ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Women and Poverty Report on a Workshop

October 1, 1983 Women and Poverty Report on a Workshop Nirmala Banerjee IN recent years, several issues relating to distribution have been brought out of the lumber room of value judgments and into the forum of serious academic enquiry. Poverty, deprivation, uneven development and women's problems are some of these topics now claiming considerable attention. Of these, work on women's issuues is still somewhat suspect mainly because a good percentage of the scholars working on these are also active champions of the women's cause and therefore are suspected of being less than totally objective. The recent (March 17-18. 1983) workshop on Women and Poverty held at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC), was therefore very timely not only because it allowed the scholars invoved to thrash out several common problems but also because the serious quality of the work pre: sented there went a long way to dispel the charge of partisanship. Of the 30 odd scholars who actively participated in the workshop the veterans as well as the newcomers were each presenting a part of an on-going serious enquiry into the field. And while the outcome of the discussion may generally be said to support the case of the partisans, there was considerable evidence to the contrary which received the careful attention of all. The workshop was to explore several broad themes; the first one was the possibility of intra-family bias against women's well-being. The second was the discrimination against women in the labour market and in opportunities for gainful activities. The third was the possibility of less than equal access for women to public services meant for alleviating poverty. Scholars working on any of these themes share certain common difficulties. A major part of the sexual bias whether within families, in the labour market or in society stems from long-standing traditional values accepted unquestioningly by both men and women. The values which incorporate these various biases of the society are reflected in the connotations of socioeconomic terms used in standard theoretical analysis or for official purposes. This means that concepts used for formulating a hypothesis or collecting data have to be redefined in order to eliminate their existing bias. An example would perhaps make the problem clearer. The term household in socio-economic jargon is the standard unit for measurement of relative levels of well-being. Within a household it is assumed that the well-being and desires of each member regardless of sex. age or economic status get equal consideration and each member sets an equal share of the household's supply of goods and services. Most of the socio-economic data that is collected regularly by large official agencies is tabulated for households, not for individuals within it and therefore provides no clue to any sort of intra-household differences in shares of income or of responsibilities. In reality if there is evidence of relative malnutrition or ill health of women as a group, them one hypothesis to be investigated must be of intra- household discrimination. Classification of available information on household basis is unlikely to be of use here.

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