Persistence of Gender: Women’s Empowerment, Wealth, and Community Norms in Rural India

Ieva Zumbyte , Brown University

The relationship between economic development and women’s empowerment is not straightforward. Scholars argue gender biased community cultural practices limit positive impacts of economic wealth on women’s empowerment. The challenge is to show how gender biased cultures constrain women’s empowerment with increasing wealth. In this study, I focus on the social practice of purdah (veiling) to elucidate how this community-level social component shapes these relationships. Drawing on panel data from the India Human Development Survey for rural women, I show that community-level prevalence of purdah has significant implications for how increased household wealth affects women’s empowerment. In villages where veiling is not prevalent, increases in material resources enable poor families to curtail women’s empowerment as a way to signal their upward mobility. Because the main form of female seclusion by purdah is not prevalent, families engage in other forms of seclusion denoting higher social status, yet they fundamentally suppress women’s freedoms.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 9. Marriage, Family, Households, & Unions; Gender, Race, & Ethnicity