Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why Marriage?

Some years back, we faced this question in a development course. Two of the discussants divided the question into two: Why Women marry? Why men marry? One of them kept the discussion to the basic issues and the other went in-depth into negotiation, survival needs and social and cultural options. Both peeked at the household economic models and theories like the ‘Black Box’, Neoclassical, and Bargaining/ Co-operative, etc. Both came to the same conclusion that women and men marry based on a personal perception of well-being. This perception, according to one of them, is a result of a negotiation between a woman/man’s survival needs and socio-cultural constructions of what ‘personal well-being’ means.

Taking Amartya Sen’s example of a rural Indian woman, who is not likely to extract her own welfare from that of her household and conceive of her own well-being as separate from that of her family’s, the discussant argued that the household, therefore, is the locus of inequality where discrimination and exploitation of women’s labour get naturalized. In other words, a woman from my part of the world is likely to marry based on what she considers to be her well-being but which may not necessarily be her well-being. Does this mean a North American or European woman is more likely to marry based on her sense of ‘personal well-being’, which is more individual centered and that she is more likely to be able to deconstruct the larger structures of inequality and thereby better placed to negotiate her position in the family? This is another debate and we shall come to it some other day. For today, so far, we have one reason which may make women and men inclined to get married. Let's look at some other reasons also.

The brokers of the सात फेरा, मंगलसुत्र, गठबंधन, सिंदूर, the wedding ring, et al or those who market the practice of marriage as ‘the holy state’ of matrimony tend to ascribe some sacredness and centrality of this practice for the institution called family. These brokers, in general, have a big say in the decision to marry, whether to be taken by the individual or the relatives, and/or the family. In some contexts, even when people have little more than a token affiliation with a religion, they tend to stick to the religious boundaries when it comes to marriage. This is not always based on a fear of reprimand or being ostracized. Rather it is based on deep seated belief in the advantages of segregation based on religious affiliation. This belief has a profound influence in the decision about who is fit to mate or is sacred enough to be a partner in personal and family life.

The brokers insist that all the matches for ‘this world’ are made in the ‘other world’ and that it is the duty of the follower to accept the person who the god selected for them. Marriage itself is regarded as a religious obligation by them. Among people who have an inclination to accept that they have a duty to marry, procreation has special value attached to it. Children are the gifts from the god or marriage and children come as a package gift from the god. In other words, religious brokers emphasize shared beliefs in religion, marriage and procreation as a foundation for the continuation of particular faiths, beliefs and way of conducting life. No wonder divorce is a taboo subject in the books of the brokers because ‘What God hath put together, let no man [or woman] put asunder’. But divorce is another [related] issue, not to be brought into today’s discussion [though an interesting one to understand how even when religion says yes to divorce, how religio-legalities disallow it].

The sociologists believe that marriage is a practice to establish a social order. Through marriage women and men are put together in a relationship of social and legal obligations to fulfill social and economic objectives. It is believed that marriage is a good way to put people’s mental and physical health, sex life, solid and liquid assets in an organized state. It is an institution that allows people to meet their sexual desires in a manner that doesn’t harm anybody [or so we like to believe]. It also helps bring together people with greater commitment and therefore provide a safer ground for procreation and responsible environment for bringing up children.

There is no doubt about the economic value of marriage [albeit disputed by some men]. Women have been free labour, partly thanks to the practice of marriage [remember, the complimentarity argument]. The many justifications for marriage advanced through centuries have one angle which has to do with ‘value’-based labour which leads to communal and family wellbeing and another angle of ‘income-based’ labour which brings income to the community and the family. The history of these arguments have subordinated the ‘value’-based labour and elevated the ‘income-based’ labour. The economic argument in an age when the ‘income-based labour has been making more sense to more and more number of women and there is considerable increase in educational and political equality, seems to be fading away. We will come back to this point a little later.

Then there is the whole economy of marriage where the marriage is seen as a contract. This particular reason for marriage does not quite stand on its own. Rather it stands as a dimension in all the above arguments and will remain, in my opinion, a factor in any other current or future reasons for marriage. A marriage contract can be visible or invisible; stated or assumed; or legal or social. For centuries, marriage has involved contracts like the dowry that a bride’s family gives to the groom’s family, the bride price that a groom’s family gives to the bride’s family [they are not to be confused as the same because the theories behind are completely different], exchange of women through marriage for settling disputes between families, giving a daughter or a sister in marriage for settling a debt or to earn goodwill and so on. These practices may sound like buying, selling, discounting and writing off or collateral and the kind that takes place in a market place. Indeed, these practices are exactly that. These contracts also create a lot of employment for people willing to serve as brokers [who are often clan members, church leaders, mullahs, priests, village or community elders, and the like].

In a secular legal context, the terms and conditions of a marriage contract may not have so much of economic angle but does have implications for how responsibilities will be attended and by whom. It is also a way to safeguard the rights of the contracting parties by registration and legitimizing by the state.

