Gender, class and modernity : reproductive agency in urban India.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The decreasing female child sex ratio in contemporary India is often linked to the small family norm. However, the decline of sex ratio has raised interesting questions regarding women’s involvement in decision making in the context of female-foeticide and managing family size. Are women victims or actors while making their reproductive choices? What are their reproductive interests, and how do they achieve them? This study investigates how urban-middle class women from Delhi and Haryana make reproductive decisions in regards to family formation in modern urban neoliberal society. Motherhood, abortions, and gender relations are discussed with reference to the main themes of son-preference, increasing social status of daughters, family planning, family building strategies, reproductive health and well-being.
Further, because of the prevalence of son-preference it is crucial to understand what kind of status daughters are accorded in contemporary urban Indian society. This study addresses this by looking at participants’ differing perceptions and expectations for their daughters and sons, and in particular how daughters are treated. The status of daughters is documented through an examination of current forms of gender discrimination against them, and also the different kinds of opportunities that they are provided by their parents.
These issues are explored through a qualitative study of the reproductive decision making of 45 educated married urban middle-class mothers from Delhi and Yaumuna Nagar (region of Haryana), India. Snowballing was used to recruit participants, and the fieldwork was carried out during two visits to India. I chose Delhi and Haryana because both of these regions have collective and patriarchal family structures. For instance, in these regions joint families are quite common among the middle-class and fathers or a male family member are often the head of the family. Furthermore, Delhi and Haryana have a low female child sex ratio, as recorded in the 2011 census, but have shown slight improvement in comparison to 2001 figures. Therefore, this study will provide insights into how women practice their reproductive agency in highly collective and patriarchal settings of their affinal families. These families are in the process of rapid socio-cultural changes, including change in gender roles and opportunities for daughters. I will examine women’s decision making process, including practices of negotiating and resistance strategies they develop.
xvi I will then discuss how women engage with different forms of modern, spiritual and traditional technologies in order to maintain their reproductive health and well-being, and how they attempt to give birth to a son while maintaining the norm of small family size. This will suggest that society and technology are mutually constitutive. Finally, I will explore how social transformation has influenced the gender relationships which are discussed in relation to daughters’ improving status and also the different forms of discrimination currently used against them. However, throughout the research the patriarchal nature of urban neoliberal Indian society and the idea that a man is needed to support a woman and for her protection has been highlighted.