Gender Equality & Inequality in Rural India. Blessed with a Son.

Gender Equality & Inequality in Rural India

By Carol Vlassoff

This book focuses on son preference in rural India from an in-depth perspective spanning three study periods (1975-76, 1987 and 2007-08). It examines to what extent economic development has resulted in positive changes in women’s empowerment. This question is highly relevant today as India strives to improve overall social and economic conditions and gender relations through policies such as abolishing dowry, increasing the legal age at marriage and promoting educational opportunities for girls. Yet India is falling behind on key commitments, including the Millennium Development Goal targets, and ranked 105th out of 135 countries in the gender equality indicators cited in the Global Gender Gap Report of the 2012 World Economic Forum.

This study took place in a village in rural Maharashtra where impressive gains in economic development had occurred in recent decades, including the transformation of agriculture from subsistence to cash crops. Its favorable economic environment, coupled with progressive public policies, made this community an appropriate setting to examine how the traditional preference for sons was affected by these positive influences.

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Excerpts from Gender Equality & Inequality in Rural India. Blessed with a Son.

As one approaches the Krishna river from Limb, Gove looks serene and inviting, rising gently on the opposite bank behind the 300 year old Sri Koteshwar temple situated on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the river. The Maruti temple beside the river is nestled under a sprawling banyan tree where Gove elders rest during the day. To its right, Koteshwar Road, bordered by houses on both sides and an occasional shop, ascends from the river to the village centre.


“The broad thesis [of the book]… is that, despite economic development, progress in the area of gender equality has fallen markedly behind. Son preference continues to dominate reproductive choices, as well as the social and economic fabric of the community. This [is] illustrated by interviews with … respondents of different gender and age composition on issues related to son preference and how it has affected reproductive choices and behaviour, issues of inheritance and land holdings, gender differences in the achievements and aspirations of unmarried adolescent youth, and the situation of widows, focusing on the support they receive from sons and brothers. [The last chapter] draws together the conclusions of the study and their implications for policy change in rural India, and ends with practical recommendations to redress gender inequalities in India.”

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Help the Economy: Empower the Women

By Carol Vlassoff

This article was originally published on populationconnection.org.

Carol VlassoffAt a time when women are nearly half of our workforce, among our most skilled workers, are the primary breadwinners in more families than ever before, anything that makes life harder for women makes life harder for families and makes life harder for children. When women succeed, America succeeds, so there’s no such thing as a women’s issue.

These words, spoken by President Obama in an interview with CNN preceding the White House Summit on Working Families on June 23, remind us that, even in the US, where women are outperforming men in high school, college, and graduate school completion, there are still challenges to their success on the job.

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The Indian Health Paradox: Lessons from Bangladesh

This article was originally published in Medical Journal of Dr. D.Y. Patil University | July-August 2014 | Vol 7 | Issue 4

Download the PDF Here.

By Carol Vlassoff

The editorial entitled, The Indian health paradox: Lessons from Bangladesh, highlights an apparent contradiction in India’s growth story: That improvement in the nation’s health has not been commensurate with its economic growth. It notes that, while India is faring well in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, it performs poorly in health indicators such as life expectancy at birth, infant and child mortality, access to sanitation, and child nutrition and immunization. Bangladesh, by contrast, while one of the world’s poorest countries with a per capita GDP of half that of India, is faring much better than India in terms of health indicators.

The author sees this paradox as rooted in gender equality, in which Bangladesh also outperforms India. Females are better represented in the labor force than in India, they have higher literacy and school enrolment and their representation in parliament is also more. As the editorial notes, all these indicators are powerful measures of women’s empowerment.

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Carol is featured in the IDRC Alumni Bulletin

As India strives to improve overall social and economic conditions and gender relations through policies such as the abolishment of dowry, increasing the legal age at marriage, and promoting educational opportunities for girls, serious challenges remain, especially in rural areas. Gender Equality and Inequality in Rural India focuses on the extent to which economic development has resulted in positive changes in women’s empowerment and reproductive health, as well as in sex preference.

Download the IDRC Alumni Bulletin May 2014



Book Review in Medical Journal of Dr. D.Y. Patil University

By Dr. Amitav Banerjee
Department of Community Medicine, Padmashree Dr. D Y Patil Medical College, Hospital and Research Centre, Dr. D Y Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune, India

Published in Medical Journal of Dr. D.Y. Patil University | July-August 2014 | Vol 7 | Issue 4

Download the PDF here.

