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Women and Work

Padmini Swaminathan

By Jayati Ghosh
Women Unlimited (an associate of Kali for Women), New Delhi, 2009, pp. 185, Rs. 250.00


What constitutes women’s work, how definitions deployed by national data collecting agencies render women’s work and women workers largely invisible or only partially visible, how the operation of macroeconomic policies contribute to the process of ‘gendering’ work, how public policies continue to relegate women’s work to the realm of the ‘social’, in the bargain underestimating (and therefore undervaluing) the ‘economic’ contribution of women—these are a few of several enduring subjects that has continuously engaged generations of scholars, activists, funding agencies, government appointed commissions and committees and some policy makers. Over the years the output on this theme has, to say the least, astonishing in its scope, breadth and coverage. While it is certainly not my case that the last word on the theme of women’s work been has said and/or published, it was with great enthusiasm that I agreed to review the above book particularly because it is published under the Feminist Fine Print series of Women Unlimited, which is primarily aimed at viewing issues from a ‘critical feminist perspective’. How far the book under review has achieved the aim of imparting a critical feminist perspective to the theme of women’s work will be addressed at the end.   The book situates ‘changes in the nature of women’s work in India’ in the ‘recent phase of global economic integration since the early 1990s’. Unfortunately, while the author discusses the ‘International Context of Women’s Work’, the discussion in no way illuminates concretely in what way the Indian economy is integrated with the global economy and, further, in what specific manner this integration has led to changes in the nature of women’s work. The ‘changes in women’s work’ have largely been captured through analyses of secondary data supplemented with references to micro-level studies. The author has not explained how or what aspects of ‘changes in Indian women’s work’ emanating from analyses of secondary data can be attributed to, what she refers to, as ‘global economic integration’. The causality is not worked out; it is simply assumed.   Notwithstanding the above, the analysis of secondary data by itself is extremely useful. The chapter on ‘Recent Economic Growth and Employment Patterns’ traces the structural changes characterizing Indian economy. What comes out clearly is that the economy has experienced change in terms of investment and output but change in terms of distribution of workforce over ...

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