ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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At the Intersections of Patriarchy and Informality

Mobility as Capability: Women in the Informal Economy by Nikhila Menon, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020; pp xvi + 196, price not available.

Afalling labour force participation rate in India for women has been a cause for concern over the last few decades; underlying this concern is the retreat of women from paid work into the private site of the home tied to reproductive labour. This phenomenon is bemoaned attributing greater agency to women who participate in paid work outside the home. Nikhila Menons book, however, rooted in a study of women in the fisheries industry in Kerala, suggests that the answer to greater autonomy for women may not be as simple as seeking greater access to public space and paid work. Menon, thus, seeks to unpack the assumptions baked into a general understanding on labour and gender, that womens participation in paid work and the ability to be in public and be mobile translates into improved gender relations and autonomy for women.

Challenging these insights, Menon conceptualises in its place a specific form of mobilitytransformational mobilitythat emerges within specific conditions which the book explores, using the site of the fisheries and womens work within it. Drawing on Amartya Sens capability approach, Menon unpacks the impact of the nature of informal work and its associated mobility on a womans sense of self-worth and their ability to exercise decision-making powers. She suggests that mobility has not been researched (Chapter 5) as related to the assumptions on accessing paid work and its association with the capability approach. Through the nine chapters, Menon draws the readers attention to the women workers engaged in the fisheries sector in Keralaa state that is well-regarded for its development outcomes especially where womens access to education is concerned. She unpacks the paradox that confronts Malayali women, who are considered to be in an ideal position to realise their capabilities but remain trapped by patriarchy. In this context, Menon considers the woman worker in the fisheries, working in the informal economy, marked by caste, and navigating stigma around work and poses the question whether these conditions have enabled transformational mobility to take place? To answer this, Menon devotes considerable attention and care to the methodology to highlight how transformational mobility can be mapped and assessed through a measurement scale of permissibility using a Rasch rating scale model; this is sure to be of interest to those familiar with the technical aspects of such methods, which the reviewer is not. Menons conclusions from this analysis enable her to distinguish between the levels of mobility across categories of vendors and peeling workers, as well as to identify how age and marital status contribute to mobility. Yet as she notes, mobility associated with work is not a capability that enhances the overall freedom of women (p 80).

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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