Gender and Development (GED)

A noteworthy development in recent times has been the increased visibility that gender issues received and the frequent use of gender as an analytical category in studies of other issues. This new turn has added critical insights into the blind spots of much of the discussions carried out around the ‘Kerala Model,- this has been an early concern visible in the work on gender and development done at CDS. It appears to have gained ground in both breadth and depth over months. Adoption of frameworks sensitive to gender, in areas such as human development, has contributed to heightened visibility. A study of spatial and horizontal inequalities in Human Development in Kerala, has constructed a Gender Development Index (GDI) along with the Human Development Index (HDI) and the Index of Deprivation for the various districts of Kerala, to highlight regional disparities. The State Development Report includes a chapter on gender issues in the Kerala’s present development scenario.

Some other important inquiries have also taken up gender as a major axis of understanding reality. For instance, the study of the impact of the expanding global market on employment and livelihoods in Kerala’s cashew nut industry has explored the implications of the global restructuring of food product chains for women workers. It reports that gender inequalities work as a major axis of exploitation, and accelerate the pace of ‘informalisation’, and allow employers to lower their processing costs. This orientation effectively corrects the blind approach to gender characteristic of studies on labour in Kerala.

A few studies had unraveled the unmistakably ‘gendered’ dimensions of specific development issues in Kerala. While the mainstream literature did not ignore these dimensions in toto, the present interest certainly identifies these dimensions to be of structural, and not just of having normative, significance. A good instance is the study of educated unemployment in Kerala, which has turned out to be acutely ‘feminised’ phenomenon. The rate of educated unemployment among women was found to be two-and-half times higher than that of men. Also, the determinants of male and women unemployment were found to differ: for women, education had a positive relationship with unemployment, while it was the reverse for men, after controlling for demographic and socio-economic factors. The research project aimed at promoting healthy ageing through community development reveals the extent to which older women in Kerala experience poorer quality of life than men. The research into water insecurity and livelihood strategies in Plachimada, Kerala, also highlights the ‘gendered’ dimensions of water-related livelihood dynamics, which leads to a situation in which women bear the brunt of water insecurity. The study was thus able to explain why women have been in the forefront of the agitation there. Another study on institutional change and livelihood strategies, which focused on agriculturists in Wayanad and Idukki, the two districts in which the impact of WTO is clearly felt, also underlined the increasing vulnerability of women in Wayanad within the evolving strategies through which farmers try to surmount the onslaught of ongoing and distressing changes.

Completed studies which directly focus on the interface of gender and development in Kerala, have looked into a variety of domains, and displayed considerable diversity in methodological orientation. Conceptual and methodological insights have been drawn from historical and anthropological literature to understand the shaping of Kerala’s ‘women-oriented’ poverty alleviation efforts, exclusion in social development, and the ‘gendering’ of communal conflict at Marad, Kerala. Another work has explored women’s writings, gender power and public space in Kerala. Yet another work attempted to combine quantitative and qualitative methods in studying the role of agency/empowerment of women in the Kudumbashree. This study is part of a larger project which aims to develop an academically robust indicator of individual agency/empowerment.

The new initiatives in this theme include a study that explores the gender dynamics in the reporting of health outcomes in large-scale surveys, specifically the difference between self-reported and proxy-reported morbidity in India. This difference is found to be very high in the case of women, than for men, and in the age group of 15 to 19 years, than in other age groups. The latter evidence is indicative of the fact that the reporting of health problems in this age group has suffered due to proxy reporting.

Ongoing research projects in this theme include the study of the impact of ICT on women’s employment in Kerala, a study which focuses on the ICT-based micro-enterprises operating under the State’s poverty eradication mission, the Kudumbashree. The project aims to capture the enabling conditions for enterprise formation, skill acquisition and linkages, and examines the survival and competition capabilities of women-run enterprises. The on-going research on gender, ageing, institutional provisions, and social security in India, the Netherlands and Sri Lanka, also promises to contribute significantly to the understanding of a ‘second-generation’ development problem in Kerala. A third ongoing initiative is the project on gender, governance and the politicisation of women in Kerala.

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