Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 30, November 2012

Sita's Virtue, Streedharma and Shakti:
Politics of Gender in Rural Fiji Indian Society

Priya Chattier

  1. The discussions in this paper derive from my doctoral thesis which examined the relationship between poverty and intra- and extra-household relations by contextualising the experiences of women who took part in the study with historical, religious, socio-economic and comparative literature on Fiji. Ethnographic research was undertaken with eighteen women from rural Indian households from February till May 2003 and follow-up interviews were held in August and September 2004. My field site was on the island of Vanua Levu in the northern division of Fiji Islands. This study outlined the major methodological and conceptual challenges to understanding poverty in Fiji from a gender perspective using Amartya Sen's capability approach.[1] My thesis explored how although women may experience gendered poverty, they never fail to utilise their capacities for agency in their daily struggles of survival and struggle against poverty and patriarchy.
  2. This paper examines the complex nature of women's agency in the operationalisation of their well-being and how this inevitably rests upon the 'messy realities'[2] of rural Fiji Indian women's experiences of poverty. My goal, however, is more than to provide an anthropological account of women's lived experiences; it is also to make this material speak back to notions of freedom and agency. My aim in this paper is to show that the version of agency forged by the women in this study is one that cannot be confined to the liberal notion of freedom but more on the capacity of users to utilise and re-utilise that which is given, and to put it to fresh and innovative uses. The examples given below are illustrative and relate primarily to women's efforts, either individually or collectively, in pursuing creative ways and seeking multiple strategies against their subordination and inequality both inside and outside the household so as to strengthen their position and to guard against their vulnerability to poverty. Women's lived experiences will highlight the ways in which the dominant patriarchal discourses and women's capacities can co-exist and how the contextual play between these conflicting manifestations of personhood are constantly challenged, but the established order is also reinstated.
  3. This contextual play entails different aspects of women's subjectivity developed within the socio-economic and structural constraints of an Indian society, and women in this account may emerge as rational beings with a developed sense of where their best interests lie. For example, the trope of being a good wife (i.e. devotion to duty and self-sacrifice) embodying Sita's virtue and Streedharmaare redolent with moral affirmation through which women often derive a sense of social worth.[3] It is argued that women may make 'patriarchal bargains' in expectation of rewards for good behavior, but this gives little space for women freely making decisions about their own lives.[4] I suggest that Fiji Indian women in rural settings can engage both with the hegemonic cultural models and with a range of other versions of their experience embracing Shakti which shapes contention and negotiation over gender power and control.
  4. I have found insights offered by poststructuralist theorists into power and the constitution of the subject particularly useful in analysing rural Fiji Indian women's agency and well-being choices in the context of this study. Germane to this formulation is the reconceptualisation of power and subject formation which encourages us to understand agency not simply as a synonym for resistance to relations of domination, but as capacity for action that specific relations of subordination enable and create. In following Michel Foucault, the feminist theorist Judith Butler calls this the paradox of subjectivation (assujetissemen), insomuch as the very processes and conditions that secure a subject's subordination are also the means by which she becomes a self-conscious identity and agent.[5] This conceptualisation will enable us to explore whether or not participants in this study also become the willing subjects of a particular discourse whilst trying to resist patriarchal demands by evaluating the costs and benefits involved. Importantly, to understand agency in this manner is neither to invoke a self-constituting autonomous subject nor subjectivity as a private space of cultivation. Rather, it draws our attention to the specific ways in which one performs a certain number of operations on one's thoughts, body, conduct, ways of being, in order to 'attain a certain kind of state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or impartiality' in accord with a particular discursive tradition.[6]
  5. Drawing on Butler's argument, it is important to point out that this study departs from her work insofar as it urges us to consider the agency of my participants: (a) more in terms of capabilities and skills required to undertake particular acts (of which resistance to a particular set of relations of dominations is one kind of an act); and (b) as bound with the historically and culturally specific discourses through which a subject is formed. Despite Butler's acknowledgment at times that agency is not to be conceptualised as 'always and only opposed to power,' her theorisation of agency (as much as her demonstrations of it) are almost always derived from, and directed at, the articulation of resistance to social norms and the subordination of functions of power.[7] Agency, in Butler's work is largely thought of in terms of the capacity to subvert norms (especially heterosexual norms).[8] Therefore, as useful as many of the studies on resistance[9] and resistance in the context of intra and extra (household) relations[10] are to this study, I take to heart at Lila Abu-Lughod's[11] caution against the 'romance of resistance' and second Sherry B. Ortner's[12] conclusion that there is no such thing as pure resistance; motivations are always complex and contradictory (see also earlier studies).[13] Hence, I find Arlene MacLeod's[14] work helpful in conceptualising women's agency in this study. She notes that women:

      Even as subordinate players play an active part that goes beyond the dichotomy of victimisation/acceptance, a dichotomy that flattens out a complex and ambiguous agency in which women, accept, accommodate, ignore, resist or protest- sometimes all at the same time.

    Such a nuanced understanding of agency will enable me to explore the multiplicity of motivations behind my participants' actions.