The book begins with a beautiful quote by Rabindranath Tagore, “The traveller has to knock at every alien door to come to his own, and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end.”

Reading further, the reader soon realizes that the author has walked the talk.

Carol Vlassoff first visited India at the age of 27 years. Her first visit to the country in 1971 was not a very pleasant experience as it was during the Indo — Pak war and people were suspicious of foreigners, sometimes even mistaking her and her companion for Pakistan nationals.
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Times of India Interview with Carol

This article was originally published in TimesofIndia.com, on April 14, 2014.

EXPERT EYE: Kanchan Gogate reports

Demographically speaking

On her tour to India, Carol Vlassoff, adjunct professor, Department of Epidemiology and Community Medicine, University of Ottawa, Canada, talks about her research in rural India and career avenues in demography and allied fields.

Intrigued by India’s vast demography and cultural diversity, Carol Vlassoff, adjunct professor, Department of Epidemiology and Community Medicine, University of Ottawa, Canada conducted a detailed research about gender preferences in Gove, a small village in Satara district of Western Maharashtra. With a long career in international development and having worked with The World Health Organisation as a women health specialist, Carol feels that India provides a vast scope for career in demographics and allied fields.

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महाराष्ट्रात आजही लिंगभेद कायम

Originally published in Lokmat Times, March 22 2014, page 2.

पुणे : ”महाराष्ट्रात वैविध्यता आहे..पण पुरूष आणि महिला यांना समान वागणूक मिळत नाही. ३७ वर्षापूर्वी मी एका गावातून अभ्यासास सुरूवात केली. तेव्हा लिंगभेद आणि वंशाचा दिवा म्हणून मुलगाच हवा, मुलगी नको, हा भेदभाव मोठया प्रमाणात होता. काळाच्या ओघात मुलाचा होणारा हट्ट काही प्रमाणात कमी झाला पण आजही महाराष्ट्रात लिंगभेद कायम आहे. हा भेद थोडाही कमी झालेला नाही,” हा शब्दावत अनुभव आहे कॅनडातून येवून महाराष्ट्रात गेली ३७ वष्रे अभ्यास करणार्‍या डॉ. कॅरोल वॉलसोफ यांचा.

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More Published Articles by Carol

The Indian Health Paradox: Lessons from Bangladesh

Medical Journal of Dr. D.Y. Patil University.  July-August 2014;  7( 4): 413-414.

The Value of Sons in an Indian Village: How Widows See It

Population Studies: A Journal of Demography.  1990; 44(1): 5-20.

HIV-related Stigma in Rural and Tribal Communities of Maharashtra, India

Journal of Health, Population, and Nutrition. 2012, December; 30(4): 394-403. International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh.

Old Age Security and the Utility of Children in Rural India

Population Studies: A Journal of Demography. 1980; 34(3): 487-499.

Progress and Stagnation: Changes in Fertility and Women’s Position in an Indian Village

Population Studies: A Journal of Demography. 1992; 46(2): 195-212.

Gender Differences in Determinants and Consequences of Health and Illness

Journal of Health, Population, and Nutrition. 2007, March; 25(1): 47-61. International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh.

A Question Module for Assessing Community Stigma Towards HIV in Rural India

Journal of Biosocial Science. 2013, May;  45(3): 359-374. Cambridge University Press.

Desire for Sons and Subsequent Fertility in Rural India. A 20-Year Longitudinal Study

Journal of Biosocial Science. 2012, May;  44(3): 345-356. Cambridge University Press.

Misreporting in Rural Fertility Data: An Analysis of Husband–Wife Disagreement

Journal of Biosocial Science. 1978, October;  10(4): 437-444. Cambridge University Press.

Gender Relations and Education of Girls in Two Indian Communities: Implications for Decisions About Childbearing

Reproductive Health Matters. 1997, November; 5(10): 139-150. Science Direct.

Application of Qualitative Methods to Health and Biomedical Research

 Medical Journal of  D. Y. Patil University. 2012; 5(2): 93-96

Against the Odds: The Changing Impact of Schooling on Female Autonomy and Fertility in an Indian Village

Girls’ Schooling, Women’s Autonomy and Fertility Change in South Asia, edited by Roger Jeffery and Alaka M. Basu. 1996: 218-234. Sage Publications, New Delhi, India.