Economic Security and Empowerment of Rural Women: A Case Study of Tamil Nadu, India

Economic Security and Empowerment of Rural Women: A Case Study of Tamil Nadu, India

Suganda Ramamoorthi (Lady Doak College, Madurai, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2819-8.ch010
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Economic security is a fundamental cord that would enhance the empowerment levels of women. In the patriarchal family structure, women have little or no access to economic resources, making them vulnerable. Social sanction for femicide, social and cultural discriminatory practices, and violence against women have curtailed women's choices and freedom. The impact of the elimination of girl children and strong son preference has deprived women of their economic entitlements. The case study is of particular interest as it is undertaken in Usilampatti taluk in Tamil Nadu, India, which is notorious for the practice of female foeticide and infanticide leading to low sex ratio. This chapter is an attempt to identify how rural women who have escaped femicide negotiate with gender asymmetry, reorganize the power relations within the family and market structure, manage economic resources, and emerge as independent leaders both in the private and public domains.
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Any discourse on women is generally founded on the premise that women are sub-judicated, powerless, dependent and require support. Historically, in patriarchal societies women have less personal autonomy, fewer resources at their disposal, and limited influence on their decision making process than males (Bloom, Vypij & Das Gupta 2001). Over centuries women have been facing violence. Inevitable they were forced to develop various strategies to confront the nature of violence and discrimination they face which also differed from culture to culture. In understanding South Asian women, there is apparently a need to deconstruct the existing feminist theories and construct new knowledge which would be contextually appropriate. Patriarchy has spread its wings though out the world and into every household in different forms. The secondary status of women has been justified mainly on the pretext of biological supremacy of men. Biological determinism attributes the unequal division of sexes and the social positioning of men and women to physiology. It presupposes that genetically women are inclined towards nurturing behaviour and men towards adventure and violence. And economic dependence is correlated with biological determinism.

Economic Security

According to ILO, economic security is composed of basic social security defined by access to basic needs, infrastructure pertaining to health, education, dwelling, information, social protection as well as work related security. This includes income security, representation security, labour market security and security to life. Economic security is a function of socio-cultural environment, education, financial literacy and access to resources leading to better quality of life. When it comes to women, economic security has broader connotation as they are socially vulnerable. It is not just availability of basic needs or access to better job opportunities and better life. It entails addressing the constraints women face. It involves creation of an enabling environment for women to achieve their full potential. Economic security is a fundamental cord that would in all probability enhance the empowerment levels of women. Empowerment level is reflected through increased participation in decision making and better access to resources within the family and outside. Family structures get changed as responsibilities are reassigned (Hugo, 2002; Kabeer,2007).

Social environment includes family, marriage, religion, caste system etc. Cultural environment refers to the customs, values, habits, preferences, traditions, work culture etc. India is a country with diverse socio-cultural template. Social engineering begins from the family and ends with the family. The deep rooted Patriarchal hierarchy has created a skewed power relations within the family. Although different cultural systems exist in India, women’s status has remained low in all cultures. Various forms of discrimination is found among different cultures within the country. Women are discriminated at multiple levels. Society has assigned different priorities for men and women. The rights of women are mediated through family relationships and deeply inculcated perceptions that women have about themselves, their interests and what constitutes their well-being within their families (Agarwal,  Humphires, & Robeyns, 2006). Women have been contributing to production, reproduction and social reproduction. The caregiving and nurturing work done by women for the family members is sheer altruism. As wages are not paid for their work at home, no value is assigned for domestic work but this role is extended to the labour market. Occupational segregation is based on gender division of labour.

The capitalistic devaluation of women’s work at home and in the formal labour markets has led women devaluing themselves. Women have been accorded secondary status and they are looked upon as ultimate burden to the family and society to the extent that socially sanctioned anti-female practices like female foeticide and infanticide to eliminate women have become common. Women, particularly hailing from the rural pockets of India are influenced by the complex interaction of class, caste and religion, cultural framework and other informal institutions. Rural women are much more vulnerable as compared to the educated elite urban women. Therefore, it becomes vital to understand the inherent contradictions and paradigms within which rural women survive.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Gender Asymmetry: Gender differences or gender gap in gender relations particularly at home. It means that women have less access to even the basic necessities and entitlements.

Infanticide: Deliberately killing the infant girl. The practice of doing away with the newborn baby girl. This is usually done within a few days after the girl child is born by either giving it paddy or without feeding it or giving it poisonous milk.

Female Foeticide: Abortion of the female foetus before it is fully grown. That is killing the foetus before it is fully formed by 3 to 4 months.

Economic Security: It is the ability of individuals or households to ensure basic necessities of life both physical and psychological. For women economic security means not just being economically safe but also a status upgradation both at home and in the society.

Sex Ratio: The ratio of males to females. The number of females for every 1000 males. Generally, the number of females every 1000 males should be higher or at least equal. But in many developing countries the ratio is less for females. This is not a natural phenomenon.

Son Preference: It is the attitude of preferring male child to female child. A number of practices and problems like denying of property rights, access to quality education, health care, dowry system, etc. exist due to son preference in the society.

Femicide: Killing girl children because of their sex. Such practices indicate the intensity of son preference and leads to lowering of the sex ratio.

Economic Entitlements: The right to economic benefit that is the freedom of choice to take decisions regarding their income, family income, land, and other economic assets.

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