In many societies since history began and in the larger visible societies in the last century or so, there have been some departures from the above-mentioned reasons. Marriage here is seen as a relationship between individuals for mutual comfort and assistance and so the personal compatibility issues are as important as procreative and contract aspects of the practice. Now with the lessening of the some other dimensions of the marriage, the centrality of this practice to a family and communal life of an individual has also weakened. Alternatives to marriage are growing as a practice and marriage is increasingly being viewed as essentially an additionality that strengthens the emotional bonding and trust because of some level of social and contractual security that it brings with it.

The alternatives to marriage tend to require a lot of other things but often less commitments of social and contractual/legal nature. This is one of the reasons why some men are a game for the alternatives because they get comforts of a relationship without being responsible for it. Some of them, on the other hand, resent the women’s preference for the alternatives because they stand to lose out on the ‘value’-based labour or the fact that a woman is not willing to commit makes them feel insecure. But alternatives to marriage do not necessarily make the relationships any more egalitarian. Individuals, due to these two factors among several other possible reasons, find themselves participating in inequitable relationships, which leads to both emotional stress and stress in the relationship. The more inequitable the relationship, the more stress they face. So in a nutshell, if not the reasons related to community and family, marital-economics or contracts, the individual needs of emotional security and commitment bring the focus back on marriage in the alternatives to marriage because it is seen as a demonstration of those two qualities. But even without marriage, any real or perceived emotional or material inequity in the relationship has an effect on intimacy and continuation of the relationship. But breakup is not something that we will discuss today!

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Which is Bigger Evil, Corruption or Communalism?

1) Which one needs to
be addressed first?
2) Do they have
any overlaps?
3) What do you think?
Corruption affects common people on a daily basis. It affects the poor in the worse possible ways and closes the opportunities that legally may be there but practically are not available unless a bribe is paid, a favour done or there is some nepotistic connection exists. It disallows inclusive growth.  It affect's an ordinary citizen's abilities to maintain basic living standards, access public services like health and education and social benefits among several other things. It leads to misuse of the available public resources, and therefore, economic growth does not reach all sections of a society.

Communalism destroy the fabric of a society and destroys social cohesion and harmony and take destoys peace and stability which are pre-conditions for development. Communalism increases poverty by preventing movement of labour, capital and other public resources by restricting these within a particular community. It takes social trust away and creates a sense of instability for those who are not part of that community. It affects people's ability to generate more resouces using the current resources because it creates and environment in which property and other liquid resources can be acquired, owned or transacted for benefit only by a certain community based on their claim of a traditional precedence.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Are you listening, respectable Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ji?

Don't be a Spooked Buck, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ji.
Let me start afresh as if born again; erase memory as if nothing ever existed; and grow up right as if there are no strictures. These have been occasional thoughts in the last one year. A friend called it a mid-life crisis. As for being born again, it’s scary; it took years of whip-whap before arriving somewhere close to autonomy. Would it be wise to undo what has taken almost half the life? Life experiences say no. As for memory, there are moments when the life has been full of light, positive energy and joy. Would it be worth erasing all that for a memory of the future that may not even have even a speck of light? The brain says no. And as for growing up all over again, there’s no indication of a human being ever being fully autonomous because we learn depending on where we come from, where we are, what we see and how we have been oriented to see, ie, growing up without strictures is a notion. The biological clock, too, says no because there is only decay in the future, protect all the learning and keep exercising the gray cells. An acquaintance called it a mid-life wisdom.

This is, and will continue to be, my personal dilemma. The issue of starting afresh, however is not limited to private lives. Striking a balance between the past, present and future, and issues in acknowledging the rights and wrongs are a common dilemma in the public life too.

So respectable Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ji, if you do not rise today we will fall, not just you. We will allow achievements of the last six decades to go waste because you want to negotiate afresh as if the corrupt past never existed and today is not tainted. We cannot start afresh or hope for a corruption free future when we know that we stand on a corrupt ground. Use your imagination to gain from the experiences of the past and apply them for the betterment of the future just as you use your financial acumen when you deal with the statistics of the industrial growth rate or monetary and fiscal policies. Own everything; take possession of all things, right or wrong, in the full faith that they are actually yours because the governance institutions under you created them or practice them. If you would do that we would able be to draw inspiration from the positives of the past, learn from the mistakes of the past and stand with the strength of the past to visualize a future in which we would be able to deal with corruption.

The notion of starting afresh evokes beginning, the right formation … there’s a freshness about this notion. It indicates a learning based on a particular experience, a new way that would set the future right. It smells so spring-like that the exact troubling events get obscured by the idea of ‘the new’ and the problems, abuses and misuses, humiliations, embarrassments, conflicts, and all that is wrong get buried under the layers of ‘the new’. We forget that the past is like fossil fuel, which with one match-stick, goes on fire and with that goes that artificially created ‘the new’. These are the fears of starting afresh. Right or wrong but it cannot be denied that starting afresh without recognizing and addressing the problematic issues we cannot go far. The stench of yesterday always catches up with the fragrance of tomorrow.

