Social Scientist. v 6, no. 61 (Aug 1977) p. 4.

Graphics file for this page

fighting for their country's independence, were also fighting against the outmoded ^traditional" or ^'feudal" idea of women's place in their own cultures, and in the process taking major steps towards their own liberation. Yet again, only in the case of China is there any scholarship which is beginning to reveal and analyze the interconnecting fights against women's oppression and national and class oppression.

The role of women in peasant struggles, more specifically in organizing poor peasants and agricultural labourers, was brought home to me in visits to the state of Maharashtra in western India in the summer of 1973 in a pilot project that led to a full-scale study of the subject in 1975-76.2 In this area there had been a major rural upsurge between 1970 and 1973, years of famine; and time and time again male organizers of various left parties testified to the fact that ^women were the most militant." Women, they said, were in the forefront of marches, the first to break through police lines and fight, the most tenacious in negotiations, the inventors of new forms of struggle such as blocking of traffic on roads. This awareness of women as a force was leading to a new consciousness of the specific problems of women's oppression as women along with class oppression. And, similar developments in other parts of India in conjunction with the change of consciousness associated with the International Women's Year and the women's movement in the west and the role of women in other Third World struggles were leading to the intensification of women's movement activity in India by 1975. It is this process that is the subject of this article.


What are the interconnections between class and sexual oppression, between ^women's movements" and class struggles or national movements? Neither "women" nor "peasants" can be spoken of as an undifferentiated mass. There are crucial variations—in the general class structure of the societies in which women live, in the cultural traditions that define family roles, in women's work participation, and in the agrarian class structure in which women participate. But to get at some of these issues it is most useful to take a new departure and to look at the class structure, the nature of the society, and the development of social movements from the perspective of women themselves.

We can begin with the question: under what condition do women's movements occur, and what is their connection with the wide-scale processes of social change and with other social movements? The special oppression of women can be most precisely defined in terms of women's exclusion from control of the means of production (land, tools and so on) and their gradual exclusion from productive work itself in a ^sexual division of labour" that assigns them the main or sole responsibility for child care and home maintenance. This "sexual division of labour"

Back to Social Scientist | Back to the DSAL Page

This page was last generated on Wednesday 12 July 2017 at 18:02 by
The URL of this page is: