Monday, November 14, 2011

Lives without Rights by Jharna Panda

We are pleased to announce that Jharna Panda, one of our UNITWIN-affiliated researchers in India, has written an article calling attention to the livelihoods of women in the Sundarban region in West Bengal. Below is the abstract of Jharna's powerful paper.

"Lives without Rights" by Jharna Panda: Abstract

'Any sympathetic discussion with the women of the Sundarban region (the famous archipelago in the southern fringe of the Gangetic delta in eastern India known for its mangrove forest and Royal Bengal tigers) will reveal the stark realities about their abysmal health standards and the widely prevalent reproductive health problems in spite of a plethora of public health programmes. For example, a large number of women suffer from genital prolapse while they are still in the third decade of their lives.

Most of them are working women from landless or marginal peasant families and because of their very social position, they have to simultaneously bear the burden of a failing agrarian economy and the weight of an oppressively discriminatory social tradition. Hence, these women can be regarded as living testimonies of the process whereby social and livelihood practices frustrate the dream of empowerment to the extent that village women are not in a position to decide upon matters related to their individual selves, let alone to social affairs.

Though to a significant extent their appalling health standards can be traced back to the poor material - including economic - condition of their living, this is clearly also a function of their position as women in a social milieu which is a heady mix of patriarchal domination, archaic traditions and entrenched taboos. The average woman has to follow the extant rituals and practices regarding child birth, birth control, and child health. Even the health workers, when they are present, fail to make much headway with their repertoire of scientific health awareness programmes because the women whose health is at stake are not supposed to make a choice.

The story is complex, yet revealing. It reveals the interrelated nature of the issues of empowerment and economy, health and social practice, reproductive health and productive activities.'

 To see the full text of Jharna's work called "Lives without Rights" please visit

Researcher Jharna Panda shared her firsthand experience living and working in the Sundarban Region in West Bengal, at Visva-Bharati's International Conference on Women after Independence.