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Women and Society

Malavika Karlekar

Edited by Urmila Phadnis  and Indira Malani 
Vikas, New Delhi, 1978, pp. 283, Rs. 65.00

VOLUME III NUMBER 2 September/October 1978

In the last decade, studies on women have made an impact in the field of liter­ature and social sciences. Whether to become a ‘libber’ or be known as ‘Ms’ is a topic of active discussion in women's forums the world over. The women's liberation movement has highlighted the so-called weaker sex's increasing tendency to kick over conventional traces. Stray bits of information lead to the general impression that women are underprivileged from Tokyo to Tanzania. The present volume is invaluable for a cross-cultural comparison on actual facts which may or may not substantiate this impression. Aptly sub-titled Illusion and Reality, Phadnis and Malani's edited work provides competent vignettes of the world's women in history, religious texts and the law. Meant originally for the national Committee on the Status of Women in India, each contribution is well-padded with dates and statistics. The factual data which the reader collects at the end of two hundred odd pages are impressive. All through, it is the same refrain, women's emancipation has set in, but is the process fast enough? Vina Mazumdar restates the under­lying theme of Towards Equality (the report of the National Committee on the Status of Women in India) industrializa­tion has pushed Indian women towards unemployment as their skills become increasingly obsolete. Further, the fact that 94 per cent of women are in the unorganized sector of society means that redress of genuine grievances is a privilege which only a handful can enjoy. Tradi­tionally, the women of Sri Lanka and Nepal had few rights, were married early and had little access to education. The Munis show that while Ceylonese women took advantage of British rule and its veneer of greater participation for the local people, the rule of the Ranas in Nepal retarded the progress of women. But if Nepalese women are under­privileged, their counterparts in South­ East Asia have had an early tradition of active work and participation in indepen­dence movements. Thus Usha Mahajani points out that Vietnamese women not only had a role in economic life but also in outwitting the American forces. Con­trary to conventional images, the women of Japan are now active in fields ranging from watch-making to anthropology. Yet one wishes that P.A. Narasimha Murthy had told us something about geisha girls; the popular vision of cherry blossom fringed tea houses with the ubiquitous geisha in attendance—which is still ...

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