Dialogue July- September, 2005, Volume 7 No. 1
A Situational Analysis of Women and Girls in Arunachal Pradesh
The book captures the existential pathos of the lives of women in India’s easternmost state of Arunachal Pradesh. It attempts at understanding the profile of the average Arunachali women within the cultural moorings of the region and the constraints and opportunities provided by the geography of the state.
The breadth of the issues dealt with is impressive and cannot be done justice to in a review. The chapters can be classified into three categories. The first category consists of those issues, which have a direct bearing on the well being and survival of women within the demographic context of Arunachal Pradesh. The second set focuses on the challenges that have emerged as a result of the interaction between tradition and modernity. And the third set deals more particularly with the experiences of implementing agencies both governmental and non-governmental in dealing with the emerging challenges.
In the introduction, the authors give a useful overview of the state locating it in the appropriate historical and geographical context. The strategic location of the largest state of North East India characterized by extraordinary ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity provides a fascinating background within which the challenges faced by over 50 per cent of the female population of the state is understood. It provides an insight into the history of the process of economic transformation witnessed by the state in the last few decades, besides throwing light on the various human development indicators of the state.
In the first category I would place chapters 2-5. This set includes very useful overviews. Chapter 2 deals with the demographic profile of the state. Elaborate tables highlight the district wise growth of population both in the rural and urban areas. The contribution of both inter-state and intra-state migration towards the population growth has also been dealt with. District wise variation in sex ratio and its implications on child sex ratio have been logically explained. Particularly note worthy are the 3rd, 4th and 5th chapters, which deal with the health status, educational attainment and livelihood patterns of women. Although the book primarily relies on secondary data, first hand account of field survey, presented in the form of exhaustive tables give interesting insights on the ground realities.
Clearly on many counts, some of these indicators are not only below the national average but also below the average of the northeastern states. In comparative terms, gender gap in literacy is highest in Arunachal Pradesh among all the states in northeast India both for total as well as for rural population. An interesting deviation is in case of nutritional status. Contrary to the findings in other parts of India, the nutritional status is nearly the same among boys and girls and no serious gender discrimination has been found. One of the crucial aspects of the food consumption pattern in the state is high average consumption of leafy vegetables, roots and tubers, not only in comparison with the national averages, but also in comparison with the average of the neighbouring states. This is directly related to the participation of women in forest-related activities and access to forest resources. Coming to livelihood, work and employment, there is not much difference between the situation in Arunachal Pradesh and the rest of India. Unequal opportunities for learning and education, socially constructed barriers, along with patriarchal ideologies have been found to be responsible for women’s unequal participation in income generating employment opportunities. Empirical data clearly suggest that female workers in the state generally work in low-paid jobs with little job security.
The second category includes chapter 6-7. Chapter 6 sheds light on the participation of women in decision-making both within and outside the household. Like else where in India, the overwhelming dominance of patriarchal value-system denies effective rights of participation to women in various spheres. The structural inequalities in terms of relative deprivations in earnings, health, education, employability and overall well-being, creates strong barriers for informed and effective participation of women in decision making. However given the substantial influence of traditional mores, community institutions and regionally differentiated socio-cultural practices, there are significant variations in the status of women within the indigenous communities. Chapter 7 deals with violence against women. This chapter assumes significance against the background of an upswing in violence against women in different parts of the state, though it is less in comparison to other states of the country. The violence gets manifested in the form of domestic violence, physical abuse, forced marriage and other forms of brutal criminal assaults. In parts of the state, where there has been a recent upsurge in insurgency, women face constraints, not just as victims of violence but also in terms of denial of opportunities and options.
The issues covered by the third set are included in chapters 8-10. Chapter 8 identifies some of the burning issues that have a direct bearing on the well being of women in the state. It makes a strong case for pioneering research in those areas. These areas are: Child Marriage, Polygamy, Bride Price, Migrant Women Labourers, Traditional Community Laws and Property Rights. While chapter 9 provides some idea of the type of government and non-governmental interventions in the state towards the goal of empowering women, chapter 10 argues for the importance to conserve the traditional egalitarian ethos while formulating policies. The authors have done well in identifying areas were government and non-governmental interventions are urgently required.
The report undoubtedly is rich in empirical data which brings out the diversity and range of intellectual locations highlighting little known details of a little known dispersed region, researched painstakingly and from a diversity of perspectives. It should be noted that all the chapters in the collection effectively bring out the interlinkages of gender, community, work, family, kinships, nation and schooling, both in their arrangement and analysis. The appeal of this book/report is at several levels and for several people. It would be disheartening if those embedded within mainstream policy making fail to take notice of this well researched work.
Published by: National Commission for Women, New Delhi. (2005)
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