Women's perception of participation in NREGA, empowerment as a process of change

Women’s perception of participation in NREGA,
              empowerment as a process of change
              A comparative Minor Field Study between two villages in
                              Andhra Pradesh, India

Supervisor:                                                              Author:
Prof. Hans Blomkvist                                            Maxine Olausson

                                                            Thesis Development C

                                          Development Studies, Uppsala University
This thesis is a comparative analysis between two villages in India, examining personal
accounts from participants in the world’s largest anti-poverty programme, the Mahatma
Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). The analysis is based on an
eight-week field-study in Andhra Pradesh, which was financed through a Minor Field Study
Scholarship by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). This
thesis aim to provide the discourse with empirical research of the process that leads to
empowerment using qualitative methods. The relationship of interest is how women in
NREGA perceive employment has led to a perception of empowerment. The hypothesis is
that employment in NREGA can lead to perceived empowerment, but that it is dependent on
the development level including the intensity of patriarchal norms and caste tensions in the
village of implementation. Empowerment is understood as a process of change – when a
person experiences an expansion in their ability to make valued choices and desired
outcomes. The theoretical foundation is that empowerment can occur in three different levels
of analysis: immediate (sense of self-hood and identity), intermediate (rules and relationships
in different spheres of life) and deeper (structural relations of power) levels. The results show
that employment in NREGA leads to perceived empowerment in immediate levels of
analysis, through an expansion of abilities in choice and achievements, irrespective of
development level, but that the development level and intensity of patriarchal norms and caste
tensions is determinant for whether employment in NREGA leads to perceived empowerment
in intermediate and deeper levels of empowerment. This thesis argues that to achieve
sustainable empowerment structural relations of power must be transformed. The main
recommendation for policies and programmes is therefore to acknowledge the importance of
development level including patriarchal norms and caste tensions when implementing
programmes like NREGA with objectives of sustainable empowerment for low-caste women,
to ensure what objectives are feasible.

Keywords: Empowerment, India, NREGA, women, Dalit

Word count: 13885

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I would like to thank Sida for making the fieldwork in India possible through the Minor Field
Study scholarship. I would like to thank my supervisor Hans Blomkvist, whose constant
support throughout the writing process has been invaluable. I am grateful to my two
translators, for their assistance and companionship in the field. I also want to thank K.C. Suri,
for his guidance in Andhra Pradesh. Last but not least, I want to offer my deepest gratitude to
the women who participated in my research, for their contribution to this thesis and for
accepting me into their homes.

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Table of content
1. Introduction and background                                        5
   1.1 Andhra Pradesh and Dalits                                      5
   1.2 NREGA                                                          5
   1.3 Purpose and research question                                  6
   1.4 Hypothesis and aim                                             7
2. Previous research and theoretical scope                             9
   2.1 Conceptualising empowerment                                     9
      2.1.1 Disempowerment                                            10
   2.2 The empowerment process                                        11
   2.3 Measuring empowerment                                          13
      2.3.1 Levels of analysis                                        14
      2.3.2 ‘Perceive’                                                15
   2.4 Summary                                                        16
3. Methodology and material                                           17
   3.1. Methods                                                       17
      3.1.1 Semi-structured interviews and participant observations   17
   3.2 Material                                                       18
      3.2.1 Village selection                                         18
      3.2.2 Respondent selection                                      18
   3.3 Categorising and analysing data                                19
   3.4 Operationalisation                                             20
   3.5 Ethical aspects                                                20
   3.6 Validity and reliability                                       21
4. Analysis of empirical results                                      22
   4.1 Immediate levels                                               22
      4.1.1 Individual resources                                      22
      4.1.2 Individual agency                                         23
      4.1.3 Individual achievement                                    26
   4.2 Intermediate levels                                            27
      4.2.1 Personal sphere                                           27
      4.2.2 Social sphere                                             30
      4.2.3 Economic sphere                                           32
      4.2.4 Political sphere                                          33
   4.3 Deeper levels                                                  35
      4.3.1 Caste power relations                                     35
      4.3.2 Gendered power relations                                  37
   4.4 Summary                                                        40
5. Conclusions                                                        41
6. List of References                                                 43

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1. Introduction and background
1.1 Andhra Pradesh and Dalits
This thesis examines perceptions of empowerment from Dalit women participating in the
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), in two villages in
Andhra Pradesh, Naguluru (Anantapur district) and Chavali (Guntur district). Andhra Pradesh
is a state is south India, where the majority of the population are Hindus and the official
language is Telugu (Census India, 2011). In the summer of 2014, Andhra Pradesh was
divided into two states, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Both Anantapur and Guntur are
situated within the new Andhra Pradesh. Andhra Pradesh has been one of the best performing
states of implementing NREGA (Maiorano, 2014:95), where more than half of the available
days of employment have been demanded by women (Pankaj & Tankha, 2010:45-46). This
thesis will compare Naguluru; that score low on the Human Development Index (HDI), with
the opposite ranking Chavali; that scores high on the HDI, to see if and how the perceived
empowerment effects of employment in NREGA differ depending on these contextual
structures (APHDR, 2008:11-15 and Sultana, 2011).

The word Dalit comes from the Sanskrit words for ‘destroyed’ and ‘crushed’, and is today
commonly used instead of ‘untouchables’. There are three official designations for the lowest
status communities in India: Scheduled Castes (SCs), Schedules Tribes (STs) and Other
Backward Castes (OBCs), where Dalits are part of Scheduled Castes. This classification is not
homogenous; there are more than sixty different Dalit communities in Andhra Pradesh alone.
The two dominant communities are Malas and Madigas, and the respondents in this thesis
identify as Madigas (Meeting, K.C. Suri, 2016).

