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Women and Kinship

Comparative Perspectives on Gender in South and South-East Asia

By Leela Dube

This is the first sustained effort to compare South and South-East Asia in respect of the situation of women. Arguing that kinship systems provide an important context in which gender relations are located, the study overlooks at three types of kinship system, found in their carious forms in the two regions of Asia—predominantly patrilineal South Asia and predominantly bilateral South-East Asia, with a presence of matriliny in both.

The treatment of kinship departs significantly from what is usually found. Gender permeates the examination of the chosen themes, which include group placement and perpetuation, entitlement to and rights over resources, marriage, conjugal relations, implications of residence, rights over space and children, family structures and kin networks, work, female sexuality, and limits set by bodily processes. The underlying assumptions is that kinship systems are neither innocuous nor immutable, and, operating through material relations, they express themselves most effective through values and ideology. For comparison are taken up selected populations of Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand—representing Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity.

The results are striking: South-East Asian women’s unusual degree of autonomy in economic and social life and the relative egalitarianism between the sexes contrast sharply with the situation in South Asia, characterized by strong patriliny, patrilocal family structure, women’s lack of rights, and concern about female sexuality. Many other contrasts in respect of gender parities and disparities, including education, nutrition, health, and work emanate from contrasting features of kinship.

Rich in information ad insights, the book fills a gap in gender studies at the same time as it challenges facile generalizations and provokes probing into apparently similar phenomena.

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