October 1, 2014

Soli Sorabjee Lectures in South-Asian Studies: Bina Agarwal

March 19, 2012

5:30 pm, Rapaporte Treasure Hall

Bina Agarwal is a prize-winning feminist economist who studies gender, development, and agriculture in India and throughout South Asia. She writes about changing the framework of traditional economics to include women and implicit power relationships in decision making found in patriarchical societies.

The Soli Sorabjee lecture series engages with themes of “justice” — broadly defined to include the interrogation of human rights, historical narratives, literary and political representations, gender and social justice, citizenship and democracy, and cross-border connections between the nations of South Asia. Our goal is to expose students at Brandeis (and the larger public) to the scholarship being conducted in the multidisciplinary fields of South Asian Studies, both in the United States and in South Asia itself, as well as to the vast range of South Asian intellectual and artistic traditions. The series is sponsored by the South Asian Studies Programand the Brandeis-India Initiative. It was named after the honorable Soli J. Sorabjee, former attorney general of India and a friend of Brandeis University.


  1. Jenny Chen says:

    I thought that Bina Agrawal presented a very compelling case for the inclusion of women onto the Executive Board of the CFIs of India and China. She started her lecture off with a metaphor, comparing the Entwives from the Lord of the Rings to the women in villages in India. She completed her comparison with the suggestion that, like the Entwives, women living in villages were made “invisible”—so much that there was no effort to invite the two female species to participate in the Council for forest conservation. Since the Ents did make an effort to find their Entwives and failed because the wives disappeared, this comparison is incorrect. However, despite the faulty comparison, Agrawal goes on to explain that women—who happen to be the ones who depend on the forest most—were mostly unrecognized in the law-making process. For example, anticipated effects of the 1965 Forest Act—which restricted forest use—said that “villagers” (not women, who Agrawal has argued are the ones who use the forest for food and firewood most) would face some hardship. They were largely unrecognized, and despite the fact that women were able to lobby successfully for the right to vote and to contest elections, they were limited from participation in village councils. In essence, the decentralization of the Indian government did not mean that there would be a decentralization of the forest governance and thus a more expansive inclusion of women on the CFI Councils, especially on the Executive Boards. However, she proves that women’s presence on these committees drastically affect the conservation of forests by improving the condition of the deteriorating forests. Therefore, women are essential—in terms of ideas and physical presence—to the CFI forest conservation decision-making process.
    What is most interesting and more relevant to our class is the CFI’s implementation of modern technology and alternative resources. While the preservation of forests seems to be a more “traditional” perspective, contrary to industrialization and modernization, the villages are actually utilizing modern technology to make their conservation process more efficient and “greener”. There are plans to use alternative energy sources—such as biofuels—to heat up stoves and thus conserve energy and create a sustainable environment. Although the villages themselves do not have the resources to come with up this idea, the knowledge of it shows how even globalization affects small villages whose main goal is to conserve local forests in Southeast Asia. Agrawal commented on how gender composition, because of the two genders’ ability to communicate and share different ideas, positively affects forest composition. This same sharing of ideas applies to biofuels and globalization—these villages seem to be an essential part of India and Nepal (thus, it is part of their national identity), but they are still able to gain hold of modern ideas and implement them to make their job much easier and more efficient.

  2. Ethan Levy says:

    I found Bina Agarwal’s presentation of the rural women of India’s dependence on forests to be quite interesting. She was able to catch my attention right off the bat by referencing the Ents from Lord of the Rings, a great segway into the discussion of the gender division of labor and economic resources (for those who know the series well, anyway). She brought up great points as to why women should be more involved and included in meetings regarding the forest, and also had charts of information to back up the points she was trying to include. My favorite part of the discussion however, was chart she showed us called, “The Typology of Participation”. I like how she broke down participation into levels: Nominal, Passive, Consultative, Activity-Specific, and Empowered parts, each section having gradually more power and influence. This is great because it not only applies to the women of India, but can be applied to meetings anywhere in the world, and to any socioeconomic group. Eco-feminism is a topic that was new to me and I didn’t know about the plight of Indian women in rural India. Even though women are allowed to attend meetings regarding the future and preservation of the forests, they have a limited role and aren’t allowed to speak up