202355 Searching for Savitri: Enhancing speech to promote women's rights and human functional capabilities

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dhrubajyoti Bhattacharya, JD, MPH, LLM , Department of Medical Humanities, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Springfield, IL

In 2004, the United Nations Population Fund called on advocates to raise awareness and enhance communication with religious and community leaders. Without any specific guidelines, however, the directive was essentially futile. Against a backdrop of sex-selective abortions, female illiteracy, and economic depravity, innovative strategies to engage religious leaders is vital. This project provides a roadmap by reflecting on the 3000-year-old tradition of storytelling in India and how to make it relevant and useful to further women's rights in the context of health.


I examined tales from 3000-year-old Indian epics under the lens of universal “central human functional capabilities” proffered by Professor Martha Nussbaum to assess their conformity with contemporary women's rights. The specific capabilities include: (1) life, (2) bodily health and integrity, (3) bodily integrity, (4) senses, imagination, and thought, (5) emotions, (6) practical reason, (7) affiliation, (8) other species, (9) play, and (10) control over one's environment.


Each and every capability was present in the tales that I examined. Assumptions of irreconcilable differences with a fundamental patriarchal orthodoxy are unfounded.


Active engagement with religious and community leaders to further women's rights can build on, rather than supplant, existent cultural frameworks.

Lessons Learned:

By the end of the session, participants will be able to (1) acquire familiarity with themes of gender disparities within Indian culture, (2) identify intracultural moral imperatives to promote central human functional capabilities, and (3) engage community and religious leaders with the ‘cultural currency' to promote women's rights and secure women's health.

Learning Objectives:
1. Demonstrate familiarity with themes of gender disparities within Indian culture; 2. Identify intracultural moral imperatives to promote central human functional capabilities; 3. Demonstrate to community and religious leaders the ‘cultural currency’ to promote women’s rights and secure women’s health.

Keywords: Culture, Human Rights

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: As a professor, my primary area of research is on issues at the interface of law, policy, public health, and humanities as relates to women's health. My education and training in law, health policy, public health, and humanities enables me to recognize the limits of normative models in real-world scenarios. This project provides a practical roadmap to empower women's rights advocates and community leaders to find a common ground to further human functional capabilities, address broader social determinants of health, and secure women's health.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.