The edited book titled Interrogating Women’s Leadership and Empowerment has been published with the objective of tracing the process of women’s empowerment and development in India. There are notable contributions at the international and national level by certain organizations, institutions, individuals and governments for women’s development and empowerment. It is pertinent to trace everyone’s efforts and to improve historic understanding to progress as a society.
The term ’empowerment’ is a contested one. The interpretation of the term varies according to the contexts and issues. It is mostly used to define and measure women’s progress in various fields. Leadership plays a crucial role in the process of empowerment in every field whether political, social and economical. Identifying, building and nurturing leadership potential among women is a noteworthy step in empowering women. This will encourage them to move from panchayats to the parliament. Once we form a critical and equitable representation of women in policy-making institutions, it will subsequently reflect in every field. Feminists researchers like Naila Kabeer, Srilatha Batliwala and Deepa Narayan have defined empowerment and have developed certain methodologies to measure the same. The issues of gender are interdisciplinary in nature. Women face hardships and difficulties irrespective of their social and economic locations. The sufferings and burdens may vary according to caste, class, education and location (rural/urban). Hence different perspectives and methodologies have to be applied and analysed in every field to understand gender issues and to know women’s present condition in a particular field. In this context, the author has identified suitable research articles and brought out an edited volume by including articles from various disciplines. She has chosen articles that have strongly applied feminist research methodology.
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Women’s movement in India has played a noteworthy role in bringing women’s issues to the mainstream. It also facilitated in bringing appropriate laws to improve women’s position in the society. Till Chapter 7, the significance of women’s leadership in different fields/areas has been dealt with. Chapter 1, by Devaki Jain, deals with women’s movement, which encouraged women’s leadership and empowerment. In chapter 2, Padmini Swaminathan has brought out the significance of women’s leadership in empowering grassroots people through two case studies. According to the author, the policies of the government and other institutions are instrumental in leading to women’s empowerment or disempowerment. She has documented two case studies from two southern states. One study draws the conclusion that the mere distribution of welfare measures might not alter social and gender relations. According to the study, engendering development is meant to address range of issues like redistribution of resources, restructuring gender and social relations, restructuring socio-political and bureaucratic institutions. Restructuring gender and socio-political relations is a slow process unless we implement social polices with the aim of restructuring of gender and social relations.
Chapter 3 titled “Women Leaders in Every Mohalla Every Village” traces the history of SEWA movement and women leaders’ contribution, the crux of the chapter being – “Movements grow through their leaders and leaders are shaped by the movements.” J. Devika in Chapter 4 analyses women’s leadership in the context of 33.3 percent reservation of seats for women in local bodies after the enactment of 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts. The act opened up opportunities for women to exercise power in the area of ‘development femininity’ in Kerala. Or else, politics is considered as masculine and patriarchal. The elected representatives in local bodies use “gentle power” – associated with femininity. According to her study, which applies the “Gentle Power” theory, Dalit and upper-caste women use “Gentle Power” differently. The study further states that empowerment is not a linear process. There are complexities involved in the process of empowerment. This needs to be considered while applying the theoretical framework of empowerment to do research on women’s issues.
Chapter 5 “Labouring Intellectuals” by Gopal Guru explores the impact of globalization and the introduction of new media services in the lives of dalit women. Oral tradition, that is, sharing pain and pleasure through songs, played a vital role in Dalit intellectualism and personal stamina. After television found its way into Dalit households, they started watching and discussing TV serials rather than expressing their feelings. Pushpa Sundar, in chapter 6 has discussed women in the corporate sector. The article insists the benefits of gender diversity for women empowerment in corporate sector. It has also suggested policies to increase women’s percentage in the corporate sector. Karuna Chanana examined an important programme implemented by the UGC for teachers in higher education. The impact of the programme among teachers’ sense of empowerment was huge. There were two levels of capacity building workshops for women managers in higher education. These were analysed using case studies of the participants.
