State initiatives for the empowerment of women of rural communities: experiences from eastern India
economic and social development
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AbstractWomen of rural communities in India are handicapped by entrenched caste, class and gender hierarchies, ethnic and religious discrimination as well as unequal distribution of resources. Poor women of rural communities adopt many creative strategies to cope with difficult and highly unequal situations. However, programmes taken up by the government for the empowerment of women of rural communities often fail to recognize these. This is mainly because while developing an analytical framework for examining empowerment, women's own definitions and understandings are seldom heard. This paper analyzes government-initiated development experiences of rural women in India. It is based on extensive fieldwork by the authors during 1995-2000 in the Burdwan district of West Bengal in eastern India where another research project on rural-urban interactions was ongoing. The field interviews culminated in an intensive group discussion well-attended by women of rural communities. Several cases were thoroughly dissected in this six-hour long focussed group discussion. Our intention is to bring forward women's own views and comments on government policies and development programmes for women of rural communities in a specific region. These views should be heard by decision-makers before policy formulation. We also highlight the successes and failures of such government programmes as seen by rural women in an exploration of possible alternatives emerging from these views.
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