There has been increased importance of Public Work Programmes (PWP) in the development
discourse; with main objectives often including increasing poor household income and
empowering marginalised groups. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals
(2005) and the Sustainable Development Goals (2012) both include eradicating hunger and
promoting gender equality and female empowerment (Kishor Datta & Singh, 2012:448).
NREGA is the worlds largest PWP and incorporates both these objectives by giving rights to
adults in rural households to demand employment in public works up to 100 days per year,

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and to pay a minimum wage without gender discrimination (Maiorano, Thapar-Björkert &
Blomkvist, 2016:130). The key intended beneficiaries of NREGA are women, SCs and STs.
NREGA provides lucrative opportunity for rural women to act as agents through earning a
salary from unskilled labour and participating in the public sphere (Kishor Datta & Singh,
2012:448). Employment in NREGA is appealing, as tasks are considered culturally dignified
for women to do. To secure accessibility, the NREGA worksites are located within a five-
kilometre radius of the village and day-care for children is provided, which have benefited
women in particular. NREGA is a central component of social protection and livelihood
improvement in India (Ehmke, 2016:4-8 & 18-19).

One way NREGA engage beneficiaries as agents rather than as recipients, is as ‘Mates’. A
Mate supervises the worksite and is the link between the workers and the Gram Panchayat.
The Gram Panchayat is a small body of elected people from the village, and is in NREGA
responsible for registrations and monitoring implementation among other responsibilities
(Ministry of Rural Development & CWEPA, 2014). The benefits of NREGA include
reduction of migration, a safety net of securing food, access to health care and increased
education (Maiorano, Thapar-Björkert & Blomkvist, 2016:130). However, some reports
suggest that unmarried, divorced and widowed women sometimes are excluded from these
benefits. NREGA aim to improve women’s practical needs, so women can purchase food,
clothes and medicines with NREGA salaries, and strategic needs, as employment reduces
women’s financial dependence on male family members (Pankaj & Tankha, 2010:45-46 and
Molyneux, 1985). The emergence of women having their own income has had empowering
effects shown in increased participation in the public sphere and increased decision-making
power in the private sphere (Pankaj & Tankha, 2010:45-46).

1.3 Purpose and research question
This thesis will examine if and how women that are employed in NREGA perceive to be
empowered by the programme by viewing a process of change in agency and ability to make
valued choices. Empowerment is a multidimensional and diffuse concept (Samma & Santos,
2009:1-2) and this thesis will delimit the scope of analysis to an individual, context-specific
angle, using qualitative data from in-depth interviews on women’s perceptions of
empowerment through employment in NREGA (Ibrahim & Alkire, 2007). The ambition is to
provide the discourse with empirical evidence of empowerment as a process, rather than

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understanding empowerment through quantifiable indicators of increased income. The thesis
also aims to provide the discourse with evidence of the difference between direct and
sustainable empowerment. Why is it relevant to study empowerment in relation to PWP?
Essentially because the development discourse increasingly includes empowerment both for
the instrumental and intrinsic value to development. The instrumental value of empowerment
is associated to growth, upholding human rights and alleviation from poverty. The intrinsic
value of empowerment is associated to the individual wellbeing of the empowered person
(Alsop et al. 2005:2). If we believe this to be vital for development, then micro-level research
is relevant to shed light on the actual experiences by people in PWP, who supposedly should
reap benefits of empowerment. The research questions for this thesis is:

    In what way do women perceive employment in NREGA to have changed their situation, and
                      how has this affected their perceived empowerment?

1.4 Hypothesis and aim
The hypothesis is that employment in NREGA can lead to perceived empowerment, but that it
depends on the development level of the village of implementation, as well as the intensity of
patriarchal norms and caste tensions. The assumption that increased income automatically
leads to empowerment is argued to be too simplistic. This thesis will instead argue that
development level and cultural norms and practices affect what choices women are able to
make. It is of common belief that patriarchy stands in the way of development (Sen, 1999),
and that low levels of development sometimes is intertwined with prominent patriarchal
norms inhibiting women from participating in the public sphere. In India, this thesis argues,
that what inhibits Dalit women from participation and emancipation is related to both
patriarchal norms and tensions of caste. The intersectionality between gender and caste cannot
be ignored, as Dalit women are experiencing discrimination both due to their gender and
caste. As there is no index of intensity of norms and tensions, this thesis presumes that the
village Chavali, with higher HDI, has lower levels of patriarchal norms and caste tensions. In
Naguluru, where the development level is lower and the patriarchal norms and caste tensions
believed to be stronger than in Chavali, Dalit women having employment and having equal
salaries to men might be considered more provocative. Women who have the resource of
employment in NREGA, but who are unable to exert agency over this resource and make
valued choices due to these contextual factors, could actually experience disempowerment.

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This thesis will examine if and how employment in NREGA has lead to perceived
empowerment by looking at indicators of change in resources, agency and achievements
within three levels of empowerment analysis 1. Inspiration for this hypothesis stems from the
article ‘The Paradoxes of Empowerment: Gendering NREGA in the Rural Landscape of
India’ (Maiorano, Thapar-Björkert, Blomkvist, 2016). The aim of this thesis is to examine the
relationship between the two variables employment in NREGA and perceived empowerment,
but also to trace the mechanism predicted to cause this relationship and see if the
hypothesised intervening variable affects this relationship of interest. To empirically test the
hypothesis, questions were posed and indicators of perceived empowerment was detected in
the answers, and the answers from the two villages were compared.

Figure 1. Hypothesis

) See Table 1!

