Archive for the ‘People’ Category
Tuesday, July 26th, 2011
The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source. ~Lucretia Mott
Gender discrimination is a devastating reality in developing countries. Women are oppressed at home, at shops, and at the workplace. India is no exception. Women are dependent on family and kinship to access social goods and economic opportunities. The Government of India has passed several laws to protect women’s constitutional rights including the Hindu Succession Act (1956) and the Dowry Prohibition Act (1961). In addition, the government has provided several welfare measures to empower women that include the Indira Mahila Yojana (1995), the DWACRA Plan (1997) and Balika Samriddhi Yojana (1997). Monitoring the implementation and effectiveness of these programs at the national level is not an easy task. In such a scenario, the process of decentralisation would be a good solution for women particularly when they are linked to democratisation. Local institutions should have a better understanding of the problems of women at the village level compared to institutions at the central level. Thus, decentralisation has the potential to address the interests of women.
The Indian government has introduced a quota for women within the local government system, ideally to break down the traditional and cultural inequities working as barriers against women. The conjecture is the following: elected women leaders may have immense potential to encourage the women of the village to raise their voices and demand their rights in a direct or indirect manner. They may approach village women actively as a friend/neighbour or village women may be inspired by the boldness of the woman leader. This would empower local women. Though it is difficult to quantify empowerment, prioritising women issues and voicing them through political participation are important indicators of empowerment.
In 1992, the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments were enacted, leading the way for democratic grassroots governance. Thirty-three per cent of the seats at the local government level are reserved for women. It is important to note that the process of allocating reserved constituencies is random. After the women quota system was introduced in village councils (panchayats), approximately one million women have joined the elected local government bodies. However, the effective participation of women in local governance is ambiguous. It is argued that elected women may be proxies for their husbands, families or male leaders of political parties. They may get hardly any opportunity to work due to their lack of political experience and traditional social barriers. On the contrary, empirical studies have found that political participation among women has improved through their active participation in ‘gram-Sabha’ meetings. A study by Deininger, Jin and Nagarajan has pointed to increased willingness to contribute to the provision of local public goods in reserved villages. The question now is whether “women issues” receive priority in the ‘reserved’ villages.
Political reservation may have a stronger impact on women-centric issues, especially on the use of birth control measures as well as the health of girl children. In a ‘discriminating’ society, the onus of contraceptive use often falls on the women of the family. For example, the proportion of male contraceptive use in developing countries is significantly lower than the proportion of female contraceptive use. Approximately 70% of the contraceptive couples depend on female methods in poor countries. The ratio of female to male sterilization was 3 to 1 in China and 4 to 1 in Latin America (UN Report 2004, World Population Prospects). The use of contraceptives or non-use of any measure takes a huge toll on women’s health. High levels of fertility cause many of the health problems women face. Repeated termination of unwanted pregnancies through abortions also has a negative impact on her health. Does the pattern of use of contraception change in the ‘reserved’ villages?
Data collected by the National Council of Applied Economic Research in the Rural Economic and Demographic Survey suggests that the mode of contraceptive use changed towards male methods over time and varied across reserved vs. unreserved villages. The proportion of males using condoms is higher by 7 points in ‘reserved’ villages compared to ‘unreserved’ ones. In contrast, the proportion of women going for sterilisation is 53% in the ‘unreserved’ villages while it is 44% in the reserved villages. There is, therefore, a more equitable distribution of males and females in the adoption of contraceptive use when the village Panchayat leadership is ‘reserved’ for women.
Trends over time suggest that the use of contraceptives has increased after political reservation. However, there is a sharp decline in the use of women-centric methods of birth control. The pattern is not uniform across different ‘disadvantaged’ groups. For instance, women belonging to scheduled caste households increasingly share the burden of using contraceptives relative to women from other castes.
To summarise, there is enough empirical evidence to suggest that political reservation for women has a positive impact on diversification of fertility control choices. The process of change, however, may be slow as changes in any behaviuoral pattern are usually slow.
Dr. Sohini Paul is a Fellow at NCAER, New Delhi.
Monday, May 2nd, 2011
Studies of social capital have emphasised the subjective beliefs necessary to support strong networks of social ties and organisational memberships. Higher levels of confidence in the system’s institutions and trust in one’s fellow citizens facilitate the social interactions that build a strong civil society. The India Human Development Survey, a nationwide survey of 41,554 households conducted in 2004-2005 by researchers from University of Maryland and NCAER asked respondents how much confidence they had in 10 important institutions in Indian society (“a great deal of confidence,” “only some confidence,” or “hardly any confidence at all”). The analysis revealed that the principal division was between households that responded that they had “a great deal of confidence” and households that responded otherwise.
