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Gendered mobility: one woman’s story Fowler, Robin Ramsay 1994

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GENDERED MOBILITY: ONE WOMAN’S STORYbyROBIN RAMSAY FOWLERBA., The University of British Columbia, 1987A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OFTHE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OFMASTER OF ARTSinTHE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES(Department of Anthropology and Sociology)We accept this thesis as conformingto the required standardLLTHE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIAApril, 1994Robin Ramsay FowlerIn presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanceddegree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make itfreely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensivecopying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of mydepartment or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying orpublication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my writtenpermission.(Signature)Department ofThe University of British ColumbiaVancouver, CanadaDate ? ?cDE.6 (2188)AbstractThe turnings, experiences and adaptations of one woman’s evolving life history show the degree towhich mobility can be achieved and, when necessary, camouflaged in a variety of situations where thephysical and ideological movement of women is severely constrained. As a thematic device, genderedmobility offers a useful lens through which gendered experience can be viewed. The experiences of awoman living in a conservative Muslim community in South Asia frame a vocation of mobility andmobilisation. The story reveals a situated and subjective perspective recorded through the methods of lifehistory and participant observation. From an empowered sense of self, one woman identifies meaning andseeks to empower others through her vision and the processes of community development.Keywords: gender, women, social mobility, life history, community development, South Asia, IslamIITABLE OF CONTENTSAbstract iiTable of Contents iiiAcknowledgement ivPreface - by Tanveer Jahan vINTRODUCTION 1Context 7Methods 11A Case of Mobility 15DiscussionThe Story 40Women as Others 41A Case of One 42Conclusion 48Selected Bibliography 49InIn appreciation of the mentors that give shape to my work - Dr. Martin Silverman, Dr. Helga Jacobson,Dr. Lloyd Baron, and the women who move to effect change.‘VPrefaceby Tanveer JahanIt feels both pretentious and singularly elating to scribble a few lines at the beginning of anacademic dissertation focusing on the events, years, developments, in short the fragments of one’s ownlife. The feeling of pretention can be brushed aside as the nature of the narrative is purely academic andnot adulatory. However, the sentiments of honour lined with due modesty urge that the occasion be usedto further the cause that has inspired the conscious struggle of a lifetime.I was born and bred in a lower class, deeply religious and religiously conservative family of SouthAsia. Apart from turgid spectacles of de trop poverty, stifling ignorance and burgeoning legions ofpopulation, the lot of a female child in this part of the world is by no means enviable. Handicapped byloathsome gender discrimination, strict segregation, forced immobility, being a woman is to perpetuallywiggle under the yoke of sub-human existence. Our involuntary orientation with the zeitgeist under thecolonial masters did little to weaken the chains of obsolete traditions; consigning women to themeaningless drudgery of procreation and household chores with literally no option to realize theirpotential as creative human beings. I don’t entertain any claims for a feat, sending trepidations in thespheres, but I have the gratification of a responsible human being who made a conscious decision to fightagainst the verdict of a biased and unjust polity. I don’t have the making of a reformer, but in my limitedcapacity as an individual, I decided to transfer the fruit of my struggle to the less fortunate members ofmy society. Dictated by the fundamental tenets of my creed, the beneficiaries of my work as a professionaltrainer in social activism and community development were both men and women.This is most heartening to see sociologists in the North turning to the dynamics of societies in theSouth. However, studying the exotic patterns of existence in alien societies is quite behind the cherishedgoal of an equity between the responsible souls in both the developed and the under-developed worldsVto create a truly equitable amity of human beings, transcending the differences of colour, creed, capitaland consciousness. I have known Robin Fowler for quite some time and knowing her relieves one fromformal expressions of gratitude and compliments. However, I must express the hope that the work in handas well as her future as a professional anthropologist will help bring closer the people of our twocountries; even if at varying tiers of socio-economic development.As for myself, I am guarded against any feelings of complacency. There is no end to the Road NotTaken. Robin has taken pains to find the English version of my favourite poet, Ghalib. Let me quote,in a rather free translation, one of his couplets:Finding it hard to face the faces that one met;With dusk looming low and goals far in sight;we lost ourselves in the labyrinths of struggle.Tanveer JahanApril 10, 1994viIntroductionThere are many approaches to a discussion of gender. Described as “a field in its own right”, genderstudies has contributed to significant shifts in the thinking of several academic areas includinganthropology, history and literary analysis (Strathern 1987:278). Feminists from these disciplines haveargued against the authority of conventional approaches, calling “not merely forpj knowledge to correctthe apparent discrepancies, or even different knowledge, but a qualitatively different epistemology”(Whittaker 1994:3). To contribute to a new knowledge, alternative perspectives in anthropology areemerging that incorporate the many layers of gendered experience.This paper presents an ethnographic glimpse of one woman’s life and work with a focus on genderedmobility. Although reference to mobility in relation to women is frequently made in the literature (andis germane to most descriptions of female experience), and while social mobility is a common theme insociological or anthropological inquiry, gendered mobility is not often treated as central outside ofimportant works that study the complex traditions of purdah (and like seclusion practices of non-Islamicsocieties) that reveal dual concepts of honour and shame (See, for examples, Jeffery 1979; Mandelbaum1988; Papanek 1982 and 1973; and Pastner 1990).The use of gendered mobility as a thematic device offers the potential for a situated glance at thedifference of experiences between men and women, between economic classes or ethnic groups, and amongall players who are influenced by a common social order. As a broad category defined by Gordon, genderis a social and political construction, “...irreducible, not to be subsumed under class, race, ethnicity, culturalor national identity” (1988:12). For the purposes of this discussion, mobility is interpreted as the capabilityand facility of movement through social experience. This movement implies the concrete privileges ofaccess to central services and opportunities such as education or work, as well as to the more elusiveentitlements of voice and information. Restrictions, such as those imposed by historical influences and1by the existing system, intersect with a subjective interpretation of mobility as it is attempted oraccomplished by the individual or the collective. In a world of differences “traversed with intersecting linesof power and resistance” (Mohanty 1991:2), gendered mobility can be seen as another “relational” (ibid.)term that divides along such lines. Studies of gendered mobility thus provide insight into situated livesand identities as they are composed in response to innumerable influences.Gendered aspects of social movement relevant to this thesis include mobility as it is interpreted andused through economic class, politics, development, and activism; as it is managed through the vehiclesof education, intellectual pursuit, professionalism, and travel; as it is construed through the traditions orinterpretations of religion and morality; as it can be managed or manipulated through the culturalregulation of dress, forms of address, marriage and divorce; as a more subtle means to exercise voice andopportunity while enduring scrutiny within the limits of patriarchal models; and as women in the companyof men who can be deciphered and rationalized as simply being ‘like men’. Further relevant aspects ofgendered mobility relate to personal identity, the construction of self, and the ability to creatively mapdirection among and around obstacles imposed by foreign influence, custom, politics, legislation, andreligious prescription.The aspects of gendered mobility listed above summarize observations made in 1993 during a nineweek field experience with Tanveer Jahan, a community development worker in an Islamic community inSouth Asia, who was introduced to me by a mutual Canadian colleague. Some time after establishing aprofessional introduction through written correspondence, an opportunity arose for me to travel to SouthAsia as a research monitor with the same colleague, to review the operations of a small non-governmentorganization (NGO) that employed Tanveer. Our terms of reference involved an annual visit to the fieldas a part of a monitoring contract with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) whichprovided operational funding for the organization’s office and staff of approximately twelve members.My modestly funded participation in this monitoring mission was to offer a more in depth perspective of2the program than was normally attainable in short visits to the field. Additional work with the staff duringmy stay aimed to discuss planning for the qualitative evaluation of their programs’ impact on women. Thescope of this more qualitative research, however, was to be determined in the potential opportunity forme to conduct concurrent academic research relating to women working in community-based development.In preparation for this trip, I wrote to Tanveer to ask if she would be willing to work with me during andbeyond the scope of the monitoring project, on research that would contribute to the preparation of amaster’s thesis. My goal which awaited her approval was to work toward a phenomenological descriptionof her life with a view to achieving a situated understanding of the constraints facing women in SouthAsia, and how they chose to deal with them. Tanveer’s response was immediate and favourable to theextent that she generously offered accommodation in her home for the duration of the proposed projects.Once in the field, the details of our work involved a degree of challenge. While apparently flattered bymy interest in her life and work, Tanveer politely questioned my reasons for identifying her as a subjectof study. My overlapping roles as monitor and graduate student also created an ambiguous mood thatrequired continuous efforts to differentiate these functions.I had heard of Tanveer as a woman who was highly respected as a community activist and who wasremarkably effective in her work which took her to remote areas of the country where she (and a staff ofthree men) provided training in capacity building to selected community leaders - both women and men.Having entered the NGO community two years previously from a broad background of research, teachingand academia, Tanveer had been identified as an appropriate coordinator for a fledgling program. Thisdevelopment was taking place in an organization whose original mandate had aimed to fund small,community-based projects through partnerships with Canadian NGOs. After one year, however, anexpanded plan for grassroots empowerment training was envisioned that would render marginalizedcommunities more capable of their own organization and development, and that encouraged lessdependence on the conventional paradigm of social welfare. Embedded in this new program’s focus wasa familiar, somewhat convoluted, vocabulary of development terms including resource development,3conscientization, and participatoiy democracy which attempted to describe the challenging task ofenablement and confidence-building among the country’s most disadvantaged populations. Engaged bythe organization to operationalize such terms, Tanveer had rejected earlier planning efforts, and proceededto design and monitor a wide-reaching action plan with a focus on participation. Within her design wasa system of identifying grassroots leaders in communities throughout the country who were to conveneregularly for a series of scheduled workshops over a one year period. Tanveer and her staff, with theoccasional guest speaker, would lead these sessions that took place in the regions of the targetcommunities. Both women and men participated (sometimes in segregated groups where customrequired), and men were actively encouraged to cooperate with women. Included in the training agendawere conceptual processes relating to organization, planning, project design and problem-solving inaddition to the more concrete skills of book-keeping, proposal writing, and group facilitation. Oncompletion of the first round of workshops, graduates revealed a degree of enthusiasm and confidence thatfar exceeded staff expectations, and other organizations were showing interest in the program’s methods.Tanveer’s authority in the project included the design, implementation and follow-up of the resourcedevelopment program in addition to the supervision of staff. Within the larger organization, she and thesupervisors of two other divisions reported to the director.What appeared significant about Tanveer’s life and work was the mobility that she had achievedwithin a relatively short period of time and in the face of considerable obstacles. What surfaced as atheme in the time spent with her was a glimpse of gendered mobility patterns which did not categoricallyreject tradition. Much of her public image reflected layers of historical, social, and cultural meaning. Hermore private, subjective ‘self’ revealed experiences that had inspired ambition and a vision of social changethat would shift the dependence model of development to one of participatory, community-driventransformation. The relevance of mobility in Tanveer’s life surfaced as she spoke of the obstacles4encountered as a Muslim woman in South Asia1 and one born into a lower middle class urban community- constraints which she had cautiously and relentlessly sought to overcome. The ethnographic descriptionin this paper reflects a particular view of Tanveer’s experience that focuses largely on her accomplishmentsand which, therefore, does not