Muslim and Hindu Women’s Public and Private Behaviors: Gender, Family, and Communalized Politics in India

Abstract

Prior research on fundamentalist religious movements has focused attention on the complicated relationship among gender, family, and religion. Using data from a nationally representative survey of 30,000 Hindu and Muslim women, this study compares the daily public and private behaviors of women in India to examine how gender and family norms are shaped in the context of communalized identity politics. Building on the theoretical framework of “doing gender,” we argue that because communal identities are expressed through externally visible behaviors, greater religious differences are expected in external markers of gendered behaviors and family norms. Results indicate that Muslim women are more likely to engage in veiling and less likely to venture outside the home for recreation and employment. However, religious differences are absent when attention is directed at private behaviors, such as household decision-making power, gender segregation within households, and discrimination against daughters. Results underscore the multidimensionality of gender.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The iddat period refers to the waiting period mandated under Islamic law during which a woman may not marry following the death of her spouse or after a divorce that is meant to ensure paternity in case of a pregnancy.

  2. 2.

    Both practices are now illegal, and in case of sati, almost extinct.

  3. 3.

    For more details about sample design and response rates, see Desai et al. (2010).

  4. 4.

    A very small number of households experienced income loss due to poor crop or delayed crop sales. Income for these households is set to 0, and a dummy variable indicating negative income is included in the analysis.

  5. 5.

    This variable has been coded to be consistent with other variables such that a negative value for religious differences indicates greater disempowerment.

  6. 6.

    When different components of this index are analyzed separately, Hindu–Muslim differences are neither large nor statistically significant for any of the five domains. Hence, we focus on a simple index for parsimony.

  7. 7.

    Results not reported here but available upon request.

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Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge support from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Child Health and Human Development grants R01HD041455, R01HD061048, and R24-HD041041. Supplementary funding was provided by The Ford Foundation and UK Government as a part of its Knowledge Partnership Programme. India Human Development Survey (IHDS) was jointly organized by the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi. We thank Reeve Vanneman and anonymous reviewers for comments on prior versions of this article.

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Table 7 Variable definitions and means

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Desai, S., Temsah, G. Muslim and Hindu Women’s Public and Private Behaviors: Gender, Family, and Communalized Politics in India. Demography 51, 2307–2332 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-014-0319-4

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Keywords

  • Women’s Status
  • India
  • Women’s labor force participation
  • Sex differences in mortality