Daily Archives: 7 October 2008

Pentecostal Feminism in PNG

From Village on the Edge: Changing Times in Papua New Guinea, by Michael French Smith (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2002), p. 133:

Age aside, women tended to find charismatic worship more appealing than men. They liked the “freedom” said Kauref, using the English word. Although the principal charismatic leaders in Kragur were men, there seemed to be no barriers to anyone plunging enthusiastically into the praying and singing or stepping forward to offer an individual prayer or testimony. Women as well as men, I was told, could speak in tongues, and some could interpret such speech.

Pentecostal worship has made new space in religious life for both women and the young in other parts of the world as well. Pentecostal theology, writes Joel Robbins, “tends to downplay the importance of all identities except that of believer.” And the worship itself, as Harvey Cox points out, focuses on “breaking out of the constraints and limitations of everyday life,” including the social constraints, and communion with the Holy Spirit is typically open to all. In many parts of the world, women in particular have seized the opportunities this affords, and they are often found in the forefront of the Pentecostal movement.

Kauref approved of this equality in worship, but it did not please everyone. The pacing, gesticulating woman I saw at the first prayer meeting had looked every inch a leader of the proceedings. She turned out to be someone I knew, but, many years older now, I did not immediately recognize her. When, the next day, I asked Paypai who the female “leader” was, he practically spat out the words “She’s no leader!” Kragur people take offense at any pretensions to leadership they see as unjustified, but my guess is that Paypai found the idea of a woman as a prominent public leader especially galling.

According to Brother Pawil, some Kragur women’s enthusiasm for charismatic worship had angered their husbands. In addition to weekly evening services, there were also occasional prayer gatherings that brought together worshippers from several villages. These were church-sanctioned events in which women participated equally with men. They also took women away from home and their endless chores for entire days at a time. Pawil’s sympathies were clearly with the women. “Women have been controlled by men for a long time.” he told me (in English). “This offers anew freedom from male-dominated society. The long hours of prayer [and the women’s absences from home] are a way of indirectly telling men they can go wash clothes and so on.”

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Filed under democracy, Papua New Guinea, religion

Surprising Correlates of Birth Rates in South India

From India: The Rise of an Asian Giant, by Dietmar Rothermund (Yale U. Press, 2008), p. 181:

The National Population Policy for the year 2000 had once more set a target for the achievement of the replacement level of the Indian population. The replacement level is defined in terms of the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 2.1 births per woman in the course of her life and should be reached by 2010. Demographic projections would prefer to assume 2016 as a more realistic date. The average Indian TFR had come down from 6 in 1951 to 3 in 2001. To the great surprise of planners and demographers, several south Indian states have proved to be way ahead of the National Population Policy. Kerala registered a TFR of 1.71 in 2001, and Tamil Nadu was at almost the same level with 1.76, closely followed by Andhra Pradesh at 1.94. Karnataka was still above the replacement level, at 2.24; it was estimated that it would reach that level within a few years. Andhra Pradesh was the greatest surprise of them all: its TFR had dropped from 2.39 in 1997 to 1.94 in 2001. It has a high rate of female illiteracy and there has been no significant economic progress in this state. The major assumption of demographers that female education and economic progress would lead to a lower TFR was therefore contradicted by the experience of Andhra Pradesh. Moreover, the decline in the TFR usually takes time and does not happen in such a dramatic fashion as it did in Andhra Pradesh. Perhaps it was an awareness of future deprivation rather than of economic progress which prompted even illiterate women to resort to birth control. This goes against all normal demographic assumptions, but there was a striking parallel to this development in Andhra Pradesh in East Germany at the time of German reunification. The number of East German births dropped by 40 per cent at that time, which must have been due to apprehension of an uncertain future on the part of young East German women. This shows that perceptions of the future rather than long-term social and economic trends may influence the decisions of women. This is, of course, only one aspect of the rapid spread of birth control. Knowledge of the methods of contraception and the will to adopt them are also of great importance. Demographers who have studied the spread of adoption of contraceptives have noticed a snowball effect. After an initial phase when only a few women practise birth control, the demonstration effect catches on and others follow their example. In a strange reversal of the assumption that female education leads to birth control, it has been found that birth control may foster female education. Among illiterate women who adopted contraception there were many who would send their girls to school. The correlation seems to be significant, but of course it does not necessarily indicate a causal relation.

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Filed under economics, education, Germany, India