Anthropology of Women
Dr. Wu Ga
The School of Business Administration,
Chinese University of Honkong
The School of Business Administration,
CUHK Shantin NT HK SAR China
Telephone no.: 0085231635155
Maria Kaczmarek (EUROPE)
Cheryl Rodriguez (USA)
In the first meeting of the Commission in New Delhi at the 10th ICAES,in 1978, a large number of leading feminist scholars such as Maria Mies, Nirmala Bannerjee, Helen Safa, Eleanor Leacock, Pat Caplan, Joan Mencher and Shobhita Jain were present. The present Chairperson was a young volunteer who was greatly influenced by the activities of the Commission. The focus at that time was mainly on making women visible as the first publication, Visibility and Power, indicates. Leela Dube put women within the discourse on family and kinship and her work highlighted the role of gender constructs in the practical organization of kinship roles and relationships.
In 1993, the Commission was benefitted by the addition of Faye V Harriosn from USA and Judith Bahemuka from Kenya as Co-Chairs in place of Prof. Leela Dube. This sharing of responsibilities indicated a North –South partnership, that continued as long as Prof. Faye Harrison held responsible positions at the helm of affairs of the Commission. However it must be remembered that although Prof. Harrison is from USA she too represents the less dominant voice of African American women and thus from the beginning the Commission had , in the true sense of gender studies a space for the representation of marginalized voices. Though our sisters from the global North such as Jan Delacourt and Sydney Perutz, Ann Kingsolver and others have continued to give support and intellectual input, yet it has attracted more participation from the various non-western cultures and been a forum where a multiplicity of ideas and views have collaborated and creatively put forth debates and discussion that are increasingly relevant in a politically divided yet economically unified world.
Thus while China, India and Africa may be all drawn into global capitalist networks, the people of these countries and especially the deprived sections, including women as a category are subjected to experiences that may be uniquely their own.
Faye Harrison chaired this unit of the IUAES since 1993. Among other things, the Commission sponsors symposia at international conferences, most notably the International Congresses of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (ICAES) which take place every five years. In 1993 the 13th ICAES was in Mexico City. Five years later, the 14th ICAES was convened in Williamsburg, Virginia, where the Commission sponsored a five-day, ten-session Symposium on Women and Gender. The success of those sessions inspired Esther Njiro, a Kenyan anthropologist now based in South Africa, and Jan Delacourt, an Australian anthropologist working as an independent researcher in Italy, to commit themselves to the Commission’s work. Over the next five years Esther served as the co-chair and Jan as the secretary and e-newsletter editor. Together with a small core of other anthropologists, we have managed to sustain a line of communication across national boundaries, largely through cyber spatial flows of information, ideas, and plans for activities such as the IUAES workshops at the WCAR NGO Forum in South Africa.
From 1993 to 2009 when Faye Harrison finally vacated the Chair for her Co-Chair Subhadra Mitra Channa, from India, she was the main person at the helm of affairs. Under her leadership, the Commission collaborated with IWAC (the New York based International Women’s Anthropology Conference) to organize a workshop on women and children at the 1995 Fourth UN Conference on Women in Huairou, China. With support from the University of South Carolina’s Women’s Studies Program, where, at that time, she worked as director of graduate studies, she organized a strong Commission presence at the 14th ICAES in Williamsburg, Virginia USA in 1998. As a result of the commission’s quite visible activities (a five-day symposium made up of twelve sessions), it recruited new members, among them three women who have since played instrumental roles : Esther Njiro, originally from Kenya but presently living and working in South Africa, became the new co-chair; Jan Delacourt, an anthropologist based in Italy but who has lived in Zimbabwe, Australia, and England, became the secretary; and Subhadra Mitra Channa, a professor at the University of Delhi who has played a leading role in promoting gender studies and studies of Dalits in India, became an invaluable core member. Five years later at the 15th ICAES in Florence, Italy, she became the new co-chair. Her contributions to the Commission’s activities in the past several years have been instrumental. As a former president of the Indian Anthropological Association (IAA), she served as a major liaison between the Commission and the Secretariat responsible for organizing the inter-congress held in Kolkata in December 2004. Through her efforts, the Commission collaborated with the IAA and UNESCO to organize an all-day symposium on gender, AIDS, and human rights. Twenty researchers working in various parts of India were brought together for the meeting, where important substantive, conceptual, methodological, and ethical issues related to doing applied research on AIDS were considered.
The Commission’s contribution at the Kunming Congress was outstanding in that with the help of Dr. Wu Ga, a local scholar, the Commission was able to hold panels that lasted throughout the days of the Congress. A large number of Chinese scholars participated and in addition to holding sessions in English, several sessions had the local women presenting in their own language, that was painstakingly translated by Dr. Wu Ga for the benefit of all present. As recognition of her contribution she was elected as the Co-Chair of the Commission as Prof. Faye Harrison stepped down to let Subhadra Mitra Channa take over as the chair.
The Past and the Vision of the Future
From 1978 to 2009, the Women’s Commission has shown remarkable resilience and has risen to every occasion to move the scholarly endeavors involving a decentralized and multi-focused perspective forward as we moved ahead to widen our scope from women’s studies to gender and then to the study of marginalization and inequality in general. The effort has been to focus not just on women and their problems but to bring a gendered methodology to bear on multidimensional issues involving both theory and the applied aspects of the social sciences and humanities.
