The paradox of high fertility with high women's autonomy: a study in a matrilineal tribe of northeast India

Udoy Sankar Saikia, Flinders University

Conventional wisdom in demography states that women’s autonomy is highly correlated with several demographic outcomes. However, the present study on matrilineal Khasi tribe of northeast India demonstrates that, for a detailed understanding of the gender context of fertility dynamics, it is necessary to go beyond the traditional indicators of women’s autonomy to the broader concept of women’s empowerment, because conventional measurements of women’s autonomy do not fully reflect the power divide between males and females, which is so important in making decisions that affect fertility. The matrilineal system has empowered Khasi women to have greater extrinsic control in certain areas. But lack of a supportive environment has reduced their intrinsic capability which has led to very high fertility in Khasi society. Women’s autonomy is only occasionally a force for fertility decline unless there is a supportive environment where women are also empowered to gainfully transform their autonomy into low fertility.

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Presented in Poster Session 3