    Patriarchal discourses: construction of 'passive' femininities

    A Historical Account
  6. In order to have a better understanding of the present Indian social structure and position of women, it is imperative to know the operation of various historical, political, cultural and economic factors. The experience of indenture had a profound impact on discourses of ideal Indian womanhood in Fiji Indian society.[15] In providing a brief historical account of indenture in Fiji, I will illustrate the patterns and processes of change by focusing on the caste system, marriage and gender relations.
  7. The period of indenture during the late 1800s had a profound effect on both caste[16] and regional differences which had existed in the lives of the girmitiyas (indentured labourers) in India. The voyage across the kala panis (black sea) to Fiji as well as the experience of indentured life on sugar plantations in Fiji undermined regional differences and other social divisions of caste.[17] Indenture dealt a mortal blow to the caste system as a social institution of practical relevance in the everyday life of the migrants, although vague notions of distinction and difference survived. Each girmitiya was individually contracted to the plantation, and was paid according to the amount of work he or she accomplished, not according to social status. Moreover, most immigrants were young and illiterate and unaware of the rituals and ceremonies associated with the caste system. The disproportionate sex ratio on the plantations produced cross-caste marriages and breaches of caste rules could not be punished. As Chandra Jayawardena stated, culture and religion rather than caste became the basis of identity in the new Fiji Indian community.[18] Brij Lal also pointed out how, during the indenture and migration of Indians to Fiji, men and women of different ages, different social, economic and religious backgrounds, often speaking a variety of mutually incomprehensible languages, with contrasting expectations of life, met and mingled and out of this interaction emerged a new culture.[19] It is imperative to state that while a unique Indian culture was formed through the indenture journey of many Indians who settled in Fiji, many of these families still hold strong ties to their religious affiliations (either Hinduism or Islam) that continue to exert influence on their lived realities.
  8. The institution of marriage also suffered during indenture. The massive disparity in numbers that existed between female and male indentured labourers during the period of the girmit (indenture) meant that intermarriage between the various castes was common and this further broke down caste divisions.[20] Other Indians, however, who did not emigrate under indenture, have generally retained their caste identity especially when it came in relation to marriage, for example the Gujerati community.[21] Traditionally, marriages took place within a narrow, restricted circle prescribed by custom. But these were difficult to maintain on the plantations because the crowded conditions meant that there was no privacy, and close proximity between the houses of the unmarried and the married encouraged illicit relationships. Furthermore, marriages conducted according to Hindu and Muslim customs—the only ones the immigrants knew—were not recognised in colonial law and this encouraged the unscrupulous and the criminally opportunistic to exploit the situation to their advantage, disavowing relationships and obligations when it suited them.[22] For instance, Lal noted how the practice of some fathers 'selling' their daughters to several prospective husbands for financial gain became a major source of tension in the coolie lines.[23] On the whole, the plantation system undermined a stable family life—but not completely, for marriages continued to take place and families were raised after indenture had ended.[24]
  9. Insofar as gender relations during indenture were concerned, men evaluated women's roles on the plantations in stereotypes and often labelled them as 'immoral' and 'socially unredeemable'.[25] Some measured them against the ideal of Sita, the paragon of Hindu womanhood, who gave up everything to accompany her husband, Lord Rama, into exile. The ideal Indian woman accepted her fate without complaint, glorified the virtues of motherhood, deferred to male authority and, above all, worshipped her husband. The discourse on Indian women was couched within the Hindu religious beliefs and religion remained central to girmitiya life. John Kelly notes that the Ramayan Epic was used as an analogy for indenture as the labourers felt sentenced to exile like Lord Rama, (and Sita his devoted wife who went with him), who underwent terrible hardships and loss of social status.[26] Ravan who was evil and kidnapped Sita symbolised the Europeans and their abuse of Indian women. On the plantations, men sought to reassert the patriarchal structure of Indian society, wanting to own the means of production as well as the labour of women. Lal noted that Indian men failed to appreciate that emigration and indenture had dramatically restructured women's positions and thence their relationship with men.[27] In fact women were employed on the plantations as individuals in their own right. Control over their own hard-earned income gave them a measure of power as well as economic and social independence. If circumstances demanded, they left their husbands when their life became constantly embroiled in tension and torment or was otherwise endangered. As Margaret Mishra noted, indentured women like Kunti, Sukhrani and Nairani were articulate and in many instances, fearless, as they challenged their exploitation in the 1920s.[28] Indentured women who were prostitutes were frequently stigmatised by society on the basis of sexual activity. When indentured women demonstrated such individualised choices, it was often seen as disrespectful to marriage, family and other institutions of the Indian society. As Shireen Lateef pointed out, 'during indenture women has access to an independent income, meagre though it was, they were not economically dependent on their fathers, brothers or husbands.'[29] After the 1920s the tendency was to withdraw women from agricultural work and confine them to the domestic sphere. In other words, women began to adopt and perpetuate stereotypes of femininity restored to them by patriarchal (Indian) religious and cultural discourses. As I say this, I accept that Fiji Indian women did not consciously 'become' feminine. Rather, their conceptions of womanhood were refashioned by the post-indenture contemporary context. Lateef has put it in these terms:

      With the reestablishment of the family after indenture, greater controls were imposed on women by men especially control over female sexuality.… This factor worked to the detriment of women in the long run as the reestablishment of the family not only meant imposition of traditional power relations between men and women but also more stringent controls were placed on women.[30]

    These historical developments of gender relations during the indenture period need to be understood in the light of traditional Indian discourses which theorise notions of femininities and patriarchal power relations in contemporary Fiji Indian society.

    Understanding the 'ideal' of Indian womanhood
  10. The discourses of Indian women's femininity and sexuality have their historical roots in ancient and modern India. The ideal of Indian womanhood espoused in the feminine as self-sacrificing and subordinate and through heterosexual identity in various roles will be explored through Indian mythologies and religious texts. Because the research participants in this study were Hindu, I will concentrate on the legitimating mechanism of Hindu religious ideologies and mythologies in understandings of gender relations in contemporary Fiji. Muslims and Christians constitute a small percentage of the Fiji Indian population, while a significant number of Indians in Fiji identify as Hindus and follow Hindu values.[31] The feminine identities available to Indian women in Fiji today resonate with those scripted by Hindu discourses.
  11. Traditional discourses on Indian women's womanhood constitute women's sexual identities in terms such as pure and impure and good and bad. Mythological characters like Sita and Savitri in the great epics of India such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are prized as embodying ideals to which real women should aspire. Chaste, puritanical, self-sacrificing, faithful and submissive, the characters of Sita and Savitri epitomise a concept of womanhood that constitutes the kind of passive feminine identity which Indian women are socialised to embrace in a patriarchal culture. The following observations on the 'ideal' Indian woman dating from the Vedic period enjoin the strict control of women:

      Women remain chaste only as long as they are not in a deserted place and do not get the chance to be acquainted with any man. That is why it is necessary that respectable women should be always guarded by friends [Siva Purana].[32]

      Women should never do things which give displeasure to their husbands. Sacrificing her own self, she should devote herself to the welfare of her husband [Mahabharata].[33]

