everything is built and maintained for their needs and nothing to show off. We stayed in a small city, Lund. But we also visited bigger cities like Stockholm, Malmo, Helsinborg. Sweden has its own unique way of doing things, whether it is the education system, waste management, environmental protection or anything. That might be the reason for the country being the first in the world to import waste. There is an underlying humbleness in the mind of Swedes though they are mostly introverts to strangers. It does not mean Swedes have no complaints over anything, for me such minor things were negligible.

The academic session began one week after we reached Sweden. It was good to study and do practical stuff in journalism in another country. The group works gave us opportunity to mingle with other students which was so helpful for knowing the country and its culture. Both of the two courses, the first on Editorial Work and the second on Introduction to Swedish Newsroom added to my skills and knowledge of Journalism and also earned 21 European credits. I finished the course with a feeling that I had imbibed lot of things. Sweden built in me the confidence to visit and work anywhere around the globe.

In my 23 years, it was in Sweden that I enjoyed the real freedom which is restricted for a woman in India.

There is an underlying fear inside majority of girls of being attacked anytime, anywhere in India. I am not different from them. It was Sweden that taught me the practical lessons of gender equality and made me experience the bliss of being not scared inside the mind throughout the entire time in that country. Without fear I could walk alone at any time, my ignorance of an unknown place or thing is not bullied by any, for a single time. The general attitude of the society towards gender issues is far better than that of India. The idea of paternity leave in Sweden inspired me a lot. Not just the mother, but even the father also shares leave when a child is born to them and that is mandatory. This indeed is a great lesson which could be adopted by a country like India.

During my time of stay in Sweden we got the opportunity to visit different media organization. It was surprising to see women in the position of editor- in- chief in lot of them. The work culture in media houses as well as in others are employee friendly. They have enough leisure time and are paid adequately. When it comes to journalism, the tough task is to fetch a permanent job as it is under economic downfall.

The International Student House where we stayed for all these time were occupied with students from all parts of the world which made the programme a real exchange. There were both male and female students in the corridor. All those time I was thinking about the tall boarder walls build around the women’s hostel in my home university; strict rules that draw a circle around the freedom and dignity of a female student and scores of scolding and recommendation letters for getting inside the hostel after 6.30 in the evening. The common kitchen turned out to be a place for social, political and cultural discussions and healthy debates. We came to know how the system works in different countries. And most of the times it ended up in food.

My life in Sweden broke away many prejudices that I have been injected from my childhood days. Though I did not bother about many, I had a thought that the society does not pay much attention to family values and relations, which was wrong. Swedes give must respect to the individuality and emotions of other people. Even the newspaper does not even give the name of some culprits considering friends and relatives connected to them. That was a surprise for me as Indian media is getting too bad with ethics these days. I felt touched seeing my corridor mate baking my favourite cookies just before the day of our return. I understood that the basic emotions like love, motherhood, pain are same everywhere. And I started thinking that it is better to be a liberal and open society than one that is unsafe for women and underprivileged.

The moment I landed in India, I could experience the change in me.

I started observing every single phenomena taking place around me, things that I never noticed before. I found that I had an outsider perspective. Indeed it was a shift from zero to forty degree temperature in terms of weather. But it was not the temperature, rather the visuals around me that was burning me and my thoughts. We cannot compare our population, wealth, infrastructure, cleanliness with the welfare and cosmopolitan society of Sweden. Still there are things like gender equality that could be implemented in any societies with joint efforts. Nothing is impossible. I asked myself: “Do you want to see a change in you and around you?”

I said “YES”.

Text: Akhila Murugan

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