Region is a strong predictor of female survival, literacy, autonomy, employment, and independent mobility. A woman with the exact same household wealth/ caste/ religion will likely have more autonomy if she lives in the South.
It does not seem to be a function of wealth, nor was colonialism a major factor. And cousin marriage, which is more prevalent in the south? Alice notes:
Southern women may have gained autonomy despite cousin marriage, not because of it.
Islam, however, is one factor:
In sum, gender segregation became more widespread under Islamic rule. Men continue [to] dominate public life, while women are more rooted in their families, seldom gathering to resist structural inequalities.
But perhaps most significantly:
Female labour force participation is higher in states with traditions of labour-intensive cultivation…
Wheat has been grown for centuries on the fertile, alluvial Indo-Gangetic plain. Cultivation is not terribly labour-intensive, though cereals must still be processed, shelled and ground. This lowers demand for female labour in the field, and heightens its importance at home.
Rice-cultivation is much more labour intensive. It requires the construction of tanks and irrigation channels, planting, transplanting, and harvesting. Women are needed in the fields. Rice is the staple crop in the South.
Pastoralism may have also influenced India’s caste-system. Brahmins dominate business, public service, politics, the judiciary, and universities. Upper caste purity and prestige has been preserved through female seclusion, prohibiting polluting sexual access. These patriarchal norms may be rooted in ancient livelihoods. Brahmins share genetic data with ancient Iranians and steppe pastoralists. Brahmins also comprise a larger share of the population in North India and only 3% in Tamil Nadu.
Over the centuries, male superiority may have become entrenched.
Northern parents increasingly support their daughters’ education, but this is primarily to improve their marriage prospects, not work outside the home.
There is much, much more at the link, including some excellent maps, visuals, and photos.