adequately relate the scope of ambiguities and complexities observed inthe field. As the author of this work, it is I who have chosen the particulars relating to gendered mobility,and have thereby mediated their significance. Consequently, the text that has emerged from our worktogether is contextualized in a specific relationship of differing, situated motives.In cautious acknowledgement of the view that subjective accounts tend to reject the imposition ofexternal constructs (Watson and Watson-Franke 1985:13), this thesis has two central objectives. One isto provide a phenomenological account of Tanveer’s life as it was related by her, with contributions fromsome friends and colleagues, and as fragments of it were observed. The other is to discuss the aspects ofTanveer’s ‘story’ that relate to gendered mobility and in so doing, demonstrate the merit of this conceptas a thematic approach to gendered research. This focus allows for only perfunctory mention of importantaspects of the ethnography and discussion, with a view to elaboration in future works.Preceding the ethnographic account that follows, a brief description of the life history andparticipant observation methods used for this research in addition to an abbreviated description of theissues facing women in South Asia offers a context which responds to Marcus’ warning that interpretiveanthropology’s general avoidance of the integral part of the “larger system” in “closely observed culturalworlds” can lead to problems with representation (1986:166). A discussion concludes the paper in anattempt to decipher some of the roles and tools that have provided Tanveer with a degree of mobility andflexibility not usually adopted by women in her culture.1 The disadvantaged position and disenfranchisement of women in South Asia are documented inextensive detail by women of many cultures in these countries whose experiences and interpretations often varysignificantly from each other, and even more so from those of Western feminists and academics.5The production of knowledge by and about ‘Third World’2women warrants prominent mention.Current debates in the literature emerging from many sources reject essentialist approaches that “freezethird world women in time, space and history” (Mohanty 1991:6) and which do not account for theinterrelated, layered aspects of class, race, power and nation required to accurately “position” women(ibid.: 13). The challenges facing women in the current “gendered bureaucratic mire” (Staudt 1990: 304)of international development remain surprisingly similar to those described two decades ago. Consistentlymisrepresented as belonging to a monolithic throng, the individual woman is often assumed to have:...a truncated life based on her feminine gender (read: sexually constrained) and being “Third World”(read: ignorant, poor, uneducated, tradition-bound, domestic, family-oriented, victimized)...withWestern feminists representing themselves in comparison as educated, modern, as having control overtheir bodies and sexualities, and the freedom to make their own decisions (Mohanty quoted in Behar1990:281).To situate this paper in a feminist anthropological perspective that challenges such stereotypes andaddresses the real concerns of Third World women, Caplan’s analysis provides a theoretical point ofdeparture. As many researchers have emphasized, “the personal is the political”, and in focusing on thestrength of women as actors, anthropology is in a position to include the “very real constraints of theirlives” by ignoring the traditional theoretical split between epistemology and politics (Caplan 1988a:12).The central questions emerging from Tanveer’s story relate to the impact of the “broader systemsthat structure and constrain everyday life” (Bourque & Warren 1985:1). One approach in examining suchsystems is to view the ways in which women live within and manoeuvre around imposed limitationsrelating to gender, class and race, not as voiceless ‘victims’, but as dynamic social agents. Young describesanthropologists as having been traditionally persuaded of women’s “structural mutedness” - a2 Using Mohanty’s definition of the ‘Third World’, reference is made to “the colonized, neocolonizedor decolonized countries (of Asia, Africa and Latin America) whose economic and political structures havebeen deformed”, and to indigenous and other people of diverse ethnic origin residing in Western countries(1991:ix).6misconception that, when combined with a general ambivalence toward the life history method, hasresulted in a focus away from the recognition of women’s experience (1983:478). How this one womanhas framed herself within the systems of her constraining society, and the extent to which she has madeherself mobile, refocuses on experience and identifies a personal vision that is being effectively realizedin the face of considerable restrictions.3 The following ethnography and discussion cannot avoid asomewhat poetic view of this individual woman - a view that nevertheless provides specific insight into thegendered experience of mobility. This life in progress shows how individuals can, “in the process ofchanging their lives for themselves, also alter the environment for others and thus act as significant agentsof social change” (Watson and Watson-Franke 1985:204).ContextAcknowledging the impossibility of identi1ring any ‘general’ context for women in South Asia, abrief description of the general constraints faced by diverse groups of women in the subcontinent, andspecifically by Muslim women, introduces the grounding of this ethnographic work and its theme ofgendered mobility. The recent literature about Muslim women in South Asia (which emerges in large partfrom Pakistan) provides a broad framework of the varied experiences of women in these cultures separatedby political boundaries.The five countries of the geographic region of South Asia - Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan andSri Lanka - comprise a multitude of cultures with disparate histories, languages, and religions. Islamiccommunities are located in very small numbers in Nepal and Sri Lanka. Once a part of India, Pakistanwas initially a sovereign state covering two distinct and separate geographic regions, born of partition inGiven that the contexts of women vary significantly across cultural and geographic lines, this workaddresses aspects of gendered roles in the subcontinent and is therefore grounded for the most part in theanalysis and writings of South Asian women.71947 to provide a distinct nation for Muslims. Once one of five provinces of Pakistan known as EastPakistan, Bangladesh emerged as an independent Asian republic in 1971 as a result of civil war. Islamiccommunities are widespread throughout the northern areas of the subcontinent as a majority in bothBangladesh and Pakistan, and as a minority population in India where the historical legacy of Hindu-Muslim conflict continues. While Muslims and Hindus have lived together in these regions for centuriesand share a number of cultural similarities, socially they are more distinct (Mandelbaum 1988:77).During its history in the subcontinent, Islam has encountered two major foreign influences in theform of Ancient Indian civilization and British imperialism - an intersection which has resulted in thedomination of regional Muslim politics largely by a secular leadership (Pun 1988:3). Throughout SouthAsian Islamic communities, however, religious or Shariat law provides a prescriptive grounding that isinterpreted by religious teachers who have traditionally wielded powerful authority over theirconstituencies. A significant change is noted in the program of ‘Islamisation’ in Pakistan introduced bythe late President Zia-ul-Haq which offered a higher level of authority to the clergy.The traditions and prescriptions of Islam have placed varying levels of constraints on the mobilityof Muslim women, the most ‘public’ of which relate to the customs ofpurdah4 that prescribe segregationor the “demarcation of sexual space” (Weiss 1991:259). Purdah predates Islam and is not a practise thatis integral to Islam (Shaheed 1991:144). Nevertheless, the concept ofpurdah influences Muslim womenmost visibly in their inability to participate in areas of the public sphere including the market place andeducational institutions (ibid.: 147-148). Although the scripture prescribes equality among followers ofAs described by Shaheed, the principles of purdah define space for women as private and interior(though even within the domestic sphere the authority of male family members still supersedes that of women)and for men as public and exterior. This principle, however, does not dictate social organization only in termsof the manipulation of space. Dress codes for women are driven (or rationalized) by the concept of purdahas are the less visible restrictions on behaviour and the limited opportunities for education and work availableto women. The space definitions of purdah are role-oriented and the principle is portable in the form of aveil (duppatta, chador or burqa) as well as in the expected complex of behaviours that are demanded of women,particularly in the presence of unrelated males (Shaheed 1990:24-25).8Islam, “hierarchy pervades gender as well as most social relations” (Mandelbaum 1988:12). The lowermiddle class stratum of urban Muslim communities is documented to be the most strict regarding thetraditions ofpurdah (Mumtaz & Shaheed 1987:28). While divisions of caste are not generally acceptedby Muslim societies, the principles of caste society among the older tradition of Hindus in South Asia haveaffected other groups, and the hierarchy in Muslim communities is drawn through lines of class (Papanek1982:192). Women of the lower middle class are generally granted less freedom and mobility than thosein the working class (who have to leave the home to work) and as compared to upper middle class womenwhose observance ofpurdah rules is more a matter of choice and prestige. In addition to the tendency ofthe lower classes to imitate practices observed by the privileged, the “lower middle class is most anxiousto maintain purdah since it is often the only visible sign that differentiates them from the working class”(Mumtaz and Shaheed 1987:28).The ability to work and to do so for acknowledged wages has been a central issue for women inSouth Asia. Information about women in Islamic communities has been difficult to gather due to thetraditional invisibility of women’s work in the public sphere, and to restrictions imposed by maleenumerators and interviewers whose access to women has been limited. Women’s action groupsthroughout South Asia are attempting to gather more accurate information. In Pakistan, for example,inconsistent data have reported varying proportions of women to be “economically productive”, withpercentages ranging from 3% to 12% in the 1981 population census (Shaheed and Mumtaz 1990:23). Incontrast, more recent research done by women has confirmed that almost all Pakistani women work, andthey work an average of 14 to 16 hours per day (Shaheed 1990:33). Similarly, in rural India, the workcontribution of women has been found to be significantly greater than that of men (Parajuli 1991:177).Further analytical challenges lie in the limited ‘data’ produced by social scientists which tend toreduce the conditions of women’s lives to externally defined, objective “indicators” that do not revealmeaning in the context of daily lives (Mohanty 1991:6). The subtleties of women’s experiences, and the9ways in which they manage their mobility, are not accessible through such distorted statistics or reductiveindices. As Ferguson notes, “women typically bring knowledge that is qualitative, relational, and contextual,not easily captured by numerical and instrumental practices” (1990:298). Continuous efforts are made bySouth Asian women to research central areas of concern which relate to the conditions of women -property rights, violence against women, access to fertility choices, inequities in the family and access toemployment and education, to name only a few (Bardhan 1991:164). As is the case with economicdevelopment, women are impacted very differently than men and are increasingly affected by the rapidlychanging processes of industrialization. Situated views of women’s lives complement contemporaryresearch by getting closer to the cultural phenomena that underlie the real constraints facing women whocontinue to be profoundly influenced by the weight of feudal, religious and foreign influences.By the end of the United Nations Decade for Women (1976-1985), a “sombre deterioration” wasobserved in the conditions of women in many countries, and redefinitions of oppression were emergingfrom the Third World (Caplan 1988a:12). Rooted in a vastly different history and culture than that ofthe so-called ‘developed’ countries, women’s groups throughout the subcontinent have establisheddivergent interpretations of feminism and gender relations. Not unlike women of colour in the West whoencounter suspicions in their communities about feminism and its largely white, middle-class agenda withsome bourgeois reformist elements, some Third World women are seeking to establish their own body ofknowledge (Johnson-Odim 1991:324). Bardhan describes “class, patriarchy and caste, or ethnic hierarchy”as the central “interactive elements defining gender relations in South Asia” (1991:185). However, theperpetuation of “feudal patriarchal norms” are noted by some Indian feminists whose fight against thesehistorical influences has, in many instances, been linked to these same ideologies and agendas (Mohanty1991a:21). While collectives of South Asian women have been highly effective through social resistanceduring times of national crisis, many have tended to revert to a more passive role once the crisis hasabated (Junaid 1991:36). Contemporary women’s groups, however, are seen to be presenting the greatestchallenge to the “established political, economic and cultural order” (Parajuli 1991:177). Careful10documentation and actions of committed groups of women residing largely in urban centres seek to correctthe record of women’s experience and change discriminating laws through both grassroots and middle-classactions.In the views expressed by a number of social activists5,many mainstream women’s groups in SouthAsia represent privileged, educated and professional women whose significant efforts, while acknowledged,are not seen to reflect a full understanding of the ethnic, cultural and economic diversity of women’s issuesin rural areas. Urban groups that do attempt to penetrate these areas are occasionally criticized by moreradical organizations for their inability to adequately ‘speak the language of the people’. Notwithstandingthis disadvantage of privilege, these groups are respected for the important link that they provide in theform of research and policy work, and in persistent efforts to change discriminating legislation. Otherwomen