In the last twenty years, an avalanche of studies on rural women in the third world has been witnessed. However, relatively few have focused on womens land rights. Reflecting on South Asia, Agarwal argued that ‘arable land is the most valued form of property, for its economic, political and symbolic significance. It a productive-creating and livelihood-sustaining asset. (Agarwal 1995: 268) This is true of most agrarian economies and certainly of Ethiopia.
Although most of the aforementioned studies did not focus on land rights, they have provided valuable insights into the multifarious constraints faced by women in accessing what have been grouped as ‘critical resources.’ (Robertson and Berger 1986: 3-24) This broad classification of resources refers to human, material and social resources. These include womens access to and control of productive resources, information, training and education, employment, social networks and processes of decision-making.
These studies have also convincingly challenged conventional notions of homogenised households, women, community and similar generalisations such as the rural poor. Of the numerous insights gained from these studies, including those regarding household and intra-household relations and constraints facing the implementation of gender-responsive state policies, the insights related to the gender-based division of labour have been the most helpful.
Revisiting the Household
As will be shown later, most land reform programmes are premised on the use of the household as a unit of allocation. Most of these programmes are based on implicit assumptions about the household as a unitary body and, likewise, the ‘community’ as a homogenised and united collection of households. Empirical and theoretical works on the household have demonstrated significant inequalities within and between households in the distribution of resources and decision-making. (Guyer and Peters 1987; Dwyer and Bruce 1988; Sen 1987; Moore 1994; Hart 1995) These studies, and many others, have demonstrated the fallacy of the unified household with its income pooling and sharing assumptions.
Serious challenges to the unitary model of the household have emerged following the insightful work of Amartya Sen regarding intra-household gender relations. In an earlier work, referring to the Indian experience, he addressed the powerful conflicts of interest that existed within households. He then identified generalised reluctance to face these conflicts as a pattern of ‘adopted perception’ which entails systematic failures to see intrafamilial inequalities and perceiving extraordinary asymmetries as normal and legitimate.’ More specifically, he underlined:
[P]roblems of conflict within the family tend to get hidden by accepted perceptions both of ‘mutuality’ of interests (going well beyond the actual elements of congruence that do, of course, importantly exist) and of legitimacy and inequalities of treatment. As a result, no policy analysis in this area can be complete without taking up the question of political education and understanding…This is an area in which social illusions nestle closely to reality, and terrible inequities are cloaked firmly in perceived legitimacy. (Sen 1984: 3)
In another study, Sen suggested that the household is most usefully represented as a case of ‘cooperative conflict.’ In cases where spouses have different goals and strategies, there are a number of potential solutions which he termed ‘collusive agreements.’ The solution that is finally adopted is the result of the bargaining ability of the couple. However, the couples do not come to the bargaining table with equal power. (Sen 1987: 27)
The cumulative outcome of such critical studies in anthropology, economic and feminist analysis is what Moore has identified as a new consensus on the household. This is synthesised as ‘a view of the household which sees it as a locus of competing interests, rights, obligations and resources, where household members are involved in bargaining, negotiation and possibly even conflict.’ (Moore 1994:135)
But, what are the factors that determine negotiating power within the household?
Refining the Bargaining Model
For Sen, differences in the relative bargaining power of members of a household are a function of the fallback positions available to each member, the extent to which members identify their self-interest with their personal well being and the perceived significance of their contribution to the household. In addition to self-worth, there are two important factors that determine a persons bargaining power. These are the actual ability of each member to earn an income or to bring valued resources into the household and the value given to that contribution by other household members. Sen further argues that women do not define their interests in accordance with ‘an objective measure of self-interest’ because they lack a perception of ‘personal interest combined with concern for family welfare–a trait ‘that helps sustain the traditional inequalities’ (Sen 1987: 126)
For her part, Agarwal concurs with Sens emphasis on notions of legitimacy as determinant of what a person gets, over and above the persons fallback position. She extends this analysis in some respects. For example, she broadens the notion of legitimacy and applies the bargaining approach to gender relations outside the household. However, she disagrees with Sens explanation of intra-household gender inequalities. She places much less emphasis than Sen does on womens perception of their self-interest and much more on the external constraints to their acting on their interest. Or, to put it another way, what may be needed is less a sharpening of womens sense of self-interest than an improvement in their ability to pursue that interest, including by strengthening their bargaining power. (Agarwal 1994: 57) In summary, Agarwal identifies five factors (not always unrelated) that determine a rural persons fallback position.
- private ownership and control over assets, especially arable land;
- access to employment and other income-earning means;
- access to communal resources such as village commons and forests;
- access to traditional external social support systems; and
- access to support from the State or from NGOs. (Agarwal 1994: 62)
Such an approach goes beyond intra-household dynamics to consider other arenas of power relations within which women have to grapple. In this regard, it has been suggested that when addressing gender relations, our ‘reconceptualisation’ of the ‘household’ ought to be in relational terms. This would include adopting ‘an analytical as well as empirical focus on the gendered micro-politics of negotiation, cooperation and contestation in different but intersecting institutional arenas.’ (Hart 1995: 61) In other words, recent literature has identified a large number of institutions beyond the household, which are also gendered. These include communities, labour markets, property institutions, judicial systems, and local government. (Kabeer 1994; Agarwal 1994, Sen 1998; Walker 1998)
Diversity of Households
Yet another insightful contribution to our understanding of households comes from studies which address the diversity of household types. The ‘household’ is used as a unit of surveys, projects and delivery of services. In these activities, the household is often equated with a ‘male head.’ Numerous studies have identified this conflation of household and male head as one of the major contributory factors of the gross underestimation of womens work, their access to land, credit, technologies and other services. (Stuadt 1978; Beneria 1981; Cheater 1988) Furthermore, these studies revealed that not all households were ‘male-headed.’ The challenges to headship bias led to the emergence of the concept of ‘female-headed households.’ These types of households were found to be rapidly increasing due to a variety of socio-economic, cultural and political processes. (Chant 1997; Evans 1992)
Earlier studies argued that female-headed households were disproportionately disadvantaged relative to other households in that they had lower incomes, less land and other resources. These valuable insights also revealed the problems of ‘un-situated concepts in research and policy’ and were soon overshadowed by several analytical distortions.’ (Peters 1995: 94) While it is essential to take account of gender and other social differences such as male-headed and female-headed households, the growth of knowledge about female-headed households has resulted in ‘the abuse of the concept.’
Although female-headed households are quite heterogeneous, there is a tendency to equate female-headedness with poverty and disadvantage. Yet, not all female-headed households are poor and vulnerable. Similarly, there is a tendency to disproportionately focus on household structure as the only dimension that needs to be taken into account when differential advantages and burdens are found between men and women. Moreover, undue focus on female-headed households and a simple opposition between male-headed and female-headed households ‘obscures the important role of women in agriculture and other activities within male-headed households.’ (Peters 1993: 96-98)
There are many conclusions which may be drawn from earlier and more recent reflections on the diversity of households. The characteristics of the household are defined and influenced by relationships outside the household. For households are embedded in broader intra-household and supra-household social groups, networks and structures and cannot be understood only in terms of their internal dynamics. Similarly as households and the relations among persons in households change and adopt over time, research and policy need to build time into their method of analysis.
