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Thinking feminism afresh

Dec 24, 2008

Zealous Reformers, Deadly Laws: Battling Stereotypesby Madhu Kishwar explores the reasons for dismal performance of laws enacted for enforcing women's rights in India. The compilation provides some practical solutions in the form of alternative strategies that may produce better result in combating anti-women practice.

Zealous Reformers, Deadly Laws — Battling Stereotypes

Author: Madhu Purnima Kishwar
Publisher: Sage, 2008

The book is a compilation of essays written in the span of twenty five years, many of which deal with laws relating to women.

Drawing attention to what she calls the “dangerous gap between laws and social practice”, Kishwar’s critiques the approach that focuses of securing the legal rights of women at the cost of attempting to build a new social order that gives them their social due.

Zealous reformers.jpg

A running theme in the book is the need to adopt a culturally sensitive approach to social reform that respects the aspirations and cherished values of those in whose lives we wish to introduce changes.

Disagreeing with the standard “progressive-feminist” view that the family is at the core of women’s oppression, Kishwar believes the real way out is to “figure out ways to strengthen and reinvigorate civil society’s own organisations especially family and kinship ties, in ways that ensure that individual rights remain inviolable”.

Underlying her writing is the belief that the solutions to promote the empowerment of Indian women must be practical and must pay heed to the cultural and social milieu in which the problems arise.

Arguing that the issue of dowry is closely related to that of the women’s share in family resources, Kishwar maintains that rather than asking for more stringent anti-dowry laws, women’s groups would do much better to demand legislation that makes it mandatory to give daughters an equal share of the family inheritance.

Kishwar is unafraid to strike unconventional postures on other issues such as child marriage, domestic violence and the women’s reservation bill. Unlike most feminists, she is comfortable about appealing to the decent side of men as well as enlisting their support in the battle for women’s empowerment.

The essays cover a range of subjects and vary in their depth and complexity. There is a rather simplistic one on women in politics, which argues that gender is an advantage for those women who prove themselves “stronger and more commanding than men”.

Another one titled: ‘Learning To Take People Seriously’ which calls for addressing the perceptions and the beliefs of those who study seriously and, ipso facto, come to terms with the rationale behind the choices they make.

While it is impossible to agree with her on everything, it is hard to deny the remarkable ability of this activist-scholar to forcefully challenge authoritatively settled dogmas, bring a fresh perspective to an issue, and provoke the reader into rethinking his or her prejudices.

Source : The Hindu
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