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Gender Equality, Land Rights and Household Food Security: Discussion of Rice Farming

Author(s): Nitya Rao
Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 40, No. 25 (Jun. 18-24, 2005), pp. 2513-2521
Published by: Economic and Political Weekly
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Gender Equality, Land Rights
and Household Food Security
Discussion of Rice Farming Systems
This paper seeks to examine the issue of land rights, and its links with household
food security as well as gender equality and questions some of the assumptions being
made thereiin. After a brief analysis of shifts in policy discourse and practice, both nationally
and internationally, in terms of agricultural production and land management as vital for
food security, it seeks to analyse the implications of some of these measures on gender
relations. Does the increasing attention to women reflect growing gender equality, or does it
lead to an enhancement of the work burden and responsibilities, without much
change in terms of status or decision-making authority?


Exploring the Links Feminist activists and the women's movement through raising
the issue of land rights for women at the international level
ne of the earliest discussions on gender and property iscountered this. Prior to the UN Women's Conference in
perhaps Engel's influential essay entitled the 'Origin of Copenhagen in 1980 that stated rather dramatically
Family, Private Property and the State' [(1884)1972]. He women owned only 1 per cent of the world's resources,
traced here a direct link between private property, class formationconstituting 50 per cent of the world's population [UN 198
and the subordination of women. The transformation of women the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimi-
from equal, productive members of society to dependent wives nation Against Women (CEDAW), 1979, had included specific
was linked to the shift from community ownership and productionclauses on the equal treatment of women in agrarian reform as
for use to private ownership under the control of men and well as similar rights for both spouses in the ownership, man-
agement and disposition of property. The World Conference on
production for sale. While the division of labour itself remained
unchanged, the valuation of roles changed, prioritising men whoAgrarian Reform and Rural Development organised by the FAO
generated surpluses over women engaged in housework. Engels in Rome in the same year specifically called for the repeal of
therefore called for the abolition of private property and for those laws that discriminate against women in respect of inheri-
women to join the labour force, along with a socialisation of tance, ownership and control of property as well as promoting
housework and childcare responsibilities, in order to emancipate
ownership rights for women.
women (1972:82). The exclusion of women from the ownership of land has thus
Feminist scholars, who argue that gender relations are notbeen questioned in the global arena, especially during the UN
egalitarian even in propertyless households, have critiqued Women's Decade (1975-85). While the CEDAW spoke of
Engels theory particularly in relation to the origin of women's land rights for the sake of gender equality, more
women's subordination. Sacks (1974:222) says, "although pro-recently the World Development Report-2000-01 states, "In
perty ownership seems important for women's domestic positionmost developing countries titles to land are normally vested in
vis-a-vis a husband, the exercise of domestic power, particularlymen. Since the great majority of the world's poor people live
in class societies, is limited by whether or not women have adultin agrarian settings, this is a fundamental source of vulnerability
status in the social sphere. This in turn is determined by theirfor poor women... So women face disadvantages not only in land
participation in social production". Her conclusion is based onownership, but in gaining access to the resources and infor-
ethnographic studies of four social groups in Africa, where shemation that would improve yields...For Burkina Faso analy-
found that private property was not the only source of malesis of household panel data suggests that farm output could
supremacy, as not all males owned property and some womenbe increased 6-20 per cent through a more equitable allocation
too owned land. She found that men's work was being of productive resources between male and female farmers"
socialised and women's domesticated through the state legal(pp 118-19). There is clearly a shift in the discourse around
system and ideology; and this led to their being accorded women's ownership of land from one of equal rights to a more
differential worth. instrumental one in terms of poverty reduction and agricultural
,The other strand emerging from Engels is the shifts in growth,
the and in the case of the New Agricultural Policy (NAP)
meaning and nature of ownership, from communal to private in India that I discuss later, to food security and child nutrition.
This conflation of gender inequality with poverty is however
tenures. The promotion of individual titling by the World Bank
since the mid-1970s,2in a context of growing scarcity and analytically problematic.3 A disaggregated analysis of sex ratios
(used as a proxy for gender equality) across districts in India,
consequent competition, has had negative implications for women.

Economic and Political Weekly June 18, 2005 2513

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in fact, suggest that women's survival chances decline with National Policy in India
prosperity [Rustagi 2000].
It is perhaps useful at this point to map this changing discourse While the international discourse favouring locally negotiated
around women's land rights on to the discourse around food land settlements is in a way mirrored at the national level in India,
security. Until the 1980s, the issue of food security was exclu- especially in the context of democratic decentralisation through
sively linked with food production. Following the occurrence of the panchayats in the last decade and a shift of responsibilities
a series of famines in the 1970s and 1980s, Sen (1981) attempted forresource managen lent, inmpiementing development programmes
to explain the links between people and food through a focus and resolving disputes to the village level, there still appears to
on a range of entitlements: ownership (through trade, production, be greater faith in state structures and policies to ensure rights
own-labour or inheritance); exchange (through market-based to land.