The most confidence was reported for banks (90%) and the military (87%), followed by schools (69%), hospitals/doctors (63%), courts (55%), newspapers (38%), panchayats and nagarpalikas (34%), the state government (27%), police (23%), and politicians (11%).
Low level of confidence in political institutions is striking but within that, respondents have far greater confidence in systems closest to them, i.e. the panchayats and nagarpalikas compared state governments. Politicians, when referred to in abstract, seem to enjoy the lowest level of confidence. This suggests a great potential for panchayats to serve as a nucleus for civil society.
Dr. Sonalde Desai is a Senior Fellow at NCAER, New Delhi.
Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
Indian legislation has revolutionized property rights – equalizing women’s rights to inherit land and other ancestral property as of 2005. What is the impact of this legal revolution on women and Indian society as a whole?
The most interesting facet of contemporary marriage negotiations often occurs in secret. Take one case related to me during fieldwork: a mother pulls her daughter aside on the day of her engagement. She whispers to her daughter: “We’re giving you property in your name because we love you”. The daughter and her fiancée are both extremely well-educated, modern, and newly in love. The boy’s uncles inquire subtly about the dowry they will receive. The mother speaks a weight of gold and then is silent.
What is surprising about this example? Is it the public discussion of illegal transactions, the privacy of the legal exchange, or the equation of property with love? In India, the only shock may be the equation of property with love for one’s daughter. Hindi aphorisms cited during Rajya Sabha debates suggest otherwise: “An unfortunate man’s cow dies; a fortunate man’s daughter dies”.
” In India, the only shock may be the equation of property with love for one’s daughter. Hindi aphorisms cited during Rajya Sabha debates suggest otherwise: “An unfortunate man’s cow dies; a fortunate man’s daughter dies”.
India’s laws relegate dowry to the black market of illegal transactions, whereas property distribution is the newest form of legally-equitable wealth transfer across both gender and generation. The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act (HSAA) of 2005 provides all Hindu daughters and sons with equal rights to inherit their parents’ property – both ancestral and private – upon the household head’s death without a will.
Critics of the HSAA cited its dire potential consequences in Rajya Sabha debates: spikes in female infanticide, uncontrollable spirals of land fragmentation, and the breakdown of the Hindu Family. Proponents of the legislation argue that the quality of the nation must be judged by the welfare of the weakest citizens, who, in India are often women. Proponents suggest that without equal property rights, women cannot be equal participants in and beneficiaries of India’s expanding economic activity. My fieldwork focuses on understanding this “socially precocious” law’s impact in the state with the longest reform legacy: Andhra Pradesh.
Andhra Pradesh implemented the first version of this law in 1986. Studies by Klaus Deininger, Aparajita Goyal and Hari Nagarajan evaluate the law’s effect on women’s land ownership in the nearby states of Karnataka and Maharashtra. Additional work by Sanchari Roy finds a correlation between the law and women’s self-assessed health. Yet no study evaluates whether or not the HSAA altered women’s intra-household bargaining power and net welfare in Andhra Pradesh.
I present two simple measures of the Hindu Succession Act Amendment’s effect in Andhra Pradesh: sex ratios for HSAA beneficiaries across the pre- and post-reform period, and women’s assessment of the law’s impact on their intra-household bargaining power and welfare.
Critics of the HSAA argue that the conflict between the Act and social norms is so great as to convince families that female infanticide is their only option. They claim that granting daughters rights to their parent’s ancestral land is equivalent to an assault on the patriarchal Hindu family. Critics cite widespread traditions whereby daughters sever ties with their natal family to join their marital family. As a result, Families who agree to transfer land to adult daughters would cede their familial identity, status, and wealth in the process. Thus, critics argue that traditional Hindu families would rather prevent the birth of daughters than raise women who will eventually destroy their natal families’ honor and wealth.
We can test the accuracy of critics’ claims via NCAER’s Rural Economic and Demographic Survey (REDS) of 2006, which provides data on 1,805 individuals from randomly-selected households across Andhra Pradesh. Does the ratio of living daughters to sons alter for the families with daughters to whom the HSAA applies? As Figure 1 shows, the ratio of daughters to sons increases from generation one (average age: 61 years) to generation two (average age: 42). We would expect that the HSAA is most likely to impact the child-bearing decisions of individuals in generations two and three, who married at or after the time of the HSAA’s passage. The mean sex ratio for generation two and generation three (average age: 25 years) is 1. In other words, Andhra Pradesh’s beneficiaries of child-bearing age have an equal number of daughters and sons. This suggests that female infanticide has not increased post HSAA passage.
