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This essay focuses on the prevalent nature of Boro women’s work and claims that their employment is disproportionally crowded in the unpaid/unremunerated domestic activities, unrecognized farm-work and the informal sector of the transitional economy. It makes a case for an inclusive social contract within the ambit of the Sixth Schedule through the recognition of both practical and strategic gender needs.

1. Motivations for writing

            Men as allies of feminism is a rare affair and comes with numerous connotations. My motivation to write on issues of gender is due to the training I have received since my post-graduation in feminist writings and theories and hence, far from being related to my genetics, is influenced by my selective socialization. Some even label those who profess feminism as Marxists, which is untrue because Marxism rarely addressed issues of gender and indigenous communities. The courses that I chose such as Human Development: Theory and Practice, Development and Human Rights, Sociology of Gender helped me unlearn the deeply ingrained inequities perpetrated through various gender norms embedded within our societies.

            In one of the Human Development: theory and Practice classes, I prepared a class presentation on the Human Development Report-1995. Since then, I have been a firm believer in the phrase, ‘Human Development if not engendered, is endangered’. Besides, the Sociology of Gender class provided me an opportunity to present a seminar on Bina Agarwal’s 1996 book, ‘A Field of One’s Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia’. Both the activities proved to be a turning point in how I viewed gender issues and in subsequent years of my life.

            In this essay, I shall very briefly put a glimpse on Boro women’s contributions to the economy, the nature of their work and a slight brush on how customary rights can be inclusive to both practical and, especially, strategic gender needs of women. Since, my training in gender has been through feminist theories, thus, my essay will be biased towards issues of women alone. I will address only structural inequities that may disallow women to achieve their full potential and opportunities in the economic sphere because I am biologically denied their lived experience. 

2. Remunerative and unremunerated work

            Differences are stark in the kind of work assumed by men and women. This contrast is due to the specific gender norms assigned to and expected of men and women—men are considered more suitable for public sphere while women for the private sphere. Unfortunately, work performed in the public sphere alone are remunerative while that in the private realm are unpaid/unremunerated. Women’s unpaid work in the private sphere, besides being extremely unfair to women, rarely ever get acknowledged for the absolute drudgery of labour involved in such activities/work. For example, in agriculture women spend sufficiently large amount of hours into tending livestock, foraging for food and other domestic activities. If calculated, the number of hours spent on such activities is much more than what men farmers do. This unaccounted hours of work is not limited to agriculture but is prevalent among households with diversified salaried incomes too. Domestic work in such households where the woman is unemployed is also unpaid work. The problem is not limited to unemployed women of salaried households, even employed women from salaried households are expected to perform domestic housework which in feminist academic literature has been termed ‘double burden of work’. This picture of a household is not only limited to other communities in India but prevalent within the Boro community too.

            The Human Development report—1995, makes a noteworthy declaration that countries lose billions in revenue as a result of women being restricted from participating in the public domain. The problem with housework is that it is unpaid work and two-thirds or more of their work time is spent on unpaid activities and only one-third is spent on paid activities (most women spend their work time only on unpaid activities such as housework, tending livestock, fetching firewood/food, etc.). Thus, the work that women do is undervalued or not valued at all. This is what the report has to say, "If women's unpaid work were properly valued, it is quite possible that women would emerge in most societies as the major breadwinners or at least equal breadwinners since they put in longer hours of work than men".

3. Displacement from work traditionally associated with women

            A related issue that needs mention here is, how, whenever there is a shift from non-capital to capital intensive mode of production, work traditionally associated with women is filled by men. For example, the ownership and control over mechanized rice mills is taken over by men, when traditionally post-harvest activities were performed by women. Most managerial work in department of sericulture in BTC for instance, is filled by men while women are the labour used for weaving handloom products, an industry, craft or work traditionally associated with women. Capitalism, either state or private-led, may displace women from work traditionally associated with them, for men.

4. Conclusion

            It is also a fact that women in Boro society are not intrinsically barred from productive work, but why such a large number of women crowd spaces such as weaving and weaving stalls in the market needs to be our focus in the question. These jobs are categorized as informal jobs with paltry incomes and devoid of extra benefits or earnings equivalent to daily wages, a hand-to-mouth existence. Most of the practical gender needs mentioned in this essay, can be fulfilled by adopting simple principles such as sharing housework—cooking, parenting, etc. It is the strategic gender needs that will require some work, grit and persistence/activism such as achieving parity in economic opportunities, land rights, political representation, etc.

            Such calls for change on issues related to gender and insistence of a better social contract that is inclusive, often generates hostile resistance, public opinions, and reactions from the community. A key argument against it is the reference to the Sixth Schedule. Contrarily, I argue that because BTC is within the ambit of the Sixth Schedule that recognizes customary rights and self-rule (to an extent), we can seek changes within its domain which is a valid point. It is just a matter of our people and those in the positions of power aka influential personalities shaping path for inclusivity in our customs along with the change-seekers. Customs evolve over time simply because customs were unwritten codes of conduct meant to be practiced by members within the community. Codification of customs, on the other hand, leads to stricter adherence to customary practices and therefore may hamper women’s realization of rights which is rightfully theirs.


Agarwal, Bina. 1996. A Field of One’s Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Boserup, E., Tan, S.F., & Toulmin, C. (2007). Woman's Role in Economic Development. London: Routledge.

Harriss-White, B., 2005. Commercialisation, commodification and gender relations in postharvest systems for rice in South Asia. Economic and Political Weekly, pp.2530-2542.

Melikidze, Valeri, Stancliffe, Rachel, Tarkhan-Mouravi, George. 1995. Human Development Report 1995: Gender and Human Development. New York.

Written by Mizinksa Daimari

Achieving an Inclusive Social Contract—an essay: Text
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