So respectable Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ji, no doubt you are one of the few political leaders to have achieved almost universal respect for your integrity but it’s not just about you, it is about the conduct of the institutions you deal with, and you know that what rots needs to be parted with.

I felt for you the day you had to sit with the media and say that you are not corrupt. You don’t have to do this. We know you are not. But you need to open your eyes. Please have the courage to take the responsibility of the wrongs and deal with them. Move from token actions, make amends. Reparation is a forward looking basis when the loss is reparable. When it is as it is now, indemnify, make amends, be good, restitute trust, .... and look forward, take up the past, own the present and the future, start again, start afresh!

There are many other issues on which I would like you to lend an ear, like, the naxal movement and the state violence, development induced displacement, the quota for women in the legislative bodies and public services, education and child labour, violence against women and girl children, and so on. But today, I will be content if you would show some humility to accept your mistakes and limitations related to the issue of corruption.

Are you listening, respectable Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ji?

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Human Rights-based approach to MDGs

Are human rights and development two separate approaches or can they be used complimentarily? In context of women’s human rights and development, my view is that human rights approach is essential for achieving development. Human rights approach recognizes that all human beings irrespective of the boundaries that divide them, including gender, are entitled to certain fundamental rights that are prerequisites to secure human dignity and fulfil basic needs. Let’s take the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to understand this. The Millennium Declaration includes eight MDGs and six commitments that the state and other parties make to uphold and promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, democracy and good governance, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the rights of migrant workers and families, inclusive political processes and freedom of the media and people’s access to information. The eight goals and six commitments taken together represent a good combination of economic and social rights. In principle, they show the shift from poverty eradication approach towards development to a recognition that without human security and empowering people, and making a social intervention to address existing inequalities human development is not possible.

Now let’s talk about the way we are trying to achieve the MDGs. In Yemen, like most other developing countries, MDGs are currently being implemented using frameworks which are mainly economic. So while one hears of the eight goals one does not hear of the six commitments. In common manner of speaking, the tendency is to bring up the goals separately from the Millennium Declaration. The implication of this way of approaching the goals is that it may end up only with the analyses of gender needs (read particularly women’s needs) in economic terms but may not lead to the integration of a gender perspective into all policies, programmes and projects. A consequence of using only economic framework to implement MDGs would be that the social aspects of women and men’s interests and needs will remain out of focus and additional initiatives to enable women to articulate and express their perspectives and to participate in decision-making processes will not be either thought of or taken up.

In order to achieve the MDGs in true spirit of the Millennium Declaration, it is essential to link the goals beyond macro level economic analyses and policy process. It is critical that the initiatives to achieve MDGs encompass human rights based interventions that make it possible for the individual to feel empowered to participate and make decisions, that attempt to change cultural norms and practices preventing women from participation and decision-making, and that provide facilitative environment to women at institutional and organisational levels. Without such interventions, the traditional and structural causes of gender-specific discrimination that violate women’s human rights will continue to obstruct women’s equal involvement in the development of Yemen. And without women’s equal and active involvement in development processes, MDGs cannot be truly achieved.

The eight MDGs and six commitments must go hand in hand because certain human values and standards like non-discrimination; extra efforts to ensure participation of the marginalized groups including women; rights to conducive environment for free mobility, participation in the public sphere and economic self determination; etc are particularly significant in addressing the problem of poverty. Also, from the perspective of gender development poverty should not be construed only in terms of income whether of household or of individual. Women’s unconstrained ability to access, own and control resources whether their own income or family assets with the support of state legislation and without the fear of family and social reprisal are keys to their ability to enjoy economic and social rights as well as to contribute to the country’s development. But social norms in Yemen and legal frameworks not only place constraints on women’s social mobility and economic participation rather also make women more vulnerable to family violence. Linking women’s ability to enjoy the full range of human rights with development is essential if development is meant to be egalitarian and for the benefit of the entire population. In other words, there is a need to integrate human rights approach in the MDGs related policy and programming processes.

Embedding a broader understanding of poverty and gender responsive programming that take into account socio-political, cultural and human rights considerations affecting women and men would make development programmes more context sensitive, responsive and effective in achieving MDGs. Adoption of a broader understanding of poverty implies that poverty may be interpreted differently in Yemen. It may require different set of strategies and timeline to achieve the goals here. This flexibility will ensure that the MDGs once achieved will be longer lasting. The guidelines and recommendations to achieve MDGs, which are heavily economic in nature, should not be treated as prescriptive but must remain what they are, guidelines and recommendations. That means depending on the context they could be modified and adapted to ensure an inclusive process.

Originally published at Yemen Times.

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