Gendered patterns of family and household organisation, work and income refer not only to relations between men and women as husbands and wives but also to those between sisters and brothers, co-wives, parents and daughters and others, all of which are mediated in part by gender. Finally, ‘too myopic a focus on female-headedness’ should not lead to the neglect of analysis of gender differentiation as it interacts with other social differences of age, caste, class, race and ethnicity. (Peters 1993: 98-100)
Gender-based Divisions of Labour
The destabilisation of conventional concepts of intra-household relations has also required a fresh look at existing perceptions of intra-household allocations of labour, decision-making and household income. A comprehensive appreciation of intra-household allocation of labour mostly depends on the conceptualisation of the gender division of labour. A large body of literature has been accumulated on the gender division of labour since the pioneering work of Ester Boserup in 1970. In the initial phase of the debate, feminists challenged the validity of privileging biological factors such pregnancy, child bearing and muscular strength as major contributory factors for the historical consideration and perpetuation of the gender division of labour (Beneria (ed.) 1982; Young (ed.) 1989). These studies underscored the need to distinguish between the gender division of labour in both reproductive and productive activities. It was found that, cross-culturally, the gender division of labour in reproductive activities tended to be homogenous. In most societies, women are responsible for domestic work, household maintenance and childcare. However, the gender division of labour in productive activities was found to be quite heterogeneous and responsive to changing material conditions. But the change is complex and accompanied by powerful ideological forces buttressing the established gender division of labour. In an earlier study, Roberts noted that ‘the sexual division of labour is legitimated and perpetuated by a set of cultural values which assert the gender and kin category of appropriateness of certain tasks. These values have a chameleon-like ability to allocate a gender identity to new tasks and to incorporate this identity within the body of tradition such that culture often acts retrospectively to deny changes in the division of labour. (Roberts 1989: 28) Gendered division of labour is unlikely to change without a concerted effort to transform the cultural norms which define ‘womens work’ and ‘mens work’ in each society. In terms of intra-household allocation of labour, a large body of literature, particularly that focused on gender relations in sub-Saharan African agriculture, has indicated that women work longer hours than men because of their triple responsibilities–working on their own fields as unremunerated family labour and undertaking domestic labour. (Bryceson (ed.) 1995; Gladwin (ed.) 1991) As will be shown later, a land reform programme which does not take into account the pre-existing intra-household allocation of labour is likely to increase womens workload without a commensurate increase in womens assets. In some cases, land allocation to male heads of households has tended to increase the practice of polygamy.
General Observations on Land Reform
Land reform is a generic term denoting a wide array of legal and policy-led structural changes including granting access to land, changing ownership patterns and rights of the state and its subsidiary agents. Land reform is often classified as conservative, revolutionary or liberal depending on the form of property rights adopted, the transformation/maintenance of existing state structures and the process through which the reform was achieved, that is, by purchase or expropriation. (Putzel 1992, cited in Jacobs 1998) De Janvry, who distinguishes conservative, liberal, popular and radical land reform according to the overall ideological framework, has made similar observations. These reforms are aimed at maintaining the status quo, advancing national bourgeois revolutions, giving land to the peasants or inducing social change respectively. (De Janvry 1988: 272-273)
Carmen Diana Deere is a pioneer in the study of womens land rights in Latin America, who investigated the gender impact of land reform for almost two decades as it unfolded in different countries of the region. Having examined land reform programmes that entailed distribution of land to ‘the rural poor,’ the collectivisation of agriculture into cooperatives as well as reforms geared towards privatisation and individual legal tenure, Deere observed various ‘mechanisms of exclusion’ which directly or indirectly inhibited womens land rights. (Deere 1987,1995) These include both explicit and implicit requirements such as formal educational qualifications and permanent employment in wage labour, cases where one household member is designated as beneficiary, norms and gender ideology.
A good example of gender-neutral legislation and policy, but one that makes implicit assumptions about gender relations and lacks legislation and policy to protect womens rights, is found in the implementation of the agrarian reform of El Salvador. Phases I and Phases III of the 1980s agrarian reform did not stipulate that only men were to be beneficiaries and nor was land allocated to heads of households. The law stipulated that a beneficiary be an agricultural producer 16 years or older and a Salvadoran. In principle, the stated beneficiary requirements did not exclude women. However, ‘cultural values assume that farmers are men and therefore only men have the right to the landwhen the reforms were implemented, the local committees that decided who were eligible to participate selected few women.’ (Lastria-Cornhiel and Delgado do Mejia 1994, cited in Lastria-Cornhiel 1995: 6)
In land reform programmes which encouraged the collectivisation of agriculture into cooperatives, women comprised a minority of cooperative members. But even those women who were members had less control than men over resources, were engaged in marginal activities within the cooperatives, gained the least benefit from their membership and were not found in positions of leadership. (Deere 1987: 71-173) Here the ‘mechanisms of exclusion’ included the designation of undifferentiated beneficiaries such as the ‘rural poor’ without any consideration of power relations within poor, rural households. Consequently, in households where only men belonged to cooperative farms, the benefits of membership were not evenly distributed among household members. (Deere 1987: 172)
Land reform which promoted privatisation and individual legal tenure were based on a number of factors which tended to exclude women from becoming equal beneficiaries. In cases where land was allocated to the head of the household, there tended to be relatively few women beneficiaries. For example, in Honduras, although some land has been allocated to widows and single women, they have generally received low priority and have been awarded plots of very poor quality land. (Yudelman 1989: 241) A gender desaggregated review of title-holders gaining land through land reform in a number of Latin American countries indicated that women constituted between zero per cent and 25 per cent of the beneficiaries. (Deere 1987: 176)
Reforms based on a point system and criteria for qualification tended to exclude women as the requirements included formal educational qualifications, histories of residence in the area concerned, farming experience and good reputations. In most cases, women did not have equal educational opportunities and, even when they had extensive agricultural knowledge, they were culturally perceived as ‘helpers rather than experienced farmers in their own rights. Single mothers and other female-headed households failed to meet the good reputation criteria as they did not conform to ‘the patriarchal nuclear family norm.’ (Deere 1987: 180)
Similarly, laws and policies targeted at household heads tended to undermine womens pre-existing land rights. For example, the Peruvian land reform of 1969 facilitated the distribution of legal tenure to male heads of households. This obliterated the pre-existing formal and informal land access rights held by women in the bilateral inheritance system as well as the relatively equitable land access under traditional usufruct in most Andean areas. (Deere 1987: 180) In addition to undermining the traditional access rights held by women in male-headed households, laws and policies targeting household heads marginalised ‘single’ women, especially those without dependants who were thus not viewed as household heads. (Deere 1987: 173)
In the majority of cases, land reform programmes in Latin America thus tended to perpetuate, and in some cases aggravate, gender differentials in access to and control over land. In countries where land reform laws and policies made explicit commitments to womens land rights, as in Cuba and Nicaragua, slightly more positive impacts were observed. However, even in these countries, women, unlike men, are not beneficiaries of mainstream development as their case is relegated to separate units. (Deere 1987,1995)
Asia is a vast continent and numerous types of land reform programmes have been implemented in various countries. The extant literature on womens land rights appears to have concentrated on the Chinese, Vietnamese and South Asian experiences.