With technological achievements and what is deemed as economic growth, a large number of humanistic problems involving deepening inequalities, human rights and environment are cropping up by the day. By focusing on Dalits, Racism, economic and political marginalization the Commission has been able to expand its scope to actually demonstrate what a gendered approach is capable of achieving. Interest in what is called “intersectionality” was expressed at the 1998 ICAES, notably in Commission chair Faye Harrison’s presentation in a plenary session on “Races and Rights.” In her paper she sketched a gender-cognizant analysis of racism as a human rights violation, and in the process foreshadowed the direction the Commission would follow in later work (Harrison 1998). Three years later, she led an international delegation of anthropologists and activist allies of anthropologists to Durban, South Africa, where they participated in the NGO Forum parallel to the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (Harrison 2001a, 2001b). The Commission’s two-part workshop (“Interlocking Dimensions of Difference & Power in Human Rights Conflicts: Racism in Culturally Diverse Gendered Experiences”) set the stage for what we hope will be an ongoing dialogue between anthropologists and human rights educators and activists. Some of the roots of this dialogue can be traced to the 1995 women’s conference in China, where our interaction with women from all over the world gave us important insights into the international women’s NGO movement and the role the UN plays in facilitating certain kinds of exchange and alliance making among human rights advocates. The lessons learned from participating in both the Beijing and Durban conferences and NGO forums made it possible for us to produce Resisting Racism and Xenophobia: Global Perspectives on Race, Gender, and Human Rights that was published in 2005.
In China the focus among other things moved to health, medical anthropology and environment and at present an attempt is being made to compile some of the papers from the session of Women’s Work and Natural resource Management into a volume by Marilyn Porter and Subhadra Channa. The China Congress was also specifically important for the Commission as its members were honored with Subhadra Mitra Channa presenting one of the Key Note addresses and Prof. Faye Harrison giving a Distinguished lecture. It is a testimony to the enthusiasm of the participants and their unyielding commitment to the cause of the Commission that from the 27th of July to the 31st, the entire duration of the Congress, this room was alive and full of participants from morning till late evening, and except for tea and lunch breaks, did not lie idle even for one hour. This Commission was particularly enlivened by the participation of local Chinese scholars, who demonstrated their dedication and scholarship by debating and discussing on a range of issues that involves and foregrounds women and were able to show that talking about women is not just talking about women but of society, history and politics in its entirety. The large number of participants, who were fortunately not all women, demonstrated that by focusing on women we not only are able to develop a critical perspective on society but also to showcase a range of social facts and processes that involve every dimension of humanity and life ways. A staggering total of one hundred and nine abstracts and papers were received and although many were not able to attend especially from other countries, yet the ones who did make it made a resounding success as seen from the varied issues dealt with in the course of the entire range of the Congress. The huge and enthusiastic participation by Chinese scholars went a long way to show how the Commission had been able to generate local support and involve local academicians in its work. A fact that captures the spirit of the Commission was that maximum number of persons were involved in chairing different sessions and as discussants so that many people felt a deep sense of involvement and importance. The overall outcome of this Commission was to show the participation and centrality of women in history, politic and economy and the various varieties of patriarchy as well as the nuanced and multivariate strategies used by women to negotiate their lives and also of the environment and its resources. The Commission now has an enthusiastic array of scholars from all over the world who communicate through their website and group participation in the list serve. This site was created by a young scholar from Poland, Agnieszka , who fortunately is now at Harvard on a scholarship. The members communicate on all important global issues that not just involves anthropology and women but any other news and information that may be of humanistic and scholarly relevance. The web site is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/iuaes_gender_studies . The list of members was hugely expanded during the Kunming Congress and the participation and information sharing are now a regular feature.
Resisting Racism and Xenophobia: Global Perspectives on Race, Gender, and Human Rights. Edited by Faye V. Harrison (Walnut Creek, California: AltaMira Press, 2005)
The Commission along with the Indian Anthropological Association is organizing a session on Gendering of Urban Spaces at the Seminar on Mega Urbanization being organized by the Urban Commission and the Human Rights Commission in Calcutta in January 2011.
'Visibility and Power: Essays on Women in Society and Development.' Eds. Leela Dube, Shirley Ardener and Eleanor Leacock, (Delhi: Oxford University Press), 1986.
'Invisible Hands. Women in Home-Based Production.' Edited by Andrea Menefee Singh and Anita Kelles-Viitanen. (New Delhi; Newbury Park; London: Sage Publications, 1987). (Women and the Household in Asia, Vol.l). ISBN 0-8039-9524-5 (USA); 81-7036-045-5 (India).
'Structures of Patriarchy. State Community and Household in Modernising Asia.' Edited by Bina Agarwal. (New Delhi: Kali for Women; London: Zed Books; 1988). (Women and the Household in Asia. Vol. 2) ISBN 81 -85107-06-8.
'Structures and Strategies: Women, Work and Family.' Eds. Leela Dube and Rajni Palriwala. (New Delhi/Newbury Park/London: Sage Publications, 1990). (Women and the Household in Asia - Vol. 3). ISBN 0-8039-9621-7 (USA); 81-7036-163-X (India).
"Gender and the Household Domain: Social and Cultural Dimensions". Eds. Maithreyi Krishnaraj and Karuna Chanana. (New Delhi/Newbury Park/London: Sage Publications, 1989). (Women and the Household in Asia - Vol. 4) ISBN 81-7036-175-3 (India); 0-8039-9635-7 (U.S.A.).
'Finding the Household: Conceptual and Methodological Issues.' Edited by K. Saradamoni. (New Delhi/Newbury Park/London: Sage Publications, 1992). (Women and Household in Asia - Vol. 5). ISBN 81-7036-288-1 (India); 0-8039-9432-X (U.S.A.)
'Gendered Fields: Women, Men and Ethnography.' Eds. Diane Bell, Pat Caplan and Wazir Jahan Karim. (London: Routledge, 1993).