Rethinking Empowerment: Gender and Development in a Global/Local World

By Jane L. Parpart; Shirin M. Rai et al. | Go to book overview
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from socio-cultural and political empowerment provides a starting point for analysing the law's approach to land ownership. While these sources of empowerment overlap because land issues exacerbate other types of gender bias, a focus on land issues in their economic rather than ideological aspect may provide a starting point for critical evaluation of the law as a means for empowering women. Women's role and contribution in agricultural production could be such a starting point.

Where legislation to enable land ownership exists, as in India, to make it effective, new attitudes and expectations must be created, both on the part of women and of society in general. These in turn must be developed through tangible, material policy measures to provide a real basis for generating changes in attitudes and ultimately the effectiveness of legal guarantees. In the case of women and ownership of land within the agrarian sector, a gendered access to land requires law to create a basis of legitimacy on two counts: cultural and socio-economic. Enhancing and supporting women's role in the agrarian economy will allow for better access to the necessary inputs for growth. This in turn will provide the basis for women to negotiate control of the primary resource, land, by providing a starting point from which women can make decisions regarding resource allocation within their families due to increased recognition of their contribution to production and hence increased legitimacy of their demands.

The non-recognition of women's role in agricultural production has led to women's continued exclusion from land, which further excludes them from the view of policy-makers. Control over land by women must therefore be increased if they are to be considered by policy-makers as major actors in agricultural production, not merely 'supportive' ones. A gender-equitable land reform policy could endow hitherto landless female agricultural labourers with land as well as consolidating the ownership of those with titles to land. A precondition for the correction of the problem, therefore, is to recognize that women are in fact significant contributors to agricultural production.

The recognition of the work and contribution of women in agriculture, and as producers in their own right, not merely dependants or in supportive roles, would enhance gender equality within land reforms. A gender-balanced system of land ownership, thought to have been achieved through the Hindu Succession Act, must be established through the creation of a new basis of legitimacy. This must include the recognition of women's contribution to and role in agriculture at the same time that the entrenched cultural ideology that excludes them is replaced by new values. How this can be achieved remains a challenge to those who are committed to women's empowerment. The first step, however, is the recognition that legal change without attitudinal and material change will not empower those on the margins of society, including women.


Notes
1
Section 8, read with the Schedule, Hindu Succession Act 1956.
2
For example, in its Report, the National Committee on the Status of Women notes:

-158-

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