Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Political Science

First Advisor

Devesh Kapur


Why is social policy for women in the global south increasingly focused on women as mothers? While existing literature explains the rise of maternalist (mother-focused) social policy in 20th-century Europe and the United States, I show that it does not account for the newest wave of maternalist social policy, which is unfolding in developing countries around the world. Using India as a case study, I compare the surprising and divergent trajectories of two contemporaneous women’s programs to unearth the causes of growing maternalism in the global south. One of the programs, Janani Suraksha Yojana (Mother Protection Scheme, or JSY), had modest origins but is among the most generously funded women-specific programs in the country and among the largest conditional cash transfer programs in the world today. The other, Indira Mahila Yojana (Indira Woman Scheme, or IMY), was designed to overhaul India’s social policy for women’s socioeconomic advancement but turned out to have only a short life of limited consequence. The study of these programs shows that India’s growing attention to women as mothers results from two factors. First, international organizations such as the UN have placed maternal health on the global development agenda more successfully than they have advocated gendered interventions in other fields such as higher education, paid work, and political participation, creating incentives for national actors to design programs for pregnant women. Second, social policy thinking in India conflates gender with poverty, treating them as a single dimension of social stratification. This leads to efforts to address gender by solving poverty and undercuts arguments for women-specific programs for educational, economic, and political empowerment. The result is a system of social provisioning that is uncommonly attentive to adult women, but almost exclusively during their pregnancies.