trade or transfers from the state, such as public works, social A part of this faith comes from the history of independent
security anld stood subsidies)4 and legal. So, starvation can result India that committed itself to a form of socialism through planned
from a fall in endowments (such as land alienation),5 unfavourable developmlent. i There was a stated conmmitnent to social justice
shifts in exchange entitlements (as seen in food price and wage and redistribution through land reform, recognising that inequali-
fluctuations) and the difficulties of implementing legal rights. ties in landholdings were one of the prirmary forms of social and
Property rights particularly are fuzzy and mediated by faIlily and economic inequality. The First Five-Year Plan document, for
kinship ties, and a strict focus on legal rights, can jeopardise instance, says "troni the social aspect, which is not less important
women's rights to land, often unrecorded. The difficulties posed than the economic, a policy for land may be considered adequate
for women due to the legal tranework of individual titling in the measure in which it reduces disparities in wealth and
followed in most countries have in fact led to a rethinking of income, eliminates exploitation, provides security for tenant and
this strategy, with the bank now recognizing the importance of worker and, finally promises equality of status and opportunity
flexible and locaiiy managed systems for guaranteeing secure to different sections of the rural population" (point 31, section
access on the ground [World Bank 2001].6 on land policy and land reform). The best institution to manage
In a joint paper with Dreze, Sen (1995) later pointed out that land reform was seen as the village panchayat. Right through
chronic under-nutrition is related not just to food intake, nut also till the Fourth Five-Year Plan (1969-74), this emphasis on land
to access to education and health care, employment opportunities reform, village manragement, and support to small and marginal
and the provision of social security as a back-up against entitle- farmers, persisted. Women were never mentioned separately, it
ment failures within society.7 Wormen's food entitlements then being assumed that as members of beneficiary households, they
are more likely to be quasi-legal, involving common property would automatically benefit.
resources and social support systems [Kynch 1998], rather than With the publication of the Report of the Committee on Status
just direct control over land and production. Further, the poor of Women in India (CSWI) in 1974, and in response to the demand
are a diverse category, with different endowments, exchange by the women's movement in India, representing the voices of
entitlements and legal rights, which vary across liveiinood peasant women, 12 the Sixth Plan document (1980) recommended
systems,8 and as Haddad and Reardon point out, male-female that all land distributed under the land reform programme should
biases in intra-housenold resource allocations vary by region and be registered jointly in the name of both spouses. This was the
income group. Based on survey data from Burkina Faso they find first public document to recognise the importance of land to
that investment in girls is higher in urban and agro-cliriatically women in India. It states, "Government shall endeavour to provide
favourable rural areas, where their potential for earning income joint titles to husband and wife, initially in cases of transfer of
is seen to be higher in the future (1993:264). agricultural land and homestead land, and house sites" (point
This is particularly crucial as in most rural societies of Asia 27.19, Sixth Plan, 1980). This was also the first plan to include
and Africa, with rising populations and growing pressure on land, a separate chapter on Women and Development and advocate
diversification of livelihoods has become essential both for for the channelling of at least a third of the financial resources
survival and for spreading risk. Given the disadvantage faced for rural development programmes to women through initiating
by women in telins of lower literacy levels, lower waged jobs a special prograrmme for women, namely, the Development of
in the labour Imanrets, restrictions on mobility and responsibilities Women and Children in Rural Areas or DWCRA.
for children and household maintenance, men have generally The Seventh Plan (1985-90) retained a chapter on Women and
moved into non-rann activities, leaving women behind in rural Development, yet the directive on joint titling was not restated.
areas to tend the land. In Zimbabwe, while 68 per cent of women Instead it focused special attention on improving the skills of
workers are dependent on agriculture, this is 48 per cent for men; women in agriculture and allied sectors through training and
in Tanzania, 80 per cent women and 70 per cent men (ILO increasing the number of women beneficiaries of rural deve-
statistics) and in India 85 per cent women and 71 per cent men lopment prograntmes. During this period, the National Pers-
are agricultural workers.9 In such a context of 'feminisation of pecrive Plan for Women (1988-2000) was drafted which stated,
agriculture',10 not having property rights has led to a range of "Women's undiluted access to land... .would undoubtedly bestow
practical difficulties in production - the inability to access credit, on her necessary economic independence and power and would
inputs and extension services. There is, hence, a growing em- improve her social position in the family" [Gol 1988].
phasis on women's access to resources, particularly land, in order The Eighth Plan (1990-95), while subsuming wonmen once
to ensure household food security. In the rest of this paper, I again within the chapter on social welfare, makes a link between
would like to examine this emphasis on resource control by the role of worten in agricultural production and the need to
women in the context of rice livelihood systems and the employ- increase women's control over economic resources and services.
ment and earnings pattern therein, to highlight possible irnpli- It recommends that for married women, joint titles would be
catioins for gender relations. desirable for productive assets, houses and house-sites. Further,

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it called upon state governments to allot 40 per cent of surplus work of women in hired labour households have remained re-
land collected under the Land Ceiling Act to women, particularly markably stable, the agricultural component of the total has
women-headed households, the rest being in joint titles [GoI dropped from 65 per cent in 1976-77 to 38 per cent in 1998-99
1992]. Yet, as Thakur (2001) points out, dependent as these are (2002:453). Most of the non-agricultural work is low-paid tama-
on state enactments, women's rights continue to be largely rind processing. This mirrors the position for India as a whole,
ignored both in land reform and rehabilitation policies, with the where the total days of employment available to a woman in a
exception of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. While rural labour household has risen from 233 days in 1983 to 265
women in general are either excluded or come very low in the days in 1993-94, but days in agriculture have fallen steadily. The
order of devolution of rights, married daughters are excluded even nature of alternative employment available to women has meant
from the definition of 'family' in ceiling laws.13 harder work for more days, but earning less. The study location
Agarwal's (1994) seminal work on gender and land in south had seen overall intensification of agriculture due to the devel-
Asia, articulating the need for land rights for women in terms opment of groundwater, but the specific cropping changes from
of the welfare, efficiency and empowerment arguments, has cotton and vegetables to banana, coconut and grape were from
further supported the demand for women's land rights in the crops using considerable female labour to those using little. Two
national discourse. The efficiency and credit access argument, processes appear to be at work: men appropriating the land, as
an essential part of the modernising and growth discourses in it gets more valuable, and using it for generating cash rather than
promoting land titling, in fact, appear to be the major reasons subsistence on the one hand, and the devaluation of women's
for recognising women rights to land in the New Agricultural work on the other.