A recent assessment of the Vietnamese experience indicates that women were initially active in land reform and throughout the collectivisation campaigns because these campaigns gave women shares in land. More importantly, these reforms were accompanied with new equality and electoral laws, which proclaimed legal sexual equality and female suffrage. (Jacobs 1998: 130-131) The collectivisation movement was accompanied by a new marriage law, outlawing child marriage, forced marriage and polygamy.
But subsequently, collectivisation was abandoned and family farms were encouraged. The strengthening of family farms is reconstituting ‘patriarchal authority.’ The 1993 Land Law seems to allow for the emergence of a land market. Both of these developments do not bode well for rural women although women have gained more legal rights through the 1986 Family Law, which provides for joint control of household property, joint consent to economic transactions and equal household domestic responsibility. The law also protects women against divorce during pregnancy and domestic violence. A husband (or wife) convicted of violence may now be imprisoned. (Tetreault 1994, cited in Jacobs 1998: 132) Adequate information on the extent to which rural women are benefiting from these newly gained rights is not available. In concluding her synthesis of the Vietnamese experience, Jacobs notes ‘the lack of an autonomous feminist movement is likely to have been an important element in the eventual demise of land reform which, for a time, operated in the interests of many peasant women.’ (Jacobs 1998: 133)
The need for womens independent land rights, the multiple obstacles likely to be encountered in the implementation of such rights and thus the enabling conditions that would facilitate womens participation in land reform programmes has been extensively documented in the seminal 1994 work of Bina Agarwal. The experience of South Asia dates back to the 1950s, when a number of South Asian countries accepted the principle of womens independent property rights and enacted this into law. However, these rights were limited to inheritance laws governing property in land rather than state-redistributed land. (Agarwal 1994: 8) In cases where South Asian women gained land titles through inheritance, their full use and management of the land has been ‘barricaded by multiple obstacles.’ Women are not deemed fit to control land fully even in matrilineal systems, which tend to grant women relatively higher status. Granting women land rights is perceived as a deliberate and sinister attempt to destroy the family and patrilineage. As a result, in most cases, the actual management of a womans land is undertaken by a man. Moreover, in communities where women have never held land, such rights tend to generate hostility–divorces, witchcraft accusations, threats, attacks, torture and even murder. (Agarwal 1994: 173)
In addition to the aforementioned obstacles, other factors that inhibit women from claiming land include norms and gender ideologies that enjoin female modesty and seclusion, female purity and male sexual honour. Women are thus dependent on male kin, particularly brothers, who can protect women from ill treatment and violence by spouses and in-laws. Studies on Bangladesh have identified obstacles which result from Islamic rules of inheritance, which stipulate that daughters receive only half the paternal property given to sons and an eighth of their husbands property where they have children. (Lewis 1993: 27) Women often forgo laying claims to these limited assets in fear of disrupting other kin-ascribed entitlements that guarantee survival and security. (Kabeer 1991: 245)
State-redistributed land has the advantage of sidestepping these complex webs of relationships. Indian women have demanded joint titles to state-redistributed land since 1979. In its Sixth Plan of 1985, the Indian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development had stated that it would ‘endeavour’ to give joint titles to spouses in programmes involving the distribution of land and home sites. However, this plan has ‘remained only a promise on paper.’ (Agarwal 1994: 5) In addition, in India and other South Asian countries, redistributive land reform programmes ‘continued to be modelled on the notion of a unitary male-headed household, with titles being granted only to men where women (typically widows) were clearly the heads. This bias was replicated in resettlement schemes, even in Sir Lanka where customary inheritance systems have been bilateral or matrilineal.’ (Agarwal 1994: 8-9)
Complex factors explain the persistence of such gender-biased public laws and policies. These include the assumption gender-congruence in interests within the family, the prevailing view that men are the breadwinners and women the dependants and the belief that land redistribution to women will further decrease farm sizes, lead to fragmentation and in turn decrease farm productivity. (Agarwal 1994: 8-9)
However, valuable lessons have been drawn from the Bodghaya movement, the first movement worldwide to secure independent land rights for wives in preference to husbands. (Jacobs 1998: 135) The movement was a community-based struggle for land rights in which women played an active role. In addition to claiming land rights for women, the movement also addressed domestic violence and the division of labour in the household. However, when 1,000 hectares of illegally held land was eventually redistributed to the Bodghaya movement, it was decided that it would be allocated to ‘landless labourers[that is, men], the disabled and widows.’ (Manimala, cited in Jacobs 1994: 136)
Women protested against this turn of events and noted the increase in authoritarian behaviour as a result of the distribution. (Jacobs 1994: 136) In other words, women in Bodhaya, saw intra-household gender relations being affected not just by their own property-less state, but by their remaining property-less while their husbands become propertied.’ (Agarwal 1994: 1464) In response to womens continued protest, it was decided that, in the future, redistribution of land would be in womens names. In 1982, ten per cent of land was redistributed in the names of married women and women who were widows, destitutes and even unmarried daughters. In spite of these important gains, however, women found it difficult to cultivate their land. ‘Constraints were presented by restrictions on womens use of space, by the patrilocal residence norms and, importantly, by the region-wide taboo on female ploughing.’ (Jacobs 1998: 136)
Having assessed these four decades of protracted struggle for womens land rights in South Asia that resulted in some gains and numerous obstacles, Agarwal was then able to provide useful conceptual tools and measures that are likely to ensure womens land rights. As was noted earlier, land rights can take a diversity of forms and can stem from numerous sources such as inheritance, community membership, state transfer and tenancy or purchase arrangements. More importantly, land rights are ‘claims that are legally and socially recognised and enforceable by an external legitimised authority, be it a village-level institution or some higher-level judicial or executive body of the State.’ (Agarwal 1994: 19) It is necessary to distinguish between the legal recognition of a claim and social recognition, and between recognition and enforcement. In other words, unless it is enforced, womens legal right to inherit property may remain a right on paper. Likewise, unless a claim is socially recognised as legitimate and enforced by the community of which the household is a part, women are likely to forfeit their rights in land in favour of other family members–most often brothers.
Another critical distinction is that between ownership of land and its effective control. Legal ownership alone may not include the ability to lease out, sell, mortgage or bequeath land. Furthermore, legal ownership may not provide women with a realistic ability to decide how the land is used or how the produce is disposed of.
The other equally important characteristic of land rights is their temporal and locational dimension. Land rights might be hereditary, or accrue only for a persons lifetime or for a lesser period. Finally land rights may be conditioned upon the person residing where the land is located. (Argawal 1994: 9)
To recapitulate, womens independent rights to land mean effective rights–rights not only in law, but in practice. Effective rights imply rights independent of male ownership and control (that is, excluding joint titles with men). Effective land rights make it possible for women to retain their land in cases of marital breakdown, or to escape from marital conflict or violence and to act upon different land-use priorities than those of their husbands. (Agarwal 1994: 20)
Sub- Saharan Africa
In sub-Saharan Africa, most land reform programmes have been limited to titling registration of land and settlement schemes. In the recent past, in the context of liberalisation programs, observers have noted the rapid development of land markets in a large number of sub-Saharan countries. Most of these programmes allocate land titles to male heads of households.
