A fight for women’s rights
Jyoti Singh

Women’s Livelihood Rights: Recasting Citizenship for Development
Ed. Sumi Krishna. Sage Publications. Pages 404. Rs 695.

Women’s Livelihood Rights: Recasting Citizenship for DevelopmentTHE freedom struggle in India did result in an awakening of women to the possibility of their own emancipation, though in a limited sense. In 1931, the Fundamental Rights Resolution of the Indian National Congress stated that the freedom, justice, dignity and equality for women were essential for nation building. These ideas were also enshrined in the Constitution of India.

However, in the decades after Independence, women found to their dismay that, as with other oppressed sections, the rights that were guaranteed in the Constitution remained on paper alone, and mere right to vote didn’t change their marginalised status or bring them the right to decision-making or liberation from the traditional constraints of patriarchal society that doesn’t yield easily to the lofty proclamations of the Constitution.

Women’s Livelihood Rights is a good body of research that reads the gaps and fissures in the implementation of policies laid down for the betterment of women. An interdisciplinary book, it dexterously weaves together a historical perspective on varied dimensions of women’s livelihood, development and citizenship.

Edited by Sumi Krishna—currently president of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies, an independent researcher, teacher and writer, with 35 years of experience in gender, environment and development at the field, program and policy levels—the book unveils the patriarchal power structure that resists women’s development and suggests strategies to counter it for recasting citizenship for a gender-just development that ensures women’s livelihood rights, a legitimate space as productive human beings, entitling them to a dignity as a political right and not merely to protection and welfare.

Reflecting upon and critically analysing context-specific issues in several less-studied locations, the book shows that there is much to be learnt from sympathetic interaction with the collective struggles of poor women, and from action and dialogue on the ground. It looks at women’s natural resource-based livelihoods in the wider context of development revealed through the lens of citizenship rights and reflects the dire need to link governments’ macro-economic development policies with the needs of poor women to ensure that the development didn’t adversely effect them, the need to address the causes of persistent poverty, the necessity to provide adequate safety, and strengthen state and community-based support systems so that women living in poverty could withstand adverse economic environments and preserve their livelihoods, assets and revenues in times of crisis.

Unveiling women’s development under patriarchy, the current trend of women’s development, the role of the NCW and WDP, occupational hazards that women confront at various levels, these well-researched essays expose: how promoting citizenship for livelihood security and gender equality would necessarily involve gendered interests being treated as important citizenship rights by policy makers; why there is a crucial need to create spaces wherein women can define and express their needs and views, and be heard by the key institutions.

We also learn how can we build capacities and abilities wherein marginalised groups can become agents of social change and action, and gain meaningful opportunities as citizens; that though law may seem pro-women with its gender-just laws, it alone cannot bring about an improvement in the status of women in the society and it has to go hand in hand with appropriate dissemination, social movements and social action as well as programs to deal with the consequences of changes; in arguing for a radical potential for a link between gender and water, and in formulating a new water policy.

It is vehemently emphasised that it would not be possible to understand the various dimensions of the crisis in the water sector completely in the absence of a gendered understanding of access to resources and their use, the subtle and micro processes of socialisation in modern school education instead of mitigating the gender inequities prevalent in society reinforce and strengthen them; the need to restructure the Employment Guarantee Scheme and access to land as a right to livelihood and to increase the income of poor women is stressed to be an immediate short-term goal, inviting the attention of policy makers.

With its fresh perspective and insights, this book would be invaluable for research institutions, NGOs, donor agencies and individual practitioners and students working in the fields of gender and development, natural resource management, and livelihood policy, planning and interventions.