choose different methods to effect social change. The following attempt to describe one woman’salternative experience reveals some of the characteristics and paradoxes of gendered mobility in aparticular case, framed within the Islamic context of South Asia.MethodsIf it were an ethnography with women at the centre, written for women by women (even if the women atthe centre were mostly women from other cultures and the women it was written for were mostly Westernwomen who wanted to understand what gender means, how it works, and how it produces women’ssituations -that still being the unequal structure of the world and the structure of anthropology) somethingimportant would have shifted (Abu-Lughod 1 990:25).Prior to my departure for the field, I chose to approach Tanveer’s story through the use of the lifehistory method complemented by participant observation. The desired result was not a comprehensivehistory, but rather a glimpse into the evolving career of a female community worker who was reportedlydeveloping a reputation for her ability to reach village people in efforts to assist them in improving theIndividuals encountered during the research period.11vitality and general health of their communities. What emerged from fieldnotes, taped interviews and awide scope of subjective impressions was a recurring theme that spoke of one woman’s mobility in asociety and culture whose prescribed roles place considerably more constraints on the movement of womenrelative to men.Drawing on David Mandelbaum’s view of the value of life history studies, the ways in whichindividuals adapt to society are more important “than how society copes with the stream of individuals”(1973:177). Focusing on the “dynamic and adaptive aspects of the life experience, with the relationsbetween one stage of life and the next, with the cumulative patterns of personal conduct, with therelevance of personal experience to social institutions, and with the impact of personal choice on socialchange”, Mandelbaum outlines a manageable framework in which the “dimensions, turnings andadaptations” of an individual can be identified from an endless choice of experiences” (ibid.). Importantto the recording of life history, however, is the careful selection of material to be included in the finalrecording, and the way this is analyzed. The challenge lies in “how to abstract the general from theparticular, how to illumine [sic] the particular from the perspective of the general?” (ibid.:205).This research involved an iterative process of discovery and adaptation that required flexibility.While I had planned to tape interviews with Tanveer, she was clearly more comfortable with informaltalks. Compared with the ‘formal’ sessions that I attempted to schedule at every earnest turn, spontaneousand participatory discussions amidst hectic daily schedules and late night conversations offered moreauthentic and relaxed observations from Tanveer6. Although we managed several hours of tapedinterviews, the first person narratives that I had envisioned comprising the bulk of the ethnographic text6 Of interest in our discussions was Tanveer’s apparent lack of overt interest in information aboutmy life. While we seemed to establish a cautious, somewhat professional friendship in the field that laterresulted in a sincere effort to remain in contact, Tanveer’s perception seemed to be one that limited me tothe one-sided role of researcher. This was in keeping with Cotterill’s observation that researchers’contributions are often unwelcome and not considered as “part of the research contract” (1992:596).12are less numerous and are complemented instead by descriptions that have been filtered through my lensand constructed text. Behar advises that life history be treated as a story, and not simply reduced toinformation - the text being “not a person, but a version of the self constructed by a subject to present tothe anthropologist” (1990:226-227). This glance, therefore, must be seen a priori as fragments of a story -wrought from fleidnotes and beset with ambiguity both in the field and throughout the process of itscreation. As is the case for similar texts, it is a story constructed by an observer, an ‘other’ whose effortsto mediate observed phenomena have been met with difficulties familiar to anthropological attempts toreport unfamiliar experience. The resulting story centres around those significant events or influenceswhich Tanveer chose to identir as central to her tale, in addition to selected moments witnessed in thefield that are relevant to the theme of gendered mobility.Without prompting, Tanveer identified events and people in her life that can be interpreted inMandelbaum’s terms as “turnings” and influences that wielded significant impact on her decisions and onthe flow of her personal and professional experiences. As one of several contributors to this researchprocess, Tanveer independently chose to organize interviews between myself and a number of her friendsand colleagues in order that their perceptions of her could become a part of the text. In this situationand others, the conventional notions of the balance of power in interviews were challenged (Cotterill1992:599). Rather than a fixed balance with the researcher in control, Tanveer ensured an active part inthe arrangement of the time and place of our interviews, in the degree of her participation, and byinvolving other participants. In further consideration of this interactive relationship between authors7,the text was reviewed and the direct quotes modestly edited by Tanveer prior to final submission. Inresponse to my invitation for her to contribute to the completed text, she provided a preface aftercompleting her review.‘ Myself as the author of this work, Tanveer as the author of her life.13The value of participation observation became obvious in the views of Tanveer’s life, both personaland professional, that I was able to develop as we worked and lived together. Limitations encounteredin the field were many, however, not the least of which was my dual presence as a graduate student andresearch monitor for the organization that employed Tanveer8. My glimpse of Tanveer’s life was alsocompromised by the fact that I did not speak her language, and my research was made possible only byher fluency in English. Access to important conversations and poetry readings among Tanveer and herfriends would naturally have offered a richer view of her experience.‘Public’ accounts comprised much of what Tanveer discussed with me initially in consideration ofwhat she seemed to construe as my expected areas of interest such as the institutionalized rhetoric ofWomen in Development (WID). More private issues of family and responsibility were raised as familiarityand a degree of trust evolved between us. Often, circumstances limited the time Tanveer and I couldspend together. Events such as the periodic illness of her mother, a car accident involving close friends,and conflicts among friends, naturally distracted her from the time she was able to invest. Significantshifts in Tanveer’s travelling schedules, and occasionally in her mood, rendered her inconsistently available.During her periodic absences, I moved from her welcoming household to that of other generous hosts.While these moves interrupted the process of the research, they offered relief from the intensity of ourtime together as well as an opportunity to view other lives in a different socio-economic context.Although it was I who initiated the work that Tanveer and I accomplished, this research can beviewed as a collaborative and interactive work. My objectives involved the fulfilment of requirements fora graduate degree and the pursuit of a strong interest in how women choose to move in different realities.8 A responsibility which occupied approximately one quarter of the work days spent in the field.14Tanveer’s agreement to participate in this project, and the time she granted to the process resulted in aneffort that involved considerable time and cooperation, and in the documentation of fragments of herstory.Visweswaran describes the texts of experimental ethnography as “ marked by disaffections, rupturesand incomprehensions” (1988:30). In documenting what I perceived and what was offered to me in theform of information provided by Tanveer and others, the following ethnographic description is markedin this way and does not follow a linear or chronological course. Instead, I have chosen to create a textthat wanders between thematic aspects of Tanveer’s life, describing a complex of experiences overlaid withselected observations. Relevant ethnographic information beyond the context described above is requiredperiodically to punctuate the tale. In order to minimize disruption of the description’s flow, importantpoints of ethnographic and reflexive context are located in substantial footnotes. In reference to Behar’srecommendation (1990:26), the discussion attempts “to speak to the text and not past it” to avoid the dualrisk of typification and the mistake of allowing the text to speak for itself. The discussion which concludesthe paper outlines significant issues of gendered mobility relating to the ethnographic account.A Case of MobilityWe walked into the building, Tanveer and I, surrounded by the small group of men who hadaccompanied us on our journey. We were women in the public domain of men, and we were there fordifferent reasons: I to observe, and Tanveer to lend her unusual expertise and leadership to a group ofmale social activists whom she had come to know in training workshops over the preceding year. For theentirety of the five day journey that took us to a number of remote villages, we had been in similarcircumstances - two women moving with relative ease among men and between the domains of men and15women, seemingly welcomed in both worlds and seemingly exempt as teachers or ‘experts’ from the routinestandards of segregation. The mobility I was both witnessing and experiencing contrasted (at leastsuperficially) with my limited knowledge of gender relations in Islamic communities9.The air was charged with anticipation. The conference scheduled for the next day was to be the firstof its kind with this group of graduates from a program designed to help empower and organizecommunities at the grassroots level. Upon our arrival, the cohort of strictly male participants milled aboutthe corridors of the community hall amidst the rooms where they would be lodged on floor mats for thetwo nights away from their homes. When Tanveer and our familiar coterie of organizers were noticed,they stopped and expounded warm greetings. In little time, the news of our arrival had spread, and themen quickly gathered in one of the rooms, seating themselves cross-legged on the floor around Tanveer.Questions came from all corners concerning new developments planned for the future through thegrassroots organization that had introduced her to their lives and communities.Entering the room last, after several lengthy introductions in the hallway, I was struck by what I saw.This very relaxed, confident, unpretentious female activist whom I had come to know in the past weekswas surrounded by more than twenty men of all ages who were visibly impatient to hear her opinions ontheir work and the status of development efforts in the region. Although the formal session was not dueto begin until the next day, and some were obviously exhausted from a day’s journey, there was little timeto waste. The group would remain there until well after midnight, only to rise early the next morning toparticipate in the more structured information-sharing they had come to accomplish, to be facilitated byNaturally, the presence of a foreigner can alter any situation to the extent that ‘normal’ customsare waived. On another occasion, in the company of a male friend in the city, we were unable to find a tombabout which he had chosen to write an article. After stopping for directions outside a railyard, he commentedthat we were offered more assistance than he would have received had he been on his own. While curiositymay offer a simple explanation for this unusual response, it was difficult for me to ascertain in my travels withTanveer the degree to which our shared mobility was exaggerated on account of my foreign presence.16Tanveer and a male colleague. I was observing men’° from the rural areas of a region where culture andreligious prescription did not allow for integrated workshops of men and women due to strict traditionsregarding gender relations. These men were, however, colleagues of a woman who challenged thesetraditions expressly because of their exclusion of women, yet respected the time it would take to begin toinclude them. A visible bond of trust had been established between the participants of this session andTanveer, along with the other facilitators in her organization. It was not an immediate trust that I waswitnessing, but one which had grown gradually. As Tanveer put it on another occasion:As we went into the field to identif’ potential partners and then built their capacity in organizationalmanagement and community development, the sustained rapport with them helped in evolving warmrelationships with these communities.My stay in my ‘field’ was almost over, and I had collected a considerable amount of informationfrom this woman who had agreed to work with me. By living with Tanveer for many weeks, I had beenprivileged to learn about her family and about a life of intense responsibilities. On charpoys’1 pushedtogether to accommodate her room, with individual quilts wrapped around each in the remaining cold ofwinter, we had on occasion talked late into the night about the decisions and sacrifices she had made inan attempt to lead a respected and what she referred to as a “meaningful” life. We talked further in manysettings- around the ironing table and amidst the deafening chaos of countless, spine rattling auto-rickshaw journeys. Through these conversations and observations in a variety of contexts, I had come tounderstand the high regard she commanded. Working alongside her colleagues, I had also beenintroduced to various aspects of Tanveer’s work and life (the two never separated to any great degreeamong this group of community activists) as filtered through other eyes. I had been told by one friendwho had known her well for years that she was a “different person” in the field where she “came alive”,10 These particular men had been selected a year earlier for their participation in the trainingworkshops coordinated by Tanveer, chosen for their individual success as leaders within their communities.Thus, they might be viewed as men with an unusual degree of social awareness. An additional feature thatby this time might have further differentiated them from other men in the area was the completion of a year’straining and a degree of authentic “conscientization” (as Tanveer called it) evolving from these workshops.Beds constructed