Most customary tenure systems gave women access to land not in their own right but as their husbands’ wives or, in cases of divorce or widowhood, as daughters or sisters of males within their own families. While they may have a right to land through their husbands and other male relatives, they have no right to a particular piece of land and may be forced to move from field to field. (Bruce 1993: 46)
Customary tenure systems are heterogeneous and responsive to changing economic and social processes. However, gender is one of the most basic and prevalent factors determining the tenure relations of control and access in customary tenure. Family structures, marriage laws, inheritance practices and religion are the most influential factors determining how land is allocated and transferred among households in a community. These same factors decide who has access to and control of land. (Lastria-Cornhiel 1995)
In contemporary customary systems, transfer of agricultural land is affected through inheritance, borrowing, gifting and leasing and/or sale.
Inheritance is the most common type of transfer. This often implies the transfer of land from ‘men of one generation to the men of the next, as female children seldom inherit land.’ (Lastria-Conrhiel 1997: 1323)
A major distinction is made between patrilineal and matrilineal societies when discussing inheritance. But, in spite of other variations, in both patrilineal and matrilineal customary tenure systems, land is allocated to males and transferred from men to men.
In patrilineal customary tenure systems, both lineage and property are traced through the male line and often land is transferred from father to son. Although men provide cultivation rights to their wives, daughters and other siblings during their lifetimes, at their deaths only sons and other male relatives assume control of land, with wives and daughters seldom inheriting any land allocated to the households. Widows, and especially widows with young children, usually retain access and cultivation rights to their dead husbands’ land as long as they remain in their husbands’ community and until their sons are old enough to inherit the land.
In matrilineal customary tenure systems, both lineage and property are traced through the mothers line, but the ownership and control of property remains in the hands of male members of the family–brothers, uncles, nephews, male cousins. Although women are not allocated community land or allowed to inherit such land, daughters tend to have cultivation rights to a parcel of her family land even after marriage. Women lose these rights when their fathers die or if they move away from their communities. However, in cases where women received land as gifts from their fathers, they can retain the land. Similarly, women have the option of reclaiming their cultivation rights if they return to their own communities.
Recent changes in customary tenure systems towards individual and private property regimes have led to an erosion of the few rights women had in both matrilineal and patrilineal societies. These changes have not been linear nor have they have affected all women in the same way. Some men have also lost some of their rights as what Barry called ‘bundles of rights in land’ gets concentrated in the hands of certain male groups. (Barry 1988: 51) Consequently, matrilineal systems become more like patrilineal systems and, gradually, only sons inherit land. Women become more dependent on husbands and their families for land.
The two key factors that have influenced changes in customary tenure systems in Africa are colonialism and the spread of Islam. The spread of Islam ‘has had mixed effects on womens land rights. In some societies, the response to Islamic inheritance law has been the provision of land as inheritance to sons and movable property to daughters. In the case of northern Nigeria, daughters do have inheritance rights to land. Not only have women succeeded in having their inheritance rights recognised by their brothers and the community in general, but also women who have moved to another community upon marriage were able to claim their inheritance. However, the existence of purdah forces them to depend on men for cultivation of the land. (Ross 1987, cited in Lastarrai-Cornhiel 1997: 1325)
In the context of land concentration and land scarcity, customary tenure systems have come under a multiplicity of pressures for change. Women in a large number of countries are losing their ‘invisible’ secondary rights to land under customary law and practice. In areas where land markets are emerging, women encounter serious constraints, which include lack of property, lack of adequate cash income, minimal political power and a persistent male bias against women owning land. In spite of these obstacles, a small minority of women have been successful in claiming their customary rights to family land, to accumulate capital and invest in land. (Lastarrai-Cornhiel 1997)
The above review of other countries’ and other regions’ experiences provides an overview of the factors that to be addressed for women are to fully enjoy their land rights. According to Agarwal, the major factors that facilitating womens equal participation in land reform programmes include:
- existing inheritance laws;
- womens literacy, including legal literacy (knowledge of their legal rights);
- the social legitimacy of womens claim (whether the claim is considered a valid one in the community of which the womens household is a part);
- womens access to government officials who administer land-related matters;
- womens economic and physical access to legal machinery (lawyers and law courts);
- womens access to economic and social resources for survival outside the support system provided by contending claimants such as brothers or kin;
- womens ability to organise and form coalitions with other gender-progressive groups. (Argarwal 1994)
In her study of the unfolding land reform process in South Africa, Sunde summarised other key variables which enabling women to benefit from land reform. She found that women are also constrained by their lack of mobility, their responsibility for childcare and the bulk of the domestic labour and their lack of access to technical skills and knowledge. In her view, the key variables include:
- self-esteem and a sense of autonomy;
- access to information, economic and social resources;
- a change in gender-role stereotypes;
- a shift in the gender division of labour;
- the ability to obtain additional skills through the planning and delivery process. (Sunde 1997)
Part Two: Womens Land Rights in Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, land rights are among the major development challenges. Land is the most significant livelihood-sustaining asset for the vast majority of the population. Understandably, land rights have been and continue to be one of the most contentious political issues facing the country.
The 1984 national census, estimated that the population was 42,616,878. Presently, the population is 58,652,158, of whom slightly over 50 million reside in rural areas. Ethiopia is one of the least urbanised countries. These figures indicate that the country has a high fertility rate, standing at about three per cent population growth per annum. Ethiopia is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, accounting for 51 per cent of total gross domestic produce (GDP), 85 per cent of total employment and 85 per cent of exports. The share of the industrial sector in GDP and total exports, including those of small-scale handicraft and other industries, is about 11 per cent and 15 per cent respectively.
The dominant means of livelihood is that of sedentary agriculture in the form of mixed farming. Crop production complements livestock-rearing and handicrafts. Pastoralism, with different degrees of transhumance, is the predominant means of livelihood in the arid lowlands. Agriculture is based on extensive plough cultivation with the exception of some areas, in which hoe cultivation takes place. In areas of plough cultivation, there is a cultural taboo against women ploughing and sowing. With the exception of these two tasks however, women participate in every aspect of production work, such as weeding, harvesting and post-harvest activities. Similar to the widely documented experience of other African countries, hoe-based cultivation depends on extensive female labour in all aspects of cultivation. Women also play a significant role in animal husbandry.
Existing records underestimate or completely ignore womens considerable participation in the mixed farming system. For example, both the 1984 and 1994 population and housing censuses are based on gender-biased conceptions of what constitutes an ‘economically active’ population, undervaluing womens economic activities. Furthermore, as rural households can no longer sustain their livelihoods through agricultural activities alone, men, women, and children in rural households engage in a variety of off-farm activities throughout the year. Here too, womens contributions to total household incomes are not negligible. The prevailing notion of the ‘male breadwinner,’ and the extent accounts of rural household incomes fail to account for, or give proper recognition to, womens contributions to household finances.
