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The Indebted Woman: Kinship, Sexuality, and Capitalism

—I. Guérin, G. Venkatasubramanian, S. Kumar.

Guérin, I., Kumar, S., & Venkatasubramanian, G. (2023). The Indebted Woman: Kinship, Sexuality, and Capitalism. Stanford University Press.
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Women, and particularly poor women, have become essential cogs in the wheel of financialized capitalism. Globally, women are responsible for managing household debt, and that debt has exploded over the last decade, reaching an all-time high after the COVID-19 pandemic. Across various categories of loans, including subprime lending, microcredit policies, and consumer loans, as well as rent and utilities, women are overrepresented as clients and managers, and are being enfolded into the system. The Indebted Woman discusses the crucial yet invisible roles poor women play in making and consolidating debt and credit markets. Isabelle Guérin, Santosh Kumar, and G. Venkatasubramanian spent over two decades observing a credit market that specifically targets women in the Indian countryside of east-central Tamil Nadu. They found that paying off debts required labor, frequently involved sexual transactions, and shaped women’s bodies and subjectivities. Bringing together ethnography, statistical surveys, and financial diaries, they offer for the first time a comprehensive theory for this sexual division of debt that goes far beyond the Indian case, exposing the ways capitalism transforms womanhood and how this transformation in turn fuels capitalism.

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There Has Been No Silent Revolution: A Decade of Empowerment for Women in Rural Tamil Nadu

—I. Guérin, S. Michiels, C. J. Nordman, E. Reboul, G. Venkatasubramanian.

Guérin, I., Michiels, S., Nordman, C. J., Reboul, E., & Venkatasubramania, G. (2020). There Has Been No Silent Revolution: A Decade of Empowerment for Women in Rural Tamil Nadu. In M. Ochman & A. Ortega-Díaz (Eds.), Advances in women’s empowerment: Critical insights from Asia, Africa and Latin America (pp. 183–200, Vol. 29). Emerald Publishing Limited.
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In 2003, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in southern India, Jayaram Jayalalithaa, gave a speech about the “silent revolution” of the empowerment of Indian women. But 15 years on, regrettably, the promises of that revolution do not seem to have been fulfilled. Thanks to the various programs set up to champion women’s empowerment (involving local NGOs, public programs, and international support), women are now more prominent in certain public spaces and are able to play a genuine advocacy role with regard to the public authorities. Girls education has also significantly improved. But it has not brought about improved employment opportunities. Women are in fact losing out on paid employment (as is the case in India as a whole). They are also heavily indebted (not only from microcredit, but also informal lending and lending from private financial companies). Their indebtedness is disproportionate to their income, and compared to men. Moreover, women almost exclusively put debt toward the social reproduction of families. Reduced opportunities for paid employment and massive debt have hit Dalit women particularly hard. The analyses of this chapter use data collected over more than a decade in a rural area of Tamil Nadu, drawing together ethnography and quantitative data, including panel data (2010–2016). They shed light on the complexity of social change, intertwining forms of domination (here, caste, and gender), and the ambiguous qualities of so-called empowerment programs, whose impacts have been various and unexpected.

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