Family and Feminism; Women, Their Position, Rights and Obligations in Cross-Cultural Perspective*

By Gandhi, Raj S. | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Autumn 2003 | Go to article overview

Family and Feminism; Women, Their Position, Rights and Obligations in Cross-Cultural Perspective*


Gandhi, Raj S., Journal of Comparative Family Studies


Family and Feminism; Women, Their Position, Rights and Obligations in Cross-cultural Perspective* BASU, Srimati. SHE COMES TO TAKE HER RIGHTS: Indian Women. Property and Propriety. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1999, 303pp., $21.95 softcover.

SOMERVILLE, Jennifer, FEMINISMAND THE FAMILY; Politics and Society in UK and USA. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 2001,279 pp., $ 19.95 softcover, $59.95 hardcover.

NAVARRO, Marysa and Virginia SANCHEZ KORROL, WOMEN IN LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN: Restoring Women to History. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999, 144pp., $11.95 softcover, $29.95 hardcover.

NASHAT, Guity and Judith E. TUCKER, WOMEN IN THE MIDDLE EASTAND NORTH AFRICA; Restoring Women to History. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999, 144pp., $11.95 softcover, $29.95 hardcover.

The central issue of gender inequality, its importance in the over-all theory of social stratification, and the integration of a variety of empirical researches in that area are the challenging tasks of sociology, as yet unresolved. Added to it are other important sociological problems such as the relevance of gender inequality to family, feminism, marriage, varieties of practices and customs related to it and its relationship to caste, class and race stratification, and how they further relate to different dimensions of social system viz., political, religious, etc. In the meantime, what we have are the rich sociological, anthropological and social historical works across various countries and cultures.

We begin with Basil's field-work in New Delhi, India. In her sociological monograph, she goes straight to the heart of the problem of gender inequality in India, the issue of women's real power, and their rights to inherit and own property. It is difficult to deal with India as a whole as there are considerable regional differences and usually a gap between the written and the unwritten laws (customs), yet further complicated by the existence of written laws and their practices in reality.

Further, in South India, in some communities, there is matrilineal (mistakenly called 'matriarchal') family system while in the North, the patrilineal (mistakenly identified as patriarchal) type may be predominant. Basu's work in Northern India (where patrilineal norms prevail) is limited further to a typical "middle class" or "middle-income group". Taking the previous demographic surveys, she uses them for random sampling of every third household and selects thirty interviewees from the middle-class and poor neighborhoods with all due precautions of a social scientist.

Basu focuses on "...the myths and practices surrounding property in India - that is, some of the material and ideological structures through which the current distribution of property is maintained" (p. 38). She divides her work into some seven chapters. The first chapter, of course, deals with a bit of history of women and property law etc., especially focusing on the post-independence gendered division of property and the conflict surrounding the radical revision of Hindu law in this particular matter. This itself is one of the most fascinating aspects of Indian sociology and several interesting social-historical works (not reported in Basu's book) have already been published. Basu peripherally touches on them, and soon describes issues involved in her methodology and field-work. She provides an appropriate setting for describing other chapters, and opens up the second chapter with an appropriate title, "Women and Property: Scant and Slippery Footholds". The central questions for Indian women here are "How much property do women really own and how well does actual ownership of land or housing correspond with the legal possibilities envisaged for women?" (p. 41).

Despite the law, the most revealing facts underline the predominance of inheritance in the male line, the disinheritance of women from natal family and women's relative "class" in the urban setting as a significant determinant of the form of property they might own, the greatest disadvantaged group being the married women among the urban poor. …

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