Policy, 2000 (part of the Tenth Plan), though it does emphasise Several studies have found a positive relationship between the
the importance of social equity objectives. I would like to high- value of women's time and household food and nutrition, es-
light a few key points from the NAP in order to carry this pecially of the children. If employment opportunities for women
discussion forward. expand, accompanied by fair wages, it is assumed that household
Strengthening the conditions of female farmers and female labourers hence consumption, will improve. Due to increased
labour time, home-processed foods will be replaced by purchased
would also help improve the food security at the household level.
This is because generally women spend most of their income on foods, but these are likely to more expensive than traditional
household expenditure unlike men and this would help improve foods, hence unless food expenditures increase sufficiently, the
the nutrition of the children.14 [section 4.1.60 :39. Gol 2003].
nutritional quality of the diet may suffer [Senauer 1990:155].
Women's rights in land will be recognised and women will be Case study evidence seems to suggest increasing work burdens
given preference in group activities for land conservation andof women, without increasing returns. This can have negative
improvement [section 4.1.45:14, Gol 2003] consequences for children's well-being, both in terms of time
Efforts will be made to grant property rights in land to women
available for child care and inadequate income to improve the
wherever possible and self-help groups of women may be encour-
quality of diets.
aged to take up activities like the regeneration of wastelands.
(b) Focus on group activities, especially in relation to waste-
Women will be given preference in the allotment of ceiling surplus
lands [section 4.1.60:39, GoI 2003]. lands: Agarwal (1994) emphasises that even a small plot of land
can reduce the risk of poverty, by acting as a bargaining point
Implications for Gender Relations for attracting further resources from the state and from within
the household.15 Yet this link is by no means clear. Lipton (1985),
I now examine the implications of some of the elements above
early on, found the links between ownership of land, particularly
for both household food security and gender relations. poor quality land16 and poverty reduction to be tenuous. Heyer
(a) Additional responsibilities for women: While this explicit
(1989) found landless labour women in Tamil Nadu preferring
recognition of women appears to be a positive step overall, what
to invest in the education of their children, or in social networks,
is somewhat worrying in this shift in discourse in favour of rather than land, as this could in fact restrict their mobility in
women is the move away from social equity or justice to purelysearch of work. Their main resource is their body, and not land,
instrumental reasons for granting women rights to land. With hence a focus on improving their skills and capacities could be
every right comes a responsibility. Land right is clearly accom-
more worthwhile than giving them a small plot of bad quality
panied by additional responsibilities; here an expectation land.
of Third, from a gender perspective, in a situation of scarce
improved household food security and the nutrition of children.
resources, there is likely to be contestation over the control of
On the basis of detailed income and household contribution data
any 'new' resource (for example, regenerated wastelands or
of men and women in rural households in rice-producing regions common property), be it between castes, groups or genders [Sarin
of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Mencher demonstrates that while 1997]. This is visible in attempts by upper caste groups or men
women's income is only 55 per cent of men's on average, their to stake control over wastelands painstakingly regenerated by
household contribution is 70 per cent that of men. Women tend women. Available evidence suggests that poor women have been
to contribute almost their entire income to the household in line
able to make land productive only in cases where they have
with "society's view of her role and the demands of her children"
received a bundle of support, from NGOs such as the Deccan
(1988: 114), subject as she is to the ideology of 'maternal
Development Society in Andhra Pradesh or the Centre for Women' s
altruism', that mothers will not let their children starve. So,
Development Studies in West Bengal. Further, social and do-
women's greater contribution to the household can perhaps notmestic constraints faced by women prevent them from operating
be disputed. freely in markets, apart from the gendered nature of labour, credit
What results then is that women start working harder, without and product markets themselves.
