This book is an outcome of a seminar on the National Policy for Empowerment of Women, organized by the Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women Studies and the Department of Social Work, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi. It comprises twelve essays which are organized around four broad themes of women’s empowerment, women’s work, religion and health. In her brief introduction to the book, Anjali Gandhi summarizes the issues and ideas taken up in the chapters. However, she fails to provide a conceptual or policy framework linking work, health and empowerment and to place the accompanying articles in the context of larger debates. The title of the book is hence misleading and it is disconcerting to note that the overall approach is non-feminist. Referring to the wide range of issues confronted by women, the editor accepts that the book is far from comprehensive.
The book begins with K.K. Singh’s descriptive paper which traces efforts at women’s empowerment in relation to the National Policy for Empowerment of Women. He concludes that despite India ratifying international treaties and formulating and implementing policies in lines with international efforts, gender disparity remains and social stereotyping and violence at domestic and societal levels continue.
Kamla Sankaran’s succinct account of issues related to women’s work participation with a focus on poor women in the unorganized sector, their wages and issues of opportunities and social security, draws critical attention to ‘the fine line ensuring safe working condition for all workers, including women in the informal sector and providing equal opportunity for all workers seeking employment’. This is easily the most scholarly essay on developmental issues in the book.
Development agencies have increasingly regarded ‘empowerment’ as an essential objective to improve the well-being of marginalized women in India. Zubair Mennai’s article in the same vein provides a descriptive account of the concept and character of SHGs (self-help group), emphasizing the positive impact of microfinance as a strategy in empowering poor women. Lacking a conceptualization of empowerment based on theoretical understandings of power relations, the paper reads as an uncritical advocacy of the micro credit schemes and its role in the strengthening of institutions. No research is cited for the same.
Tracing the history of gender budgeting in India, Adarsh Sharma provides a descriptive narration of policy and poor budgetary allocation. The paper clarifies that gendering the budget is not a means to simply bargain for larger share of resources for women or create a separate budget for them, but a tool to analyse budgetary expenditures from a gender perspective. Writing from a liberal ideological perspective, Sharma emphasizes that integrating gender perspective into key macroeconomic and social developmental policies, through adequate resource allocation and optional spending, can bring about incremental changes in lives of women.
Sheela Kaushik’s paper on ‘Women and Governance in India’ suffers from several generalized statements with no evidence to support the assertions made. The paper is not based on research, but a few tables not analysed or used in the text. It does not marshal enough evidence to substantiate its arguments. The next essay on education amongst Muslim women in India by Hajira Kumar raises some important issues but is not analytical.
The article on Jain women by Manisha Sethi is a welcome inclusion in this book. Jain women have not formed subject of much research. Sethi’s engaging essay on the stated ideals and lived realities of Jain women presents new understandings and insights. It is one of the few articles worth reading in the book.
Four chapters are related to issues of health. They do not present any new data or highlight any new issue. A review of Indian literature reveals that a considerable amount of work has been generated through epidemiological studies and ethnographies to promote a general understanding on the origins, nature, dimensions and impact/consequences of the contemporary health crises. However, the studies included in this book are marked by several weaknesses, chief among them is a strong empiricist orientation arrived at addressing narrow research questions.
Devoting most space to conservative analyses, it gives short shrift to more radical scholarship. It also limits the degree to which the book accurately represents the field, particularly the level of debate that exists among experts.
Neeti Malhotra and Ashwani Kumar highlight some significant but well known issues related to gender issues in HIV/AIDS and women’s mental health respectively. Sachdev is concerned about the important issue of care of HIV positive people in the context of the deepening of AIDS crisis in India. The study reported in his article is a survey of social work students in Maharashtra and Karnataka and aims at establishing their knowledge attitudes and concerns regarding Aids. The underlying concern is their preparedness to respond to affected groups. The article raises important concerns and implications for building more effective educational strategies in dealing with the issue.
Overall, the collection is neither up-to date nor very readable. Scholars and practitioners in the field of women and develop-ment will find the collection only partially useful.
Ramila Bisht is Associate Professor, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.