Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Politics and International Relations

Second Department

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Reader 1

Sumita Pawha

Reader 2

Piya Chaterjee

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2018 Jessica Bird

OCLC Record Number



The overall purpose of this study is to assess various market-based versus aid based approaches to financial autonomy for Dalit women in rural India and the goals and assumptions of the multiple stakeholders involved in each method (mainly, national and international NGOs, the state, and micro-finance organizations). I argue that approaches to income generation such as entrepreneurship, capital investment, and skill building, are based on similar objectives of economic agency, but ultimately lend to different results because of their varying assumptions about “women’s empowerment.” By separating these approaches into three methods of income generation based on their objective to promote either wages, labor, or capital, the political incentives of each stakeholder becomes more clear. The research presented in my literature review ultimately led me to predict that for Dalit women in India to experience financial autonomy, wage labor that produces immediate outcomes is a more viable route to overall empowerment than entrepreneurship due to its cultural constraints women fact. However, after analyzing my comparative case studies which focused on three different methods of handicraft and textile production facilitated through state, institutional, private stakeholders, I began to see how a a multiple-income generating approach, such as combining the resources of NGOs, micro-finance, and the state, reduces caste and gender barriers to entrepreneurship. Through a feminist and Marxist analysis, I assess the problems that occur when actors determine a blanket approach to empowering all women without considering their diverse contexts, and more specifically, how different identities and standpoints work to inform and oppress notions of empowerment. My interviews with experts in the field have led me to recommend that methods of income generation facilitated through grassroots Self Help Groups is the best way for rural, Dalit women to women to achieve economic agency.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.