Finding power : gender and women's political participation in Rajasthan, India
This thesis considers the effects of women's political participation on gender dynamics in the context of the local community. A broad definition of politics is used, which has allowed the research to investigate and analyse the effects of participation in both NGO- initiated women's groups and Panchayati Raj institutions (village/local level councils). The central discussion, therefore, focuses on the extent to which these different types of participation have been or can be empowering for women as individuals and as a group. In relation to this, different conceptualisations of power and the meanings and uses of empowerment and participation are explored. Research data was collected in five villages, a peri-urban area and one town in Bikaner District, Rajasthan, India. Ethnographic data was collected which the researcher uses to stress the importance of disaggregating women not only along the lines of caste, class, religion and so forth but also according to generation and familial position, when considering their changing roles and status in society. While acknowledging that certain aspects of political participation can have empowering effects the thesis argues that political participation is not necessarily empowering for women and in some cases may have the reverse effect. The dangers of instrumentalist arguments used to encourage and initiate women's political participation are highlighted. It is argued that 'empowering' women to participate is not enough to increase their status, quality of life or life choices if disempowering processes and structures within institutions are not also challenged and overcome. The thesis makes the case that family and community members generally support increases in women's political participation so long as it is only certain women who participate in a certain manner. It also argues for the greater inclusion of men into projects aiming to challenge detrimental gender norms.