necessarily getting higher returns. Ramachandran et al in their Finally, most of the arable land available is private land,
village study in Tamil Nadu, find that while the days of overall transferred largely through inheritance. As already mentioned,

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apart from being a productive resource, land is more importantly (homestead) - controlled by women though owned by men. Male
a social resource, mediating power relations at the local level. status derives from producing rice to feed the family. In a context
Saradamoni (1983:157) in her study of land relations in Kerala where home production is insufficient for food security, women
noted, "land was not individual private property. It was under then migrate in search of seasonal work, while men stay back
the joint control of the family and was generally indivisible".17 to tend their fields and harvest the paddy crop [Rao 2002]. This
It was a marker of social status, prestige and identity. Customary ideological distinction between male and female contributions
practices of dividing the produce, marriage, family and inher- to the household, is also reflected in material terms, with women's
itance system kept land relations intact and women had a major migration income often being set aside for bulk expenditures such
role in negotiating this social process. Women too, therefore, take as house construction, clothing, debt repayment, except of course
pride in land as a family resource, rather than considering it either at severe levels of poverty, when it is used for food. A similar
a group resource or an individual resource. Collective farming, observation is made by Chowdhry (1993) in the case of Haryana,
whether of men or women, has hardly been a success in India, where men as food-providers tend their own land and send their
precisely because of this reason. women out for wage-work. Men appear to draw a conceptual
In a recent study of Mexico, where the end to agrarian reform boundary between money and subsistence [Whitehead 1981:
is being seen as a highly retrograde step by gender-progressive 100]. While providing the staple food is part of their obligation
organisations, Hamilton found that women were not too con- as household head, and a central.aspect of male gender identity,
cerned about the shift in the legislation, as they felt confident cash income is used for other purposes.
about their position and status within families. Further "despite Clearly, the available evidence seems to suggest that male roles
legal provision for sale of land by individual ejidatarios and the as food providers are critical to their identity and status in society.
disinheritance of wives and children, land continued to be viewed The statement from the NAP quoted above seems to accept as
as a family resource" (2002:140). Deere and Leon note that "given fact that women are solely responsible for household mainte-
the prevalence of family farming in Latin America, and the current nance and food security and not men. This is problematic as
conjuncture - joint titling of land to couples will potentially not only does it ignore the mutuality and cooperation between
benefit more rural women than any other resource" (2001:8). men and women in household agricultural production, but gives
While agreeing with the greater potential for empowerment in cause for men not to contribute. Based on evidence from
Agarwal's call for independent land rights for women, they find Tanzania, Zambia, Zaire and Uganda, Pottier (1994) suggests
that in a context where there is little land for distribution andthat men are losing status and power due to a loss of economic
considerable pressure on land on the one hand and the need for control, while women have at the same time been gaining eco-
family stability in view of the increasing abandonment of women nomic autonomy, albeit in low-earning, labour-intensive sectors
and the rise in the number of female-headed households on the (such as beer brewing). This has led to two types of responses
other, joint titles which are mandatory not optional are the bestfrom men: first, relinquishing responsibility for household
way forward. This could also help overcome male resistance tofood security, "leaving women with the burden of sustaining
women's rights to land. the family" (p 4), and second, exercising psychological pressure
Walker, discussing the case of South Africa, also focuses onto appropriate women's wealth by redefining rights to land on
the role of the family in a woman's life, particularly in a context men's terms.
of HIV/AIDS. She says, "the focus on individual rights for A study by Venkateshwarlu and Da Corta (2001) of hybrid
women needs to be tempered by a deeper appreciation of thecotton seed production in three districts of Andhra Pradesh found
importance of household membership in poor women's lives ...the large-scale use of the labour of young girls, extending over
While the patriarchal household may be a site of oppression forlong periods of time. Men were withdrawing from work and there
women, it is also a source of identity and support, providing was growing responsibility on women and girls to earn incomes.
membership in a social network that is often the only effective Hard work coupled with lower wages was leading to health
resource poor women have" (2003: 46-47). O'Laughlin tends problems and girls were being withdrawn from schools. Ota
to confirm this view when she says that "assuining the weakness(2002) also found in her study on child labour in Andhra Pradesh
of conjugal ties and focusing on women's own account farming that in several poor households men were increasingly unable
creates a distorted and partial view of the problems confrontingto contribute much to the household kitty due to ill-health or
womeni in rural Africa" (1995:69). The solution is inot to withdrawunwillingness to work, and it was women with help from the
from patriarchal institutions and move to the individual level, children who were earning for survival (2002: 229). The second
but rather to try to niake these institutions more gender-equitable.response from men in terms of appropriating female assets
To understand the longer-term consequences of particular entitle- through renaming was visible in the Jahaly Pacharr irrigated rice
ments on gender relations, onie needs to expand the frame ofscheme in Gambia, funded by IFAD in the early 1980s [Carney
analysis to take account of both conflicts and cooperation at the 1988], but also emerges from my study of land records data in
household level [Sen 1990]. the Santal Parganas, which clearly shows a renaming of bari land
(c) Male role as providers: Empirical evidence also seems to as dhani over the last 100 years.
suggest that it is not quite true that men don't contribute to food
While equitable resource control is a legitimate claim for
security. Studies from rural Bangladesh reveal that male assets women, one needs to remember that this is accompanied by
are strongly correlated to food expenditures, especially rice, given responsibility. Focusing all resources on women, and legitimising
men's role as 'providers' and their responsibility for the produc-this on grounds of food security can end up both alienating men
tion and marketing of rice. Women's assets contribute to children' sfrom contributing anything to the household as well as inten-
clothing and education [Quisumbing and Briere 2000]. In my sifying work burdens for women. Women may gain autonomy,
study in the Santal Parganas too, land is classified as 'dhani' but rarely does this increase their food security [Pottier 1994,
(rice-producing) - owned and controlled by men, and 'bari' Rao 2002]18

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(d) Changes in livelihood systems: NSSO data in the last two West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana [Chavan and Bedamatta
decades (sectoral distribution of rural workers from 1977-78 and 2003]. Interestingly, men's wages are also lower than the mini-
1999-2000) reveals that while there has been considerable diversi- mum wages in all these states, except Orissa, though the diffe-
fication, this has not only slowed down considerably in the 1990s, rence is less than in the case of women. Alongside this, there
but has mostly been confined to male workers. The main sectors appears to have been a decline in the growth rate of real wages
of growth in the non-farm sector appear to be construction, trade, for both male and female agricultural workers during the 1990s.