Womens Land Rights Prior to 1991
In Ethiopia, discussions on land tenure took place in three periods: pre-1974; 1975-1991; and 1991 to the present. Prior to the agrarian reform of 1975, the land tenure system and the concomitant production relations were heterogeneous. In most parts of the country, peasants gained access to land through inheritance or through corporate groups consisting of individuals tracing their descent from a certain ancestor. A predominant portion of the land in both the south and the north of the country was controlled by political and social elites who had been granted land by the imperial regime, mainly in return for military and administrative services. In this context, the most visible and significant social relationship in most of rural Ethiopia was that of landlord-tenant. In most of northern Ethiopia, women had the right of inheritance. Ruling class women received land as gifts and or were able to purchase land. (Hoben 1975; Crummey 1981).
The clarion call of the broad-based political uprising that erupted throughout Ethiopia in 1974 was ‘Land to the Tiller.’ The land reform launched in 1975 by the military regime known as the Derg promised to end the archaic land system of the imperial regime. They hoped to end the exploitation of the peasants and to promote their economic situation. The broad-based and enthusiastic support that this land reform initially received soon died down as subsequent laws, policies and practices transformed what was a potentially positive measure to an instrument of rural impoverishment. The land reform, initially perceived as means of combating poverty and ushering in economic and social justice, ended up accelerating poverty. Students of Ethiopian agricultural transformation argue that smallholder agriculture become micro-agriculture. Misguided agricultural laws and polices were exacerbated by a costly and drawn-out civil war as well as recurrent draught and famine.
A gender-aware reading of the Land Reform Proclamation clearly reveals the biased assumptions about womens needs, roles and capabilities in the framing of land reform. Although the Proclamation stated that ‘without differentiation of the sexes, any person who is willing to personally cultivate land shall be allocated land,’ in most cases, the implementation was discriminatory towards women.
Land was distributed by family size and registered under male heads of households. By using the household as the unit of allocation, the Proclamation assumed that households were uniform and thus failed to take intra-household distributional relations into account. Furthermore, the Proclamation assumed that gender-based divisions of labour in agriculture were immutable and classified women with persons who, due to age or illness, could not personally cultivate their holding. In other words, the Proclamation failed to challenge the cultural taboo against women ploughing and sowing. This effectively reaffirmed the beliefs and practices governing the relations between women and men.
Consequently, most women failed to obtain rights to possess land. The situation was worse for women in polygamous unions, divorced women and those who came of age after the initial land apportionment. Women in polygamous marriages were negatively affected, as men tended to register just one wife. Due to numerous socio-economic changes and the widespread practice of early marriage in most rural areas, divorce is frequent and the rate of divorce has accelerated. Although female-headed households are allocated land, often the land titles are of minimal size. Moreover, since women depend on men for a significant proportion of farm labour, they have limited control in deciding land use priorities as well as over produce.
Beyond these obvious constraints, other factors which severely limited womens rights to land. Land was distributed to peasants who were organised in peasant associations and who were entitled to land only as residents of the Kebele. Very often, women who married outside their community ‘lost’ the shares of land allocated to them in their parental homes. Similarly, divorced women lost their shares of land if they left (as they usually had to) their marital households.
However, the degree to which women gained some land rights or were dispossessed depended on the pre-reform practice of female inheritance to land or the absence of such practice pre-reform. In other words, in areas where the practice of womens inheritance existed, it tended to strengthen womens claims to their shares of land in cases of divorce or on returning to their natal communities. Another critical factor was the willingness of the Peasant Associations’ leaders and judicial tribunals to accommodate women seeking to acquire rights to land following marital breakdowns.
In the context of rapid population growth and land supply limitations, the anticipated land distribution by family size could not be sustained. In the 1980s, landlessness become a glaring reality. (Dessalegn (ed.) 1994) Land shortages, increasing poverty and general social dislocation generated increased marital instability and began to transform the rights and duties formerly assumed inherent to marriage and divorce procedures. Often, this transformation was to women’s detriment. However, existing literature on problems of access to land refers mostly to ‘landless male adults.’ The size and gravity of female landlessness remains unexplored.
Land reform was accompanied by the establishment of new rural institutions and subsequent reforms, such as village resettlement schemes and collectivisation. Each of these processes had a differential impact on men and women. In general terms, women were more disadvantaged. But, in spite of monumental difficulties, the various dislocating processes also loosened some customary taboos and offered women limited spaces for the emergence of new identities. (Pankhurst 1992)
New Rural Institutions
The most important new rural institution was the Peasant Association (PA). In addition to the management and implementation of the land reform, the PAs controlled the life of the community through the institution of judicial tribunals. These courts had jurisdiction to adjudicate cases involving land disputes and other legal cases. With the exception of female-headed households, most women were excluded from membership in the PAs as only heads of households were registered as members. By 1990, it was estimated that women comprised only 12 per cent of the PAs membership, mostly female heads of households or those engaged in small businesses. However, the early 1990s estimated female membership in PAs to be between twenty and 25 per cent. This growth is most likely due to the death and destabilisation caused by the civil war, resettlement and other calamities. (Dessalegn 1994) Moreover, there is no evidence that this increase in female membership translated into active participation.
Similarly, women made up only seven and a half per cent of the membership of producer cooperatives. Hence, most women were and are absent from arenas where legal, political and social rules are made and upheld with respect to land.
Promising but Inadequate Reform
One of the major opponents of the military regime was the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), currently Ethiopia’s ruling political party. Since its inception in 1976, the TPLF has experimented with various forms of land reform and new rural institutions in the areas under its control. A noteworthy feature of the evolving land distribution system under the TPLF was the granting of usufructuary rights over land to individuals in a household and not to the household as a unit. Until 1987, married status was a prerequisite for the acquisition of land rights. The Land Law, which was promulgated in 1987, abolished this precondition and land was granted to females and males who had reached the minimum ages of 15 and 22 respectively, irrespective of their marital status and the assets of their parents.
Unfortunately, this land distribution and the attempt to reduce early marriage by females was not accompanied by challenges to the rigid gender-based divisions of labour in agricultural production, including the customary taboos against women ploughing and sowing. Although women joined the TPLF’s liberation army and performed what were considered exclusively ‘male tasks,’ including ploughing, the end of the war has meant a return to pre-war beliefs and practices. Therefore, although women have possessory rights to small parcels of land, they continue depend on male labour for the cultivation of the land. (Chairi 1996)
Land Law and Policy Since 1991
Following the demise of the military government in 1991, a Transitional Government was established, which ruled until late 1994. Under the Transitional Government, Ethiopia became a ‘democratic,’ federal state with ten regional national states based on ethnicity. On coming to power, the present government promised that land, perhaps the most contentious political issue in Ethiopia, would be settled through a National Referendum. It soon abandoned the idea. Land was first dealt under the new Constitution and, subsequently, through region-specific land redistribution. To date, land redistribution has only taken place in Region Three, the Amhara region.
