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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 10

Woman and Development : A Gender-sensitive Global Perspective

Sunday 24 February 2008, by Zarina Bhatty

BOOK REVIEW

Development has a Woman’s Face: Insights from within the UN System by Krishna Ahoojapatel; APJ Publishing Corporation, New Delhi; 2007.

The topic of the volume under review could not have been more apt, it is almost self-explanatory. It presents a gender-sensitive analysis of the interface between woman and development. The author very succinctly elaborates on the interrelationship between the two and states that an understanding of this relationship is vital for a balanced and equitable development of societies. Dr Ahoojapatel observes that the slow and inequitable socio-economic development of the countries, specially those of the South, has been due, on the one hand, to gender-biased definitions and methodologies used for measuring economic growth and development, and on the other, the exclusion of socio-cultural factors in defining the indices of growth.

In the seventies development was regarded almost synonymous to the growth of GDP (gross domestic product) ignoring its impact on different sections of the population, such as the poor, women, children and the disabled. Although the planners and policy-makers claimed to plan and design programmes to eliminate poverty and ensure an equitable distribution of gains of development, the net result has been most unsatisfactory: neither has poverty been eliminated, in fact the number of poor has increased in the world, nor have the women’s condition and status been substantially improved. Women continue to work harder than men, spend longer hours working and get lesser remunerations. Indicators of development such as health, education, longevity and work participation rates are ignored. In countries like India even the survival of women is threatened by such practices as female foeticide, which is increasing at an alarming rate in India. It is only recently that attention is being drawn to these factors by the NGOs.

Dr Ahoojapatel illustrates, with rich data and examples, how mere economic indices of development do not nccessarily reduce gender inequalities. The two northern States of Haryana and Punjab—where despite a high rate of economic growth, women’s work participation rates are very low, dowry rates are high and female foeticede the highest—give an indication of the low status of women.

A great deal of research has been conducted during the last three decades or so, as the feminist movement has been gaining strength globally and the research findings have been compiled and published, but Development has a Woman’s Face stands out from similar publications as it presents a global perspective to women and development issues, drawn from the author’s exposure and experience of working with international organisa-tions in a variety of positions. Dr Ahoojapatel has remained deeply rooted in Indian culture and has kept abreast with the development scenario in India, despite having spent most of her adult life in Europe. She, therefore, brings a unique insight into her analysis of development and its relationship with women; and herein lies the major contribution of this volume.

Further, the volume traces historically the contribution of the United Nations Organisation in promoting gender equalities through its international conferences and various declarations, and motivating governments to sign these declarations and implement them in their own countries. The implementation process has been uneven, but it certainly has facilitated the process of reducing gender inequalities. The conciousness about the significance of women’s meaningful contribution to national development has been growing, and the need to promote women’s education and their status, to enable them to make their contribution meaningful, is also growing, although at a slow rate. However, the journey has begun, although it has still a long way to travel to achieve its goal of a society where all men and women could live in harmony, peace and dignity.

In addition, the book’s usefulness also lies in the fact that Dr Ahoojapatel has very thoughtfully not only given a detailed bibliography, but has also added annexes, giving estimates of women’s market and non-market activities, and names of women heads of states and governments while listing legal instruments and UN Conventions and Treaties affecting women, for the scholar’s ready reference.

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