with woven rope stretched across a frame.17doing the work which she herself professed to do best. Nevertheless, I was unprepared for the striking,dynamic presence she projected in the field where her work to date was being formulated and played Out,and where she had managed enough legitimate mobility to reach the most traditional and least accessiblepeople within what she called her “constituency”.At this late juncture in my fieldwork, I found myself facing new questions that complemented themore confined ones I had prepared prior to my arrival. Why did these individuals allow Tanveer therespect and attention that men apparently denied women in general? What was it about Tanveer that theyso obviously trusted and revered? How was it that Tanveer had been able to mobilize herself to this extent,amidst severe cultural constraints that were particularly relevant to her economic class and gender? Howhad she managed to reach these men who were culturally, geographically, and often linguistically removedfrom the realities of her life? What differentiated Tanveer from the women to whom she had introducedme at the mainstream women’s action groups in the urban centres? Were there other such individualsbreaking ground among men in Muslim communities of the rural areas? Vague, unformed answers tosome of these questions would appear in the course of the time that remained. Other insights arose froma review of research materials many months after my return from the field.Laughter and conversation among the group continued late into the night with introductionsrequested on my behalf from each participant, patiently translated by the colleague with whom we weretravelling. Each spoke thoughtfully about his work and about this woman/teacher who had changed hisview of the possibilities for the future of his community. The translator smiled to himself in anticipationof a debate after the expression of one participant’s words chosen to describe Tanveer: “He says this isnot a lady. She is a man...that is the real characteristics of a man. It means she is very brave”. Here,Tanveer found a hook to begin, once again, her education of men whom she encountered daily in her lifeas a community worker. As an aside to me in English, she commented:That is the conditioned behaviour; by identifying a woman with manly characteristics, they reassurethemselves that bravery, in fact, is the sole prerogative of men.18In an impassioned voice, she launched into one of many personal stories which she habitually shared withthe people whom she is trying to convince of a different view of men and women, stratified traditionallyand rigidly along class and gender lines in Islamic communities. As she explained later, to describe theessence of the problem, she chose to reach into her past, remembering a painful time when her father wasdying. Tanveer, as the virtual head of her family, had negotiated with doctors and took control of his careuntil the point of his death. Her complete involvement was unchallenged in a home where the motherwas neither in good health nor was she accustomed to moving in the public domain; where the eldest sonhad chosen to make a better living by leaving the country; and where the only other son had died in atragic traffic accident many years earlier. Her father, she explained to these men in a voice that bespokeher emotion, had made the same mistake of representation in the expression of his appreciation: “Youare just like a son”. She insisted to the men present that women must be respected for the work they doand the responsibilities they take on as women without simplistically rationalizing these strong behavioursas ‘male’.The message seemed to have an effect. Another participant gave a poetic description of Tanveeras a model which he felt his daughters and sisters should follow. Yet another referred to her using arespectful term for grandmother’2. Further debate was sparked by a question that presumed a higher12 Within the Muslim family, women are granted increasing amounts of respect in accordance withthe number of sons produced. Female status also improves with age. Outside the family, traditional genderrelations are generally governed by the rules of purdah whereby two overarching principles of gendersegregation and female seclusion are observed (Shaheed 1990:24).An interesting encounter with an elderly male development worker revealed another genderedexperience relating to age. This was a man who had given a great deal of thought to the limitations ofgendered experience in his country. Shortly after we met he asked me “Do I remind you of your grandfather?”Chuckling to himself, he continued on to poetically describe how he had, over the years, managed to ‘change’his gendered perspective to that of a “grandmother”.19degree of privilege for a woman ‘from the city’, and again Tanveer met the challenge with detailedbiographical information that spoke of her struggles to move beyond the very real and rigid restrictionsof her urban class which were not obvious to people from the rural areas.On the previous day, in another village, Tanveer and I had been invited to the men’s meeting placeof a family-run non-government organization. We sat on the grass of a generous garden surrounded bybrilliant flowers in bloom, with a warm wind blowing and a herd of water buffalo wandering past. Signsof a flood that had devastated this part of the country less than six months before were still apparent, yetthe beauty and calm of the early evening masked this devastating chapter of local history. The group ofmen in this setting were somewhat more distant and older than the group we were to meet the next day.The head of the community organization, at age 75, claimed to have learned from Tanveer about theinjustices toward women in his culture. As we sat, he self-consciously demonstrated his evolving viewsby inviting an older female neighbour to join us. She did so reluctantly, shyly shielding her face with herchador, and sitting at an angle that concealed her face from the eight or so men present.From this public place, we had been accompanied to the family house where the women resided,our male companions falling away to wait elsewhere. We were greeted with enthusiasm by numerouswomen as they flowed Out of the family courtyard to receive us, a mass of colour and smiles and welcome.This family had hosted Tanveer the year before during a training workshop and had come to see her asan important person in their lives. They insisted that we take tea with them13 and the mother who headedthe household talked quietly with Tanveer while at least fifteen other women and as many children lookedon as we sat in the courtyard with domestic animals scurrying between our feet. Our immediate transferon this day from the separate, public, male sphere to the female, domestic domain was a dizzying13 The hospitality extended to us wherever we travelled was always immediate and generous. On twooccasions, travelling in disparate regions during Rarnazan (the month of fasting), complete meals werearranged for me which were not shared by our Muslim hosts.20experience for one whose practical understanding of purdah was just beginning to take shape’4. Thespaces were concretely defined. The only person who accompanied us between the segregated areas wasa teenage son who, as a related male, moved freely between both worlds. In these brief glimpses of each,my sense of the men’s area was that of open space, relaxation and movement, while that of the womenwas enclosed, crowded and dynamic.During the spring festival of basant, we attended a demonstration that commemorated a historicalwomen’s protest rally. Consequent to the original event, many female protestors had been imprisoned fortheir actions. Tanveer and I arrived late at the site of the march, having miscalculated the location, butin time to see some participants chanting slogans, surrounded by a small crowd consisting of a familiarcore of female participants whom I had seen at other gatherings and a small representation of maleactivists and journalists. After the event, we were invited to the home of some old friends of Tanveer’swhose rooftop was hosting a basant party which witnessed the competitive flying of thousands of kitesabove the city. Winding our way on foot through narrow alleys and up a dark stairway to the concreteterrace, we watched the familiar display of kite theatrics that had been gaining momentum for weeks. Itook the opportunity to talk with an actress who was involved in a street theatre group that directedproductions to those populations who had limited access to social and political information. Had I beenmore observant, I would have noticed that aside from this woman, Tanveer and myself, there were onlymen present. Within minutes of our arrival, Tanveer was agitatedly declaring that she wished to go. Thefive or so members of our party obliged, unsure of the reason for our swift departure. The reason laterbecame evident when Tanveer allowed herself to break down. The disappointment, she explained, of ahousehold of presumably progressive males who would insist on the segregation of ‘their’ women, obliged14 The subtleties of purdah, a concept that risks simplification through Western eyes, involved myconstant attention in the field. As a culture-based principle, there were many examples of how this conceptserved to organize the roles of both men and women with a direct influence on mobility at all levels. Theprinciples ofpurdah are interpreted and followed in significantly different ways and degrees throughout thenorthern regions of the subcontinent.21to remained below in the kitchen while the men celebrated on the roof, had been a shock. At the time,this example of insensitivity struck me as a mild offence relative to the existing examples of blatantdiscrimination against women. To Tanveer, however, it was a reminder of what she frequently saw as theconstant hypocrisy of some men who called themselves progressive and thereby boasted a superior levelof social consciousness. It was the only time I saw her cry.Born to a lower middle class family” in an urban centre, life until age 14 for Tanveer was notdifficult. With many siblings of each gender preceding her, she had yet to experience the weight of ayounger sister who would be born a year later and for whom, due to circumstance, Tanveer wouldeventually take almost full responsibility. The hard work of her life had not yet started, and a series of“turnings” that would guide many of her life and career decisions awaited her. The first of these eventsTanveer described as the dramatic point at which she was introduced to an injustice imposed by hergender and by a host of historical, cultural and political factors - and an experience that would beinternalized to define the evolution of her life’s work in community activism. The event occurred at theage of 14 when a boy in her neighbourhood sent a child-like letter of devotion to Tanveer. The letter,found by a male family member, resulted in the severe beating of Tanveer who was unilaterally blamedfor having threatened the honour of her family’6.She described this traumatic injustice as a “blessing in15 An urban class identified by Tanveer and within the literature as one which has historically placedsignificantly more restrictions on women than other classes.16 Strong notions of honour govern gender relations and other aspects of social organization inMuslim societies (Shaheed 1990:23; Mandelbaum 1988:20). The burden of honour (izzat) carried by womenis a heavy one. Neelam Hussain (1993:4) writes:You have decided that your honour resides in my body. It is a clever trick for it leaves you free to makeor break the rules as you go along, while I am hidden behind the walls of your home and shrouded in thechadar’ which stifles me. . ..It is a wonderful invention, this honour of yours that finds its vindication in mydishonour.Family honour depends upon the ability of male members to provide for the family and to ensure that femalemembers are mindful of a rigid code of conduct. ‘Crimes of honour’ including even the suspicion of indecentbehaviour, can bring disastrous consequences. It is the responsibility of men to control female activities, andmarriages are often arranged shortly after puberty. In the patriarchal structure of the family, the eldest male22disguise”, as it was this incident that shaped an immediate, though unformed goal to work toward theelimination of ignorance that produced such violence against women. In her description of the way thatshe had come to define the problem for her students, Tanveer shared her thoughts on a central issue ofgender dynamics in a strongly male-dominated society:Patriarchy entails a strange duality of norms and values. If I do something wrong, that is animpeachment of my father’s or my brother’s honour. However, the misdeeds of my father or brotherwould not be considered any business of mine.Tanveer proceeded to plan her future with a primary focus on education. Until she reached gradeeight, this was met with little resistance. However, at the suggestion of continuing on to college, thefamily, and her father in particular, objected in part because of the family’s financial constraints. Tanveerassured him that she would support herself and staged a hunger strike at the age of 16 until she wasgranted permission to attend college. Her effectiveness as an activist had begun. After completing acourse of study which prepared her for medical school, she was ready to follow a career path that wouldguarantee her mobility and financial security. However, the death of one of her brothers altered this planand marked another unhappy turning for Tanveer:I had been at medical college for some five months when my brother met with the road accident andsuccumbed to his injuries after a week or so. That was a traumatic experience for me. I realized thatI had lost my faith in the medical profession. I just went through the theory examination and refusedto take the practical part of the examination. Once admitted to the humanities, I took philosophyand literature for the graduation, and secured maximum marks in philosophy.As important figures and allies to many women in South Asia, brothers often act as benefactors(Mandelbaum 1988:46). By the time of her brother’s death, Tanveer’s eldest brother had left the countrywith his wife and children to earn a better living. A sister was also to leave with her family for the sameholds the greatest responsibility as the head of the household, and unmarried women or girls traditionally havethe least authority (Shaheed 1990:23). The concept of honour seriously restricts female mobility through thearrangement of early marriages and through the negative value attached to women’s work, particularly in theurban lower middle class and in rural landholding families (Shaheed & Mumtaz 1990:15-17). Furthermore,izzat requires constant reaffirmation and is strengthened by (and in turn strengthens) the practices