Around the world, there are many places and people who are still disconnected from the world of the internet. There is estimation by the United Nations that about half the world’s population is not connected to the internet that may be for various reasons. However, there are various places where people are not even allowed to have social circles in their offline lives.
In areas like the rural parts of India, let alone reach the internet, women are so bound by the rules of patriarchy, that they don’t even have access to people around them. The only peers they may have are limited to one or two under the restrictions by their mother-in-law.
Catalina Herrera-Almanza, an assistant professor of Economics and International Affairs at Northeastern University conducted first-of-its-kind research. “Women in developing countries tend to have worse access to health services than those in developed countries. We’re interested in how to improve that access.”
For the first time, research has been conducted on the role mother-in-laws play in a woman’s life. The research is about her influence in the formation of a woman’s social circle and her ability to obtain access to health and reproductive services. In such areas, a woman’s peers are an important source of information. Yet a mother-in-law can overpower the impact of peers and can also influence personal decisions like family planning and how many children a family should have.
“The dynamics of who is making the decisions about fertility and family planning are important for the welfare of the entire household,” she says. “Healthcare policies here need to shift the attention from just the couple and bring the mother-in-law into the conversation as well.”
The research finds that in places like Jaunpur district in Uttar Pradesh, more than a third of women do not have peers anywhere. Policies designed to increase women’s access to family planning and reproductive health services in rural areas must acknowledge the gatekeeping role that mother-in-law plays. It is one of the biggest impacts including that of the husband’s in a married woman’s life in rural India.