"Neoliberalization" as Betrayal: State, Feminism, and a Women's Education Program in India

By Huang, Haigen | Journal of International Women's Studies, July-August 2012 | Go to article overview

"Neoliberalization" as Betrayal: State, Feminism, and a Women's Education Program in India


Huang, Haigen, Journal of International Women's Studies


"Neoliberalization" as Betrayal: State, Feminism, and a Women's Education Program in India Shubhra Sharma, 2011, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 288 pp., US$85.00 (hardcover)

Empowerment is one of the key concepts/techniques of feminism and feminists have endeavored to improve women's lives globally. In many countries, feminists have been involved in a variety of programs with a purpose of empowering women who are disadvantaged in their societies. Governments of many countries take these initiatives as a way of promoting social and economic development, and the converged interest has led to cooperation between feminists and bureaucrats in implementing the programs. However, when bureaucrats and feminists work together, those programs oftentimes run astray of feminists' agenda of empowering women. Sharma's ethnography, "Neoliberalization" as Betrayal: State, Feminism, and a Women's Education Program in India, discusses what happens and why when bureaucrats and feminists cooperate to operate the Mahila Samakhya Program (MS), a government-run educational program for women's equality and empowerment in India. Sharma goes in-depth to explore the complexity and dilemma that feminists encountered when they were engaged in the MS.

The book includes six chapters. Chapter One gives an introduction of the program structure and the three levels of intervention and how Sharma got access to the program; Chapter Two provides a comprehensive examination of Sharma's positionality of conducting the ethnography, a woman who grew up in India and worked for the MS returning to India from the U.S. to do fieldwork; Chapter Three discusses how bureaucrats engaged in reinventing the MS and how the neoliberalism as a political rationality put the program "in line with contemporary political ideologies"(p.16); Chapter Four explores the tension between feminism and government; Chapter Five examines how feminists' expertise (empathy, movement, and negotiation) while producing desired effects for the MS also led to corruption in the program hierarchy; Chapter Six examines how empowerment, as a feminist technique, ends up with betrayal of feminist politics. Sharma proposes that "listening" should be a technique employed by feminists in order to develop new techniques/vocabularies for the future.

The book embraces a feminist theoretical stance by examining how feminist assumptions, in particular empowerment, stray from feminism under the neoliberal political environment in India. For example, feminists were hired as consultants by the government in the MS and this type of hiring institutionalized feminism, which made feminists act more as "middlemen" of government rather than "middlemen" for women. Instead of taking the program trainings as a means to an end for empowering women (a purpose of feminist experts) bureaucrats of the MS made training to be the end and produced the effect of women's dependency on the program. …

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