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2. Previous research and theoretical scope
This chapter outlines the theoretical foundation of this thesis. The first section addresses the
scholarly debate on how to define the diffuse concept of empowerment, and how this thesis
understands this concept. The second section attends to what components have been argued to
constitute the process of empowerment in the empowerment literature, and how what
components are used in this thesis. The third and final section concentrates on theories of
analytical tools used to measure empowerment, and an important table is presented which is
the theoretical framework used to measure empowerment in this thesis 2. The structure of this
chapter is inspired by an article by Malhotra, Schuler and Boender (2002). The theoretical
literature presented is from research within the fields of empowerment and development. The
current theoretical and empirical research on this topic is growing and, as will be shown,
includes variety in meaning and terminology (Malhotra, Schuler & Boender, 2002:4).

2.1 Conceptualising empowerment
The term empowerment has been used to describe a variety of outcomes and concepts,
sometimes loosely used to promote certain agendas without an analytical framework. In the
development discourse, empowerment is often used in correlation to a bottom-up approach
through which marginalised groups act for themselves rather than being passive recipients of
aid (Malhotra, Schuler & Boender, 2002:4-6). Malhotra, Schuler and Boender (2002) have
conducted a comprehensive literature review of empowerment research to identify differences
and consensus in the buzzword empowerment. The key terms they find in the
conceptualisation of empowerment are: options, choice, power and control. Batliwala (1994)
define empowerment as how much influence people have over external actions that matter to
their welfare, while Bennett (2002) define empowerment as the enhancement of assets and
capabilities of diverse individuals and groups to engage, influence and hold accountable the
institutions which affect them. Both conceptualisations include the ‘influence’ a person has
over things of value. However, Bennett’s definition could be argued to be too maximalist as it
is complicated to empirically measure an individual’s effect of holding institutions
accountable (ibid).

" See Table 1!

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Sen (1993) conceptualise empowerment as altering relations of power which constrain
women’s options and autonomy and adversely affect health and well-being. His definition
includes “altering relations of power”, suggesting that a change in power relations is what
defines empowerment. A shift in external factors to individual benefit is frequently mentioned
in the empowerment literature. Alsop et al. (2005), define empowerment as a group’s or
individual’s capacity to make effective choices, that is, to make choices and to transform
those choices into desired actions and outcomes (Alsop et al. 2005:10). Also Kabeer (2001)
attends to this shift in her definition of empowerment - the expansion in people’s ability to
make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied to them. Her
definition focuses on a process of change, when a person who has limited or no ability to
make strategic life choices experience an expansion of these abilities. However, Kabeer’s
conceptualisation includes ‘in a context previously denied to them’, which suggests that a
person has to be disempowered to become empowered. This thesis disagree with this, and
argue that a person unaware that she is lacking certain abilities still can feel empowered once
her abilities expand. For this reason, this thesis will understand the conceptualisation of
empowerment as a combination of Alsop et al. (2005) and Kabeer’s (2001) definitions. This
thesis understands the conceptualisation of empowerment as the expansion in a person’s
ability to make strategic life choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and

2.1.1 Disempowerment
When attempting a conceptualisation of empowerment, it is relevant to conceptualise its
opposite – disempowerment. In this thesis, disempowerment is understood as when a person’s
ability to make strategic life choices is reduced or absent, or when the expectations of
expanded abilities are unfulfilled. Disempowerment can be stagnant, when a person has no
ability to make strategic life choices leading to valued outcomes. Disempowerment can also
be a process, when a person experience a reduction of abilities, or if one expects an expansion
in abilities but the expectations are unfulfilled – a kind of relative deprivation of
empowerment. Vital to this, and to the hypothesis in this thesis, is that norms and practices
can hinder expected empowerment and lead to a process of disempowerment in its place. As
an example: if a woman acquires employment she might expect an expansion in abilities to
purchase better clothing. But if the cultural norms dictate that her husband as head of the
household has the right to take her salary and spend it on alcohol, then one can argue that

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where an empowerment process was expected – the reality of patriarchal practices created a
disempowerment process instead. Thus, there are three manifestations of disempowerment:
not having valued abilities, acquired abilities being reduced, and when the expected expansion
of abilities to not occur.

2.2 The empowerment process
To understand what an empowerment process entails, scholars have attempted to distinguish
separate components. Malhotra, Schuler and Boender (2002) find two commonly used
components of the empowerment process: resources and agency.


Resources can be both physical and psychological. Alsop et al. (2005) consider physical
resources to include employment, financial resources and ownership of land, while
psychological resources include education, skills, creativity and self-esteem. Low self-esteem
can lead to decreased belief in ones ability to achieve valued outcomes, which then effect the
perceived empowerment (Alsop et al. 2005:9-12). It has been argued that psychological
resources have been given inadequate attention in the empowerment discourse (ibid & Klein,
2014:7-8), for example Narayan (2008) did not extend the analysis to include this factor. To
control for this, perceived change in confidence in one-self and in increase in what is thought
possible to achieve have been included in the analysis as indicators of the psychological
resources of an empowerment process. Kishor (2000) describes resources as the enabling
factors of empowerment, what is needed or can be cultivated into an empowerment process
(Kishor, 2000). Kabeer (2001) similarly view resources as the conditions for empowerment
process to occur, while also arguing that the way a person acquires a resource is of relevance
(Kabeer, 2001:20). Acquiring employment can be empowering, for example if you exercise
your rights and demand employment in NREGA, but can also be disempowering, if you have
to beg a discriminating landlord for work.


