Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The new feminist agenda: Eat rice, not rotis!

My time in Bhutan has left me with time to blog once again. After a 2 year hiatus (after heroically managing to put up all of 4 posts), I hope to blog regularly this time.

In the tradition of ‘Freakonomics’, my latest musing is a wacky hypothesis on the reason for south Indian women being more socially empowered than those from the north.

Marxist methodology always seeks to explain social behavior and phenomena (the ‘superstructure’) in terms of underlying ownership of economic resources (the ‘base’)

With that thought- here’s the wacky hypothesis: South Indian women are more empowered since the South is (predominantly) rice growing, while the North is largely wheat growing.

The cultivation and harvesting of rice is something that women can (and do) participate in, since it requires deft work to remove the paddy from the fields, unlike wheat, whose harvesting requires heavy labor.

Women are thus part of the wealth-generating, productive employment in the south, which would lead to greater power and say even on social issues.

Secondly, the consumption of rice as compared to wheat also favors greater female empowerment.

Cooking rice has huge economies of scale (in terms of time invested) - cooking for 8-10 people (the typical size of a joint family) does not take much more effort than cooking for 2-3 people. It is possible for a woman to cook the rice and have her meal with the rest of the family

With wheat (as in roti, chapatti etc.) however, the cooking process does not have any economies of scale. Cooking 20 chapattis requires nearly 20 times the effort of cooking a single one. This coupled with the fact that Indians like to have their food hot, means that women have to spend their time slaving away cooking one roti after another for the family, and will end up having their own food only after everyone else is done.

The effect of this on a male child in the house too, is that he sees his mother as subservient to the male members of the family, hence retarding the rate of change & female empowerment

Bhutan itself is largely rice growing (over 60% of the population here grows rice). Unsurprisingly, women in Bhutan are highly empowered, owning most of the land & running most of the businesses. Even socially, they have an equal status with the men.

It will be interesting to see if women are noticeably more empowered in other rice-growing countries in the world (Vietnam, Philippines etc.)

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