Women and community development in India: examining the paradoxes of everyday practice

Pattanayak, S 2007, Women and community development in India: examining the paradoxes of everyday practice, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global Studies, Social Science and Planning, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Women and community development in India: examining the paradoxes of everyday practice
Author(s) Pattanayak, S
Year 2007
Abstract My experience as a development aid worker has brought to the fore the incongruence between the rhetoric and practice of community development in India, more so in relation to women. Historically, the practice of community development in India has also been imposed and could be considered as an 'imperialist' relic of the colonial rule. This has been traced through an extensive literature review and discourse analysis of the five year plan and other related documents.

The research aimed to uncover the manner in which rural Indian women engaged with structures and processes of community development and to explore what benefits or otherwise accrued to them. It further sought to explore the reasons for the failure of a particular program as envisaged by local women. The thesis used the framework of structuration, everyday life and community development theories (Giddens, Lefevbre, de Certeau, Ife) and an ethnographic methodological approach. One rural community of 52 households, in the state of Orissa (India) was the subject of study and in-depth interviews were conducted with three key informants.

Participant observation was the cornerstone of this research in order to gain an in-depth view of the everyday lives of women, with the researcher spending seven months in the community. Themes were developed around the community development program (Mahila Mandals) and the key informants were interviewed regarding the same, its formation, structure, processes, the reasons for its initial success and subsequent failure and finally women's agency in engaging with various aspects of the program.

The findings showed that this program would not have developed unless it had been driven from the top; women had no say in the structures and processes, and while it was successful initially for instrumental reasons, not taking into account women's agency was the reason for its downfall. Despite these lessons, it is recognised that the practice of community development continues to remain top-down. Till date, international aid agencies, government's (national, state and local), and/or INGOs/ NGOs that determine the needs of the communities and the approaches to addressing and evaluating them.

Conclusions include a policy discussion on the attempt by international agencies, especially DFID, and governments (of India and Orissa) to address gender issues in their existing and new programs taking into account women's agency as constructed in their everyday lives. There is an agreement with the international, national and local debates that gender issues have to be addressed with great urgency in view of the changing roles of women.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global Studies, Social Science and Planning
Keyword(s) Community development -- India
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