  12. What is pertinent to the discussion in this paper is the way ideals of devotion are applied to the relationship between husband and wife. Of particular importance is the notion that women should live their lives privileging concepts such as devotion, dharma (moral and religious duty) and chastity for themselves. The relationship between Sita and Rama can on one level be interpreted as devotee (Sita) and god (Rama), but they also embody the ideal married couple. The Ramayana stresses the feminine orientation of streedharma with its emphasis on loyalty, chastity, docility and humility. Streedharma is often regarded as the path of virtue for the ideal woman (imagined as a wife). Sita is often regarded as the epitome of streedharma and the ideal Hindu wife.[34] Here, the notions of honour, shame, purity, pollution, chastity, sexual repression and the value of virginity, and purdah, play important roles in controlling women and regulating their sexuality.[35] Purdah ideology is embodied in practices of avoidance in interaction with men, although the specification of which men and in which social contexts varies across groups and communities in Fiji. Veiling is the most visible aspect of purdah but the norms vary between Muslim and Hindu communities in Fiji.[36] For example, Muslim women in patrilineal societies like that in Fiji are expected, from soon after puberty, to veil before all men defined as outsiders (strangers, distant relatives) but usually not before near kin, close family and friends defined as descent males. In contrast, a Hindu woman in Fiji is usually required to veil only in the presence of older male affines. Overall, the range of men before whom women are expected to veil themselves is narrower among Hindus than Muslims in Fiji. In this context the veil functions as a subverted symbol of female power and strength and not one of passivity and obedience. More precisely, Fiji Indian women wore veils to show that they were women (and they were different from men) but at the same time they highlighted that for them an important part of womanhood was being articulate and forthright. Common practices embodying veiling in this instance are associated with the principles of avoidance in interaction with men. The rationalisation for this avoidance through veiling is cloaked in terms of izzat (family and personal honour), female chastity, modesty and the control of female sexuality. In fact, observance of veiling is often seen as maintaining the izzat related to woman's standing within one's family and the family's standing in the community.
  13. However, Hinduism embraces contradictory images of femaleness. On the one hand, the Indian woman can be pure, benign, creative, an ally and a goddess and on the other hand, she can be impure, sinister, destructive, an opponent and a witch.[37] These opposed characteristics generate combinations which produce positive figures of Indian women such as a faithful wife, sacrificing mother, dutiful daughter, pure virgin or, in contrast, negative characterisations such as impure woman, selfish wife or mother, disobedient daughter and so on. In ancient Hindu mythology the symbolism and iconography relating to the themes of the feminine range over a wider variety of moods, powers and roles. Thus, mythology presents not only Sita who is an epitome of unquestioning surrender and sacrifice, but also Saraswati (Goddess of pearning), Durga (Goddess of protection and power), Kali (Goddess of power) and Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth).
  14. The contradictory notion of female power in Indian mythologies and philosophies has had serious implications both in the general perception of women in Indian society and the rationale for their social control. Goddesses such as Lakshmi (Goddess of Fortune), Kali (Goddess of Power), Durga and Chandi> in Indian mythologies are endowed with infinite and boundless power.[38] As Rudra explains: 'in the Shakti cult the supreme divine power is conceived of as a woman, either as the benign and radiant Durga; or as the formidable Chandi, killing Asuras (Demons); or as the dark, terrible, blood-thirsty goddess Kali, adorned with garlands of severed heads and arms, standing on the prostate figure of Lord Siva'.[39] Two facets of the conception of femaleness are: first, femaleness is shakti (energy/power) and, second, femaleness is also prakriti (nature).[40] Fusing these two aspects of femaleness, women embody both energy and nature. For example, Susan S. Wadley suggests that the principle of Shakti (divine power) reflects the characteristics of the 'female as both benevolent, fertile bestower and malevolent, aggressive destroyer.'[41] Similarly, in the case of the Mukkuvars in South India and the worship of female divinities, women exercise powers as healers and are possessed devotees of the saints and spirits.[42] For Kalpana Ram, this religious culture acknowledges the special nature of female activities in Mukkuvar society that expresses complex and ambivalent conceptions of femininity as both forceful and potentially damaging to patriarchal control. Here too, women command important resources, and are at one 'valorised and feared,' rather than seen as one-dimensional adjuncts to dominant male value systems.[43] This is the basis of the contradiction of women's/goddesses' positioning within Hindu thought as both malevolent destroyers and benevolent fertile bestowers. Because of the conception of women as 'nature' boundless and wild, shakti in women entails a danger which Brahmin-inspired Hindu philosophy has sought to tame as something less potent.[44] In Hindu ideologies, women's uncultured power necessitates the need for strict control of women and the need to contain their power.
  15. The Shakti legacy has implications for Hindu culture in terms of their portrayal of women as 'dangerously powerful.'[45] Hence, in Indian societies, there is both necessity and compulsion for men to constrain women due to women's perceived incapacity to control their own powers. It is important to note, as Joanna Liddle and Rama Joshi point out, male control of women is justified not because women were seen as too weak to control their power but because women's shakti is too great, too immense, too vast for her to contain.[46] Thus, the values underlying the dual character of women seem to have been successful in creating a myth that Indian women possess power, although this may or may not be practical for women in this study. While the concept of Shakti remains shrouded in ambiguity, it turns out to be a very valuable concept for explorations of female agency informing feminist theory and debate as will be discussed below.

    Religious influences in a contemporary rural context
  16. I have already noted the importance of mythological characters like Sita and Savitri in Hindu religion being identified as 'ideals' of Indian womanhood. Here I will further explore these religious ideals in relation to notions of family and intra-household relations; particularly as Hindu religion is an integral part of life for many Indian women and especially those who participated in this research. Hindu teachings have permeated daily life, folklore and popular culture to become an essential part of Fiji Indian Hindu identity. As noted by Lateef, 'sacred ideals and stereotyped female images are transformed and internalized through ritual, festive occasions, song, popular literature, folk tradition, Hindi films and the dramatization of the great Hindu epics.[47] Participants in this research followed Sanatan Dharma and participated regularly in Ramayana prayer meetings that were rotated on a weekly basis around a group of households.[48] During my fieldwork, I attended several of these prayer meetings and saadi (weddings) as well as major Hindu festivals like Holi and Ram Naumi. The story of Rama and Sita is well known to most Hindus in Fiji and is enacted yearly, with greater or lesser splendour, in villages and cities all over the country. Sita's qualities are often praised in devotional songs and her name is synonymous with purity, patience and self-sacrifice.[49] Thus, the salvation and happiness of Indian women revolve around their virtue and chastity as daughters, wives and widows. These themes are not only found in ancient Sanskrit laws; they constantly reappear in Hindi cinema. For example, stanzas from devotional songs are evident in Bollywood films like Agni Pariksha (1989), Lakshmi (1982), Mangalsutra (1981), Pati Pameshwar (1989) and Saajan ka Ghar (1994), where the status of Indian women are depicted as good wives taking pride in being the best custodians of norms associated with Indian womanhood. However, it is useful to explore how such ideal images of Hindu women have symbolic ramification in the lives of actual Indian women in contemporary Fiji.
  17. The enormous influence religion has had in the shaping of the concept of womanhood and the duties of a wife can hardly be stressed enough. Each of the women associated with this study found that the ideals attached to the 'Sita' image and societal expectations can never be fully achieved in reality. In keeping up this image, Sangita[50] said: 'I cannot leave my husband but am happy with him … then izzat bhi bana rahi (more social status and honour in the community for not leaving her husband's house).' But she further stated:

      Ramayana is a very big thing because it tells us about a wife and husband. Sita was a typical Indian wife who followed duties of a good wife and Ram was a responsible husband and no man in this world could become like Ram not even my husband. [The] Ramayana tell us about Sita's sacrifice and how she sticks by her aurat dharma [wifely duties] and she didn't leave her husband in difficult times.

