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

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Cash and Wages

A Need for a Dual Strategy for Empowering Women in Tamil Nadu

The recent cash assistance scheme called the Kalaignar Magalir Urimai Thogai for eligible female household heads, announced by the Tamil Nadu government, is a significant policy intervention aimed at further strengthening women’s agency. Some of the implementation challenges that the scheme is likely to face are discussed while categorising the female beneficiaries within the households. The estimates from the Tamil Nadu Household Panel Survey’s Pre-Baseline Survey, 201819 are used to bring out the representativeness of the female population within the households. An equal amount of state investment in other aspects of gender inequality is called for.

The incidence of “female-headed households” has been largely documented in the Western as well as Indian literature, in the past five decades. However, the definition has undergone a metamorphosis. The Western understanding of a female-headed household was that of a unit wherein an adult woman resided with children and without a male partner (Rosenhouse 1989). The absence of a male father, brother, domestic partner or spouse often resulted in the creation of female-headed households (Bruce and Lloyd 1992). However, as the households in developing countries lived and continued to live together as multiple generations sharing common resources and labour, the definition of a “household” and “head” needed a change (Kabeer and Joekes 1991). Given the patriarchal idea of a “head,” denoted by a person who asserts power and bears responsibility over other members (Harris 1981), most household heads happened to be men who earned the daily bread, and hence, had veto power over decisions. Thus, women who may play a key role in making collective decisions with their spouses, or contribute heavily towards domestic work, agriculture produc­tion, and so on, may not see themselves as household heads (Lewis 1993).

This non-recognition of women who are not economically active is more pro­blematic in developing countries where more households experience seasonal migration, leaving behind women and children in the family home to survive on the remittances from the man (Chant 1997). These challenges led to the development of a wide classification of women heads who may be single women or single mothers. They are the household heads due to immigration, migration or disability of the husband, women who are the principal decision-makers of the household despite a male partner, and so on. Most self-reported surveys now in India follow this definition, wherein a head is the “primary decision-maker” and not necessarily the “breadwinner” of the family.

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Updated On : 3rd Oct, 2023
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