ofpurdah(Mandelbaum 1988:23-24).23reason’7. Tanveer’s responsibilities mounted critically as a result of the departure of these importantallies, and with the slowly fading health of both parents, she became the principal guardian of heryoungest sister.Funding her education by tutoring other students, Tanveer pursued a master’s degree in philosophyand gained a reputation for having achieved the highest marks in the department’s history. Despite theconstraints typical to her community, she had accomplished an optimal education and was ready to workfor a living.18When I told my mother that I had got a job, she refused to allow it. She said, “Look here! That’sagainst our traditions. No girl is supposed to work outside her home. You can do so over my deadbody.” I said, “Mama, I have to fulfil my promise to myself. I didn’t achieve all this education fornothing. You better change your way of thinking.” After a protracted debate and bitter altercations,I got that job.This employment experience was a disappointment, however, due to a hostile work environment, andTanveer decided to return to a familiar group where she worked as a researcher and office administratorfor a short period of time. Her ambition to teach soon prompted her to apply for a lecturer’s position,but she was turned down several times as a result of the local university’s conservative hiring policy. Asan alternative, she went on to teach for two years at a grammar school after which she was offered aresearch position with a prominent women’s organization. After eighteen months with this group, she anda number of colleagues applied for a scholarship to a foreign university which Tanveer managed to winwith her excellent credentials. This graduate training was to take her away from her family responsibilitiesand friends for a period of three years. However, the prospect of this absence in the face of loomingproblems proved to be impossible. While in transit to her new academic challenge she learned from a17 Many families that I encountered in South Asia had lost at least one member to higher incomesand greater opportunities in the Middle East, Britain or North America.18 Because Tanveer was raised in a family that was bound to the traditions of a lower urban class,her decisions and activities constantly challenged the strict customs of her community. Despite this interface,Tanveer had managed her life carefully to the extent that she remained highly respected within the communityas a ‘pillar’ to whom anyone could go for help.24friend by telephone that her mother was unwell. Without hesitation, Tanveer returned home, having neverreached her destination.Tanveer’s mother, whom I was told I should address as Kha ‘ala (a respectful term comparable to‘auntie’), was in mourning for her husband when she welcomed me into her household. Several weeksremained in the period of time religious custom demanded of a woman who remained at home for fourmonths and ten days after the death of her husband. Until the end of this mourning period, she wouldnot even allow herself to leave the home to seek medical attention. While other female family membersare not affected by these rules, the widow remains at home, avoiding any interaction with unrelated males.As a devout woman in her fifties, and in poor health, Kha’ala was not stable on her feet and rested formuch of the day on a bed in a room that was separated from the formal front room by a closed curtain.Always by her side was a metal box containing all the ingredients for pan - leaves, herbal paste, groundnuts and cardamom - which she would chew slowly throughout the day. Attending to some of her needswhen her daughters were absent was a thirteen year old cousin who had come to live in the house afterher husband’s death19.More distant family members would occasionally visit, talking quietly with her astheir children played, and as unrelated male visitors were greeted in a room apart.Kha ‘ala was a paradoxically warm yet stern woman who often managed a smile despite her poorhealth and the worries that she carried for her two remaining unmarried daughters whose disparity in ageand experience had resulted in strong differences in personality and direction. For the duration of myvisit, she appeared to accept me, in her words, as a daughter, and made frequent efforts to converse withme in sign language that was regular cause for mutual laughter. But Kha’ala’s concern for Tanveer and19 According to Tanveer, it had not been acceptable that there was no male member living in thehousehold after the death of her father. A solution to this problem was found in this cheerful thirteen yearold who did not attend school and was therefore available to assist Tanveer’s mother throughout the day.Being from a poorer family, this boy was afforded a better lifestyle than what he had before. He made frequentvisits to his family home during my stay and seemed not to be compromised by his recent new role in adifferent household.25her younger sister often created tension in the household. Tanveer’s career as an employed, independent,and headstrong woman defied the traditions of her family, community and class. It was unusual that shestill remained single although the dilemmas created by family events had imposed a role that encouragedher reluctance to divert her attention from her family responsibilities before she had assured herself ofthe best upbringing for her sister. The decisions made in this regard, she admitted, had taken their toll.While many compromises had been reached, debates with her mother were stressful on both sides.Tanveer was tired and discouraged, but clearly not regretful of her choice to care for her family first. Shehad strong values surrounding this commitment and she sought to transfer these principles not only toher young sister, but to the children of her older sister, whose regular visits to the house with their motherpunctuated my temporary membership in the household. Refusing from an early age to wear make-upor jewellery (both symbols of privileged classes), Tanveer wished to maintain an exemplary appearancethat was unadorned, but always immaculate, with careful attention given to the cloths she bought to havemade into shaiwar kameez2°for her and her sister. She explained:At an early stage, I reached the conclusion that beauty was a gifted quality and no amount of make-upcould change the person altogether. However, the development of one’s personality was a matter ofconscious decision and I opted for that. I don’t bother if my clothes or make-up are appreciated ornot. These are the things that everyone can do. I opted for an intellectually conscious way of life andmy gratification came with this sense of different priorities.In contrast, Tanveer’s sister Saeeda21,at age 15, was enthusiastic about cosmetics (although she wore littlemake-up) and jewellery, and had already made it clear to Tanveer that she would not be following herexample. Having witnessed the sacrifices made, the troubled times and the fragile health of this sister, she20 The shaiwar kaineez, consists of a long tunic and baggy pants and is commonly worn with aduppatta or chador that traditionally covers the head, shoulders and chest. In urban settings the duppatta,ranging in width from a thin slip of fabric to a wide piece of cloth, is often draped loosely around the neck,with the two ends trailing behind, now more of a symbol of the traditional head-covering required of womenonce used as a guard against the sun, and later as a means to mask the contours of the body and a sign ofservility. In contrast, women observing more traditional ways, and especially those in rural settings, are rarelyseen without their upper bodies draped in a larger chador or a full length burqa (Mumtaz and Shaheed 1987:77-78).21 A pseudonym.26had expressed no desire to partake in such a difficult life. Choosing between the models of her moretraditional sisters and that of Tanveer, Saeeda was decidedly in favour of the former. Tanveer’s responseto this decision was one of respect and compassion to the extent that she had resolved to arrange amarriage for her sister should this be requested. A lighthearted teenager, Saeeda would combine hercentral participation in household chores with loud laughter or as she and her family watched televisionand spoke of the day’s events. She also found great cause for mirth in the antics of this foreigner livingamong them, peering curiously around corners to see how I managed my laundry, watching as I self-consciously ate my dinner or folded my clothes. “May I call you baji22?” she asked one day as I struggledwith the ironing table.“This is my Brother” - Tanveer casually announced as she introduced me to Akmal in the frontroom not long after my arrival. I was confused, having thought I had grasped the family’s structure in theunderstanding that her only living brother was out of the country. Subsequent to this meeting, we spenta considerable amount of time with Akmal and I became further perplexed by his relationship to Tanveer.He was visibly devoted to her, anxious to assist her in any way possible, and impatiently awaited her arrivalhome from work on most days. Sharing her vocation in community development, Akmal was thecoordinator of a literacy project, a position which he had pursued under Tanveer’s watchful guidance. Theywould talk for hours in the front room of the house, discussing decisions, sharing ideas and experiences,giving mutual advice. Rounds of teasing occupied much of their conversation in my presence, andemotion ran high when Akmal considered himself harshly judged or ignored by Tanveer who, for severalyears, had occupied the position of mentor in his life.22 A kinship term meaning older sister. I took this request as a sign of welcome into the family andwas interested to note that Saeeda actually never used this term when addressing me, despite my invitationfor her to do so.23 A pseudonym.27As my understanding of the culture and my familiarity with the personalities grew, certain aspectsof the relationship became clearer and were finally confirmed by Tanveer. “No, he is not my real brother”,she replied when I eventually queried the nature of their visible bond. She went on to explain. Severalyears before, Tanveer had helped Akmal, who was then her student, through a crisis in his personal andprofessional life by providing counsel - a service of friendship that she tirelessly provided to innumerablefriends and acquaintances despite her heavy family and work-related responsibilities. In time, theydeclared a fictive kin relationship, subsequently addressing each other by kin terms, bhai (younger brother)and baji (older sister)24. However, in taking on a new sibling, one inherits “a vast array of relationshipsin the bargain” (Kumar 1992:175). It was to be a bond fused by kinship-like ties and responsibilities, andthe protective brotherly attitude of Alcmal toward Tanveer was passionately demonstrated in a numberof situations where he feared for her safety or health, or when he felt that her honour was threatened.His role as a brother was concretized in this behaviour and was, in various ways, reciprocated by Tanveerwho frequently, though affectionately, complained of his intense, unrelenting attention. However, indefense of his protective and sometimes stifling conduct, she was compassionate: “...he always do this [kindof behaviour] and one can give liberty that since he is a brother, there is no harm in it.” What therelationship offered Tanveer was an active source of support unknown to her in recent years with onebrother permanently absent and the other tragically lost. As the self-identified head of her household andmajor bread-winner, she had carried a lot of the weight of the family which she continued to do, but morerecently under the watchful eye of this new ‘sibling’. One or two other friendships with her male peersalso seemed to reflect a similar type of bond, though without the same intensity. With one of these, along term rift in the friendship was being resolved as my visit drew to an end, and references to him also24 What I was witnessing was not unusual among relationships within defined communities of thesubcontinent. Mandelbaum (1988:6) describes the common usage of kinship terms among “villagers” of theseregions through “fictive extension”. I had encountered a different version of this type of relationship in anotherhousehold where I was introduced to a couple referred to as “cousins”. In this instance my host later explainedthat the two individuals were probably not kin, but that this label legitimized the company of unrelated,unmarried men and women in a public place. Fictive siblings and cousins thereby moved more freely togetherunder the watchful eye of the community.28as ‘brother’ resurfaced as they reconciled their differences. In addition to the consistent support andaffection granted by these neutral bonds, it seemed that such socially legitimized fictive kin relationshipsallowed Tanveer more mobility in the public sphere of her daily life where it was generally less acceptableto travel as a woman alone-’. In fact, Tanveer rarely spent time on her own. Among Tanveer’s largecore of friends and family, I was also beginning to notice a culturally specific view of companionship, spaceand privacy that differed from my experience.Beyond the boundaries of her family, Tanveer’s career as a community worker had taken shapeduring the two years preceding my research. This was also a period when the growing ‘professionalization’of development workers in the countiy was seen by some as a negative and elitist consequence of Western,post-colonial, and entrepreneurial influences. Consequently, Tanveer and her colleagues were strugglingto maintain integrity amidst an increasingly competitive field that guaranteed, for some ambitiousindividuals, unprecedented salaries from foreign funding sources which threatened the efforts of smallerorganizations. Tanveer had become a leader in her field without such compromises, and was becomingincreasingly known for her commitment and skill. Notwithstanding her reputation, one colleaguedescribed his surprise when first introduced to Tanveer who did not fit his preconceived, elevated “image”25 Tanveer travelled independently to work and to various other places by rickshaw. While she didnot seem in the least afraid of these journeys, it was clear that company was preferred when in public and Irarely saw her in such a setting without the company of at least one or two male friends. From a societalpoint of view, it was clear to me from my own experience that women were neither welcomed nor comfortablewhen in the public sector of this particular community. A short trip to the bank in the middle of the daydemonstrated to me the virtual absence of women in this sphere. Exceptions included the paradoxicalpresence of a few lavishly groomed women employed as receptionists by the more distinguished banks, andthe occasional woman from the lowest