  18. Sangita thinks that one cannot find a person like Sita in real life, nor Ram (who was known for being a good husband): 'For this reason, I did not leave my husband when we face so much poverty after he became injured. I could have left him for another man but I am an Indian wife because I married my husband.' Maya also identified herself as a loyal and obedient wife: 'I am an Indian wife who always follows what Sita did … she always listens to her husband Ram and not argue with him.' She also stated: 'it feels right to listen to my husband and what he say … then I have more respect if I listen to him and not argue with him.' For Karuna marital obedience has always meant that her husband has 'more say' in the house than her because 'he is the husband and I am only the wife ... as in our Hindu dharma I always have to follow my duties as an Indian wife … this is what [the] pundit (priest) say in my marriage ceremony.' Hesitantly, she said 'if it wasn't for the Hindu dharma of marriage I would have left my husband long time ago … but as an Indian wife I have to live according to my dharma.'
  19. Hence the image of Sita presents Hindu women's own idealised perceptions of themselves and the problems they experience. For example, Sukh Dai stated 'I had to work hard on the farm with my husband, like Sita did when she followed her husband Rama during their hard times in the forests.' Religion plays a leading role in the way it constructs patrilineal ideology and gendered identities. Savita commented that 'I got married into a poor family—no matter what, I have to stay with my husband even though he is poor. Indian women have to be like Sita; that is live with their husbands in good and bad times.' Maya also stated that 'if you compare Ramayana to my life, then the hardships of my life are more than what Sita had to go through. I had a hard life after marriage. At my mother's house I was loved by all, but at my in-laws house I have only suffered in poverty and had bad names.' While Sita is the impossibly perfect model embodying the contradictory values of Hinduism, women in this study were still involved with rituals and texts concerning Sita. Total devotion, respect, obedience and service to husbands are viewed as the main functions of wives.
  20. It would be a mistake to see religious and cultural norms, practices and identities as nothing more than expressions of oppressive power, discounting the meaning that these phenomena have for women who enact them. I found that participants seldom neglected the many norms associated with the attributes of their personal identities as good 'Hindu wives'; norms that structure paramount social relations in the household and in the community. For example, Paaru continues to live with her abusive and irresponsible husband because she feels she is socio-economically secure in her marriage and in the community. There were a number of occasions when the participants mentioned why it was better for them to stay with their husband and his kin and not leave him to stay with their natal family or other men because of the respect and well-being attached to their marital status not just in the husband's community but also in their natal kin. Hence, deeply-entrenched rules, norms and practices which shape social relations within the household and outside influence women's behaviour, define values and shape choices. Participants were given greater respect within their community for conforming to the norms of a 'dutiful' wife and 'self-sacrificing' mother. Sativta embedded in religio-cultural notions of femininity is, in fact, deployed by these women to halt losses, as a way of trying to generate some value. What is interesting about my research participants is that despite their disadvantaged positions within the household, these women continued to hold onto the religio-cultural values of sativta with an understanding that a portrayal of outright personal independence from their family and community may further disadvantage their well-being in the long run. Women in this study stated that they may not be happy or content in their lives as married women, however, they attain respectability and status through marriage and childbearing. Lateef noted that familial ideology is reinforced by the higher status of married women over unmarried women, women with children over childless women, women with sons over those without sons, and older women over younger women.[51]
  21. Furthermore, the weekly religious meetings provided my participants with not only an opportunity to appropriate religious values of respect and obedience to their own advantage but also provided a 'female public forum' where women could realise their self-worth independently of their relations to their husband and kin. First, Mahila Mandal provided an avenue for women to perform religious practices and activities while formulating assessments of not only their own worth, character and competence but also that of their husbands and men in general.[52] For example, the mythological character of Rama as a responsible husband and provider is always used to ridicule their own men, especially with regards to alcohol abuse, extra-marital affairs and domestic violence. Women also colluded to hide knowledge from men. For example, they cover for each other in minor matters, like secret trips to town, visits to friends and relatives and there's also a lot of joking and ridiculing of men that takes place and their manifest behaviour takes a very different form where a lot of joking and ridiculing against men takes place. In fact, women carry out the expected and approved ritual routines like reading and interpreting the Ramayana with hymns and songs but add to them their own emphasis and meanings, thus redefining both their sense of self and their understandings of the religious discourse. Women's resistant thinking and interpretation of the Ramayana in their women's-only group can be interpreted as a space where participants legitimately 'let off steam' and acquire a breathing space whilst upholding culturally sanctioned values of sativta.
  22. Second, participation in Mahila Mandal and its associated activities becomes a matter of respect, honour, recognition and Shakti (power) in the community. For example, Sangita feels proud of the fact that with a little education she is able to keep good relations with other women in the village through her skills in 'preaching' about Hindu religion and Ramayana during the weekly meetings. Sangita told me that: 'when I read and tell the story from the Ramayana women in the village respect me and I feel I have Shakti (power) to do things.' Similarly, Karuna feels proud that she is known among local women as 'a devotional singer and preacher' at the club. Women aspired to be the best and most dedicated singers, preachers, committee members, hostesses and donors. This forum not only promoted their visibility and recognition in the community but also allowed these women to move into a phase of network building, bargaining and negotiation. Geeta feels her participation in activities of Mahila Mandal secured her much help and assistance from the school committee when her husband died. For Savita, mingling with other women during the club activities presented a chance to network and advertise her tailoring enterprise. These meetings also provided women with some time-off for themselves. Kala Wati mentioned:

      I look forward to every Sunday because I meet other women and spend time with them. I don't worry about my house during this time. It is here that I get a chance to talk and make friends with other women in the village. It feels good when I talk with them. I also think at this meeting I am free and I don't worry what my husband will think or say. This is my Shakti space.

