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Paradoxes of agricultural transformation: changing gender roles and power relations in Kerala, India

By Asha Gangadharan


This research examines the paradoxes of agricultural transformation of national and\ud Indian and local (Kerala) in the post-reform period of economic liberalisation since 1990 in Kerala, India. The research was conducted in four locations in Kerala - Ambalavayal and Thomatchal (composite village) in the highland region, Thathamangalam in the midland region, Karamuck in the lowland region and Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala. It employs a mixed methodological approach and takes a postructuralist feminist stance focussing on women’s differences. It addresses current gaps in the literature on women’s informal agricultural and key issues of space, differences and power relations and makes a contribution to gender, development and globalisation debates in South Asia.\ud \ud The research reveals that women have generally borne the brunt of agricultural transformation and the impact on their farm roles has been paradoxical in terms of their inclusion and exclusion. However, these impacts vary across different geographical locations of highland, midland and lowland and for women of different caste and ethnicity groups, although marginalised low caste remain particularly affected. Changes to farm roles have been paralleled by shifting gender power relations at the household scale, which varied for women of different age groups. Old and middle-aged women have experienced a reversal in gender equalities whilst young women are withdrawing into domesticity and have limited economic empowerment, despite gaining considerable social empowerment. This reveals a paradoxical situation of (some) women becoming socially empowered alongside their inability to bargain on the farm and within the household. In particular, the research identifies a shift from caste to class-based alliances of ‘Sanskritisation’. These debates of crisis of development and paradoxes of women’s empowerment in Kerala have much to contribute to general debates about gender and development elsewhere

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 2008
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