During the transitional period, 1991-1994, there was a lack of clear legal and policy directives on land ownership. This lack was addressed by the adoption of the Constitution in 1994. The new Constitution retained state ownership of rural and urban land, as well as of all natural resources. The Constitution states that women have equal rights with men with respect to access, use, administration and transfer of land. They shall also enjoy equal treatment in the inheritance of property. The challenge has been how to implement such seemingly egalitarian constitutional provisions. There is no evidence of efforts made by the state to make women aware of their constitutional rights so as to enjoy them.
In March 1977, the Rural Land Redistribution Proclamation of the Amhara National State was promulgated. Article 9 of the Proclamation provided for the distribution of land equally to both men and women. However, the redistribution was limited to single women involved in income-generating activities for their livelihoods and has thus far omitted other categories of women such as divorcees, widow and single adult women who are still dependent on their parents and other family members. (Yigrmew 1997)
Securing gender equality in the unfolding land redistribution was overshadowed by the overall ethos of the implementation process. The redistribution of land had a punitive edge as it excluded those it deemed as beneficiaries of land and power during the previous two regimes. (Teferi 1997) Hence, women whose husbands were members of the previous ‘bureaucracy’ and women who themselves were members of various committees during the military regime were excluded from the redistribution of land. Given this highly charged context, there was little space to focus on the need for specific attention to be paid to the inequalities suffered by rural women.
Subsequently, the Federal Government of Ethiopia issued the Federal Rural Land Administration Proclamation that made provision for the enactment of a land administration law by each Regional Council. The Proclamation provides for ‘free assignment of holding rights both to peasants and nomads, without differentiation of the sexes.’ With the exception of the aforementioned region, to date, this Proclamation, issued on July 7, 1997, has not been implemented. But, in addition to granting women legal rights to land, the Federal Government has set forth principles of equality between men and women in the areas of political, economic, educational and cultural economic rights.
The gap between stated legal and policy goals and implementation to achieve these goals is indicative of the broader problem of developing rule of law in Ethiopia. Until the larger problem is addressed, it is unlikely that positive law can be the basis of enforceable economic and social rights. And nor will law help develop adequate institutional and structural support for such rights. This problem is further aggravated by the absence of an autonomous and vibrant civil society to advocate for womens rights. There are presently only the first signs of an independent womens movement. (Note: In September 2001, the Ethiopian Women’s Lawyer’s Association (EWLA) was suspended by the Ministry of Justice.)
Given this background, this analysis of womens land rights in Ethiopia aims to focus on what is meant by independent rights to land for women and to indicate the multiple and simultaneous points of interventions required to ensure the existence and the implementation of such rights. The analysis will interrogate assumptions of current research methodologies and push for the development of more inclusive databases to inform development law and policy decisions. The humbler aim is that of reducing the marginalisation of gender and womens issues in Ethiopian rural research.
The diversity of forms that land rights can take is underscored. Land rights can be in the form of ownership or usufruct, each with differing degrees of freedom to mortgage, lease out, sell or bequeath. (Agarwal 1994; Latarria-Cornhiel 1995) Since the 1974 land reform in Ethiopia, land rights can stem from state transfer. Rights can also stem from inheritance or community membership. These existed in the ‘rest’ system of northern Ethiopia prior to the 1974 land reform. Land rights may also stem from tenancy arrangements and purchase.
Land rights are ‘claims that are legally and socially recognised and enforceable by an external legitimised authority, be it a village-level institution, or some higher level judicial or executive body of the state.’ (Agarwal 1994) Particularly with womens land rights, it is imperative to examine the difference between the legal and social recognition of land rights as well as between the recognition and enforcement of land rights. The lesson from seemingly gender-responsive laws and policies in Ethiopia and elsewhere is that women may have legal rights on paper but such rights are meaningless unless they are both socially recognised and enforced.
Also important are the temporal and locational dimensions of land rights. Land may be hereditary, or accrue only for a persons lifetime or for a lesser period and they may be conditional upon the person residing where the land is located. Since the 1974 land reform in Ethiopia, the locational dimension has become critical for women as they very often lose even the minimal rights they might have upon leaving their natal communities for marriage or following marital breakdowns. In rural Ethiopia, residences are part of farms as they are built very close to cultivation fields. The 1974 land reform did not differentiate between land for residences and land for agricultural activities. Hence, divorced and widowed women have to go back to their parents or reside with other siblings.
There is no blueprint for gender-equitable land reform as land reform can legitimately take a variety of forms. (Lastarria-Cornhiel 1995) The important principle is to grant women effective rights not just in law but also in practice. Independent rights to land provide women with access to the economic and social resources needed for basic survival, and with fallback positions in cases of domestic violence and marital breakdown. Moreover, women are able to implement their own land right priorities (for example, growing vegetables instead of cereals and controlling the land’s produce).
Gender-equitable land reform requires the establishment of structures of governance and local institutions which promote womens active participation in decision-making and structures of management which challenge long-standing institutional power relations. Making women aware of new land laws and policies and reforming customary laws that discriminate against women is another essential component of ensuring womens land rights. (Sunde 1997) For example, promoting family and inheritance laws which guarantee equality in inheritance and recognise the right of women to administer property independent of their husbands and other male kin are essential components of successful gender-equitable land reform. Such laws are key to creating the social legitimacy of womens claims to land rights. However, they have to be accompanied by context-specific measures which are likely to foster changes in deeply-entrenched social attitudes. To be effective, gender-equitable land reform also necessitates the adoption of special measures to advance the interests of rural women, such as ensuring access to credit, information, technical knowledge and markets.
Land reform in Ethiopia followed the international trend of using the household as a unit of allocation, paying hardly any attention to power relations within the household and the wider social and political environment which mediates women and mens effective access to resources. As indicated above, critics of such an approach have demonstrated that household forms vary and are often sites of ‘cooperative conflicts’ and hence should not be analysed from a set of a priori assumptions. Moreover, a comprehensive appreciation of household dynamics requires an analysis of the complex relations that extend beyond the household and should include considerations of the community, the market and the state. Understanding the gender aspects of land reform laws and policies as well as their implementation requires an analysis of power relations at each of these different sites of intra-household relations. Current research has solicited data on:
- the legal and social practices that mediate womens access to and control over land (for example, cultural taboos against women ploughing and sowing, customary law regarding marital and inheritance rights);
- bundles of assets held by households;
- gender differences in the creation of household assets;
- strategies of livelihood generation, with emphasis on access to social resources by women and men to ensure household food security and family welfare (access to communal property resources, external support systems, saving groups and other networks which have the potential to provide women with fallback positions);
- allocation (differences in male and female perceptions of key economic processes and time allocations for each member of the household);
- income generation and expenditure patterns of men and women (understanding the ‘perceived contributions’ that various members make to household well-being);
- attempting to assess the actual ability to earn income or to build valued resources into the household and the value given to that contribution by other household members;
- decision-making power (customary valuations and patterns of labour);
- possible changes in womens self-esteem and autonomy through an exploration of nuances and shifts within gender relations operating at the level of the household and the community
The Study Sites
The area of study covered two Weredas (the smallest administrative regions in the context of the current decentralisation) in three different regions of the country, namely the Amhara region, the Oromia region and the Southern region. The study selected 30 households in each Wereda. According to the 1994 national census (which has been highly politicised and whose accuracy is contested due to its emphasis on ethnicity), the Oromia region has the largest population with 18.7 million people or 37.2 per cent of the population. The Amhara region is reported to have a population of 13.8 million people or 27.4 per cent of the population. And the third region, officially known as the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples region (SNNPR) is reported to have a population of 10.4 million or 20.7 per cent of the population.