  23. The self-esteem and respect that women gain through their participation in these religious forums appear frequently as a vital step for women to improve their well-being. For example, the majority spoke of the pleasure and sense of well-being they gained from their beliefs and how this transferred into Shakti (the will to do and become powerful) in their everyday lives. In a sense, participants found subtle ways to manoeuvre around religio-cultural prescriptions by obscuring, redefining and re-directing their movements and activities in ways that maintain at least semblances of deference and obedience, while resisting and setting limits to their subordination.[53] This collective and relational self exercised by these women is a gendered self whose identity is framed by a moral vision of responsible and respectable Indian womanhood that encompasses patriarchal kinship, deference, honour, protection and provision.[54] Women's position is clearly subordinate. However, circumscribed power does not negate agency at least as agency is understood as formed and given meaning in a particular set of relationships within the context of religion and culture.
  24. As Urmila explains: 'Indian women are looked badly upon if they have too much freedom … like me, I work in town and people think I have bad character.' For Urmila, Indian women are required to be highly orthodox in their behaviour and mobility in order to gain respect. The notion of honour (izzat) and the potential to react in defence of one's honour emphasise the relational aspect of the self. Thus 'to lose face' means to be no longer able to live with an image of the self in harmony with others in the community. For Tara, social expectations border on the image of being 'perfect', that is she must 'not talk too much, not talk loudly to husband and in-laws, not go anywhere without asking for husband's permission, always stay home and look after children.' From these descriptions, it is apparent that women in this study are not only highly conscious of the images and norms of femininity that their culture promotes but they are also aware of the restrictions that this repressive notion of femininity imposes upon them. Participants were given greater respect within their community for conforming to its norms of a 'dutiful' wife and 'self-sacrificing' mother, and were penalised if they failed to conform. This notion of sativta entailing material benefits in the community is quite similar to Shanti Rozario's notion of purity used in the context of rural Bangladesh as a form of 'symbolic capital.'[55] Women maintain their status and honour so that it can be converted into social capital and thus enhance their material position. For example, Sadhana knows she would be better off materially by leaving her abusive husband, thus making her eligible for dependency allowance from the Social Welfare Department. But, on many occasions she recounted why she was not willing to take that chance because it was in her best interest to stay with her husband whilst gaining the respect and continued support from her community. This is not to say that women do not negotiate. They do, they bargain, negotiate and actively manage their gendered identity and relationships in their family and community. Prevailing discussions highlight this inextricable link between the system of honour and the relations of economic benefit that women employ as a bargaining strategy to fight against poverty.
  25. Some feminists have pointed out that the choices that a woman makes as an individual person are often shaped by her group identities in the family and/or community; and that these household/family relations eclipse the choices of duty, obligation, responsibility, self-respect, altruism as well as love and emotional attachment.[56] Nonetheless, these women are aware of how embodying sativta can enable their cultural values, aspirations and ideas of the good life. The principle of sacrifice can make a 'wasted life' seem worthwhile and through self-sacrifice women passively resist their oppressors by withholding themselves. Hence in explaining why such women accept the ideologies which in fact legitimise their subordination, I concur with Abu-Lughod's argument that voluntary deference to those in authority is the 'honourable mode of dependency.'[57] The above examples suggest that religious and cultural identities are not only forms of constraint and exclusionary power but also positive sources of meaning and affiliation. Total resistance, including the rejection of marriage and family structure may be a final option that women in this study adopt, but self-sacrifice in the context of a more overt form of struggle does offer women the capacity for compromise, negotiation and bargaining. The above examples demonstrate that participants do benefit from moral conformity and in large part 'honour' represents their negotiating strength to bargain within the community. This conundrum also suggests the potential for better understanding women's ambivalent agency at it intersects with social relations in the community and religio-cultural ideals of well-being.

    Gender and ambivalence: embracing shakti consciousness
  26. The everyday forms of Indian women's ambivalent agency described above poses a number of analytical dilemmas for this study. First, how might we develop theories that give these women credit for resisting the power of those who control so much of their lives? Second, how might we account for the fact that women in this study both resist and support the existing system of power in a variety of creative ways? Third, how can one imagine the politics of gender equality when situated within particular and diverse life worlds? In some ways, these questions outline the tension that attends the dual character of feminism as both an analytical and political project insomuch as no analytical undertaking is considered enough in and of itself unless it takes a position vis-à-vis the subordination of women. The argument I offer here has repercussions for the way we think about feminist politics. I have clearly not offered answers to the above questions, but simply suggested some of the directions necessary to pursue them in order to formulate a more insightful political judgement.
  27. In Fiji, as in other contexts, gender norms are ideological constructions[58]and therefore the observance of these norms grants status and prestige.[59] Marriage remains the only socially acceptable option for most Indian women in this study and working for an income does not alter the fact that a woman's primary source of security is the family, marital entitlements and social recognition within society. One reason why women take up such subject positions rather than others lies in their vested interests in being, for instance, a good mother and wife who conforms to male-defined injunctions.[60] However, women's unspoken resistance to this as confining and compromising needs to be analysed and understood in the context of their socio-economic realities and personal choices. The appearance of compliance can reflect a survival strategy stemming from the constraints on their ability to act overtly in pursuit of those interests. Of particular analytical interest to this study is taking account of such complexities and trade-offs in evaluations of women's well-being and their exercise of agency, which may represent tactical choices made by participants between different material, psychological, and symbolic aspects of well-being that are of value to them.
  28. There are two contrasting standpoints of women who circumvent their vulnerability by envisaging a positive stance towards bringing change. Here, I explore the distinct narratives of selfhood invoked by two of my research participants, Paaru and Urmila. In analysing these two narratives, I argue that practising virtues of suffering and endurance which might not sit well with positive notions of freedom are nonetheless constitutive of women's agency in important ways. For Urmila, a woman needed to have a 'strong personality' and 'free will' in order to deal with poverty. For her, this meant acquiring self-esteem or self-confidence from her paid employment and her ability to feed her children. As she explained:

      My work makes me independent and I don't have to think what other people think of me. I think of my worth through my work and not in terms of marriage and men. I am good at tailoring and I am proud of my work at the garment factory. Where does sabr [roughly meaning to persevere in the face of difficulty without complaint] take you? Instead of helping you to improve your situation, it just makes you accept it as fate.

