Research in Sudan was supported by a grant from the Collaborative Fulbright Program and the Mellon Fellowships Program. Research in Burkina Faso was funded
by the West Africa Research Association and the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies Program. I would like to acknowledge the generosity of
all of these programs. Conversations with Leslie Gray and Bruce Wydick have
been helpful in stimulating my thinking on the issues discussed here. The data
from the ICRISAT survey were generously provided by the International Center
for Research in the Semi-Arid Tropics, Niamey; Chris Udry was helpful in this
Analysis of these determinants does not rule out the possibility that women
are impoverished not because they are women, but rather because they happen to
lack assets or skills in a changing economy. This latter explanation would focus on
why the poor or women become relatively poorer. There may be no gender distinctions made in the marketplace: the fact that female household heads are poorer
than male heads accounts for their variable participation in factor markets.
See Katz (1991) and Koopman (1991). Agarwal (1994, 1997) has perhaps
been the staunchest champion of the extrahousehold approach. In discussing the
welfare implications of women's unequal access to resources, Agarwal has drawn
attention to the processes of national and community rule making. This rule making or norm making (in the case of more isolated village societies) may be formal
(laws, written contracts, parliamentary and regional decisionmaking body rules of
procedure) or informal (such as men's clubs, sanctions against public appearances
and participation by women, dress codes, and marriage rules).
An extension of this approach is to define a norm as a regularity in strategic behavior sustained by sanctions against violators. This is a stronger definition
than the first because now the costs of the norm may outweigh the benefits, but the
costs of breaking the norm are endogenously higher; in addition to having some interest in abiding by the convention for the benefits of the convention itself, people
also want to avoid explicit punishment for violating the convention.
Although in the 1960s, only 26 percent of women eloped, in the 1980s,
Hakansson found that 87 percent eloped. Elopements and irregular unions that do not
involve bridewealth payment have led to situations in which wives are no longer necessarily absorbed into the patrilineal tenure system. These women can be expelled
from a man's land easily. According to Hakansson (1986:10), “dissolution of informal unions [is] mostly initiated by men. ” This is not a phenomenon unique to Kenya.
Andre and Platteau (1996:29) find, in their careful study of a Rwandan village,
“roughly two-thirds of the couples … have been married without … customary payment, and the proportion is obviously much higher among young couples. ”
Hale (1996:199) quotes a supporter of the NIF: “It is not that we forbid
women to work. If she must work, then perhaps it is to the husband or to other
male members of her family where we should look for any criticism. We only
blame her if she goes to work as a frivolous act and does not behave appropriately
in the workplace. ” The NIF strategy may simply represent an extension of northern
Sudanese (Nile Valley) gender relations to the rest of the country (see Boddy
1985). See Kevane and Gray (1995) for more discussion.
Already in western Sudan there seemed to be clear evidence of a deepening feminization of poverty (Reilly 1989).
The letter was copied to the administrative officer (Dabit tanfizi) of El
Obeid district, the police chief of Kazgeil (a large neighboring village), the omda
of Kazgeil, the shaikh of Um Belda, and “gahwi owners. ” The translation is by the
The idea of “ranking” ethnic groups, and men and women, is fraught with
troubling implications. First, there is considerable variation within groups and
across villages, households, and individuals. Second, men are equally subject to
certain restrictive norms. Sometimes men are forced into marriages against their
will and are required to support, or even “marry, ” the widows of their deceased
brothers. Third, discussions of women's status were often used in the colonial period as justifications for colonial rule. Just as in Sudan, discussions of gender risk
are being used as rhetorical devices favoring other, less apparent interest groups.
The discussion that follows draws freely on Capron and Kohler (1978),
Retel-Laurentin (1973), and Weidelener (1973).
Policies need not be coercive or implemented by government. Indeed, they
are often more likely to be successful when organized on a private, voluntary basis.
Agarwal, Bina. 1994. A Field of One's Own: Gender and Land Rights in South
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Book title: Women Farmers and Commercial Ventures: Increasing Food Security in Developing Countries.
Contributors: Anita Spring - Editor.
Publisher: Lynne Rienner.
Place of publication: Boulder, CO.
Publication year: 2000.
Page number: 110.
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