How do women assess the law’s impact on their intra-household bargaining power? Even in the most economically-backward regions of Andhra Pradesh, interviewed women say they are aware of legal rights “but no one is courageous enough to stand up for themselves amongst women”. When I ask why they will not demand legal rights, they explain: “Relations are more important than money. Money is needed now, but relations are important in the future. This is why we don’t fight with our parents. We lose our security if we fight with our parents, [which matters] if we have problems with in-laws. This is why everyone keeps quiet”. In sum, most women in rural Andhra Pradesh do not consider their legal rights a source of bargaining power.
However a small but growing subset of women may experience higher welfare due the HSAA. 20 per cent of Andhra Pradesh’s women surveyed in REDS own land. Out of this population, 98.7 per cent received this land after the HSAA’s passage. However, only 1.8 per cent of this population (10 out of 557 women landholders) inherited this land. Analysis in several forthcoming papers suggests that a woman’s status as an HSAA beneficiary is a significant predictor of land ownership, and women’s land ownership is correlated with high welfare. Yet the direct relationship between the HSAA and women’s inheritance remains tenuous.
What determines which women experience welfare increases following legal reform? Women are most likely to benefit if they are willing to negotiate for the fulfillment of their legal rights “behind the curtain”, that is away from extended families’ prying eyes. In private, women can discuss their interests directly with mothers, husbands, and/or brothers. However these negotiations generally occur around the time of marriage, when families give women “their share” of the family wealth as dowry. This explains why women do not label the land they own as “inheritance”, and suggests a complex relationship between legal reform and social change.
Initial analysis indicates three predictors of women’s likelihood of initiating successful, welfare-improving negotiations for legal property rights: (1) strong outside options for self-advancement, e.g. high socio-economic mobility outside the traditional Hindu Joint Family; (2) proximity to district centers, where women’s legal rights are most likely to be discussed and enforced; and (3) high socio-economic equality, which lowers imagined barriers to gender-equitable property distribution. As women’s outside options and socio-economic status increase, society’s collective ability to embrace and advance reform also improves.
In sum, fieldwork suggests that the Hindu Succession Act Amendment can be an effective, welfare-enhancing tool for development. Legislative goals are most likely to be met where individuals can access government enforcement resources and use alternative socio-economic resources to leverage legal rights. Yet bridging the gap between incremental and large-scale implementation of “socially precocious” legislation requires high levels of socio-economic mobility and equality. Without these conditions, legislation such as the Hindu Succession Act Amendment may be irrelevant at best.
Rachel Brulé is NCAER/IDRC Doctoral Fellow from Stanford University. Her research focuses on the political economy of institutional change and development. Thus far, her field research extends from West Africa to India, including nearly three years of research and development work in India.
Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
Hans P. Binswanger-Mkhize
The vision: During the immediate post-independence period, India developed the theory of ARD decentralization that is still valid today. It includes four key elements that contribute to positive agricultural and rural development: (i) community participation, (ii) decentralization, (iii) autonomous institutions at local and community level, and (iv) the application of modern agricultural technology. Global evidence shows that the vision has tremendous value in revitalizing the rural sector.
Positive international experience: Decentralization and increased popular participation are desirable not as ends in themselves, but because it has been observed that decentralization results in a wide spectrum of benefits. Among the benefits are: (i) enhanced transparency, (ii) enhanced government responsiveness as a result of increased accountability, (iii) reduced absenteeism, (iv) improved services at no extra cost, and (v) an improved quality of government outputs because local preferences are considered.
In the Philippines and Uganda, citizens perceive more corruption at central levels rather than at the local levels where peoples’ participation is wider (Azfar et al, 2000). Panel data of 30 countries shows clearly that entrenched, centralized political and bureaucratic cultures are the most significant determinants of corruption (Ivanyna and Shah ,2010). In a number of countries decentralization and community participation has led to quality improvements, costs savings, and the more timely completion of infrastructure projects, in particular. There are many types of examples from all parts of the world that support this general observation (Binswanger et al. 2010, Sud, 2010, and Bardhan, 2002).
In India decentralization and participation are still lagging after sixty years: In 1992/93, India’s central government took a major step towards greater decentralization, with the passage of the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution. Nearly two decades after their passage, progress has been very slow, with half-hearted and very partial actions by most state governments. The delegation of increased responsibilities at lower levels of government has often not been accompanied by the granting of any significant autonomy. The fiscal system devolves less than five percent of the overall fiscal resources to local governments; and almost no revenue generation and functionaries; the design of India’s central and centrally sponsored schemes centralizes power in the ministries at the national and state level, effectively clawing back the powers that were to be devolved.