Chapter 8 titled “Anatomy of Change” explores the lives of two extraordinary women from the eastern and western parts of India, who had to struggle to become doctors. The existing scenario in the 19th century, entrenched patriarchy and the realisation of the need for female doctors inspired them to become doctors. In 19th century, women, except those from a few educated families, hesitated to consult male doctors. Hence, they realised the significance of female doctors to address maternal and child health. Chapter 9 by Sudha Pai analyses the life history of women leaders in India. From this chapter, we can conclude that a change in the attitude of people concerning patriarchal norms might bring a large percentage of women in decision-making levels.
Women, arts and literature are significant themes for the chapters 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. It is important for every person specialising in gender to trace the history of women contributors and their sense of empowerment. These chapters trace the works of author Mahasweta Devi, explored Dalit narratives, trace the history of rebuilding handicrafts in India and examined the contribution of Rukmini Devi Arundale to establish Kalakshetra and institutionalising Bharathanatyam. Mahasweta Devi’s works brought back the narratives of tribals, which were silenced, neglected and erased from history for centuries. Hence, here Dalits themselves narrated their history. The so-called mainstream literature failed to imbibe Dalit women’s experiences. The struggles of the Dalit community, especially women, their experiences, their perceptions, enables the reader to ponder over the issues of Dalit women and how much at all, were they woven into the vision of women empowerment. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay’s hard work took handicrafts industry to the next level by recognising and institutionalising it. This chapter described the establishment of institutions like NIFT, INTACH, SEWA and the involvement of women in cinema to recognise Indian handicrafts. Chapter 15, “Ascribing Feminist Intent” by Deeptha Achar attempts to locate Sheikh’s paintings in the political realm. Sheik’s paintings required to be understood by linking them with feminism and women’s movement in India. Chapter 16 is about independent Hindustani singers and their emergence and struggles.
The final four chapters are about women’s contribution to institution building. Chapter 17 traces the history of establishing Indraprastha School. Chapter 18 is about governance indicators. Based on the mentioned indicators in the chapter, we could analyse the status of women in society. Chapter 19 traces the history of law-making related to women and gender. Chapter 20 is about women and their struggles in conflict zones, particularly the north-east Indian states. The data to write this chapter has been collected directly from the field. Every person in the conflict zone had their own experiences and they might get affected psychologically for various reasons. The study has prescribed certain policies that would help women overcome their psychological problems.
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The book reflects our general understanding of feminism, women empowerment and asserts that the issues of women are intersectional in nature. It had strong theoretical and feminist methodological components. The author has carefully picked articles from contemporary and historical issues. The edited volume could be useful for research scholars, academicians and journalists dealing with gender components. However, the author could have also added a few more articles related to the issues of the LGBTQ+ community. The discipline of Women’s Studies became more inclusive in 21st century and it broadened its scope by including development studies, gender studies and sexuality studies. The author must consider bringing one more volume by selecting research articles from the fields of gender and science, sexuality studies, gender and agriculture and the impact of globalization on women. Secondly, the emergence of feminist research methodologies tries to explore gender issues employing standpoints. The author could also consider using the word “Gender” in the book title itself, if she wishes to bring one more volume.
Dr G.Uma is Assistant Professor in the School of Gender and Development Studies, Indira Gandhi National Open University. Her primary focus areas are Grassroots Governance, Gender and Development with a focus on agriculture, Public Policy and Social Capital. She is a PhD degree holder in Gender and Governance from the Department of Political Science and Development Administration, Gandhigram Rural Institute (Deemed University). Her PhD research outcome focuses on redefining the policy at the micro-level, ensuring the stakeholders to recognize the significance of federating women leaders at the grassroots level to realize the affirmative action given through reservation at the Panchayat level in India. Central European University and University of Cologne awarded scholarship. She has 10 years of work experience in the field of governance and development with a gender perspective. She can be found on Facebook and Twitter.