Monday, September 26, 2005

Applying the Equity Lens - II

Excerpts from the World Development Report on Equity and Development (2006) [Link]. I was skimming through the report, and thought it's a good idea to bookmark, primarily for myself, a few of the several references to India. What prompted me to look at the report today was this Hindu article.

    In addition to being denied inheritance and property rights, women in many societies face restrictions on their mobility. For example, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India close to 80 percent of women require their husband's permission to visit a health center, and 60 percent have to seek permission before stepping outside their house. These mobility restrictions may be socially imposed, as with gunghat among Hindus--or have religious sanctions, as with purdah among Muslims. Such practices are not just socially enforced, they can be internalized by women who treat them as marks of honorable behavior. These norms are transmitted by parents to their children, ensuring their continuity over generations; in many societies, they are enforced by older women in the community.

    Restrictions on mobility and rules of kinship and inheritance help shape social perceptions about women's roles. If women are socially and economically directed to focus their attention and energy on activities in the home, this is not just what men expect of them -- it is also what other women expect of them. In much of the developing world, women's participation in the labor market is more a function of adversity than active choice -- because husbands cannot earn an adequate income or because of an unanticipated shock, such as a child's illness. Bangladeshi women described it this way, "Men work to support their families, women work because of need." Women around the world participate in a fair amount of market based activity for a wage, but they have to continue to perform most household chores. They thus face a time squeeze, spending more time at work, both in and out of the home, than men do.

    Because social and economic factors determine women's life chances more in marriage than in labor markets, parents invest less in their human capital. Throughout the developing world, women are much less likely to be enrolled in secondary school or university than men. So, they typically work in less lucrative occupations. Moreover, labor markets may themselves be discriminatory, paying women less than men for the same work. For these reasons, even when women participate in the labor market, they earn less than men. Low earnings are a further disincentive for women to enter the labor market, perpetuating traditional social roles.


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