K. Kalpana


Since the 1980s and 1990s, there has been growing global recognition and endorsement of women as economic actors whose income-earning activities contribute to the survival and livelihood security of impoverished households and communities in many parts of the developing world. Women’s economic contribution is considered particularly valuable when population groups living below the income-poverty line have struggled to cope with the adverse social effects of neo-liberal economic reforms. Given this backdrop, the aim of this study is to examine closely women’s experience of laboring in the lower end of the informal labor sector, their workspace negotiations and conditions of labor, and to assess the significance of women’s work to the survival and well-being of their households. The paper focuses on a case study of home and neighbourhood-based food production units in order to show how women’s labor in these units is shaped by the intersecting dynamics of household patriarchies on the one hand and the profit maximizing ends of private capital, on the other. Primary data was gathered through interviews and focus group discussions with women workers and owners of these units located in the working class and industrial belt of North Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The paper argues that there has been an excessive responsibilizing of the women who work long hours in unregulated workspaces and feed and care for their families, often in the face of male disengagement from supporting the household. While aid agencies and national governments valorize women for their efficiency in ‘managing’ household poverty and sustaining fragile livelihoods with skill and ingenuity, this study foregrounds the gender-unjust implications of vesting poor women with the prime responsibility for alleviating global poverty.

Note on the Author

K. Kalpana is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, Chennai. Kalpana’s research interests include gender, poverty, women’s labor and microcredit.