Syncretic Feminism: Exploring Gender Justice and Reproductive Rights

Session Report
Trisha Shivdasan

The Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi conducted a Three-Day Immersive Online Certificate Training Course on ‘Feminism: Fundamentals, Facets and Future’ from February 23rd to 25th, 2023. 

The course, spread over three-consecutive days, introduced the participants to the origins and trajectory of feminism, its contemporary and European aspects, intersectional feminism, feminist theory in India, and the intersection of law and feminism. It initiated a dialogue on the fundamentals and core values of feminist theory and encouraged a feminist consciousness within the participants. 

On the third day our final speaker, Prof Bijayalaxmi Nanda, Principal, and Professor of Political Science, Miranda House, University of Delhi, begins her session by providing a comprehensive exploration of feminist discourses on rights, focusing on the case study of sex-selective abortion in India. The talk delved into various feminist perspectives, blending Western and Indian theories to present a syncretic approach.

Understanding Feminist Discourses on Rights

Prof. Nanda emphasized the existence of competing feminist discourses at local, national, and global levels, each offering unique insights into women’s bodies, reproductive rights, and their interlinkages. Acknowledging the complexity, she advocated for a syncretic feminist perspective to navigate contradictions and challenges.

Justice and Love in Feminist Discourse

Quoting Joshua Kohan and Martha Nussbaum, Prof. Nanda highlighted the emotional depth required in discussions about justice, especially gender justice. She touched upon the often-overlooked theme of love in feminist discourse, emphasizing its importance in understanding and advocating for justice.

Sex-Selective Abortion in India: A Feminist Perspective

The session addressed the alarming issue of declining child sex ratios in India, primarily attributed to son preference, daughter aversion, and the misuse of reproductive technology. Prof. Nanda traced the evolution of terminologies in discussing this phenomenon, emphasizing the need for politically correct language.

Evolution of Feminist Discourses on Reproductive Rights

The talk traced the shifts in feminist discourses on rights, from individual rights and gender equality to group rights, intersectionality, and the recognition of women’s rights as human rights. Prof. Nanda stressed the importance of engaging with various perspectives, including liberal, socialist, radical, and postmodern feminism.

Syncretic Feminist Perspective: Navigating Dilemmas

Prof. Nanda introduced the concept of a syncretic feminist perspective, advocating for a nuanced approach that considers the dilemmas within feminist politics. The discussion covered the tensions between legal interventions and going outside the law, the pro-life versus pro-choice debate, and the challenges of creating empowering laws.

Policy Responses and Feminist Interventions

The session explored the collaboration between feminists and the state in addressing sex-selective abortion. Prof. Nanda discussed the demand and supply sides of the issue, involving legal interventions, medical ethics, and the development of policies to protect women’s rights.

Challenges and Dilemmas in Feminist Politics

The talk highlighted the dilemmas within feminist politics, such as the conflicting views on laws, the struggles with the pro-life versus pro-choice debate, and the complexities surrounding reproductive autonomy. Prof. Nanda illustrated these challenges with real-life case studies, emphasizing the need for nuanced, context-specific approaches.

Building a Syncretic Feminist Framework

Drawing from feminist scholars like Susan Okin, Carol Pittman, and Brooke Ackerly, Prof. Nanda advocated for a syncretic feminist framework that incorporates capabilities, voice, agency, citizenship rights, and strategic essentialism. The discussion also touched upon the importance of mainstreaming social traction within broader development efforts.

Global Perspectives and Transnational Feminism

The session concluded with insights into transnational feminist arguments, examining global capitalist markets’ role in perpetuating gender disparities. Prof. Nanda emphasized the importance of addressing transnational gender vulnerabilities and the need for a proactive state role in securing women’s rights.

Overall, Prof. Bijayalaxmi Nanda’s session provided a nuanced and comprehensive exploration of feminist discourses on rights, offering a valuable framework for navigating the complexities of gender justice and reproductive rights.

Acknowledgment: Reet Lath is a research Intern at IMPRI.

Read more event reports of IMPRI here:

Feminism Unbound: Navigating Intersectionality Across Global Frontiers

Unraveling Feminism’s Impact on Legal Systems and Structures