Women constitute half of the global population, yet when it comes to knowing, understanding and providing solutions to their problems from an academic perspective, or when it comes to their representation in the academic field, they are not even a quarter of the participants in these things. UNESCO data shows that less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women, and only 18.5% in South and West Asia are women.
When women are present as researchers in such small numbers, then how can research be done from their perspective? Or how they can participate in research as participants. Among all the types of research present in the academic field, one research is sociological research. Why is this research important? Why is it important for women to participate in this? And why should there be a feminist methodology in this research? What is its role?
What is feminist methodology in sociological research?
If we understand sociology in common parlance, it is the study of human society and social relations. According to sociologist Kingsley Davis, ‘Sociology is the general science of society’. In sociological research, sociologists research a particular topic using empirical evidence along with the scientific method. This scientific method can include different methods such as surveys, interviews, etc. Various methods are used to conduct these experiments. When women sociologists saw that male sociologists were making only male-specific issues the subject of research, then they felt the need to include feminist methodology in their research and said that women’s subjects should also be given priority and studied.
Feminist sociologists take a multi-disciplinary approach that differs from the so-called main(male)stream approach, they look at the topic from a women’s lens and from the perspective of other marginalised communities and include them as participants in research. In their research, they address women’s everyday experiences and concerns, reveal gender-based stereotypes and biases, and recover suppressed forms of knowledge. According to Lather (1991), the goal of feminist research was to change the status of women in society and to make women’s experiences more visible in a world dominated by male knowledge.
How do feminist researchers influence research differently from men?
In the 18th-19th century, when the era of Enlightenment was going on in Europe, the scientific method emerged in sociology to understand human relations, behavior and society, in which it was claimed that the theories arising from the scientific method were objective and universal knowledge is the only valid knowledge. Binaries were also created on these arguments like man/woman, objective/subjective, public/private and in all these binaries one was superior and the other inferior. The result was that the knowledge produced by men was legitimised and given universality.
Under these circumstances, the first task of the feminist approach was to challenge the monopoly of the scientific method and to show that in fact this method is not universal or objective but is only in the interest of men because it is keeping women aside and is based on men’s gender, exposing racial prejudices whereas women insist on making research knowledge subjective and based on life experiences.
It takes into account the impact that systems of inequality in society, such as patriarchy, class, sexuality, race, etc. have on an individual, affecting his emotions, behavior, and human relationships. The three principles of feminist research in this direction are as follows:
- Putting women’s experiences at the center of investigation
- Locating the researcher within the research.
3. Change of gender relations
Along with the principles there are some feminist ethics which aim to provide sound research. More specifically, feminist ethics aim to understand, criticise, and correct: (1) the binary view of gender, (2) the privilege historically available to men, and/or (3) the ways that views about gender maintain oppressive social orders or practices that harm others, especially girls and women who historically have been subordinated, along gendered dimensions including sexuality and gender-identity. There are a few things which must be kept in mind while researching so that the research should avoid undue intrusion into the lives of the individuals or communities and the welfare of the informants should be prioritised at all times. Their dignity, privacy and interests should be protected at all times.
One of the main tenets of feminist methodology is that all knowledge should be represented in research.Thus, it is an excellent methodology to use to represent minority and underrepresented perspectives in society in general and in research (Hesse-Biber et al., 2004).
As no subject is gender neutral, that is why it is very important to recognise the gender bias hidden within it, this can challenge the system of exploitation and women can get their share in the world of research which is full of male dominance. Delphi, 1981; Wickramasinghe, 2010 states in the context of the rise of feminist methodology, ‘It is an attempt to deconstruct existing mainstream knowledge and have the power to make new knowledge claims arising from the woman’s perspective’.
Case study of DRC
According to research published on the website of King’s College London, one in four men in the Democratic Republic of Congo was experiencing sexual violence. Because this prejudice is prevalent in almost every society that men do not face sexual violence at all but only commit violence on women and others and men enjoy sex under any circumstances, the sexual violence happening towards them is not considered as sexual gender based violence. From the patriarchal perspective, they actually seem to enjoy it. But when feminist sociologists studied the reasons behind this violence using feminist methodology, they found that it is not that men enjoy sexual violence against themselves but there are gendered reasons for this violence.
To study this, feminist researchers put forward many different theories, one of which was Gender Inequality Theory. This theory states that sexual violence is a result of pre-existing gender dynamics and rigid gender roles, which are exacerbated by war and conflict. Victims’ testimony links violence to one (or both) of the following dynamics: dominance and powerlessness. These are overlapping and often co-exist and, although they may or may not be actively present in the mind of the offender, are observable in all cases. In the study of the reasons for sexual gender-based violence, it was revealed that the perpetrator of violence wanted to demonstrate his power, the reason behind which was masculinity. This violence was kept in the category of gendered violence because when men and women were not behaving according to their assigned gender roles, then they had to go through this violence.
Recent affair regarding absence of women from research
When feminist researchers conduct research, the presence of democratic, inclusive qualities in their research is greater than that of male researchers. When women are not a part of research, the universality of that research is at risk.
For example, recently the Government of India has warned about the Meftal tablet which is used by menstruating women to get relief from period pain, that it is not safe and can trigger DRESS syndrome. This tablet has been being taken by women for many years and suddenly a dangerous warning is issued that women can become victims of a health crisis.
This happened because not enough experiments were done with this tablet in the beginning. One reason for this is the absence of women in research. If women had been a part of the research, had they been participants, then the crisis on women’s health could have been avoided on a large scale, which the Government of India is giving as a warning today.