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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development

Between Protest and Policy: Women Claim their Right to Agricultural Land in Rural China and India

Between Protest and Policy: Women Claim their Right to Agricultural Land in Rural China and India
This research was conceptualized to ascertain the state response to women’s extra-procedural claims making to land through collective and individual protests, demonstrations, public performances and women farmers' conclaves for building public opinion against the gender differential arrangements in land tenure and agrarian production system in India. An attempt was also made to understand China’s policy on women’s legal and equal rights to land since the 1950s. The author situates the discussion on women and land in the broader context of women’s emerging agential power against the patriarchal forces of the state, market fundamentalism and social cultural norms that influence both formal and informal institutions at various levels. Women’s claims are thus framed against two major related factors: an insidious state-backed development policy that keeps women dependent on the male as the head of the household; and a combination of institutional structures with social norms and legal rules that shut most rural women out of land and property ownership.

An analysis of land reform policies in China and India show that the state agencies speak simultaneously to two groups: the political elite raised with notions of gender-discriminatory forms of power who exercise influence through access to political and economic institutions; and the political constituency of organized rural women and men who wield influence through the right to vote, and therefore exercise power over the regime through the ballot box. The contradictory power bases of these two groups lead to a gap between policy rhetoric and implementation or gradualism constrained by social norms.

The research findings suggest that, as a consequence of the continued demand for women’s entitlement to land, there have been some partial and fitful changes in policies and enactment of laws in the two countries. The women who acquired an entitlement to land gained greater social status and increased bargaining power over household assets, experienced a reduction in gender-based violence, and had more of a voice in land governance as well as decision making in socio-political affairs. However, these changes are punctuated with patriarchal disorders and reversals.

The author further notes in the study that the state, in most cases, has responded to women’s protests and claims to justice and rights, in terms of formulation of policies and legal frameworks. However, these legal frameworks and policies have remained largely ineffective in changing institutions trapped in gendered norms and women’s economic dependency. There has been no significant withdrawal of male power over land and productive assets despite the fact that women and civil society groups, in large numbers, have continued with the claim that the intrinsic value of justice and right to equality lies in ensuring women’s autonomy and their freedom from violence and dependency relationships.

This study is divided into eight sections. The introduction outlines the conceptual framework and raises the major questions of the study. Section 2 discusses discriminatory social norms and attitudes. Section 3 describes the policy change in response to women’s historical struggles for equality against the gender regimes in Asia, followed by women’s right to land and inheritance in the two countries in section 4. Major drivers of policy change are discussed in section 5. Section 6 assesses change in the practice of women’s lives. Some continued challenges related to the state’s institutional structures and the market are discussed in section 7. The concluding section 8 suggests some desirable policy and action towards mitigating gendered negative outcomes of past agricultural development.

Govind Kelkar is Senior Advisor to Landesa in New Delhi, India. She is also Regional Council Member of Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 29 Aug 2016
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    From: UNRISD