The second component widely mentioned in the empowerment literature is agency, which in
the definition of empowerment in this thesis is phrased as ‘ability to choose’ and ‘transform
into desired outcomes’. Alsop et al. (2005) also sees agency as the essential component of an

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empowerment process, when the individual can make productive choice and realise these into
effective actions to improve one’s situation (Alsop et al. 2005:9-12). Kabeer (2001) sees
agency as when one is able to realise one’s goals and have the capacity to act independently
to fulfil these goals (Kabeer, 2001:19-21). One can question the addition to Kabeer’s
understanding of fulfilment of goals. Can one only be an empowered agent when one’s goal is
reached? A change in agency is the enhancement or reduction of a person’s ability to exercise
choice, and one can argue that having the ability to transform choices into desired outcomes
differ from actually fulfilling set goals. Other scholars who have attended to this slight change
in terminology are Malhotra, Schuler and Boender (2002), who define agency as “the ability
to express strategic choice, and to control resources and decisions that affect important life
outcomes” (Malhotra, Schuler and Boender, 2002:9). Also Sen (1999), who defines agency as
“a person being free to pursue whatever goals or values the person regards important” focus
more on the ability of pursuing one’s goals rather than the actual fulfilment of them (Sen,


Both Kabeer (2001) and Sen (1999) add a third component to the empowerment process,
Kabeer calling it ‘achievements’ and Sen calling it ‘realised functionings’. Achievements or
realised functionings are terms for what the person who has acquired a resource and can exert
agency over this resource actually is able to do to transform this into a desire outcome
(Kabeer, 2001:35-41 and Sen, 1999:74-76). But is achievements part of the empowerment
process, or an end result from it? There is no scholarly consensus to this question, and this
thesis will include achievements are a component. Essential to remember for the
empowerment researcher is that what constitutes an achievement for one person, may not be
considered an achievement to another. To illustrate: purchasing a cow can be considered an
achievement, and the cow, in turn, serves a resource. By including achievements, the hope is
to include additional subjective accounts of when the respondents feel empowered.

The empowerment process is dynamic and individual, and will in this thesis be understood as
the indivisible components resources, agency and achievements. Expansion of resources
indicates empowerment when we know what agency the person can exert over this resource.
Achievements indicate empowerment when we know whose agency led to the achievement

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and expansion of agency indicates sustainable empowerment if this has transformed
inequalities rather than leaving these uncontested (Kabeer, 2001:40).

2.3 Measuring empowerment
As discussed above, what is perceived as a resource, agency or an achievement for one person
may be perceived inherently different to someone else. The contextual structure and
individual complexities are therefore two key difficulties when attempting to measure
empowerment (Malhotra, Schuler & Boender, 2002:10). Malhotra, Schuler and Boender
(2002) identify three critiques to general measurements of female empowerment. Firstly,
women are not a homogenous group; they encompass all forms of culture, race, religion, class
and caste and there are oppressing relations of power among women as well. The possibility
of a general measurement of women’s empowerment across time and space is therefore
highly doubtful. To control for this, this thesis have narrowed the units of analysis to women
identifying within the same caste (Madiga), who share a similar cultural, geographic and
financial setting. Secondly, the assumption that women are disempowered within the
household due to patriarchal practices can be true, but is not necessarily true across contexts.
Thirdly, that for empowerment to be sustainable it needs to transform oppressing relations of
power (ibid:5-10).

Transforming structural relations of power

Several scholars argue that sustainable empowerment comes when structural relations of
power are transformed (Kabeer, 2001, Parapat, Rai & Staudt, 2002:12, and Malhotra, Schuler
& Boender, 2002:5). This point is relevant when relating empowerment to inequalities, as the
NREGA example of empowering marginalised groups. To illustrate, a woman who earns less
than a man for completing the same task cannot be considered disempowerment, even though
the situation is unequal. For this woman to be considered disempowered she herself must
perceive this situation to be unjust. Kabeer (2001) attends to this issue through presenting the
idea of ‘doxa’. Doxa is when traditional and cultural practices are no taken for granted that
they become neutralised (Kabeer, 2011:25). When a woman act within structures of
subordination and do not perceive this as inequalities relating to gender or caste, it can affect
her ability to acquire resources or act as an agent, which will reproduce over generations.

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Hence, for empowerment to be long lasting and function as a facilitator for development, is
must transform the oppressing relations of power.

2.3.1 Levels of analysis

To measure empowerment, Kabeer (2001) argue that the perceived changes in abilities can be
divided into three levels: immediate, intermediate and deeper levels (Kabeer, 2001:26-27). In
the immediate levels, empowerment is reflected in changes in self-hood and identity, like
interests, goals or abilities to act. In the intermediate levels, empowerment is reflected as a
change in rules and relationships in the personal, social, economic and political spheres of
life. In the deeper levels, empowerment occurs through a redistribution of resources, power or
recognition towards the marginalised, away from oppressive relations of power. When a
person perceives a change in ability to make choices that can lead to desired outcomes in
either of these levels, it is an indicator of an empowerment process. However, only when a
person perceives changes in the deeper levels of analysis is it possible to identify sustainable
empowerment. For this reason, the division of three levels of analysis makes it evident not
only if there has been an empowerment process, but also if this process will lead to
sustainable empowerment. Empowerment can occur in several of these levels, or only in one
(ibid). Programmes like NREGA, with the objective of brining about empowerment, might
succeed in one level, but not necessarily in all levels. This is relevant, as claiming that access
to a resource, like micro-finance loans or employment, will lead to empowerment becomes
too simplistic. Instead, when analysing women’s perception of if and how employment in
NREGA has led to changes within these levels, the process of detecting 1) if and where there
have been an empowerment process, and 2) if the structural relations of power are
transformed or intact becomes lucid (Kabeer, 2001:26-28 and Malhotra, Boender & Schuler,
2002:5). These three levels, categories and sub-categories presented in the table below are
found throughout this thesis; as the foundation for the interview guide and in the structure of
the empirical analysis as individual sub-headings.

