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Updated: February 9, 2010 11:34 IST

Perspectives of gender inequalities

SOMA BASU
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So, here is yet another toast to the empowerment of women in India. Loaded with facts, data and an exhaustive bibliography, any research-based compilation is more often than not an honest and meticulous effort. And the publication under review is not any different, nor is it easy to ignore. A compilation of 15 essays by people who are knowledgeable in their respective disciplines, it essentially retells the history of gender bias and focusses on the areas of health, nutrition, and work. Yet, the one thought that kept nagging right through is why should the statistics related to gender issues continue to be so disturbing and why an issue that is so perilous should still remain unfathomed.

No doubt, the concern of all stakeholders in this area appears endearing. But the hard reality is that, if anything, the general deterioration, ignorance, and neglect of women have become more striking. Yet, the hope that persistent bashing may ultimately help achieve, at least partially, the goal of gender equality lives on and inspires publications like the one under notice. Perhaps, the editors of this volume, who are staffers of the Indian Statistical Institute, also aim to keep the gender-sensitive issues alive and burning.

Methods

The book provides alternative methods that help in understanding gender differentials. The authors discuss the economic, social, religious, and psychological aspects of women in every sphere of life, and suggest how the inherent inequalities can be measured.

The major limitation of all the indices of gender inequality/segregation/discrimination, say the authors, is that they do not provide information on a wider social pattern — how women are oppressed. For instance, the problem related to parents’ decision starts at the procreation stage itself rather than at the time of household budget allocation, a stage at which daughters are rampantly discriminated against in terms of expenditure on health and education.

In the preface, the editors note that gender perspective has multiple dimensions and the gender bias is one of them, which is the central theme of the book. There is nothing wrong in equating gender bias with gender inequality. But problem arises when this gender inequality is taken as a special case of inequality stemming from deprivation. When comparison is between two groups — males and females, in this case — it is important to ensure that both get an equal share in a given facility. The overall measure should also be independent of the proportion of males and females in a given population, the relative growth patterns, and the religious affiliation. In our country, gender bias is usually looked at from the standpoint of whether women are getting the benefit of development and how they are involved in it. The book rightly points out, in the very beginning, that schemes targeting the poor in general need to be gender-sensitive if they are to make any impact on women’s welfare as a whole.

Refreshing viewpoints

In the concluding part, it deals with the methodological aspects of gender discrimination and inequality, which is significant in the rural context, and goes on to suggest measures to end the discrimination. The chief merit of the publication perhaps lies in the scale of its coverage which helps to build a referral base. Though some of the ideas and facts may appear hackneyed, there are several refreshing viewpoints as well that can serve as a comprehensive source material for those with an academic interest in the subject.

Case studies from India and South Asian countries bring out the pronounced inequalities between men and women with respect to wages, property ownership, opportunities in education, professional careers, jobs, and so on. By critically examining the position of women in different spheres of life in the current Indian scenario, it also conveys a vital message on how gender differences get transmitted to the children and how women’s decision-making powers affect children’s well-being. This is a scholar’s book which needs to be read thoroughly to be understood. Given the multi-disciplinary approach, it will be useful to a wide range of students and researchers in economics and gender studies, besides sociologists, demographers, political scientists, and policy-makers.

GENDER AND DISCRIMINATION — Health, Nutritional Status and Role of Women in India: Edited by Manoranjan Pal, Premananda Bharati, Bholanath Ghosh, T.S.Vasulu; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 750.

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