Hi everyone :-)
This is my first post here (or on any blog for that matter), so I hope you enjoy (or at least don't want to ban me!). Thanks Roop for the inspiration :-)
Just a little about myself- I am an honours student who is exploring the issues of women's agency (aka 'choice') in relation to the perpetuation and resistance of female foeticide and infanticide in India, and how that relates to the broader strategies aimed at reversing the skewed female to male ratio (FMR). I was born and bred in Australia (Brisbane), and met my wonderful husband when we were working together in the US. He is Indian and we travel back there every year to visit his wonderful family and friends. After I finish my PhD we plan on moving there (if we can fit in the increasingly populated Mumbai!). I just want to state my personal involvement in this, and as a 'Western' woman, I want to make myself in this process as visible as possible so my thoughts can be put into context (as self indulgent as it seems, I have my reasons for this caveat).
Soo... my first post here is an excerpt from my thesis- please tell me if it's too 'academic' (this is how the uni likes their postgrads to write and I can't tell anymore), and please let me know if you have any questions/comments/criticisms... I know that this post probably throws up some controversial ideas, and if required I'd be happy to explain them further. I hope my views aren't perceived as being too 'out there', but after researching the skewed FMR in India for over 3 years, I think sometimes that my emotive reactions to some of the aspects of issue have been somewhat dulled. I don't know- maybe that is a good thing...? Perhaps it allows me to be slightly more 'objective' (whatever that really means- I mean, can anyone really be objective when it comes to perspectives?).
So just to explain where I'm coming from, most of the (mainstream) development and research community takes the view (in relation to this issue) that Indian women are (pretty much all) voiceless, powerless, and oppressed. The opinion is that they should be empowered (read: rescued?) to foster their 'critical agency' (ability to say no)- which partly form the ingredients required to overcome 'hardy cultural barriers' (Dreze & Sen 2002). I disagree with this approach on a few levels. First- Indian women are not a homogenous group- there is no blueprint for the woman who perpetuates or resists these practices. Second- the 'empowerment' approach is based on false assumptions of what it means to be human and how culture, patriarchy (and the like) interact for individual women. Third- what really does empowerment actually mean? It used to mean social transformation and emancipation through structural challenges and changes. Nowadays, empowerment relates to the individual person, without addressing the larger social inequalities/barriers. It's become one of those words (like 'community' & 'green') that has lost its real meaning...
So here's the abstract of my thesis-
"This thesis (when it is finished. Ha.) will provide a critical analysis of how women are conceived within the development industry, and how this affects understanding of- and approaches to - women's involvement in female infanticide and foeticide in India. Despite recent development gains in India, the persistence of gender inequality appears to be worsening as expressed by the declining FMR. In response to this, the development initiatives aimed at redressing this 'man made' (sic) phenomenon are premised on understandings that social, cultural, and structural constraints render women powerless participants in practices of female foeticide and infanticide. In this context, development initiatives explicitly targeted at empowering women and fostering their 'critical agency' have been seen as the means to overcoming these constraints. However, it has recently been noted that typically empowered women - those who are better educated and in the workforce - are increasingly participating in practices of daughter discrimination (Bhat & Sharma 2006). The various aspects of son-preference in India reveal a complex nexus of cultures, religions, traditions, and economics, and although it is beyond my scope to elucidate why empowerment gains for women in India have failed to translate into large scale challenges, this phenomenon highlight potential limitations in the 'mainstream' development perspective where women's identity becomes 'separated' from social and cultural dimensions of son preference".
Basically, I argue that the overall approach to fixing the problem is misguided in that it fails to appreciate the importance of women's individual circumstances and perceptions. I don't discount how embedded the culture of son-preference is, but I have come across lots of cases of women who have talked about their experiences (collusion and resistance to the son preference culture), and none of them fit a 'blue print'.
I know it seems kind of pointless to simply critique something without offering a definitive solution, but I am comfortable with the approach at this stage for two reasons.
1) 'Development' (economic growth, modernisation) appears to be making the problem worse. There are plenty of statistics which show that the 'rich' and 'educated' are more capable (and willing) to discriminate against daughters, and as Indian women harness their economic opportunities, it appears many of them prefer smaller families (which means that at least one son is born = sex selection intensified). I have come across some really interesting studies which look at this aspect.
2) Perhaps a critique will allow for a new viewpoint. The situation is not good- the sex ratio is dropping in areas (such as Kerala, the last exception to the rule) which once had more balanced ratios. It is widely believed that the next Indian census is going to reveal a far lower child sex ratio that the one in 2001.
For my next stage of research, I plan on interviewing women (and men) who have partaken in, and resisted, sex selective abortions and female foeticide in India in order to (perhaps) glean a more nuanced understanding of the societal and individual pressures placed on women/men/families...
I hope this post doesn't appear too 'abstracted'- I suppose in general I am engaged in the strange world of academia which sometimes (I fear) appears irrelevant.
Do not get me wrong- I am all for finding a solution, I am just worried that the one's being proposed now are making things worse. I sound so pessimistic, but the strategies aimed at addressing the son preference culture need to be very carefully thought through- they should not just pander to a particular interest groups (the UN, the World Bank), a whim (the current advertising drive), or be used as a strategy to gain reelection. And that being said, I don't doubt the intentions of the Indian government and the like- I'm just not 100% convinced that the scope of the problem is fully understood...
On that note, has anyone come across a group called "pacha mannu"? They have created a play called the 'Newborn' and travel around various locales to spread the word about the female foeticide and infanticide issue. From what I have gathered, this strategy appears to be working...
Labels: Causes of Female Foeticide, development, Women's empowerment