  29. In contrast, Paaru's advocacy lay in the cultivation of the virtue of sabr embodying sativta by living within the socio-cultural boundaries of the family and community.[61] For Paaru, the practice of sabr does not necessarily empower one to be immune from other's opinions but according to her, one undertakes the practice of sabr, first and foremost, because it is an essential attribute of a dutiful wife— an attribute to be practised regardless of the situation one faces. Rather than alleviating suffering, sabr allowed Paaru to bear and endure hardship and to be rewarded with both the admiration and socio-economic support of the entire community. Therefore, sabr in the sense described by Paaru represents not reluctance to act or docility but a site of considerable investment, struggle and achievement. Although Paaru and Urmila share similar conditions of poverty, they differ markedly in their respective engagements and pursued choices; each enacting a different modality of agency in the face of their situation. For instance, Paaru felt it was in her best interest to keep the 'patriarchal bargain'[62] of accepting compliance and dependence in exchange for protection, social legitimacy and economic and social support. Therefore, if the notion of agency could fully embrace the particular and divergent set of choices which the women in question value, it may become possible to reconcile my findings with my theoretical dispositions. Participants like Paaru, Sangita, Savita and others as discussed in the previous section who subscribed strictly to the values of sabr embodying sativta were also some of the most successful entrepreneurs in my sample because embracing such values meant more recognition and the social support of their family and community.
  30. What follows from this, I would contend, is that in approaching a feminist question of politics, we must begin with a set of fundamental questions about the conceptual relationship between the self and moral agency as constituted in different socio-cultural and political locations, and not hold one particular model to be axiomatic. I found that while my participants lacked the theoretical tools of a universalising feminist consciousness to resist systematic power dynamics and constraints that they faced, as individuals they were critical of gender relations of domination. In fact, one participant's own ideas of good life might differ from those of other participants from the same place. Taking seriously such differences among women implies that feminism 'must stop conceiving itself as a natural political destination for all women.'[63] I found that women's own understanding of their situation reflected diverse perspectives because while contesting gender relations in their everyday practices and struggles, rural Indian women in Fiji employed a combination of transformative thoughts and actions, such as resistance, self-expression, bargaining and/or negotiations and compliance. The way my participants played out their capacities for agency in the midst of their poverty and other structural constraints like kinship, gender and race relations and religio-cultural heritages have an important bearing on the way we conceptualise the notion of agency and well-being. In doing this, I propose a stance which acknowledges women's opportunities, recognition of their social and religious worth and ability to control their own lives even as agents of patriarchal control themselves.

    Concluding thoughts
  31. As a way of explaining the politics of gender among rural women in this study, I draw parallels between the discourse of feminism and the Hindu principle of shakti. The power of the shakti principle can generate insights into the possibilities of subversions and resistance by women as well as the possibility of salvaging control of their lives through conformity and compliance. The Hindu goddesses Kali (the Black One), Durga (the Goddess of Fortune), and Chandi who symbolise the shakti principle could also taken as role models by Hindu women in Fiji instead of just embracing the 'Sita' image. Is it a dual personality whereby the Sita image is portrayed most of the time while Shakti is employed subconsciously and strategically by women to suit their own interests and well-being? Women in this study employed different strategies and priorities when challenging their subordination. Nevertheless, the choice made by one may not have been the best choice for another or even a choice at all. Some may comply, while others decide to resist or simultaneously engage in both compliance and resistance. Women are alienated from forms of collective action because of their differing priorities, struggles and socio-economic contexts.
  32. Theorising rural Indian women's agency within the context of limited economic resources allows us to think beyond the dichotomies of poor women being oppressed by class and patriarchy on one hand and their agency on the other. Several points are useful in illustrating this process. First, when women extend gender dependency to self-presentation in terms of cultural ideals of the family and community, they create a normative space in which they can work and are thereby able to increase access to resources in the community. By embracing a certain self-image around women's submissiveness and sativta, the women in this study were able to increase their household income and resources. Women accommodated specific dimensions of gender identity—accepting some gender rules and redefining others—to better play the game in a way that is consistent with the core ideals around self in the family and community. I would describe this process as bending the narrative around gendered relations. The overall structure of gender relations ostensibly remains unchanged, yet within the constellation of ideas and values that compromise my participants' dependency on men, subtle shifts are taking place. Strategising religion through women's religious forums and the cultural ideals of Indian womanhood may appear to oppress women's agency and limit their range of choices. Yet, accommodating this particular dimension of agency provided my research participants access to networks, additional opportunities to interact with other women outside the household, and a significant buffer against poverty and hardship as well as family crisis.
  33. Second, integrating concepts of power and collective identity into theorising agency raises several questions with regard to theories of gender as negotiated in everyday interactions. This analysis helps to specify the processes through which integration occurs by illustrating the application of women's agency within the context of a collectively situated self, as well as specific sets of resources available outside of self and family. Those resources provide alternative cultural and material leverage that allow women to further bend the narrative around gender norms—adapting and modifying those that may limit women's lives. Thinking about gender from a perspective in which the collective and relational are more salient than the autonomous self opens up the possibility to reconsider concepts of gender. Such a reconsideration might lead toward a reassessment of the problems associated with conceptualising women as a collective,[64] as well as the meanings of gender as a collaborative and collective construction, rather than one negotiated in the individual interactions of women and men. Consistent with Jacquie Leckie's analysis of women in Fiji, a collective sense of gendered identity is central to women's sense of self and their understanding of decisions around family, kinship and womanhood because women's multiple roles through kinship, race and class relations may be a strength of their activism.[65] 'Woman' is a serial collective defined neither by any common identity nor by a common set of attributes that all the individuals in a group share but, rather, it names a set of structural constraints and relations that condition action and its meaning.[66] This requires feminists to acknowledge the self-politics of their own cultural standpoints and the potential limitations of feminism as an identity for all women at any given time. Examining these processes and relationships across cultures and class ought to help broaden our conceptualisations of agency, as well as our theories of gender in general—theories that ought to take into consideration the processes through which women draw on multiple and overlapping schemas and resources in the construction of collectively gendered and socially embedded selves.


    [1] Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom, New York: Knopf, 1999.