While community participation is advocated in most programs, full transfer of functions and funds to communities occurs rarely, and most programs, in design or practice, also claw back powers to higher level administrators. Therefore local governments and communities cannot function as intended, and their lack of performance, and even lack of interest, is then cited as a reason to continue to manage things for them. As a result, agricultural and rural development remains deeply centralized, with sectoral silos that have led to serious difficulties in service delivery. The plethora of centrally-sponsored schemes in India has rendered local governments and their citizens into chasers of grants and favours, and created a generalized system of bribes to access them that is so well described in the movie “Well done, Abba.”
Reforming dysfunctional rural development institutions involved a return to the four principles above:
India has been a pioneer in articulating a strong vision for decentralization and people’s participation in agricultural and rural development. It is time for India to finally translate its own vision into reality. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission, the Finance Commission, and the Planning Commission provide a full set of recommendations on how to move from decentralization as an intention to decentralization in reality. A key reform agenda would include:
1. Centrally-sponsored schemes need to be consolidated into block grants, as long recommended. Block grants should be directed at local governments, not line agencies, with sharing rules among levels of local government and with communities.
2. Further decentralization would include the transformation of local governments to independent tiers of government; strengthening of administrative decentralization and of horizontal and downwards accountability; and increasing revenue-raising and co-financing at all levels; otherwise efforts are likely to neither promote efficiency nor good governance.
3. A clear plan of action is needed. It will have to include practical ways to implement the already available recommendations of the various commissions, as well as political tactics to overcome resistance from central and state politicians and agencies. Advocacy from the highest level and a training program are needed to change the attitudes of the IAS officers and other central and state cadres to decentralization. The plan needs to involve the Interstate Council, local governments, progressive chief ministers, and members of civic society.
There are few prior conditions for success of decentralization: Decentralization has occurred in the presence AND the absence of a variety of conditions. For example, decentralization has occurred both with and without: (i) a strong middle class; (ii) prior land redistribution; (iii) a high human development index; and (iv) a strong civil society. It has occurred in countries that are ethnically diverse oe homogeneous, strife-torn or quiescent; and in countries where social hierarchies and patriarchies are strong or weak. There are few areas of the world in which inequalities are so extreme that decentralization is a dangerous option that should not be considered (Manor, 2009).
Necessary elements for success include: (i) a state that has some minimal capacity; (ii) devolution of substantial powers onto elected bodies at lower levels along with substantial resources; (iii) accountability mechanisms that ensure the horizontal accountability of bureaucrats to elected representatives, and the downward accountability of elected representatives to ordinary people (Manor, 2009). A widely shared consensus is that success depends on the details of implementation and rigorous follow through.
India has been a pioneer in formulating a strong vision for decentralization and increased people’s participation in agricultural and rural development. The vision is over sixty years old and in many countries has proven to be of tremendous value to revitalizing lagging agricultural and rural development sectors. It is essential for India that now the vision be translated into reality.
- Azfar, Omar, Satu Kahkonen and Patrick, Meagher. 2000. “Conditions for Effective Decentralized Governance: A Synthesis of Research Findings.” IRIS Center Working Paper, University of Maryland
- Bardhan, Pranabh, 2002, Decentralization of Governance and Development, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Volume 16, Number 4: 185–205
- Binswanger-Mkhize, Hans P., Jacomina de Regt, and Stephen Spector, 2010, “Local and Community-Driven Development: Moving to Scale in Theory and Practice,” New Frontiers in Social Policy, Washington DC, World Bank
- Ivanyna, Maksym and Anwar Shah, 2010, Decentralization (Localization) and Corruption: New Cross-country Evidence, The World Bank, Policy Research Working Paper 5299
- Manor, James, 2010, Perspectives on Decentralization, Keynote Address at the IFPRI-University of Kiel Workshop on Government Decentralization Research, Washington DC, February 3-4
- Sud, Inder. 2010 “Governance for a modern society: Combining smarter government, decentralization and accountability to people” in Kohli and Sood (eds). 2010. India 2039: An affluent society in one generation. Manila: Asian Development Bank.
1 The highest shares of public resources controlled by local governments in the developing world are: China (51%), Poland (38%), South Africa (28%), Uganda (25%), Indonesia (23%), and Brazil (20 %). These numbers stand in marked contrast to most sub-Saharan African countries (an average of around 5%), and India (3-4%).
Hans P. Binswanger-Mkhize is Professor Extraordinaire at the Institute for Economic Research on Innovation, Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa and a Senior Fellow of Amsterdam Institute for Development.