Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The 'Stigma' of Paid Work: Capital, State, Patriarchy and Women Fish Workers in South India

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The 'Stigma' of Paid Work: Capital, State, Patriarchy and Women Fish Workers in South India

Article excerpt


Traditional fisher communities in many parts of the world have faced the onslaught of mechanization and capitalist modernization over the past several decades. National governments have aggressively pursued export-oriented fisheries policies that have resulted in over-fishing and eroded marine ecologies to the detriment of small-scale and artisanal fisher communities (Binkley 2005; Fulgencio 2009; Kurien 1998, 2007). This paper outlines the changing dynamics of artisanal fisherwomen's labor in a Muslim-dominated coastal village in the South Indian state of Kerala in the back drop of two macro processes viz., state-initiated mechanization and capitalist modernization of the fisheries sector and state-sponsored employment and livelihood generation programs, with many of the latter targeting women. The objective of this paper is to explore and analyze the complex and contradictory forms that women's paid work takes, when it is promoted by state developmental initiatives and performed in a local setting marked by social conservatism and fragile and insecure livelihoods. As feminist scholarship demonstrates, local patriarchies and region-specific cultural ideologies mediate the effects of paid work on women's life-worlds in particular, situated contexts (Kabeer 2000, 2001; Mills 2003; Ong 2010).

The paper provides an overview of changes in the traditional livelihoods of fishermen and women in the study village in response to capitalist modernization of the sector. We trace the shifting contexts that induced Muslim fisherwomen in the study village to engage in and disengage from paid work outside the household. What forms did women's work as fish vendors take in the past (i.e., prior to mechanization and state livelihood interventions) and how has it changed now? How do women respond to state-promoted entrepreneurialism and wage employment and how does this experience differ from their traditional occupation of fish vending? How do men respond to women's economic activities and agency? How effective are state programs in supporting women's traditional livelihoods (fish vending) in a rapidly changing and competitive business environment?

Section 1 of the paper briefly outlines the gender division of labor in fisheries and the impacts that capitalist modernization of the sector has had on small-scale and artisanal fishers in the state of Kerala. Section 2 provides an overview of state government programs promoting self-employment and women's entrepreneurship as well as wage employment schemes of the central government. Section 3 introduces the field site and outlines in detail the research methodology that has informed the study. Section 4 discusses and analyses the key findings of the study. The Conclusion (Section 5) highlights the key findings of the study.

Capitalist development, mechanization and women's work in Kerala Fisheries

Marine fisheries statistics show that only 5% of fisher folk in Kerala engage in work outside the fisheries sector and the majority rely on fishing and allied activities for their daily bread (GOK 2009). Traditionally the gender division of labor in the community corresponds to the demarcation of sea and land as the sites of men's work and women's work respectively. Women are forbidden from venturing into the sea and only undertake those activities that precede and succeed fishing in the sea. Consequently, women constitute 67% of the total workforce in fishing-allied activities that include net-making, salting, peeling, drying and vending fish (CMFRI 2012). The fishing community in Kerala comprises three religious communities - Hindu, Muslim and Christian of the Latin Catholic (LC) denomination. By and large, women of the Muslim community, unlike their Hindu and LC counterparts, do not engage in fish vending and are confined to domestic chores or cottage industries (Dietrich and Nayak 2002). However, there are observed differences in women's livelihood patterns within the same religion or caste. …

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