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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 1 New Delhi December 21, 2019 | ANNUAL NUMBER

Understanding Development through a Gendered Lens

Saturday 21 December 2019


by Vishwa Nath

Women and Development: Issues and Challenges by Rekha Kaul and Anita Malhotra (eds): Elite Publishing House, New Delhi; 2018; pp. 216; Rs 995

Recently, on November 25, the world cele-brated the ‘United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women’. It reminds us that Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved without ending violence against women that is against the basic tenets of humanity. At a time when we are talking about an inclusive society, we need to ensure that women’s human rights are protected to enable them to be equal partners in development.

The book under review Women and Development: Issues and Challenges, edited by Rekha Kaul and Anita Malhotra, and published by Elite publishing House, India, deals with various facets of the women in development debate. As the editors highlight, ‘the discourse on development has traditionally constructed women as beneficiaries and not as key players in creating an equitable society.’ Gender inequality has impeded the recognition of women as critical contributors and negotiators in development processes that are intended to augment the larger goal towards creating an equal world.’

The volume is an outcome of the ICSSR sponsored two-day national seminar on ‘Women and Development’ held in New Delhi in 2017. Divided into five sections, in addition to an ‘Introduction’ and ‘Some Insights’, with 38 contributors, the book touches upon various dimensions of gendered perspective in developmental issues. In her introductory note, Rekha Kaul, while establishing a theoretical relationship between women and development, provides an overview of the volume touching upon the feminist discourse, equality in law both in policy and perspective and violence and disparities against women. In the course of the development narrative Kaul raises the larger concerns in the context of women’s right to freedom and empowerment in day-to-day life.

Part 1 on Deconstructing Development from a Gendered Perspective highlights various dynamics of women in a globalised world in terms of being a breadwinner and a surrogate mother. Uma in her piece on ‘Women Missing in India: By Choice or by Disparities’, examines women’s role as an integral part of economic development, especially women’s participation in labour force and why women are withdrawing themselves from the job market. Arshiya Wadhwa and Anjali Capila in their article on ‘Issues and Concerns of Surrogate Mothers: A Discourse on Women’s Reproductive Rights’ challenge the status quo of women’s reproductive health rights and reflect on health risks associated with surrogacy. They argue that the surrogacy has become a commercial market with mothers being treated as incubators and child as a commodity.

Part 2 on The Discourse on Rights and Resisting Inequalities opine on the need of critical interventions in the field of anti-rape laws, women in sports and role of non-governmental organisation DISHA in empowering mothers with differently-abled children. Geeta Sahare in her article on ‘Development and Gender Marginalisation: From Deprivation to Entitle-ment’, talks about the journey of marginalised women from depravity to normalcy and entitlement. She emphasises on the positive role of Self-Help Groups, higher education, entre-preneurship and political participation in the empowerment of marginalised women. Lata Sharma, Seema Kaushik and Rajender Pal, in ‘Revisiting Women participation in Olympics’, analyse challenges resulting in lesser representa-tion of Indian women in sports. Although many women have defied odds to enter sports yet we need steps like increase in scholarships, salaries, and airtime to encourage them further.

Part 3 on Reviewing and Recasting Initiatives, Policies and Programmes emphasises on women, centric human resource policies, MGNREGA and Women Self-help Groups. Alka Harneja in ‘Women Centric Human Resource Policies on Indian Inc.’ examines why despite India’s rapid economic growth, women are dropping out of workforce. She highlights women-friendly companies in India and their women-centric policies.

Part 4 on Women and Media deals with the domain of impact of media on women, women and culture, and women and literature. Tinny Dawar and Sarita Anand in ‘Gender Stereotypes in School Textbooks’, while highlighting gendered perspectives in textbooks, question the stereotypes in the occupational roles assigned and personality traits used for females and males in these books. They emphasise on correct and fair represen-tation of each gender in school books.

Part 5 on Viewing Women as Beneficiaries or Determinants, touches upon the diverse role of women as women workers in the Apparel Industry, as Physical Educators and as Leaders in Panchyati Raj Institutions. Anita Malhotra in ‘Addressing Gender and Nutrition Inequities—A Study of Surguja Fulwari Initiative in Chhattisgarh’, highlights positive outcome of this scheme in terms of better care of pregnant women and reduction in child mortality and undernutrition. Malhotra, through her case study of Surguja Fulwari presents a sustainable model which has promoted social cohesion in terms of bringing community together for taking care of children. Bharti Chhibber in her article on ‘Democratic Decentralisation and Women’s Role in Decision Making in Panchayati Raj Institutions’ reflects on the changing role of women while leading the gram panchayats at the village level in India and challenges and issues they face while exercising their powers. Chhibber emphasises on education, social awareness and economic power as basic components of women’s empowerment in political arena.

In addition, the volume has interesting insights by some of the scholars like Mondira Dutta who wrote on ‘Women and Development: Evolution and Trends’; Anu Sharma on ‘Society Endangered’; Rohit De on ‘Personal Laws in India’; and Bulbul Dhar-James on ‘Under-standing Gender and Development from a Gendered Perspective’. The book is supplemented by a useful Index at the end.

The book makes an interesting reading and is a relevant addition in the field of contem-porary gender discourse. It will be useful to scholars and students of feminist studies both in theory and practice, and various dynamics of women in development.

Dr Vishwa Nath is a retired senior journalist.

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