A Puzzle for Feminists and Family Traditionalists Alike

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Usually on this website, I share my opinions and thinking on the great questions of social life.


Sometimes. I share the opinions and thinking of other scholars on the great questions of social life.


This time it is time for you - the reader - to lay out your opinions and your thinking on the great questions of social life.


I am going to give you a puzzle to solve.


You may think it is a very easy puzzle.


You may think it is a very hard puzzle.


It is a puzzle that can be solved from a wide variety of theoretical perspectives.


It is a puzzle that can be solved from a lot of different political or ideological points of view.


Read the puzzle and think about it.


If you solve the puzzle and you are happy about it, that is excellent.


If you solve the puzzle and you want to share it with our readers – send me your answer to the puzzle (in 250 words or less) to s-cohn@tamu.edu. I will take any answers that seem intelligent or interesting or creative or on-point and discuss them in a later essay.


No prize. Just honor … and the accomplishment of having solved a challenging sociological thought problem.



Here is the puzzle.


Tanima Ahmed and Binayak Sen in an article in World Development (2018) studied women in religious and non-religious households in rural Bangladesh. Bangladesh is Muslim – and traditional conservative women wear burkas.



Four Findings Stand Out:


a. Women in burka-wearing households were more likely to be overweight or obese.


b. Women in non-burka-wearing households were more likely to be underweight or severely underweight.


c. Women in burka-wearing households were more likely to have their mobility restricted. There were limits on when, where and under what conditions they could travel outside the house.


d. Women in non-burka-wearing households had less power in making household-decisions.



Yes, you read d. correctly.


The women had more domestic decision-making power in the traditional Muslim burka-wearing households than in the more secular households.


Most sociologists of gender, including myself, would have expected finding c.


All the rest of this is unexpected.


Any interpretations from the readership?




Fore More Information



For readers who wish to see the research in the original, the full citation is Ahmed, Tanima and Binayak Sen. 2018. “Conservative Outlook, Gender Norms and Female Well-Being: Evidence From Rural Bangladesh.” World Development 111: 41-58.


For readers interested in other work on the subject, the pre-eminent scholar on women in Islamic societies is Valentine Moghadam. One of her most famous books is her 2003 Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East.


There is a vast and high-quality literature on women in Bangladesh per se; much of the best work, unsurprisingly, is done by Bangladeshi scholars themselves. The writing comes in a wide variety of theoretical perspectives.  You could try Elora Shehabuddin’s 2008 Reshaping the Holy: Democracy, Development and Muslim Women in Bangladesh, or MD Harun-Ar Rashid and Arnab Kushal Mistry’s 2011 Rural Women in Bangladesh. There are a lot of microcredit programs in Bangladesh that make loans to women or circles of women. Other programs create women’s collectives. There is much disagreement about the impact of these programs. One good starting place is Julia Quermezi Huang’s 2020 To Be an Entrepreneur: Social Enterprise and Disruptive Development in Bangladesh.  If you want to read something a little grimmer … there is  Monirul Islam’s 2013 Violence Against Women in Bangladesh.