    [2] Amrita Chhachhi and Renee Ilene Pittin, 'Multiple identities, multiple strategies,' in Confronting State, Capital and Patriarchy: Women Organizing in the Process of Industrialization, ed. Amrita Chhachhi and Renee Ilene Pittin, New York: St. Martin Press, 1996, pp. 93–130.

    [3] Streedharma is a Hindu text on the ideal behaviour of women.

    [4] Deniz Kandiyoti, 'Bargaining with patriarchy,' in Gender and Society: Special Issue to Honor Jessie Bernard, vol. 2, no. 3 (1988): 274–90.

    [5] Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997; Michel Foucault, 'Truth and power,' in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, ed. Colin Gordon, New York: Pantheon Books, 1980, pp. 109 –33; Michel Foucault, 'Subject and power, 'in Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, ed. Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983, pp. 208–26.

    [6] Michel Foucault, 'Technologies of the self,' in Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984 (Vol. 1), ed. Paul Rabinow, New York: The New Press, 1997, pp. 223– 51.

    [7] Butler, The Physic Life, p. 17.

    [8] Butler, The Physic Life, p. 17.

    [9] Marc Pruyn, Discourse Wars in Gotham-West: A Latino Immigrant Urban Tale of Resistance and Agency, Boulder: Westview Press, 1999; James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985; James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

    [10] Bina Aggarwal, 'Gender, resistance, and land: interlinked struggles over resources and meanings in South Asia,' in Journal of Peasant Studies, vol. 22, no. 1 (1994): 81–125.

    [11] Lila Abu-Lughod, Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

    [12] Sherry B. Ortner, 'Resistance and the problem of ethnographic refusal,' in Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 37 (1995): 173–93.

    [13] Laura M. Ahearn, 'Agency,' in Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, vol. 9, no. 1 (2000): 9– 2; Michele Ruth Gamburd, The Kitchen Spoon's Handle: Transnationalism and Sri Lanka's Migrant Housemaids, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000; Jeffery Patricia and Basu Amrita, Appropriating Gender: Women's Activism and Politicized Religion in South Asia, New York: Routledge, 1998; Patricia Jeffery and Roger Jeffery, Don't Marry Me to a Plowman: Women's Everyday Lives in Rural North India, Boulder: Westview Press, 1996.

    [14] Arlene E. MacLeod, 'Hegemonic relations and gender resistance: the new veiling as accommodating protest in Cairo,' in Signs vol.17, no. 3 (1992): 533–57.

    [15] Authors such as Ahmed Ali, Plantation to Politics: Studies on Fiji Indians, Suva: The University of the South Pacific, 1979; Kenneth L. Gillion, The Fiji Indians: Challenge to European Dominance 1920–1946, Canberra: The Australian National University, 1977; John D. Kelly, A Politics of Virtue: Hinduism, Sexuality and Counter-Colonial Discourse in Fiji, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991; Brij Lal, 'Kunti's cry: indentured women on Fiji plantations,' The Indian Economic and Social History Review, vol. 22 (1985): 55–71; Brij Lal, Broken Waves: a History of the Fiji Islands in the Twentieth Century, Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1992; Vijay Mishra, Rama's Banishment: A Centenary tribute to the Fiji Indians 1879–1979, London: Heinemann, 1979; Vijay Naidu, The Violence of Indenture in Fiji, Fiji Monograph Series (3), Suva: University of the South Pacific, 1980; Shaista Shameem, 'Sugar and spice: wealth accumulation and the labour of Indian women in Fiji 1879–1930,' PhD Dissertation, Waikato: University of Waikato, 1990 provide fuller accounts of the indenture experience. The literature is by no means comprehensive in discussions of what impact indenture had on Fiji Indian family relations, but tends towards the public debates surrounding female sexuality and marriage practice.

    [16] Caste is a hierarchy based on the denominational group into which a Hindu enters at birth. Four principal castes (Varnas) are the Brahmins (priests), the Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), the Vaisyas (businesspeople and farmers), and the Sudras (servants or menials). Outside this Hindu social structure, a fifth class (Panchamas) known as outcasts or untouchables was located.

    [17] Chandra Jayawardena, 'Social contours of an Indian labour force during the indenture period in Fiji,' in Rama's Banishment: A Centenary Tribute to the Fiji Indians 1879–1979, ed. Vijay Mishra, London: Heinemann, 1979, pp. 40–65. In his article, Jayawardena talks about the disappearance of many of the distinctions and differences between various social groups (e.g. castes and other social divisions) during the journey that the indentured labourers made from India to Fiji by ship. Jayawardena (pp. 44–45) discusses this breakdown of differences during the experience of a voyage together using the notion of the institution of jahaji (fellow travellers). Writers such as Kenneth Lowell Oliver Gillion Fiji's Indian Migrants: A History to the End of Indenture in 1920, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1962 and Lal, Broken Waves, observed a general disintegration of the caste system among girmitiyas and their descendents (p. 75).

    [18] Jayawardena, 'Social contours of an Indian labour force,' p. 94.

    [19] Brij Lal, Bittersweet: The Indo-Fijian Experience, Canberra: Pandanus Books, 2004, p. 12.

    [20] Jayawardena, 'Social contours of an Indian labour force'; Shameem, 'Sugar and spice'.

    [21] See Jacquie Leckie, 'Women and work in the South Pacific,' in The Journal of Pacific Studies: Special Issue (Women and Work in the South Pacific), vol. 13 (1987): 1–12.

    [22] Kelly, A Politics of Virtue, p. 25.

    [23] Lal, Bittersweet: The Indo-Fijian Experience, p. 13.

    [24] Chandra Jayawardena, 'Farm, household and family in Fiji Indian rural society,' in Overseas Indians: A Study in Adaptation, ed. Ram P. Srivastava and George Kurian, New Delhi: Vikas, 1983: pp. 141– 79.

    [25] Lal, Bittersweet: The Indo-Fijian Experience, p. 14.

    [26] Kelly, A Politics of Virtue, p. 44.

    [27] Lal, Bittersweet: The Indo-Fijian Experience, p. 13.

    [28] Margaret Mishra, 'The emergence of feminism in Fiji,' in Women's History Review vol. 17, no. 1 (2008): 39–55, p. 41.

    [29] Shireen Lateef, 'Indo-Fijian women: past and present,' in Manushi: A Journal About Women and Society vol. 39 (1987): 2–10, p. 2.

    [30] Lateef, 'Indo-Fijian women,' p. 3.

    [31] Lateef, 'Indo-Fijian women,' p. 3.