In view of the fact that most rural households in all three regions have small or micro-landholdings and diversified agricultural systems and livelihood strategies, the study attempted to assess womens access to a broad set of socio-economic resources. The percentage of landholdings under one hectare is reported to be 54 per cent in the Amhara region, 53 per cent in the Oromia region and 82 per cent in the Southern Region, which has the highest agricultural density in Ethiopia. Those who are reluctant to provide women with independent land rights have used land fragmentation as a justification.
In the Amhara region, the study was conducted in two Weredas in the zone known as Wello. There were at least four reasons for the selection of this area. First, land redistribution had been completed recently. Second, it is one of the few exceptional zones where women reportedly were allotted parcels of land equal to their husbands during the initial land distribution in 1975. This enabled an exploration of the extent to which customary inheritance rights and the state have made it possible to challenge political and social gender inequities. Third, it is a zone where the two predominant Ethiopian religions, Orthodox Christianity and Islam, are practised, allowing for an exploration of religious factors influencing womens land rights. And fourth, Wello has been, and continues to be, a zone of recurrent drought and famine, providing a case study of changes in gender relations resulting from coping mechanisms, social dislocation and resource management by men and women in situation of resource scarcity.
The second zone was North Shoa in the Oromia region. Located relatively close to the capital city, Northern Shoa produces cereals and pulses. In the cereal growing regions, women are believed to participate actively in agricultural production. However, they do not plough or sow. Unlike Wello, there is little information on womens land rights prior to and since the 1974 land reform. Using womens land rights as an entry point, the aim was to explore womens roles in this diversified livelihood system.
The third zone studied was Wollaitta located in the Southern region. Wollaitta is located in the ‘ensete’ (false banana) farming area, which focuses on root crops. However, there are other agro-pastoral activities, such as the growing of cereals, cash crops such as coffee and red pepper and animal husbandry. The root crops are used as sources of food, fodder and fuel. Prior to the 1974 land reform, women in Wollaitta did not enjoy customary inheritance rights. The concern here was to assess the extent to which the 1974 land reform departed from or reinforced customary inheritance rights and practices. Further, existing research notes that women do not participate in agricultural work and are mostly involved in the processing of agricultural produce and animal husbandry. (Dessalegn 1992; Sanford and Sanford 1994) Through a compilation of household activity lists, the aim was to assess gender-based divisions of labour and household resource management in Wollaita. The research also hoped to benefit from a collaborative demographic survey of the zone being carried out by the Institute of Development Research (IDR) and Brown University.
In general, the study privileged those areas where a number of studies on land and other rural development issues had already been undertaken. However, attempts were also made to explore the significance of agro-ecology, ethnicity and religion on the nature of gender relations and particularly on womens land rights in Ethiopia.
The methodology used included a lengthy questionnaire assessing:
- demographic household profiles;
- household assets (land and animal stock);
- land redistribution;
- determinants of mens and womens access to land (including pre-existing and emerging inheritance patterns);
- dispute settlement mechanisms;
- divisions of labour in agriculture;
- animal husbandry and marketing (including the time spent in each activity);
- household incomes and decision-making thereof; and
- participation in existing social networks.
Attempts were also made to collect administrative and socio-economic data from local government institutions, known as Wereda Councils. Focus group discussions were conducted with single, married, divorced and widowed women to solicit qualitative observations of women’s various experiences and to check the accuracy of the household-generated data which was often expressed by male household heads. Finally, attempts were made to collect data on the gendered patterns of participation in rural institutions.
Synthesis of Findings
The three regions are composed of very small land holdings, deepening poverty and necessitating the growing attempts to diversify the livelihood strategies by men, women, boys and girls. Of the three zones, only women in Wello have access to what women informants told us were often extremely small (well below the average holding) and marginal land parcels.
In one of the two research sites, Haiq, the population is predominantly Islamic and land seems to be allocated according to Islamic inheritance law and practice. In their natal village, women inherit only half that allocated to male siblings. In the other two research sites, in the absence of male siblings, women only have limited land rights when they are widowed. The data for both North Shoa and Wollaita confirms earlier observations by Stanford and Stanford concerning womens land rights in the area known as Moroccho Wollano. Women only inherit if they have no male siblings. Women can exert control over land as long as they are not married, do not have adult sons nor are living with some other adult male (uncle or father). If they are considered part of a household, the man in the household, regardless of who owns the land, makes the ultimate decisions. Women can only exercise control over land when they are not subsumed within a male-headed household. (Stanford and Stanford 1994: 196)
In all three regions, female heads of households with adolescent or grown children are relatively less disadvantaged than those who are the only adults or those who have only daughters. The former depend on their children for ‘male tasks’ and do not have to depend on relatives or neighbours or enter into sharecropping arrangements. While most female-headed households are indeed poor, especially those who have no grown sons, it would not be accurate to generalise and gloss over the plight of married women who have little or no decision-making power regarding household assets.
In addition to marital status, another factor determining womens land rights is the type of marriage entered into. The wide prevalence of polygamy in all three regions further constrains womens land rights in the context of growing land shortages. In the Southern Region, the IDR and Brown University study found that more than 30 per cent of women in their sample reported that their marriage was polygamous. In a focus group discussion, women confirmed the validity of the findings of the collaborative study, which had noted that ‘polygamy has economic implications as a man with several wives can command more resources, produce more food for his household and achieve high status due to the wealth he commands.’ (IDR and Brown University 1997: 95)
In Wello, all the women in the focus group discussions in both research sites opposed polygamy and appeared to have had some success reducing the practice. In Wollaita, restrictions on polygamous marriage come from the spread of the Protestant Christian religion, which prohibits this type of marriage. Informants noted that when a man joins the Protestant Christian church, he is asked to keep only one wife. This has often meant that his other wives are left to fend for themselves and denied access to the resources they accumulated with their former husband. One of our informants, who has been abandoned and who has also converted to the Protestant Christian religion, had brought her case to the church leaders and was awaiting their response. Judging from the enthusiastic support that other women gave to the womens narrative of her marital breakdown, shifts in gender ideology are taking place and new perceptions of womens rights by rural women are emerging.