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Immediate levels                   Intermediate levels                Deeper levels
Individual resources               Personal sphere                    Gendered power relations
Change in expansion of choices Increased spatial mobility             Perceived positive changes
one is able to make                                                   away from structural
                                                                      discrimination in gendered
                                   Decreased dependency on            power relations
                                   family members
Individual agency                  Social sphere                      Caste power relations

Increased decision-making          Increased social interaction       Perceived positive changes
power in the household             with unknown males and/or          away from structural
                                   people from other castes           discrimination in caste power
Increased confidence in
Individual achievements            Economic sphere

Increase in what is thought        Increased control in household
possible to achieve                spending
                                   Political sphere
                                   Increased political awareness
                                   or activity

Table 1. Levels of analysis

2.3.2 ‘Perceive’

The word ‘perceive’ is frequently used throughout this thesis, and here follows a short
discussion about the requirement of this word. The word ‘perceive’ serve a theoretical aim, as
this thesis argues that once you perceive yourself to be empowered – you are empowered. To
illustrate, if a woman perceives she is being treated with more respect from men or from
people from higher castes since she got employment in NREGA – then it is argued that she is
empowered, even if the men and higher castes do not believe they have altered their
behaviour. The individual perception of empowerment is, as relevant as the factual truth. For
methodological purposes, the word ‘perceive’ safeguards the results and conclusions as these
then only disclose the respondents’ individual perception of empowerment. It is difficult to
establish what is a fact and what is fictional when listening to someone’s life story, and all
that can be known for certain is that the respondents’ statements are their perceived truth.

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2.4 Summary
To summarise, this thesis understand the definition of empowerment as the expansion in a
person’s ability to make strategic life choices and to transform those choices into desired
actions and outcomes and the components of the empowerment process to be resources,
agency and achievements. Measuring empowerment will be conducted through three levels of
analysis: immediate, intermediate and deeper levels. This outline of the empowerment theory
used in this thesis can be argued to be as far as finding common denominators of
empowerment will reach. From here, qualitative methods will provide answers to the specific
contexts and individual perception of these components and levels. The process of change is
of interest, and when identifying this process of change in resources, agency or achievements
within the three levels of analysis – it is critical to remember that these changes are of
different value to different people. It is therefore not possible to predict exactly how a
programme like NREGA will affect women’s empowerment without individual, context-
specific knowledge. As Kabeer (2001) eloquently states: “To attempt to predict at the outset
of an intervention precisely how it will change women’s lives, without some knowledge of
ways of ‘being and doing’ which are realisable and valued by women in that context, runs
into the danger of prescribing process of empowerment and thereby violating its essence,
which is to enhance women’s capacity for self-determination” (Kabeer, 2001:52).

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3. Methodology and material
3.1. Methods
The methods used in this thesis are semi-structured interviews and participant observations,
and the method of analysis is qualitative content analysis. These methods are selected with the
aim to examine the respondents’ perceptions of if and how employment in NREGA has led to
perceived empowerment. When the phenomena of interest are to understand human reasoning
and perceptions, these qualitative methods are a preferred choice (Trost, 1993:32).

3.1.1 Semi-structured interviews and participant observations

By using semi-structured interviews, the possibility of acquiring ‘thick descriptions’ of the
respondents’ worldview in enhanced through detailed information about the cultural context
and the routines of daily life. The ambition of the methods is to detect a process of change and
a relationship between employment in NREGA and perceived empowerment. The phenomena
of interest are the subjective perceptions of changes in abilities since NREGA (Kabeer,
2011:499). To obtain this level of socio-psychological depth through interviews, only twelve
interviews were conducted in each village – 24 interviews in total (Trost, 1993:27-28). It is
vital to emphasise that the dependent variable is perceived empowerment, and the truth in
given statements is subjective and can contradict other statements yet be equally true. These
contradictions are not a weakness is method, but show the efficiency of in-depth interviewing
in capturing complex social reality. There is no objective truth, but a symptomatic
interpretation, here with emphasis on the relevant quotes from the respondents (Kvale &
Brinkmann:266-271). The interview guide is based on the three levels of empowerment, and
the associated categories within each level 3. To get an understanding of the underlying
structures and daily life in Naguluru and Chavali, the second method is participant
observations. Observations were conducted throughout the time in the field, with nonexistent
manipulation of the surroundings and with openness about my intentions (Esaiasson et al.
2012:303-308). The observations included informal chats, walking around the villages and
having meals with families living there as well as observations during the interviews,
observing body language, tone of voice and atmosphere.

# See Table 1!

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3.2 Material
3.2.1 Village selection

The choice to study villages in Andhra Pradesh was inspired by the research conducted by
Blomkvist, Thapar-Björkert and Maiorano (2016). The first village examined, Naguluru in the
Anantapur district, was selected as Mr. Maiorano had connection with a translator with local
knowledge who was available during the planned time of field research. The second village,
Chavali in the Guntur district, was selected with the assistance of K.C. Suri at the University
of Hyderabad, who had local knowledge of Guntur and assisted in finding a village
appropriate to compare with Naguluru. A number of variables were held constant to isolate
the intervening variable of development level, patriarchal norms and caste tensions. The
isolate variables were: 1) average NREGA presence, 2) village population size 3) spread of
Madiga Dalit communities and 4) minimum 30-kilometre distance to a city centre 4. When
selecting the second village, this meant distance to Guntur centre, Vijayawada and the new
capital Amaravati 5. When controlling for these variables, while searching for a village that
differed in the intervening variable – development level (patriarchal norms and caste
tensions), Chavali was selected as the most appropriate village. The intervening variable,
level of development, is measured using the Human Development Index (HDI). Chavali has
higher levels of development than Naguluru (APHDR 2008), and less prominent patriarchal
norms and caste tensions (Meeting, K.C. Suri, 2016). At the time of the field study, there were
61 NREGA worksites in progress in Naguluru and 54 worksites in Chavali (MGNREGS-AP