classes whose social ‘invisibility’ did not insist on head covering.26 Tanveer’s household regularly received visitors who would stay over night. On one occasion,after calculating a larger number than usual, I suggested that I move upstairs to a small room, rarely used,which sat apart from the main part of the house. My suggestion was greeted by an awkward silence fromTanveer which I interpreted as concern for my sense of safety. I learned that this was not the case when sheasked me in an incredulous tone “Do you want to be alone?”, It occurred to me only then how few momentsI had spent alone since my arrival. Living alone, wanting to be alone, seeking time for solitude, and privacyother than for the most personal of daily routines, were notions unfamiliar to my hosts.29of the name that preceded her. Because of this more subtle presentation or image, unlike manymainstream members from central organizations, she was able to reach women at the most extreme endsof the social and cultural spectrum. She travelled easily between the urban groups and among the ethnicdiversity of the rural villages where, in Tanveer’s words and in the vernacular of community development,the “poorest of the poor” resided. Her abilities inspired respect27, inspiration and, in some cases,incredulity among her male colleagues, one of whom described his impressions in detail:Thanks to her background, she can speak the language, whereas the rest of the women of her age orsenior to her, they have this inborn problem - of class. They come from a different class, and they justcannot speak peoples’ languages. Most of the women who are into this kind of a business, even inthe NGO field and in other activism, unfortunately most of them do not speak our language. Tanveerhas that. She speaks peoples’ language so she has that advantage. And as I said earlier, she has gonethrough hell - she has gone through strange experiences of her life. Coming from that background,she has observed very very painful incidents, personal and with the society around. Therefore she hasthat kind of fire and urge to move things.For women, the enigma of this unusual personality seemed ambiguous. A close friend and colleaguenoted that other women felt “overshadowed and were sometimes sarcastic and derogatory”, and that hiswife had noticed that Tanveer was generally more comfortable in the company of men within their largegroup of intellectual, socially and politically active friends. Early in our conversations, Tanveer impressedupon me that she did not identify with “Western” definitions of feminism although these interpretationswere well integrated into some of the mainstream women’s groups whose priorities addressed theimportance of legislative change and human rights issues relating to women. In general, as Tanveerrepeatedly pointed out, Western concepts could not be readily translated into the life of her communitieswhere the media-driven images of Western women create confusion and ambivalence. Although Tanveerhad worked among these women’s action groups for a number of years (though never with the sense ofbelonging and commitment she had recently found in her activities at the grassroots level), her experiences27 One colleague commented that a sign of the respect afforded to Tanveer was the way in which hermale and femalecolleagues naturally addressed her as aap and not turn, the former being a more formal signof respect (comparable to the French voits and tu).30in the rural areas revealed that the needs of women in the villages were of a different nature28. Therelevance of the impact of stereotypic Western images became clearer in Tanveer’s description of howwomen chose to model themselves after her “character”:Another important thing is this; when you have an enhanced social role, people begin to take minorattributes of your person as positive qualities and follow you. If I adopted the image of a Westernwoman, the prototype could have isolated me from the social reality of the women with whom I wasworking.In her society, she insisted, there was little to be gained from attempting to immediately alleviatethe tensions and inequity of gender segregation, given the cultural and social constructions that weredeeply embedded in traditional communities. Significant separation in the form of purdah and othercustoms reduced, to varying degrees, women’s mobility and opportunity. Far from being a simple issueof gender discrimination, the problem involved a complex of factors typical to other ‘developing’ countrieswhich related to the immobility imposed by entrenched class hierarchies, feudal control, and an exactingglobal economy29. To effect change, Tanveer explained, one must gain access to women (and thereby tothe community as a whole) through the male members of a community, a task which frequently provedchallenging. Without the most basic understanding and cooperation of men, women simply could not bereached. Both men and women thereby constituted the dual and equal focus of her efforts: men as the‘gatekeepers’ who permitted access to the women, and women as potentially powerful activists at thecommunity level.28 Historical influences including colonial rules in addition to the daily intervention of the maulvies(religious teachers) had resulted in a legacy of dependence among the diverse populations in this region ofSouth Asia. The people lacked even the most basic experience in organizing their own communities. Ruralwomen were suffering from problems additional to those relating to literacy and discriminating legislation, andfaced extreme poverty, economic exploitation and disease made worse by lack of sanitation. Tanveer’s focusaimed to teach planning strategies and problem-solving skills in an effort to avoid the perpetuation ofdependence on welfare or charity.29 Of particular concern is “the way that market economies have shaped an international order inwhich developing countries are sources of cheap labour and raw materials for technologically sophisticatedcountries where capital is accumulated” (Bourque and Warren 1991:288).31Among her colleagues, Tanveer was not identified as a “feminist” - an ambiguous descriptor in manyareas of the subcontinent due to its Western associations. However, her work was considered to be ofutmost importance to issues relating to gender relations and the enablement of erstwhile disempoweredand dependent communities. In one instance, Tanveer was portrayed by a male colleague as:...a very very sensitive woman of this society. And thank God she adopted this - she took this role thatshe would educate other women and these kinds of things. . .. However, in the [local] perspective Iwouldn’t rate Tanveer a typical feminist kind of a person. You know in the (national] perspective wehave feminists who would simply go, even a couple of years back, would simply go to the level of“slaughter all men” kind of a feeling. She was never that kind.In Tanveer’s view, the role of a female activist was clear:A female activist has to work on two levels. One is to build the awareness of rights among women;my understanding is that no more than 10% of women have a basic idea of their rights. Then comesthe role of an advocate with policy-making and legislative bodies.As we entered the desert village (a community never before visited by Tanveer, but one which knewof her work), a flood of women greeted us. From the very old who touched our heads to the young whovigorously hugged Tanveer and extended warm handshakes to me, there seemed to be close to fifty womenwho had come Out with their children in the intense midday heat to wish us welcome. Quickly usheredinto an area protected from the sun by an overhang, we sat with these women who were invited to sharetheir experiences. The mood was cheerful and alive with laughter and opinions, yet there was an intensityof purpose that belied a more serious agenda. Their discussion (translated by Tanveer) was about thetransformation taking place in their community relating to the participation of their community’s leadersin training workshops; the organization of women that had been developed and their system of savingsand banking that was starting to accrue a modest balance; the forestry project which involved workingwith the men of the village to plant saplings; the growing recognition of the importance of health andhygiene; the support they were receiving from their menfolk in view of these changes; and the realizationthat if the women were able to positively influence the men of the village, then what was to stop them32having an effect on the government? The conversation continued for over an hour. One of the moreoutspoken women looked at Tanveer confidently, saying “with your help, we can face all our problems.”3°Tanveer described to me her facilitation of a debate in the previous year with women from threegenerations of the same family in a village not far from the city where she was based. The exercise hadproved fruitful in helping to offer her “...a pretty good understanding of the rural background inconstraints and blocking forces...and then to see the change”. The youngest of the generations was a youngwoman of eighteen who had recently been granted a divorce from her husband of three years, an abusiveand addicted man to whom she had been betrothed by her parents. The divorce was an unprecedentedevent in her community and it marked freedom from an untenable situation. Seeing this young womanas one who was enthusiastic about continuing to effect change within her community, Tanveer told meof the ideas that she had shared with her:I said, “Look here, that’s the cost of your consciousness. It is not just education that brings awarenessof one’s rights. Thousands of educated women are sitting idly in their houses as they are not preparedto pay the price of their freedom. This lack of awareness perpetuates their misery”.The responsibility that Tanveer was developing in these communities seemed at times overwhelming,and she talked of the way in which her leadership had taken on a cult-like mood in some areas. Similarly,one friend described her having a ‘Mother Theresa’ type of image in her community whereby people wouldlean heavily on her for advice and support. Hoping that her role inspired respect more than it diddependence, Tanveer acknowledged the need to maintain a clear focus on her vision and commitmentrather than on a preoccupation with flattery. Her family’s front room was an active meeting place forfriends, many of whom were men, whose presence in the home caused considerable anxiety to Tanveer’smother. Unrelated males were not normally welcome in a traditional home, and yet many came to seekcounsel from or to participate in intellectual debates with Tanveer. Wielding increasing influence as the30 Translated by Tanveer.33family’s breadwinner (and more so since the recent death of her father), Tanveer had coaxed her motherinto a position of reluctant compromise on this troublesome issue.Tanveer and I talked of matters relating to her reputation in the community on the rooftop of herhome one evening, surrounded by the scattered noises of the neighbourhood. Looking Out across theother rooftops surrounding her current home of five years, we could see the movement in the opencourtyards of several households. She talked nostalgically about her former home where she had grownup. The house now occupied by her sister’s family was located in a neighbourhood some distance away,where the community had been closer than this one, like an extended family.With responsibility and mobility, however, comes scrutiny from both personal and professionalcommunities. In a culture with strict regulations directed toward women, enforced through the religiousauthorities as well as the more tacit directives of custom and tradition, anyone with a high profile is forcedinto a position of magnified concern that demands constant reflexive attention. The potential for scandalwas a concern to this unmarried woman in her twenties who was professionally mobile, both regionallyand internationally. As a result, Tanveer was forced to walk a careful line of moral and ethical conductthat she often found stifling. In the absence of such attentiveness, even intimations at ‘emancipation’ wereoften interpreted as Western in origin, and thereby lacking in moral foundation. Relationships outsideof marriage and beyond the brotherly boundaries of friendship were unthinkable. Tanveer saw herselfunder a microscope31,and spoke of the associated difficulties and sacrifices:I realized that far from being ahead of this society, I had to wage a relentless struggle just for mysurvival. So, on the one hand, I kept challenging the given notions, and on the other, I drew someself-imposed lines- a personal code of conduct. I said to myself, “no such relationship with a man”.31 An image that I suggested when I had observed her life long enough to see the extent to whichher behaviour was rigorously monitored. She agreed with this analogy and frequently used it in subsequentconversations.34Even the friendships with men that offered her social and intellectual support were accompanied by a riskof misinterpretation and, on occasion, there arose confusion about her loyalties among them. Within thislarge network of ‘brothers’, Tanveer’s behaviour and movements seemed also to reflect on them andthereby demand, in a broad sense, a protection of her reputation which affected the honour of her familyand friends. She talked at length about this tight corner in her life. As a result of such social pressuresat home and in her work, Tanveer explained that she had to be calculating about “to whom I can joke andat what level”. She was also constantly attentive to her appearance. While in her daily urban life, shewore the standard duppatta, she carried a more concealing chador with her to the rural areas.32Commenting on the difficulties of her work among a male group of rural colleagues, she rhetoricallyasked:The question was how to avoid undue scandals. I took a big shawl with a very traditional look.Mentally, I felt free and enjoyed my freedom, but I respected the traditional values of the people Iwas working with. I knew that any casual or loose statement could be interpreted in many ways.We walked one day across the vast marble courtyard of the mosque toward the curtained area wherewomen were permitted to gather, outside of the inner enclosed sanctuary where only men worshipped.I struggled to cover my head with the duppatta Tanveer had generously loaned to me with the shaiwarkameez that was infinitely more acceptable than the longest of the skirts I had brought with me.33 Behindthe curtains, a handful of women sat and talked quietly and a few individuals appeared to be praying.Having seen similar groupings in other tombs and shrines we visited, Tanveer shared her observationsabout the advantages of this kind of meeting place for Muslim women. She was, in fact, still in theprocess of completing a paper about this aspect of female mobility