Feminist take on security
Rajesh Kumar Aggarwal

Women, Security, South Asia: A Clearing in the Thicket
eds. Farah Faizal and Swarna Rajagopalan. Sage Publications. Pages 215. Rs 295.

Women, Security, South Asia: A Clearing in the ThicketTHE book explores sources of security and insecurity in women’s lives, and highlights women’s perspective on security matters in the South Asian region. Security has been defined in wider connotations and includes environmental, physical, economic, societal and even emotional security.

Swarna Rajagopalan terms women and security as a new paradigm. She raises some fundamental questions: do women understand and define security differently from men? Are they animated by the same concerns about state and national security? Are there any other issues that concern them? She lists some of the insecurities faced by South Asian women in the form of sex selective abortion, infanticide, poor nutrition, etc., which are responsible for severe health problems such as anaemia, low birth weight babies, etc., and records some other gender differentials such as discrimination in duration of breastfeeding, quantity and quality of education, social and economic upbringing, choice of contraception, dowry, domestic violence, including marital rape, and inheritance.

Societal Insecurities: A Maldivian Study by Farah Faizal gives an interesting account of the Maldivian women. Maldives is a society where divorce rate is very high. On an average, a women at age 50 living in the atolls would have had an average of four marriages and seven children. If a woman remarries, she often has to produce a child for her new husband, which affects her reproductive health. High total fertility rates, high prevalence of anaemia, lack of family support to single women, high incidence of thalassaemia among children, low employment opportunities for women and verbal abuse of employed women are some other concerns raised by Faizal. Saba Gul Khattak’s paper discusses the politics of refugeehood, interface of state policies and refugees, and lists the insecurities of Afghan women refugees in Pakistan. The women insecurity stated by Khattak is largely connected with the private sphere, the family and day-to-day survival.

Amena Mohsin demonstrates the marginalised position of the women within a nation state. Citing examples from the Bangladesh War, the writer says even though women suffered immeasurably during and after the course of war, their sufferings and sacrifices have remained unrecognised since the war was generally considered to be a men’s affair. Sudha Ramachandran gives an overview of women in militant groups in South Asia, with special focus on the women cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Tiger women feel that by joining the LTTE they have gained status in society, gender equality and security. Despite these perceived gains, she argues that women remain on the periphery when it comes to decision-making in such organisations due to limitations of senior positions to women in these organisations.

On the whole, the book makes for an interesting reading and gives vivid account of the security perspective of South Asian women. It has been passionately written rather than in strict academic-oriented terms.