hotels and restaurants, transport and storage, all of which have Clearly, this appears linked to the above point, namely, the lack
shown a preference for men. Construction, manufacturing and of investment and agricultural growth in eastern India.
services have been the sectors where women's employment too Interestingly, the slower growth rates in agricultural wages have
has increased marginally [Dev 2003]. Livelihood diversification meant narrowing gaps in male-female earning ratios in Assam,
in rural areas seems therefore to be offering opportunities to men Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal
- as small businessmen and as employees in better paid jobs, Pradesh, apart from Punjab and Haryana. There was however
whilst for women it involves extremely lowly paid work which an increase in the male-female wage gap in the more progressive
is a last resort. states of south India, with Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karataka and
This is evident from the ICRISAT longitudinal village studies
Andhra Pradesh all revealing a gap of more than 1.5 [Unni 1999].
that show a drastic reduction in the share of agriculture to While it is difficult to pinpoint exact reasons for such a trend,
household incomes between 1975 and 2000. In one of the study especially given women's relatively better status in south India
villages in Andhra Pradesh, Dokur, the share of agricultural as compared to the north, available evidence seems to suggest
a re-evaluation of worth of different forms of work in terms of
income declined from 96 per cent to 27 per cent of total household
income over this period, while the share of migration income their contribution to household livelihoods. Cash cropping, trade,
services and industrial production, dominated and controlled by
increased from nil to 25 per cent. In 2001, only 18 per cent of
the households classified themselves as primarily dependent onmen, seems to be contributing much more to household liveli-
agriculture as opposed to 53 per cent in 1975 [Rao and Bantilan
hoods than rice production. Prosperity thus can have perverse
2003]. While men's non-farm income constitutes a large pro- effects in terms of women's control over income and in turn
portion of household income, given the earlier distinction be- gender equality.21
tween the allocation of male subsistence and cash incomes, it While signs of change are not yet visible in terms of land
relations, whether in terms of issue of 'pattas' (land titles) in
is not clear how far this contributes to household food security.
In a study of income distribution based on a survey of five women's names or in terms of enhanced training and extension
rice-producing villages in the Philippines (in central Luzon andservices to women, the Malaysian experience does provide us
Panay Island), Estudillo et al found a sharp decline in the share
with an alternative view to examine future changes - will agri-
of rice income especially in the rainfed villages of Panay and culture become the lower value, lower paid sector dominated by
a simultaneous rise in non-farm incomes. They note that "land women? Stivens et al (1994) found a growing feminisation of
landed property relations in rural Malaysia in the context of a
is no longer the only decisive factor determining rural household
income" (2001a:77). rather a key role is played by college general decline in the rural economy. Women's land rights in
education in accessing remunerative non-farm activities. In aanway represented the cultural valuation of women as 'conservers'
earlier study, they found that with rice production becoming of the rural sector. Yet women's base in the community was
increasingly male in nature, parents, with a view to equalising undermined by state focus on industrial investment, massive out-
life outcomes, gave their sons more land and daughters more migration from the rural sector, women's disadvantage in the
education (2001b). In fact, income inequalities are now seen labour
to market and religious revivalism. Younger women in fact
arise much more from non-farm rather than farm incomes. preferred to look for socially valued work in the industrial sector,
(e) Changes in macro-policies: Another key issue emerging from
rather than staying on in the villages and tending the land. There
the Philippines study is the importance of irrigation and HYV
is evident from other parts of the world too to show that inheri-
adoption in increasing farm incomes.19 With the onset of neo-
tance patterns can change in response to demographic pressure,
liberal reforms in the early 1990s in India, there have been
occupational diversification, migration and shifts in state
declines in the provision of agricultural credit and public invest-
priorities.22 Women's control over the product, labour and their
ment in agriculture [GoI 2002: 20].20Without state support, autonomy can thus not be read off in a straightforward manner
agricultural growth has stagnated as have agricultural wages and from their landholding status. Does the declining importance of
men are increasingly migrating out in search of more lucrative agriculture to household incomes lead to greater equity in in-
employment. heritance patterns, is a question that needs further research. And
In India, the rate of growth for agriculture declined in 12 out would this necessarily lead to gender equity or the empowerment
of 15 states in the 1990s as compared to the 1980s and three of women?
states, namely, Bihar, Orissa and Gujarat, the first two essentially What seems clear then is the need for a focus in public policy
rice producing, showed negative growth rates. With the exception on agricultural investment and development more broadly, and
of West Bengal and parts of Uttar Pradesh, where irrigation its reflection in a holistic public policy package to strengthen
investment has expanded. the growth in rice productivity in a range of entitlements. rather than focusing only on granting
eastern India has remained much lower at 0.36 per cent per annum women rights to land, especially in a context of reducing levels
from 1972-89 as compared to southern India at 0.76 per cent of credit for agriculture, or indeed effective technical extension
per annum [Ballabh and Pandey 1999]. programmes. While rights to land may then contribute to incre-
An analysis of agricultural wages across the same 15 states asing access to other resources, whether this would necessarily
revealed that women's agricultural wages were consistently lower lead to enhancing food security, or indeed more equitable gender
than the minimum wages, especially in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, relations, is not obvious.