whereby these holy locations offered32 In making this choice, Tanveer followed a course of action that some reformists criticize in menwho advocate that female activists from the “middle and upper classes should themselves don the chador toenable other women to identify with their struggles for the larger cause of women’s social and economic rights”(Mumtaz and Shaheed 1987:78).Tanveer, her family and colleagues appeared relieved to see me in regional dress, and constantlyreinforced my modest purchases of outfits with expressive compliments. Initially, I had been unsure as to theappropriateness of immediately adopting local dress. Very quickly, however, I realized the importance ofmeeting expectations for female modesty and I felt more comfortable and less apart.35to some Muslim women a rare opportunity to gather in the public sphere without undue suspicion orcontroversy.Other forces, beyond the domestic and professional spheres had helped to shape Tanveer’s future.In particular, two men had influenced Tanveer’s life most forcefully through friendships that she alsomarked as significant turnings, but from which she had distanced herself by the time of our meeting. Onehad been her tutor, with an intellectual and philosophical influence that provided direction and challengeto her choices and assisted in the creation of what she termed “the vision of life”. Their friendship wasinterrupted by a misunderstanding that related to her sisterly friendship with Akmal. The other, a peerwith whom she attended university, had been committed to her over a long period of time, but hadreceived inconsistent encouragement regarding the possibility of marriage as Tanveer sorted through thepriorities of her life’s responsibilities. By the time she was ready to consider marriage, he was, and choseto remain, betrothed to an illiterate woman from his family’s natal village. In Tanveer’s account of thisharshly disillusioning event, it seemed that her social mobility in the form of her intellect, her professionand her somewhat unorthodox social behaviour ultimately challenged this man whose activities andmobility would, she assumed, not be limited in any way by his chosen bride.34Tanveer’s mentors did not include women, though a close friendship with a senior female professorof philosophy had endured to the extent that she shared many experiences with her. Of the rare incidentsof fond criticism offered by colleagues, one related to Tanveer’s apparent reluctance to associate withother women of her intellectual and professional calibre. Instead, she was seen to surround herself with“students” to whom she could pass along her knowledge and with older intellectuals who were on theHearing of Tanveer’s “case study” (as my work had come to be known), this friend requested thathe meet me, and was obliged by being invited by Tanveer to the house to do so. I was not clear on thereasons for this visit given the strained relationship with Tanveer since his marriage. Possibly, the interviewprovided an opportunity for a rare visit with his old friend. Alternatively, he may have felt that our meetingmight serve to edit his part of their story that he knew her to be telling.36periphery of the mainstream world in which Tanveer was an expert. Tanveer disagreed strongly with thisview of her choice of company, attributing the criticism to previous conflicts with the person concerned.However, keeping company for the most part with a group of intellectually stimulating and devoted friendsand colleagues who were mostly male, she did not appear to actively seek out friendships with womendespite her ability to skilfully interact with women of disparate cultures throughout the country and atinternational meetings. An exception, whom I met later in my visit, was a graduate of Tanveer’s program,a female physician, whose devotion to Tanveer as her teacher matched that expressed by so many others.“She is my ideal” she replied when asked about Tanveer and her work. With this professional woman,there was no mood of competition and Tanveer seemed able to relax and share closer moments.Within her household, Tanveer enjoyed the company of her sister and mother as well as thosefamily members who visited regularly. The television was often on, and heated debates about domesticmatters would frequently compete with a loud movie while unrelated male guests waited patiently forTanveer in the front room. This environment represented for Tanveer the weight of heavy responsibilitywhich involved her mother’s health, her sister’s education and all the associated duties related to thegeneral running of the home. In spite of her commitment to the health of her family, Tanveer seemedto have little patience for domestic chores and left these largely in the hands of others during the timeI spent in her home. One day demanded her participation in the preparation of a meal and we sat in thekitchen as she prepared chapatis (flat bread common to the subcontinent). Her expertise in the task wasevident, as was her lack of enthusiasm for an activity that seemed to demand too much of her precioustime.“What do you do for fun?” I asked in another moment when I was sensing the draining effect of herresponsibilities. A wry smile accompanied her response which spoke of intellectual debate as the sourceof most satisfaction in her life. In the field, however, I was to witness a different kind of pleasure andfulfilment in her expression and her voice as she met with villagers and spoke to her colleagues about37visible changes in their communities. A remarkable side to Tanveer in this setting among her colleaguesand students was a mood that was clear, driven, enthusiastic and very positive - in contrast to a controlledtension she revealed in the city amidst intense responsibilities. A colleague also noted this contrastingmood when Tanveer went to the rural areas:In the field, she goes crazy and she goes ill..she falls ill. She gives so much emotionally as well asphysically....in one day she would try to give maximum kind of a thing as if that’s the last day.Notwithstanding the significant degree of seriousness that Tanveer’s life entailed, laughter was not toodistant from her regular interactions with friends where conversation often took the form of humorousbantering and plays with words. In lighter moments in our own conversations, Tanveer would throw herhand in the air to meet my hand in a clap that accompanied laughter - a shared moment ofcommunication where our gendered selves appeared to transcend the barriers of otherness.Reflecting on the meeting which began this story, Tanveer explained that in sharing some of herlife’s information with this group of men, she was attempting to illustrate the differences between maleand female experiences, and the demands that these differences placed on her mobility and behaviour:It was difficult, because to transform the social values of the people, I had to be very calculating. Inyour country, you don’t face such constraints and you can freely interact with the people, but here,I have to manage my behaviour.Always rational and “calculating”, Tanveer carefully monitored her actions and behaviour in order topresent the most respectable image to a society that could turn doubt into disgrace or, worse, intodishonour. She had developed a strong tendency toward rigorous, moral self-examination that kept heralert to each situation that she encountered and the appropriateness of her (often gendered) response.Nourishing her spirit, however, was a passionate love of philosophy and poetry that had inspired her totranslate a number of works into published texts. She often read or quoted poetry in the company offriends. A particular attraction was to the work of the classical Nineteenth Century Mughal poet, Ghalib,38from whose extensive works she could reputedly quote verses that pertained to every kind of life event35:He is not just a poet; he is a towering philosopher also. My master’s thesis was on the metaphysicaltradition of Ghalib’s poetry. Reading his work gave moorings to my understanding of things. Hisverse is so pregnant with profound connotations; I could not be content with only the emotionalcontent of a poet’s work. I have a preference for a blend of sentiments and reason. In Ghalib, wehave that. Many students of poetry are inspired by the emotional verve of poetry, but I place Ghalibabove everyone else.Indeed, Tanveer insisted on a rational approach to all life events. Toward the midpoint of my stay,as we were on our way to dinner with a friend, I noticed she was in a sombre, agitated mood. While thiswas not unusual, my sensitivity prompted me to presume that perhaps my demands on her time werewearing thin. Within minutes I was proven mistaken. Tanveer revealed that she wished to tell me aboutan important issue that had just arisen. Prior to our departure from her home that evening, alongstanding friend had proposed marriage. She was both surprised and perplexed, already workingthrough a rational set of questions about the advisability of such an arrangement. In an initial responsetypical to my own conditioning, I asked how she “felt” about this man, a question which was greeted bya puzzled expression and dismissed with a statement to the effect that this aspect would obviously becomeclear in time. For the moment, it was her goal to sort through the concrete advantages and disadvantagesof this potential marriage so that she could provide her friend with a prompt answer. From what I saw,this proposal forced Tanveer to review once again the myriad of issues and responsibilities that hadconstrained her life until this critical point. Having postponed her own wellbeing for the sake of her familyfor many years, and having refused previous opportunities to marry, she now faced another chance tochange the solitude of responsibility and to surrender to social pressures that were becoming increasinglyGhalib, or Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan, reportedly admired western “rationalism” prior to thedramatic turn of events in India in 1857 when the level of violence imposed by the British altered hisperspective. Aijaz Ahmad (1971:xxiv) describes Ghalib’s work as a “poetry of moral privacies...For Ghalib, theparticular is the universal, a man’s history is the history of his intelligence, plus his emotions, plus his times”.By this description, and in reading several translated ghazals (conventional forms of classical poetry) of Ghalib,I could better understand Tanveer’s attraction to a blend of rational thought and emotion. I was surprised,however, that she was not more outwardly interested in the volumes of poetry being published bycontemporary female poets. Instead, she seemed steeped in the classical tradition.36 Muslim marriages are traditionally arranged by the family. In the urban centres, however,marriages of choice among young professionals are becoming increasingly common.39difficult to face. Always focused on a vision that sought the empowerment of the communities shetouched, Tanveer considered the potential for her own enhanced empowerment and for a degree ofintellectual and social compatibility with this partner. In sight was the potential for relief from theisolation that her responsibilities imposed.In addition to the practical advantages of an approach which produced tangible results, Tanveer’simage was also true to her own strongly stated values. She wanted, above all, to live a meaningful” lifethat could be seen as a model and which was based on carefully considered principles evolved over yearsof lived experience:It is a matter of the personal values that I adopted in view of the social, political and economicrealities around me. When people identi1’ themselves with me, it gives me a great sense of strength,though I remain, in my heart, a free person. I am using the word in its positive sense, and peopleknow that I take my freedom in a very limited sense.DiscussionI would argue that a feminist anthropology cannot assume the willingness of women to talk, and that oneavenue open to it is to investigate when and why women do talk, to assess what strictures are placed ontheir speech, what avenues of creativity they have appropriated, and what degrees offreedom they possess(Visweswaran 198&37).The StoryThe preceding ethnographic description identifies the ways in which one individual has mobilizedin a society whose historical, cultural and social forces discourage the mobility of women. The layeredeffects of colonialism, feudal control, and gender discrimination, as documented by women worldwide,provide a thick context to the edited tale of this community worker whose subaltern perspective andintellectual efforts reflect a consistent concern regarding these issues. Naturally, however, theethnographic experiences described in this paper do not represent a generalized view of the lives of anyhomogeneous ‘category’ of women. A monolithic picture does not exist and the differences of experience40and circumstance are vast, influenced to a large degree by class differentiation (Bardhan 1991:169). Norcan the experiences described be seen as an adequate account of this one life. Rather, the text contributesto the expanding volume of literature37emerging from and about women in the subcontinent by providinga situated, phenomenological account of the experiential fabric of one woman’s background in the specificcontext of gendered mobility.Women as OthersAnthropologists study others as interpreters of experience. Feminists from markedly differentperspectives study oppression by patriarchal orders. Both studies intersect at a juncture that identifies thenotion of differences at the root of each discourse (Caplan 1988b:15; Strathern 1987:286). Morespecifically, as noted by Abu-Lughod, “the two fundamental and political systems of difference” that areat the heart of inequality and which are addressed by both fields are those of race and gender (1990:24).Over twenty years of feminist study in the West have redirected efforts to “claril’ing variations in women’sroles and experiences and then to understanding the construction of gender in specific social systems”(Collier & Yanagisako 1987:4). In the same time frame, South Asian women have worked toward theredefinition of mistaken assumptions about the nature of oppression in their so-called ‘developing’ worlds.Notwithstanding the well documented subordination of the Third World to the First World, conjecturesfrom all sides can block progress among women. From within the Islamic feminist movement, forexample, theologist Riffat Hussan (1988) proposes that while Muslim women have been oppressed, theyare not oppressed in the sense that Western feminists often assume. Perceptions in South Asia, on theother hand, commonly associate the West with mass Western culture and an associated sense of moraldegeneration and disintegration (Hussan 1991:12) - a view not uncommon to previous colonies wherehostility persists toward continuing Western influences (Boserup 