In North Shoa, particularly in Gerera Jarsso, most women had no land rights. In answer to the query ‘do women have land rights?’ most male households not only affirmed the absence of such rights, but invariably stated ‘what will she do with it if she has land?’ A cause of womens dispossession in this zone is the strongly entrenched practice of early marriage. In this Wereda Council, girls as young as seven years old are given in marriage and can be divorced soon after marriage. During a discussion with one of the newly elected female district Councillors, we were informed of a pending divorce case of a seven year old girl. The Councillors, especially the 20 per cent female Councillors, were sympathetic to the plight of the young girl. But, given the widespread nature of the problem in the zone, the case was faced with a lengthy deliberation. It was obvious that the provision in the new Constitution regarding the minimum age for marriage and other provisions regarding womens rights are not being implemented. It is doubtful that even the female Councillors were aware of these provisions’ existence.
Womens access to land or the benefit they can draw from land, even where they have limited rights, is severely limited due to the gender-based division of labour, particularly the cultural taboos against women ploughing and sowing. Women in all three areas do not plough nor sow but engage in weeding in the two cereal-producing areas and in harvesting in all three areas. In North Shoa, women carry the plough to the field and back to the house, but cannot plough themselves. As women cannot grow cereals on their own, female-headed households without grown children enter into share-cropping arrangements. This limits both their food security and their earning ability. For married women, access to cereals for household consumption or for sale depends entirely on the benevolence of male heads of households.
Gendered Time Use Patterns
The intensity and duration of womens labour input differs considerably from that of their husbands. Womens labour input is much higher. Tasks such as fetching water and fuel, which are almost exclusively womens tasks, are arduous and time consuming. Fodder and fuel collection now require much more effort and time than they previously did. This is partly due to the overall underdevelopment of the country, but has been exacerbated by environmental degradation. Similarly, women, with the help of children, undertake other forms of daily housework, which also consume considerable amounts of energy and time.
Both women and men participate in animal care, but they tend to specialise in caring for different animals. In rural Ethiopia, livestock are a sign of prestige and wealth. In addition to being a capital asset and a critical source of nutrition, livestock also provide other resources, including draft power in agriculture. Livestock in Ethiopia provides over 90 per cent of this draft power. Livestock also provide hides and skins, which are a secondary source of exports. While men mostly who use the draft power and control the sales from hides and skins, women control milk and milk products, which are essential sources of nutrition for the household and which provide women with some cash income. Another resource drawn from livestock is dung which is essential for fertilisation and is also widely used as building material and as household fuel.
The gender-based division of labour varies by region in terms of animal care. In most parts of the country, boys are responsible for herding. Women generally own and care for small animals such as chickens, goats and sheep. They are responsible for the processing and use of dairy and other animal by-products. However, women’s productive work in dairying is considered part of their domestic, reproductive work rather than an integral part of livestock management. Consequently, women seldom have access to veterinary information and other extension services. An important income-generating activity for women in all three areas is the selling of dairy products. Women sell butter and cheese and use the returns to buy other food and non-food items. Milk products are also used as payment in kind for rotating credit programmes and to maintain social networks. For women in Wollaita engage in social networks through which they share labour animals and products.
While the gender-based division of labour has generally remained rigid in agricultural production, that rigidity is shifting in terms of the production of new crops, such as vegetables and in terms of public works. Recurrent drought and ever-shrinking land holdings, particularly in Wello and Wollaita, has resulted in chronic food insecurity for a majority of rural households. In response, multilateral agencies and NGOs have introduced food-for-work programmes consisting of the provision of relief in exchange for peoples labour in building wells, constructing roads, planting trees and participating in other environmental conservation projects. A growing number of women enthusiastically participate in these public works to earn cash or food.
Increased but Undervalued Contribution to Household Income
In all three areas, increasing numbers of women are taking up vegetable growing and marketing. These small, often backyard vegetable gardens provide them with direct access to cash. However, married women also sell household cereals received or stolen from the ‘household’ granary, which they often use to purchase other condiments or manufactured goods. Women also make food items and brew local drinks for sale. While women, single, married, divorced or widowed, living with their parents, their husbands or other kin make substantial contributions to household livelihoods and incomes, little value is given to those contributions by other household members. Had women independent land rights even to small plots of land, they would clearly be able to draw more substantial benefits from their activities.
Rural development interventions, by both the state and NGOs, focus almost exclusively on womens practical needs, maintaining or slightly ameliorating womens existing skills such as home management, childcare and weaving. In all three regions, there are no attempts to provide technical agricultural information, knowledge, financing or markets. The predominant cultural construction of gender tends to conceal new situations where experience has changed but gender identities have remained static. Most male respondents and state officials continue to deny the importance of womens work and incomes to family livelihoods and cling to notions of male breadwinners.
Intrahousehold Allocation of Resources
In answer to a query regarding household income, all the male respondents emphasised that pooling of resources and joint decision-making thereof govern intra-household resource allocation. During group discussions with women in all three areas, the informants denied that resources were pooled and decision-making shared. They asserted that men were taking a more self-centred approach to their own and family resources and consumption. They particularly lamented mens expenditure on drinks and resultant domestic violence.
In addition to resources from household production and marketing, both men and women augment household well being through social resources. Where deepening poverty and land shortages have tended to reduce access to resources from the natal family, social networks are critical resources for rural households. In addition to making contributions in cash and in kind to social networks, rural households invest a lot of time and labour in maintaining social networks. However, relative to men, womens lower incomes limit the advantages they can draw from such social networks, including small saving and credit schemes.
A Glimpse of the Future
Socio-economic and political transformation appear to have increased divorces, male desertions, migrations and mortality. The resulting increase in female-headed households appears to have reduced the customary stigma attached to being unmarried. However, marriage continues to be a highly respected institution.
All three regions have inadequate schools, often located far from most rural households. This reality, the prevailing gender ideology (which perceives women only as housewives); together with womens heavy workload, constrains girls’ schooling and educational achievement. In all the three regions studied, overall educational attainment is low, and is lower still for girls, implying an intergenerational transfer of gender disadvantages and poverty. However, girls who are involved in market activities and generating income for themselves and their households appeared to be more confident regarding their future prospects.
There are efforts by local party/state structures to organise women into what appear to be savings and credit associations. Given the legacy of the Revolutionary Ethiopian Women Association (REWA) of the military regime, these efforts have not generated much enthusiasm among women. Signs of coercion were witnessed, in spite of the official emphasis by Womens Affairs Offices in Wereda Councils on the voluntary nature of these emergent associations.
While the access of most women to the public is still mediated through men, more and more women are making self-conscious efforts to appear in public arenas like the ‘kebele’ and ‘wereda’ courts on their own behalf.
The emergence of associations such as the EWLA marks significant progress in the struggle for womens rights. However, given the immensity of the problem, there is need for more autonomous associations, committed to promoting womens active participation in challenging power relations within households and within the state.
The experience of this country indicates that for women to be true beneficiaries of land reform, land laws have to be explicitly committed to gender equality and include mechanisms of public awareness and enforcement. In addition to ensuring implementation of land law, building legitimacy for womens land rights claims through public education needs to occur. Women have to be literate and fully aware of their legal rights. They have to have increased access to government administrators of land-related matters and also have economic and physical access to legal mechanisms such as lawyers and law courts. It is imperative that women have a fallback position, that is, access to economic and social resources for survival outside the support system of contending claimants.
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