3.2.2 Respondent selection

The respondents were selected when in the villages with three criteria: 1) participation in
NREGA for at least six months, 2) identifying as Madiga Dalit, and 3) that the total number
of respondents varied in age and martial status. Other than these conditions, the respondents
were those who had time and interest to participate in the study. The women were not
contacted prior to the interviews. In Naguluru, a female Mate assisted in asking women in

$!See appendix E for village profiles
  Amaravati is to be the new capital of Andhra Pradesh since the division of into two states. Land
prices close to Amaravati have risen since the annunciation of the new capital and the potential
modernisation in the next decade have led to high expectations (Meeting, K.C. Suri, 2016)

!                                                                                                    )(!
Telugu to volunteer for this research, in Chavali a female Additional Programme Officer
(APO) assisted in the same manner.

3.3 Categorising and analysing data
The categorisation in this thesis is concept driven, meaning that the categories used are pre-
existing and not derived from the empirical results. This thesis is a content analysis, using
systematic, qualitative descriptions of the content in the communication, and the texts
analysed are the transcribed interviews. The categorising is presented in Table 1 and the
questions in the interview guide were based on the associated sub-categories 6. Categorising
in this systematic way reduces the long interviews into smaller sections of relevant
information, facilitating findings of the absence or presence of the phenomena of interest -
perceived empowerment (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009:218-219).

The coding of the meaning in the texts were conducted after the completion of the interviews,
and was conducted in an organised manner of 1) detecting relevant quotes that indicated
perceived empowerment or a process of change, and 2) comparing these collected quotes to
find common characteristics – which then comprised a code. To ensure that the quotes would
fit the theoretical levels of analysis and categories, the interview questions were created
around the sub-categories 7. As an example is the question “Do you feel that your decision-
making power has changed at home since you earn your own wage through NREGA?” linked
to the Immediate levels, Individual resources category, Perceived change in expansion of
choice sub-category. The questions were aimed at uncovering perceived changes in abilities
that could transform into desired outcomes. When a relevant quote was found in the text, it
was organised into a table used to detect the meaning of the quote 8. The number of codes
created for each sub-category varied depending of the variation of common answers (Kvale &
Brinkmann, 2009:208-209). The thesis author created this systematic method of finding
meaning in the text.

&!See Table 1, page 16!
'!See appendix A for full interview guide!
(!See Figure 2!

!                                                                                                )*!
Direct quote                   Condensed           Generalisation Category Sub-           Code
                               meaning                                        category

“No, I used to be              Used to be          NREGA has       Personal   Change in   2. Working in
dependent on my in-            dependent on helped                 Sphere     dependency NREGA has
laws financial help to         in-laws to          decrease her               on family   led to
manage the day-to-             manage              dependency on              member(s)   independence
day expenditures, but          expenditures        her in-laws.                           from
not since I started            - not since                                                husband/family
working in NREGA.”             NREGA                                                      member

Table 2. Example of coding schedule

3.4 Operationalisation
The operationalisation is an empirical indicator of a theoretical definition, indicating the
presence or absence of a phenomenon. The theoretical concept of interest is perceived
empowerment, which is defined as the expansion in a person’s ability to make strategic life
choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes. As discussed in
chapter 2, is empowerment difficult to measure due to the diffuse nature of this sense or state.
The operationalisation for when a process of change relevant to perceived empowerment is
considered present in the text is therefore different for each sub-category 9. One example is if
a respondent answered that she perceives an expansion of confidence after discussing politics
at the NREGA worksite, and utilises this confidence to go and vote, this would be considered
an empirical indicator of the theoretical concept empowerment as a process of change. The
empirical indicators are question-specific, and therefore not viable as indicators for
empowerment in general.

3.5 Ethical aspects
When conducting in-depth interviews, there are certain ethical aspects to address. Firstly, that
the results are not only a reflection of the respondents’ subjective perceptions, but rather these
perceptions in creation with the researchers preconceptions. In-depth interviews are

*!See appendix C for full list of operationalisations !

!                                                                                                  "+!
conversations, where the situation, appearance and setting all can affect the answers given.
Secondly, there is the issue of obtaining material for the research without compensating
anything of substance to the invaluable respondents (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009:293). Thus,
prior to the interviews, explicit clarifications were made that there were no direct, personal
gain to participate. Thirdly, there is the risk of reproducing colonialist perspectives, when me
as a white, rich, western, educated woman arrives to interview poor, un-educated, Dalit
women in India. It is inevitable that this can be seen as yet another reproduction of orientalist
ideologies, with the ‘saviour West’ researching the ‘receiving Rest’ (Said, 1978). However,
while there has been a divide between western and third world feminist practices, the need to
bridge this divide can be done by exposing gendered power structures and by avoiding the
presentation of third world women in stereotypical roles as oppressed recipients of aid, and
rather as agents, as women are all over the globe (Mohanty, 2003). This thesis have therefore
taken every measure not to stereotype the respondents as oppressed recipients, or as a
homogenous group of ‘third world women’ – but as individuals acting for themselves.

3.6 Validity and reliability
One central aspect when addressing the validity and reliability in a qualitative caste study is
researcher bias. This thesis strives for ‘reflective objectivity’, meaning that the researcher
strives for objectivity in relation to the inescapably subjective self, being aware of possible
preconceptions and trying to exclude these from the research. Reliability is the results
trustworthiness, which in interview-based research regards the ‘interviewee-effect’ and the
possibility of leading questions. While it is entirely possible that my appearance, way of
emphasising or body language have unknowingly altered the answers given, the interview
guide was thoroughly revised to eliminate any leading questions (Kvale & Brinkmann,
2009:261-265). Validity refers to how accurately the methods measure what they claim to
measure, where the suitability of methods and logical interpretations of empirical results can
be questioned. The empirical results are derived from texts, recordings and memory, were
some argue that there is an advantage that the same person conducts as analyse the material.