1990:24). This antagonism is perpetuated‘ The literature of and about women in the sub-continent addresses a multitude of issues including,among others, poverty, gender and development, economic development, interpretation of scriptures, and therights and status of women.41by a confusing blend of media-driven images from the West. As a result of such obstacles tounderstanding, women from disparate realities often fail to establish a meaningful dialogue or an “affinitybuilt on the recognition of difference” (Abu-Lughod 1990:24). The dialogue involved in this researchinvolved several others: myself, Tanveer and the respective social orders in which we move. Experiencesin the field regularly revealed my feeling of otherness, and her apparent sense of otherness in me, to beprofound. However, a tacit recognition of the “multiple identifications” of both selves occasionally helpedto move us beyond the “fixed self/other or subject/object divide” of ethnography (Abu-Lughod 1990:25).Caplan insists on a focus on the conceptions of gender held by our “subjects” in allowing them torelate their own meanings (1988b:16). Ferguson’s (1990:296) view concurs in her articulation of theimportance of women’s participation in the context of Tanveer’s field of community development:But if we were to reverse the epistemological primacy that the ‘developed’ nations give themselves inconstituting ‘Third World’ women as problems and instead make women’s lives and women’s ways thebeginning point of our analysis, then it is the claims of the developers that come under scrutiny.While such a centring of women was deemed ‘revolutionary’ twenty years ago, Caplan points to the factthat the idea of women as central remains as an extreme concept (1988b:14). Notwithstanding thesluggishness of change, the experiences of women remain grounded in a shared reality of (often strategic)movement- and one that occurs largely within the confines of male models (ibid.). Consequently, it isinvariably women who share the knowledge in and comprise the audience for discussions concerning thisfamiliar sense of otherness. In this regard, feminist and anthropological approaches emphasize that“experience thus becomes the instrument of a knowledge which cannot be appropriated by Others. It canonly be shared with like persons” (Strathern 1987:287.288).A Case of OneAs Friedi describes in her presentation of stories from the women of Deh Koh , Tanveer’sexperiences contribute to an “understanding of what women themselves make of their position and of how42they use their culture, their relationships, and their philosophy to construct their lives and the lives ofthose near them” (1989:6). While not the only factor in a life of converging influences, genderedexperience is central to her story. Tanveer’s constructed identity was very strong and often expressedparadoxical gendered images. A thick description (See Geertz 1973) helps to reveal this ‘untidiness’ ofgender that allows women to seem subordinate and autonomous in the same moment (Caplan1988a:12)3. As a central example, Tanveer’s adoption of different roles, strategies and vernacularsenhanced her mobility between and amidst diverse realities. In the urban centres, where highly literategroups tended toward attempts to institute change through legislation, Tanveer moved comfortably witha reported ability to translate the experiences of her rural colleagues. Her skill was described by one friendas “significant to the extent that there was never any distance, never any differences of gender; and aboveall, she spoke in a language which is a reflection of their [the village participants’] own language”.Tanveer’s reported and observed experiences demonstrate the adaptations that allowed her to moveeffectively through a wide range of environments. Her accomplishments can be summarized in four keyaspects of this gendered construction of mobility: an achievement of mobility through the adoption ofspecific roles and tools; a level of mobility established without a corresponding rejection of tradition; arecognition of and collaboration with men as gatekeepers to traditional communities; and a tendency tobe identified by others with the male model.As an unmarried woman, Tanveer bore many of her responsibilities alone. Although she hadestablished a wide channel of movement in the public sphere, for years she had been driven by this senseof responsibility to suppress emotional needs for companionship. Without an impeccable image in ahighly attentive community, her reputation would falter. The cost of mobility had been the absorption38 Geertz’s attention to reflexivity in fieldwork and to the literary aspects of ethnographic textscontributes to the development of anthropological debates and feminist discussion concerning central issuesof knowledge, representation and the ambiguous value of objectivity (Abu-Lughod 1990:10-11).43of what she saw as her “best years” in the solitary and exhausting responsibilities of leadership she hasassumed within and outside the family. While always immersed in the maintenance of her family’s affairsand surrounded by a host of devoted colleagues and friends, Tanveer’s unusual accomplishments had notonly produced a sense of isolation and fatigue, but had also invited a degree of unwelcome scrutiny. Inher words:If you talk to these people, they will tell you, ‘Look at Tanveer, the level of freedom that she isenjoying”. But they tend to ignore the costs that I have paid. They overlook this perspective, andthey just see the fruit.Tanveer’s first effort to establish a foundation for enhanced mobility required accessing an advancedlevel of education that involved a persistent struggle to push beyond the boundaries of her family traditionand social class. Years of study and teaching spent among a highly intellectual group of friends hadpromoted an awareness that offered both an intellectual capacity and a degree of flexibility which she hadlearned to use in manoeuvring within a rigid and often unpredictable social order. Education wasmeaningless in her view, however, without a corresponding level of commitment to social change.Tanveer’s strategies derived from a sensitivity to and knowledge about the limitations and needs of thedisparate cultures she frequently encountered. Before entering rural communities, gaining the respect ofmale leaders who controlled access was one of the most daunting challenges facing Tanveer and hercolleagues. To sustain her acceptance as well as the leaders’ participation, she spoke about her own lifehistory in order to reveal the layers of assumptions and constraints that hindered the mobility, and therebythe health, work and productivity of women. It was a patient exercise of strategic communication mademore effective through a demonstrated respect for local traditions.Constant encounters with traditional values challenged Tanveer’s work. Her personal ambition wasneither to protect nor defy tradition, but rather to understand its relative power in the environments sheencountered. Ornamented urban women refusing to cover their heads and speaking in unfamiliar termsof women’s rights did not impress the gatekeepers of traditional communities. Tanveer, unadorned andmodestly presented, speaking of concrete and relevant solutions, held more assurance of enduring access.44Always accompanied by a male colleague, dressed appropriately, and communicating in understandableand practical terms, Tanveer entered virtually closed communities. Rather than a camouflage, herattention to conventional appearances and appropriate behaviours were evidence of her knowledge oftradition and its expectations.Tanveer’s gendered image can be seen as ‘neutral’ (or un-gendered), a feature that permitted herto blend more easily into the communities where she conducted workshops, always among unrelated males.She moved with an equal degree of confidence among and between the segregated communities of ruralwomen and men. Nevertheless, holding more knowledge, freedom, voice and mobility than was culturallyacceptable for local women, she was an enigma and was thereby placed in a category apart. In some cases,she was cast as wise and older than her years. Alternatively, she was seen as “brave” or as a son and nota daughter - a woman who could be understood only in male terms in efforts to rationalize her mobility.From these perspectives, Tanveer’s male rural colleagues adopted one of two gendered approaches whichboth made sense of the enigma and permitted her entry: they either transformed her gender into the desexualized and (more legitimately) powerful realm of grandmother, or they translated her success into thatof a male. While Tanveer objected to such misrepresentations of her gender and of her own achievements,she accepted the level of dissonance that her image could create in traditional communities. This conflictposed less tension among women who appeared to view Tanveer differently. Among her female peers inthe urban centres, she was an ambiguous figure in the eyes of some who were reportedly uncomfortablein her presence. In contrast, her affinity with rural women resulted in their more immediate acceptanceof her as a ‘sister’ who presented an inspiring vision that was not threatening and which promised changethrough active participation.Mandelbaum sees personality defined according to the priority one assigns to experiences andattitudes collected in a life which may be known to others but ‘weighted” differently to the extent that“each person is both a bound actor and a free agent” (1973:194). The “weighting” (Ardener 1992:7) of45gender and its constraints in Tanveer’s experience appeared to vary according to her roles and activities.In both spatial and ideological terms, Tanveer appeared to be restricted by her society where culturallyavailable options limited many of her strategic choices. While she wished to further her education abroad,a strong commitment to family and to the promise of social change prevented even a temporary absence.Steering clear of the emerging professionalised, entrepreneurial and elitist approach to communitydevelopment, she targeted grassroots efforts as a preferred avenue to democratic social transformation.Rejecting mainstream feminist efforts and their Western associations in the context of her work, she hadstarted to move away (both figuratively and literally) from syndicated groups, focusing her attentioninstead on women’s expressed needs at the village level. Delaying traditional expectations of an early orarranged marriage, she had discouraged previous proposals in order to fulfil an obligation to her familyin the absence of her brothers. As Ardener notes, gender can also weigh differently throughout a life’scourse, and there are numerous examples of women who gain importance after the deaths of male familymembers “...in their lieu, as it were” (1992:7-8).Much of Tanveer’s experience points to an ‘untidiness’ of gender (Caplan 1988a: 12). Movingconfidently among remarkably diverse settings, she projected subtly different and sometimes contradictorygendered selves while maintaining a position of leadership, a visible degree of respect, and a firmgrounding in her personal vision for social change. A paradoxical consequence of Tanveer’s mobility wasevident in the stifling scrutiny of her community (always more attentive to the movement of women) thatcontrasted with a degree of personal isolation imposed by her many responsibilities as an unmarriedwoman.Ardener (1992) discusses this phenomenon in the context of women in politics who hold powerin the absence of a ‘qualified’ man. Examples in South Asia of the inherited power of women are found inthe late Indira Gandhi and more recently, in Benazir Bhutto. While both women were elected to office, theyassumed a significant degree of popularity by virtue of their fathers’ respective legacies. Bardhan, however,points to a generally more autonomous involvement of women in politics in the past two decades (1991:167).46Tanveer’s roles of breadwinner, family head, daughter, sister, fictive sister, social reformer, teacher,and devoted friend demanded different approaches and a wide channel of mobility. While directexperience from an urban lower middle class background contributed to her comprehension of the morerestricted codes of conduct in rural areas, her academic exposure had also familiarized her with theideologies and behaviours of more privileged classes. Her status of ‘sister’ among her male friends offeredboth protection and an enhanced degree of acceptable mobility in the public sphere. Her additional toolsof intellect, dress, language, empathetic communication skills and a genuine respect for tradition offeredflexibility in disparate environments. By developing this variety of roles and tools (some more genderedthan others), Tanveer had become adept at carefully manipulating and monitoring her levels of mobility.Her recent grassroots work had also brought her closer to a vocation that resonated meaning in her life,demonstrating an affinity with rural women whose experiences more closely matched those of her earlyyears than those of her urban colleagues. Tanveer’s vocation and vision attempted to enhance the mobilityof many others through her attention to community development - a process that involved a shift of the“power-and-knowledge focus” to smaller, localized communities (Ferguson 1990:300).In considering this tale and discussion, it is important, as Cotterill suggests, “to devise ways ofmaking sure the unique experience of the individual is not used to argue against women’s collectiveinterests” (1992:604)° Like Tanveer, many women are achieving and managing their mobility throughstrategic decisions in the face of overwhelming constraints in many countries. Women who can reach themost isolated corners of their worlds to directly address women’s local issues and the health of theircommunities are complementing the important work being done through central efforts to reverseoppressive legislation and discrimination. Having achieved a level of mobility through a series ofcircumstances, turnings and strategic decisions, Tanveer contributes to a collective of global efforts to findconcrete solutions to gendered issues.40 Cotterill refers to the work of Finch (1984).47ConclusionThe turnings, experiences and adaptations of this one woman’s story show the degree to whichmobility can be achieved and, when necessary, camouflaged in a variety of situations where the physicaland ideological movement of women is severely constrained. As a thematic device, gendered mobilityoffers a useful lens through which gendered experience can be viewed. Tanveer’s life as ft was evolvingwhen we met framed a vocation of mobility and mobilisation that was a source of inspiration for others.From an empowered sense of self, she was succeeding in empowering others.48Selected Biblio2raphyAbu-Lughod, Lila1990 Can There Be a Feminist Ethnography? 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