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(f) Lessons from land struggles: the need for male cooperation: decision-making and control [Manimala 1984]. Finally in 1981,
Finally, I would like to engage briefly with the meaning of land after three years of intense struggle, when a part of the land was
to men and women. While policy often treats it merely as a to be distributed, the titles were all made in the names of men,
productive resource, land is an important social resource that with the exception of some widows. Despite lists with the names
mediates patronage and power relations at the local level. India of women being drawn up for several villages, the local govern-
has had a long history of land struggles, supported largely by ment functionaries refused to give them the title on the question
the Left political parties post-independence. The 1940s and 1950s of the 'head of the household'.
saw intense struggles in southern India, in traditional rice areas In making their claims, women had to encounter multiple tie
that had seen rapid capitalist penetration in agriculture and hence of resistance, from the family and the community, including ma
led to a loss of employment and land for the poor. The well known activists, to the state and the bureaucracy. Agarwal (1994)
Telangana people's struggle (1946-51) or the Thanjavur move- analysing the variables responsible for the ultimate success
ment in the 1950s and 1960s however stopped at the level of women in getting titles highlights the role of women's struggl
'class'- giving land to the 'tiller' - always construed as a man, the growing solidarity among women and the involvement
though women actively participated in agriculture and in the some middle class feminist women activists. Clearly, the sprea
struggle [Kannabiran and Lalita 1990, Shivaraman 1973].23 of the women's movement and feminist consciousness did
Similar is the experience of most Latin American countries contribute to the process of debate and analysis in Bodhga
that saw a period of peasant discontent followed by land reform. lacking in earlier movements. Yet, Agarwal underplays the r
Membership of production cooperatives or ownership rights to of male support that was crucial in this success, though recognis
land ended up in the name of the head of the household, usually that the petty bureaucracy only agreed to give the land titles
a man, though a few women, mostly widowed or separated, were the names of women after the "firm refusal by the villagers (b
also included. Cuba was perhaps an exception, as not only was men and women) to take land in male names" (ibid:449). So wh
cooperative membership opened up to all adult members of the there was indeed a collective struggle for women's land righ
household, but the peasant unions (ANAP) along with the women's it could not have succeeded without the support and solidar
organisation (FMC), ensured that women did join these units. shown both by the village men and the outside activists.
It is only in the late 1990s, post-Beijing, with the growing strength Further, the issue of dealing with inheritance still remai
of the women's movement globally, the rise in local women's Given the norms of patrilocality and village exogamy, and
groups and the presence of supportive women within government difficulties of management of land for women married in
and policy-making institutions has there been enhanced pressure another village, women in Bodhgaya have been reluctant
to recognise women in the process of land reform and titling endow theirdaughters with land.24 One solution that has emer
[Deere and Leon 2001]. is to transfer the land in the names of their daughters-in-
While certain aspects of feudal oppression that included not [Manimala 1997]. This is now being tried out in a few villag
just economic exploitation, but also the sexual exploitation of Such an experiment has however also been possible due to
women were addressed by these movements, gender-specific approval and support of the larger community.
issues such as the ownership and control over land, division of Another positive story comes from Maharashtra. where t
labour, decision-making and intra-family relations were avoided. women's front or Mahila Aghadi of the Shetkari Sangathan
This course of events does indeed point to the biases of the left a. farn-er's organisation formed under the leadership of Sha
political parties, as Agarwal rightly points out (1994:442), but Joshi in 1980 - passed a resolution at Amravati in 1989 that ca
in addition, it points also to the difficulties of mass organisation upon all male members of the Sangathana to give a portion
as a strategy to change gender inequities at the household level. their land to their wives. This was subsequently endorsed b
Apart from differences in class, religion and stage in their life huge rally of male farmers. Lakshmi Mukti, as the programm
cycles, women's motivation to participate in mass resistance to was named, called upon men to voluntarily transfer a piece
secure rights to land is also influenced by negotiations within their land in their wife's name. This movement drew upon t
the household and community, by political manipulations and Sita story to point out the irresponsibility of the Hindu god Ra
the very social embeddedness of their land claims. If men deny in leaving Sita, who had been a loyal wife, destitute. The movem
them plough labour, for instance, they would be forced to leave spread in village after village, with men who transferred l
their land fallow. One needs to remember that gender relations to their wives being honoured with certificates for this act [Kish
are an arena not just of conflict and contestation, but also of 1997]. Men here have not only supported, but actually taken pri
mutuality and emotional attachments. This is a lesson emerging in women's rights.