!                                                                                                 ")!
4. Analysis of empirical results
The structure of this analysis follows the division of levels of analysis, categories and sub-
categories as presented in Table 1, in which relevant quotes are presented and analysed. The
analysis aim to show in what way women perceive employment in NREGA to have changed
their situation, and how this has affected their perceived empowerment by identifying
processes of change. Analysing empirical quotes in this systematic manner makes it possible
to detect tangible indicators of an empowerment process. The analysed quotes are compared,
to see if answers differ between the villages, which could indicate that the intervening
variable affect whether or not employment in NREGA leads to women’s perceived
empowerment. Some comprehensive patterns that were discovered are discussed as they point
to interesting differences between the villages. The texts analysed are the twenty-four
transcribed interviews, which comprised over 30 000 words. The letter and number in
parenthesis after each quote signifies which village (N for Naguluru, C for Chavali), and
which number of the interviews the quote originate from to keep respondents anonymous. The
general structure is that a relevant quote is presented followed by a paragraph analysing this

4.1 Immediate levels
4.1.1 Individual resources

Change in choice

Out of all the 24 women interviewed in both Naguluru, with lower HDI, and Chavali, with
higher HDI, only one woman in Naguluru did not perceive NREGA to have affected a change
in what choices she is able to make. All the other women perceive NREGA to have led to an
expansion of choice.

“The security I have now, that even if I fall ill I can manage. I can choose to spend on things I
enjoy and need and I know I can manage in hard times too.” (N8)

This quote illustrate that NREGA has led to an expansion of ability to afford healthcare and
manage financially. This expansion of ability leads to a sense of security and wellbeing,
which is argued to be perceived empowerment.

!                                                                                                ""!
“Through NREGA I feel that I have more choices and opportunities to fulfil small wishes like
having the capacity of buying necessary utensils for the kitchen and I have a gas cylinder now
to cook with.” (C3)

This quote shows that she perceives NREGA to be the catalyst of these new choices she
perceives to have. The phrase ‘having the capacity’ is seen as an indicator that these new
choices are an expansion of ability, and the phrase ‘fulfil small wishes’ as these choices
leading to desired outcomes – which are the essential parts of what defines empowerment.

4.1.2 Individual agency

Change in decisions

Perceived changes in decision-making power at home were considered an indicator of
detecting expansion of agency, which is a component of the empowerment process. When
asking women about their decision-making power, several women in Naguluru did not
perceive any changes since NREGA.

“No, I do not feel that I have any more decision-making power at home since working in
NREGA, it is absolutely the same. There is no change; my in-laws still make all decisions. I
should not have to be dependent on anybody because I earn my own wage but I still am
dependent on my in-laws because that is how it works.” (N6)

To understand this quote, it is relevant to mention the cultural norm of wives moving into
their husbands’ house when married, and usually the husbands’ parents live with them. The
wife is often considered ‘beneath’ her mother in-law in the family hierarchy. The quote above
could be argued to indicate a process of disempowerment. Through employment in NREGA,
her frame of reference of what decision-making power is thought possible to have at home
has changed; she now expects to have more decision-making power. She said she ‘should not
have to be dependent’ because she ‘earns her own wage’, and voices her discontent with this
situation. This makes evident that the patriarchal practices prevent her from exercising agency
over the resource that is employment, and as she perceives this to be unjust it is argued to
indicate a process of disempowerment.

!                                                                                              "#!
In Chavali, some of the women interviewed were the sole decision-makers of their
households, a position neither of the women Naguluru had. The women in Chavali seemed
more outspoken and confident about their powers and positions at home, some raising their
voice and gesturing when this question was posed.

“I am in charge of all major decisions or activities and I take the lead. He does not object at
all to this. I am the account-keeper and decision-maker…. We never disagree, that never
happens because I always make the right decision.” (C6)

Hearing this statement made me smile due to her wit, she straightened her back when saying
this and smiled, she made it clear that she was in charge of the household and seemed happy
to be so. This woman also pointed out an interesting effect of NREGA and her perceived
change in decisions.

“NREGA has helped me in the sense of an increase what kind of decisions I have the
opportunity to make, but not in the strength of my decision-making power.” (C6)

This quote shows that the development level of Chavali, where the patriarchal norms are
weaker, may already have been more favourable for women to have equal decision-making
power prior to the implementation of NREGA. Hence, NREGA does not seem to have been a
determinant factor for increased strength of decision-making power, but rather been the
facilitator of an expansion in what kind of decisions a woman can make. This expansion of
abilities in what decisions are possible to make is seen as part of the empowerment process.

Change in confidence

Questions aimed at capturing perceived change in confidence were included to detect change
in agency. Relating back to Alsop et al. (2005) and the intrinsic value of psychological
empowerment 10, it is argued that women whose confidence increase are more likely to act as
agents making strategic choices. If NREGA has led to a woman feeling more confident in

)+   See page 12

!                                                                                              "$!
herself and/or in her abilities, this would indicate an expansion of agency. In Naguluru,
women had different perceptions on how NREGA has affected their confidence.

“My status has increased a lot since working in NREGA. I now have a stronger position in
the village because I am a good worker and participate.” (N1)

“NREGA work has increased my confidence, especially as the money I am earning comes
directly in my name.” (N12)

The first quote shows that NREGA has been a facilitator of a positive self-image as a good
worker; and the second quote shows that the NREGA structure of paying the salary to the
worker, rather than to the head of the household (often the husband), has an effect of
perceived increase in confidence due to NREGA. This is a detected process of change, as
employment in NREGA has expanded the sense of confidence could make them more
inclined to make strategic choices transforming into desired outcomes.