    [32] A. Rudra, 'Cultural and religious influences,' in Indian Women, ed. Devaki Jain, New Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1975, pp. 37–58.

    [33] Patricia Caplan, Class and Gender in India, London: Tavistock, 1985, p. 192.

    [34] Sara Mitter, Dharma's Daughters: Contemporary Indian Women and Hindu Culture, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991, p. 86.

    [35] Sylvia Vatuk, Purdah revisited: a comparison Hindu and Muslim interpretations of the cultural meaning of purdah in South Asia,' in Separate Worlds: Studies of Purdah in South Asia, ed. Hanna Papanek and Gail Minault, Delhi: Chanakya Publications, 1982, pp. 54–78.

    [36] Lateef, 'Indo-Fijian women,' p. 3.

    [37] Michael R. Allen, 'The Hindu view of women,' in Women in India and Nepal, ed. Michael R. Allen and Soumyendra Nath Mukherjee, Canberra: Australian National University, 1990, pp. 1–20.

    [38] R. Thapur, 'Looking back in history,' in Indian Women, ed. Devaki Jain, New Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1975, pp.3–16; Rudra, 'Cultural and religious influences.'

    [39] Rudra, 'Cultural and religious influences,' p.170.

    [40] S. Wadley, 'Women and the Hindu tradition,' in Women in Indian Society, ed. R. Ghadially, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1988, pp. 23–43, p. 28.

    [41] Wadley, 'Women and the Hindu tradition,' p. 24.

    [42] Kalpana Ram, Mukkuvar Women: Gender, Hegemony and Capitalist Transformation in a South Indian Fishing Community, London: Zed Press, 1991.

    [43] Ram, Mukkuvar Women, p. 232.

    [44] Suzanne Singh, 'Indo-Fijian women's sexuality and resistance. Flirting with Foucault: a critical feminist analysis of Foucauldian resistance,' MA Thesis, Sociology, Suva: The University of the South Pacific, 1998, p. 52.

    [45] Joanna Liddle and Rama Joshi, Daughters of Independence: Gender, Caste and Class in India, New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1986, p. 56.

    [46] Liddle and Joshi, Daughters of Independence, p. 56.

    [47] Shireen Lateef, ''Marriage: choice or destiny? the case of Indo-Fijian women in Suva,' in Proceedings of Pacific History Association Conference, Suva: The University of the South Pacific, 1985, p. 21.

    [48] Sanatan Dharam means the eternal religion without beginning or end.

    [49] Lateef, 'Marriage: choice or destiny,' p. 11.

    [50] Using the consent form I made sure that any identifiable information in regard to each participant's name was encoded and not identifiable in this research or any future publication(s). In the case where the participants have voluntarily given permission to use excerpts of their interviews/conversations in their original form, confidentiality was still preserved through the use of a 'false name' which the participants had chosen themselves. These interviews were part of my PhD thesis which was contextualised in a rural poor Fiji Indian poor community. Fieldwork was conducted for a period of about eight months from 2002 to 2003 in a Northern part of the Fiji Islands.

    [51] Shireen Lateef, 'Rule by the danda: domestic violence among Indo-Fijians', in Pacific Studies vol. 13, no. 3 (1990): 43–62, p. 47.

    [52] Mahila Mandal literally means women's group but in this context the term is used for describing the women's religious and cultural groups in a rural Fiji Indian community. Membership is exclusive to women and children.

    [53] Lila Abu-Lughod, 'The romance of resistance: tracing transformations of power through Bedouin women,' in American Ethnologist, vol. 17 (date?): 41–55; MacLeod, 'Hegemonic relations and gender resistance.'

    [54] Joseph Saud, 'Problematising gender and relational rights: experiences from Lebanon,' in Social Politics vol. 1 (1994): 272–85.

    [55] Santi Rozario, Purity and Communal Boundaries: Women and Social Change in a Bangladeshi Village, London: Zed Books, 1992, p. 11.

    [56] See also, Bina Agarwal, A Field of One's Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994; Vegard Iversen, 'Intra-household inequality: a challenge for the capability approach?' in Feminist Economics vol. 9, nos 2–3 (2003): 93–115; Naila Kabeer, ''Resources, agency, achievements: reflections on the measurement of women's empowerment', in Development and Change vol. 30, no. 3 (1999): 435–64.

    [57] Abu-Lughod, Veiled Sentiments, p. 104.

    [58] Naila Kabeer, 'Tactics and trade-offs: revisiting the links between gender and poverty,' in IDS Bulletin vol. 28, no. 3 (1997): 1–25.

    [59] Sajeda Amin, 'The poverty–purdah trap in rural Bangladesh: implications for women's roles in the family,' Working Paper No. 102, New York: Population Council Research Division, 1995; Sarah White, Arguing with the Crocodile: Gender and Class in Bangladesh, Dhaka: University Press, 1992.

    [60] Wendy Hollway, 'Gender difference and the production of subjectivity,' in Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation and Subjectivity, ed. J. Henriques, W. Hollway, C. Urwin, C. Venn and V. Walkerdine, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 227–263; Kandiyoti, Bargaining with Patriarchy; Henrieta Moore, A Passion for Difference: Essays in Anthropology and Gender, Place: Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994.

    [61] Insofar as sabr entails the capacity to endure in the face of hardship without complaint, it involves, in the minds of many, the passivity women are often encouraged to cultivate in the face of injustice. I have retained the use of sabr in this paper rather than its common English translation 'patience' because sabr communicates a sense not quite captured by the latter: one of perseverance, endurance of hardship without complaint, and steadfastness.

    [62] Kandiyoti, Bargaining with Patriarchy, p. 46.

    [63] Ien Ang, 'I'm a feminist but … “other” women and postnational feminism,' in Transitions: New Australian Feminisms, ed. Barbara Caine and Rosemary Pringle, New York: St Martins, 1995, p. 57.

    [64] Iris Young, 'Gender as seriality: thinking about women as a social collective,' in Social Postmodernism: Beyond Identity Politics, ed. Linda Nicholson and Steven Seidman, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 187–215.

    [65] Jacquie Leckie, 'The complexities of women's agency in Fiji,' in Gender Politics in the Asia-Pacific Region, ed. Shirlena Huang, Peggy Teo and Brenda S.A. Yeoh, London: Routledge, 2002, pp. 156–180, p. 163.

    [66] Young, 'Gender as seriality,' p. 212.


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