also from some of the land struggles that have raised the issue Despite these successes in securing at least some limited righ
of women's rights. for women, women's land rights have not formed a prior
The first such land struggle was that led by the Chhatra Yuva agenda of the women's movement, the focus of which has be
Sangharsh Vahini in Bodhgaya district of Bihar. It started as a issues of violence against women, health and reproductive rig
struggle for land rights by dalit (scheduled caste) landless labourers and employment benefits alongside equal employment oppo
working for low wages for a large 'mutt' (Hindu monastery), tunities. In the case of Brazil, which had active rural unions
where women were also sexually exploited. The mutt resorted women workers, land rights seemed to disappear as issues
to a spread of terror and police repression to curb opposition, relation to social security benefits or recognition as work
yet the women labourers continued the struggle, as by this time [Deere 2003]. "Since attaining effective social security rights w
many of their men had to migrate in search of employment. Issues an issue that united most rural women (whether temporary
of drunkenness. wife-beating, and the need for change in the permanent wage workers, landless or in the family farmi
gender division of labour within the household were also dis- regime) it is not surprising that these rights would constitute t
cussed. Women had come to the forefront, demanding a role in most important arena of struggle for the rural women' s movem

2518 Economic and Political Weekly June 18, 2005

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in subsequent years, to the detriment of the struggle for women's Concluding Remarks
land rights" (ibid: 267-68). This strategy also seems to fit well
with the broader range of entitlements contributing to food and It is the socially embedded nature of land within kinship an
livelihood security. marriage systems, its strong association with cultural identity an
In Jharkhand too, the women's movement has been divided symbolism that makes it different from other aspects of gend
on this issue, with several adivasi women leaders opposinginequality whether violence, sexual harassment, poorer literac
women's separate land rights on the plea that this could be or health status, and also different from other resources. The are
exploited by non-adivasi men to alienate their lands, and that
of land rights becomes more ambiguous, yet more significan
Though a non-negotiable, the means of achieving this, therefor
they find it strategically beneficial to negotiate their rights within
appear to be more diverse and contextual.
the community. While marriage to non-adivasis has perhaps been
one method of 'alienation' (effective control over land passing One needs also to acknowledge that with increasing land
out of the lineage and to other castes, as children take the name scarcity, combined with diversified livelihood systems, as we
of the father), particularly near major towns, its magnitude is as the broader understanding of food security, land alone cann
not significant [Thakur 1977]. Yet, the general marginalisationgive women work and income, improve their status, or ev
of adivasis and their economic and social exploitation by non- ensure household food security; this has to be integrated wi
adivasis, has made this a sensitive issue, with political leaders other opportunities as well as conscious attempts to shift macr
willing to consider women's rights in marital property only on policies to support women's work in the rural economy a
consequently the gendered valuations of work and worth.
conditions of control over choice of marital partner and restricted
divorce [Kumar 1982], while women leaders argue forjoint rather
than independent titles. This is in recognition of the embeddedness
of property and inheritance in marriage and kinship structures
and, therefore, a need to build bridges with male leaders. Notes
The truth of this is clearly visible with local village leaders
usually supportive of women's land claims, in order to establish1 The Report on Women's Role in the Planned Economy of the National
their own credibility as guardians of community rights. Such a Planning Committee of India, 1947, reproduced this view, saying 'Private
property is the root cause of many inequalities', hence, arguing for a
strategy is also seen as important in the face of a progressive
different system of ownership. This was, however, qualified by stating
state framework that ensures equal rights to men and women on that 'so long, however, as the very foundation of society is based on
the one hand, yet seeks to decide on land use priorities often a system of private property, women cannot claim equality with men
unilaterally, as in the case of granting mining and industrial leases unless she has the same rights as men to hold, acquire, inherit and dispose
of property' (quoted in Saradamoni 1983: 154).
to private companies in Jharkhand. Often women's resistance 2 The Bank's key land reform policy paper in 1975 recommended formal
is reflected in a range of daily negotiations and covert tactics, land titling as a precondition to modern development, the abandonment
and only when their lives or livelihoods are seriously threatened, of communal tenure systems and the promotion of land markets. This
does it take more public and overt forms. led to titles being exclusively in male names.
3 See Jackson (1996) on this point and the need to rescue gender from
This somewhat ambivalent position on land rights by women the poverty trap.
themselves across contexts seems to highlight their effort to retain
4 Gladwin et al (2001), based on a simulation of livelihood systems of
some degree of cooperation and shared responsibility at the women farmers in Africa found that productivity-enhancing safety nets
such as public employment, food-for-work, inputs-for work, are the most
household level. They are not keen to independently take over
beneficial strategies for strengthening women's entitlements.
and manage land not just because of the opposition this is likely
5 The Right to Life and Livelihood was the underlying theme of the
to evoke, but also the implication, as in the NAP, that they take Supreme Court in its judgment in the Madhu Kishwar vs State of India,
over complete responsibility for household food security and 1982, and Juliana Lakra vs state of Bihar, 1986, cases, awarding land
to two tribal women in Jharkhand.
child nutrition. When I questioned women in villages of Dumka6 O'Rourke (1995) shows how despite the passing of the Land Act in 1963
district, Santal Parganas, about the taboo on women ploughing, in Tanzania, the Chagga in Mt Kilimanjaro continued to determine land
they seemed relieved that this was one task they were not expected rights through the local lineage-neighbourhood complex. Similar is the
to do, as they were performing, often single-handedly, practically case of Ethiopia, where despite the Civil Code of 1960 that invalidated
customary law, communities continued to apply them to negotiating
all the other operations involved in rice production. personal relationships [Gopal 19991. The major lesson seems to be that
Further, in situations of restricted mobility, leading to restricted legal systems too operate simultaneously at multiple levels and within
choices, as in large parts of northern India, women may prefer a web of social institutions, hence to be practicable, legal rights have
to be moored in the cultural context of communities and address the
to abide by the rules and regulations of marriage, as survival and
underlying justification of the custom they seek to replace.
protection is better assured by doing so. They often prioritise 7 Recent efforts to map food insecurity also point to the role of a range
stability over autonomy. Women in Rajasthan, for example, of resources, moving away from a strictly productionist paradigm [MSSRF
prefer to forego their land claims keeping in mind the consider- and WFP 2004].