In Chavali, there was consensus among the twelve interviewed women that NREGA has led
to increased confidence.

“Before NREGA I used to be very shy. Now I feel that I can handle anything from local
bureaucrats, revenue officials, and dealing with the bank, post office or take up issues with
bureaucrats. I represent my NREGA team and do this without fear. I have no problem with
interaction or travel. I lead other team members to the bank and help them with payments. I
can now travel anywhere I want without assistance. This gives me a lot of confidence doing
all of these works!” (C12)

This woman says she had acquired several new skills through NREGA, and credits this for
her increased confidence. This quote is a clear indicator of how NREGA has facilitated an
expansion of agency. The mechanism is place is that through employment in NREGA she has
learned new skills, which leads to an increase in confidence that eventually leads to an
expansion of agency when she fells freer to interact with authorities without fear.

!                                                                                               "%!
“My husband never worked, he just dragged money from me or beat me to get money for
drinking. He never had any respect for me. Also then I was the sole earner. Now I can spend
my money as I want. … earning money as woman, gives a lot of confidence.” (C3)

This quote shows that becoming a widow actually has increased her confidence. Her
husband’s death did not make her situation more difficult, but rather altered her situation to
become more favourable, where employment NREGA could facilitate an expansion of
confidence and agency. This quote opposes the findings by Pankaj and Tankha (2010),
suggesting that widows are excluded benefits in NREGA 11.

4.1.3 Individual achievement

Change in achievements

When asking what achievements the respondents were most proud of and if this had changed
with NREGA, several women in both villages found that being able to meet basic
requirements was the main change in achievements.

“I would say that being able to pay for my children’s education expenditures is my biggest
achievement but also that I have been able to pay for all the medical costs and issues that
have arisen for my son who is disabled, he has one hand.” (N11)

In Naguluru, several women said that their achievements were tied into their children’s health
and success. An expansion of ability to meet these basic requirements can be argued to be a
desired outcome; like this woman who has used her resource of employment and a salary to
achieve a situation she values – affording medical costs for her son. The women in Chavali
more often brought up the possibility to save money or learning a new skill as the change in
achievements since NREGA.

“To be able to save money through NREGA is my biggest achievement. I can actually keep
some money in the bank now and use if they come to hard times.” (C6)

)) See page 7!

!                                                                                                "&!
“Being a Mate is my biggest achievement because I get to take care of the different groups
and I am sometimes even requested to help other groups that I am not responsible for to solve
their disputes or look over other groups” (C12).

NREGA has facilitated both these perceived achievements, and employment in NREGA has
led to an expansion of agency. The first woman (C6) perceive a process of change, as she can
exert agency over her new earnings by choosing to save some money, which she previously
were unable to do. The other woman (C12) can exert agency by learning a new skill and
putting it to use to help others. This woman (C12) explained in further detail her work
assignments as a Mate, expressing a satisfied feeling of helping others. Her body language
was expressive and she was one of the few who sat next to me on the bench, rather than on a
separate chair or the floor, which was noted as a sign of confidence. Both these two women
perceive that NREGA has led to an expansion of abilities to act as agents, which is argued to
be part of the empowerment process.

4.2 Intermediate levels
4.2.1 Personal sphere

Change in spatial mobility

When asking women about a perceived change in spatial mobility since employment in
NREGA, the general image was that NREGA has not changed this to a significant extent.
Despite this sub-category not generating answers particularly relevant to the relationship
between the independent and dependent variable, it has been included in the empirical
analysis as it does relate to the hypothesised intervening variable. There was a noticeable
difference between answers from the villages, which could be credited to the difference in
patriarchal norms.

“I cannot travel alone as my husband does not allow me to. If I need to go somewhere, he will
drop me there. He has told me that in some households women are now travelling alone but
the only reason to why they are doing this is because they have manipulated their husbands in
to thinking that they can go by themselves and that this would never happen in our
relationship.” (N12)

!                                                                                             "'!
This woman’s husband is restricting her spatial mobility and he opposes any changes to this.
This quote was selected as one of the most expressive examples of quotes from married
women that feel restricted, and the general perception was that women in Naguluru were
either not allowed to travel freely, or felt scared to do so. In Chavali, the tone of the answers
was different.

“Wherever I want to go I can go alone, no question about this. I can handle myself as well as
a man can and I feel that I do not need any man to accompany me. No one will question me.
The interactions in the NREGA workgroup give me confidence.” (C9)

When working in NREGA, women engage in discussions at the worksite. This woman
perceives that NREGA discussions have increased her confidence, leading to an expansion of
spatial mobility and freedom. This can be argued to be an expansion of agency and an
indicator of a process of change facilitated by NREGA, signifying an empowerment process.

Change in dependency on family members

Asking about a perceived change in dependency on a family member(s) was to detect if
NREGA has facilitated women’s self-determination.

“Yes I feel dependent on my husband as he makes all the decisions about me. This has not
changed with NREGA, as a wife you are dependent on your husband.” (N2)

This quote shows that NREGA have not altered her dependency on her husband, referring to
this as the natural order of being a wife, which indicates that the gendered power relations are
unchanged in her situation since employment in NREGA and that ‘doxa’ is present. When
interviewing widows in Naguluru, some felt dependent on in-laws or parents, but one woman
whose husband left her expressed a sense of independence.

“I feel absolutely independent and I almost do not mind that my husband left me and that my
son ditched me to go work somewhere else, because I now have my independence.” (N8)

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