Marriage, well-being, and agency among women
In a slum in Delhi, married women’s sense of well-being is based on their everyday experience of sexuality, motherhood, and work. While they may not be deliriously happy or content in their lives as married women, they attain respectability and status through marriage and childbearing, and exercise agency in speaking out against the oppressive conditions or abuse they may experience in their marriage. Marriage is essential to their sense of self-worth, and having a fully functioning body is essential to their role as wife and mother. Although women take control over their reproductive and related health, often against the advice of their husbands, they are unable to challenge patriarchal control over their sexuality. Woman’s embodiment is rarely experienced for pleasure or joy; the body is an instrument for survival. Women’s bodies are weapons used to survive a harsh everyday life in a world that is ordered by relations of gender inequality and economic necessity. 1 A longer version of this paper was presented at the Townsville International Women’s Conference at James Cook University, Townsville, Australia, 3-7 July, 2002. An earlier version was presented at the Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformations Studies (CAPSTRANS), University of Wollongong, Australia in September 2001. I thank the organisers for inviting me, and participants for their very useful suggestions and feedback. I especially thank TNM for reading a draft and offering friendly advice, and Niraja Gopal Jayal for her detailed and meticulous comments on the paper. I am indebted to the Institute of Advanced Studies in Education at the Department of Education, University of Delhi, which provided me with the funds and facilities to conduct fieldwork in a slum in north-western Delhi during 2001-2. I am very grateful to Rachna Singh who helped me conduct fieldwork in the initial stages of the project, and to Malini Mittal, a reflective research assistant, sensitive fieldworker, and excellent sounding-board for incomplete thoughts and ideas, who provided me with assistance and support for a very short period but whose input into this project is invaluable. Above all, I remain indebted to all the women who agreed to be interviewed and spent several hours of their time talking to us in their homes.
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