8 Variations are particularly visible in market-based entitlements as well as
ably lower status and power their husbands would then enjoy
in relation to state policies and subsidies across different crops and regions.
in their natal villages relative to their own [Sjoblom 1999: 184].9 The Indian estimates are based on the NSS 55th Round data for
Sharma (1980), in her study of land and work in north-west India 1999-2000.
10 The term feminisation can be a bit misleading as the figures only ref
found that though dependent on their relations with men for
relative proportions of women workers and not absolute numbers. Th
control over land, rather than feeling excluded, women continued
total work days available in agriculture in fact seem to be declinin
to see land as a joint resource, with their contribution leading 11 See discussion on this issue in Corbridge and Harriss (2000).
12 Mazumdar (1997) recounts the series of peasant women conferences t
to male prestige and in turn their own. Perhaps this is also related
to the fact that women are more vulnerable to poverty in the led to this recognition.
13 The Law Commission of India [Reddy et al 2000] has recommen
absence of a fit adult male than men are in the absence of a fit
that women be made coparcenars and Section 23 be deleted, in its dra
adult female [Dreze 1990]. Hindu Succession (Amendment) Bill 2000.

Economic and Political Weekly June 18, 2005 2519

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14 A recent World Bank Review identifies several examples where women's Studies. 37(4), pp 23-48.
asset control contributes to children's welfare. In Honduras and Nicaragua, Fan, S, P Hazell and S Thorat (1999): 'Linkages between Government
the amount of land owned by women has a positive impact on food Spending, Growth and Poverty in Rural India', Research Report 110.
expenditure and children's educational attainment [Deininger 2003:38]. International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC.
15 Breman (1996), IFAD (2001) too argue that problems of poverty can Gladwin, C H. A M Thomson, J S Peterson and A S Anderson (2001):
be reduced by access to land. 'Addressing Food Security in Africa via Multiple Livelihood Strategies
16 Much of the land reform debate focuses on distribution and management of Women Farmers', Food Policy 26, pp 177-207.
of wastelands by women. Gol (1974): 'Towards Equality: Report of the Committee on the Status of
17 Sharma (1980) and Chowdhry (1993) note in the case of Himachal Women in India'. Ministry of Education and Social Welfare, New Delhi.
Pradesh and Haryana respectively that women looked upon land as family - (1980): 'Sixth Five-Year Plan'. Planning Commission, New Delhi.
property - 'hamara khet' - and not only as belonging to the man. - (1988): 'National Perspective Plan for Women'. Department of Women
18 Data on women-headed households in fact suggests that they are over- and Child Development, New Delhi.
represented amongst the poor [Chant 2004]. - (1992): 'Eighth Five-Year Plan. Planning Commission, New Delhi.
19 See also the study by Fan et al (1999) on the link between rural - (2002): 'Report of the Steering Committee on Agriculture and Allied
infrastructure, especially irrigation and agricultural research and extension, Sectors for the Tenth Five-Year Plan (2002-2007)', Planning Commission,
New Delhi.
and poverty reduction.
- (2003): India's Five-Year Plans, Academic Foundation, New Delhi.
20 The steering committee on agriculture and allied sectors for the Tenth
Five-Year Plan has noted the declining share of agriculture in the net Gopal, G (1999): 'Gender-Related Legal Reform and Access to Economic
Resources in Eastern Africa'. Report 405, The World Bank, Washington,
bank credit to less than 12 per cent in 1999 against the 18 per cent target D C.
under priority sector lending as well as a decline in public investment
Haddad. L. T Reardon (1993): 'Gender Bias in the Allocation of Resources
in agriculture with concern and as contributing to the stagnation in
within Households in Burkina Faso: A Disaggregated Outlay Equivalent
agricultural growth rates (p 20).
21 See case studies by Ramachandran et al (2002) forTamil Nadu, Ramakumar
Analysis', Tie Journal of Development Studies 29(2), pp 260-76.
Hamilton, S (2002): 'Neoliberalism. Gender and Property Rights in Rural
(2003) for Kerala, Venkateshwarlu and da Corta (2001) for Andhra
Mexico', Latin American Research Review. 37(1), pp 119-43.
Pradesh and Rawal (2003) and Chowdhry (1993) for Haryana.
Heyer, J (1989): 'Landless Agricultural Labourers. Asset Strategies', IDS
22 De la Cadena (1995) argues that in the department of Cuzco in the
Bulletin, 20(2), pp 33-40.
Peruvian Andes, a growing feminisation of land ownership is visible
IFAD (2001): Rural Poverty Report 2001: The Challenge of Ending Rura
and this is linked to the fact that land has lost its value as a source of
Poverty, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
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Jackson, C (1996): 'Rescuing Gender from the Poverty Trap', World
23 On women's role in peasant movements, see Mies (1976), Omvedt Development 24(3), pp 489-504.
Kannabiran, V and K Lalitha (1990): 'That Magic Time: Women in the
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