Caste as woman
Aruti Nayar

Gender Justice, Citizenship and Development Ed. Maitrayee Mukhopadhyay and Navsharan Singh Zubaan and IDRC Pages 358. Rs 495.

A decade after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, it is time for stocktaking. In many ways the goals and agenda set for empowerment of women has been met but at some levels there is, ironically, a less favourable atmosphere to implement political and economic changes than it was in the last two decades.

The book seeks to examine how in the new millennium, we are confronted with the question of the ways to promote gender justice in and through development processes.

It is in three parts. The first presents the conceptual paper by Anne Marie Goetz that links current thinking on gender justice to debates on citizenship, entitlements, and law and development. She offers a map for understanding gender justice and debates on citizenship and entitlement. She defines gender justice as the ending of inequalities between men and women. Gender justice as an outcome implies access to and control over resources combined with the ability to make choices.

As a process, gender justice implies an additional element of accountability—the responsibility and answerability of those very social institutions set up to dispense justice. It encompasses various conceptions of justice, ranging from simple equality to differentiated equality. The latter signifies respect for difference with two important caveats: that equality remains a fundamental principle of justice and that in the letter and practice of law, all are treated as moral equals.

Studies are rooted in feminist theories of justice. Irrespective of their region of origin, most legal codes contain biases that discriminate against women in matters of rights and entitlements. These biases arise on the basis of inequality of treatment between the sexes, masculine privileges and masculine right prevails over the rights of women (and children) conferring on them an inferior legal status—second-class citizenship. There is a substitution of rights with protection.

The second part presents four regional perspectives on gender justice and citizenship from Latin America and the Caribbean; Sub-Saharan Africa; the Middle East and North Africa; and South Asia by Maxine Molyneux. The right to health and to sexual and reproductive choice and freedom has a different resonance in South Asia than it does in Latin America. Whereas in Latin America the struggle is to acquire the right to contraception and abortion, in South Asia contraception is widely available and abortion is legal. The rights violations in South Asia have to do with coercive family planning policies which violate women’s human rights; medical technologies for population control that use women as human guinea pigs and the use of new technologies to abort female foetuses.

The third part is a strategy note for programme development based on the issues highlighted in the regional papers. It locates the discussion of gender justice and citizenship in current development debates on poverty alleviation and social exclusion.

Though the book is for scholars and researchers of gender studies, the issues raised in Ratna Kapur’s essay ‘Challenging the Liberal Subject’ in which she looks at the issues of marital rape and the laws in South Asia, of women’s human rights and the right to bodily integrity and freedom from violence are bound to find a resonance with a larger audience. A key agenda issue, activism against violence against women has ranged from legal-reform advocacy to providing support, awareness-raising, training of police and judicial officers, research and documentation.

Maitrayee Mukhopadhyay’s essay ‘Situating Gender and Citizenship’ brings out the high levels of female deprivation beginning from the right to be born, as evidenced by the declining sex ratio. There are high levels of inequality because South Asia is not only home to the largest population of poor in the world but (even decades after freedom from colonial rule) the state has not been able to alter the relationships based on class, caste, ethnicity and gender.

High degree of social and economic dependence has created further cleavages and poor women are the new workers in the export-oriented industries, for example in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. They are recruited through kinship and community networks and often work without employment contracts or labour protection and social security. Mounira Maya Charrad’s essay, ‘Unequal Citizenship’ deals with the social dynamics of kinship-based societies in Middle East and North Africa.

The book is well-researched and a cogent argument is built up in support of gender mainstreaming for purposes of development.

But due to its structuring, that gives this exercise in ‘theoretical feminism’ a sharp focus, one tends to miss out the big picture which becomes too fragmented. A chapter on research methodologies used in various studies to collate data and compile information would have been useful.

There is obviously a disconnect between advocacy, research and gender mainstreaming and socio-political compulsions that dictate implemention of policy and programmes.