Gender and Land Rights Revisited: Exploring New Prospects via the State, Family and Market


Agarwal, Bina. 2003. “Gender and Land Rights Revisited: Exploring New Prospects via the State, Family and Market.” Journal of Agrarian Change 3 (1-2): 184-224.

Author: Bina Agarwal


The question of women's land rights has a relatively young history in India. This paper briefly traces that history before examining why gendering the land question remains critical, and what the new possibilities are for enhancing women's land access. Potentially, women can obtain land through the State, the family and the market. The paper explores the prospects and constraints linked to each, arguing that access through the family and the market deserves particular attention, since most arable land in India is privatized. On market access, the paper makes several departures from existing discussions by focusing on the advantages, especially for poor women, of working in groups to lease in or purchase land; using government credit for land rather than merely for micro–enterprises; and collectively managing purchased or leased in land, the collectivity being constituted with other women, rather than with family members. Such group functioning is shown to have several advantages over individual or family–based farming. This approach could also help revive land reform, community cooperation and joint farming in a radically new form, one centered on poor women. 

Keywords: women's land rights, inheritance, land market access, group farming, land reform


This article focuses on India’s agrarian transition and its impact on women’s land rights. The focus of land rights research in India tends to be on class issues, with gender concerns seen as divisive and distracting. The article discusses the advantages of collective agriculture schemes (women working in groups to lease in or purchase land) and examines the new institutional forms of cultivation being tried out by some NGOs, especially through collective investment and farming by groups of women. Agarwal argues that if women have group rights in the land, this would strengthen their ability to withstand pressure from male relatives and retain control over the land and it would bypass the problem of inheritance, since women’s group would have use rights but not rights of alienation. A collective approach can also help them mobilize funds for capital investment, take advantage of economies of scale and cooperate in labour sharing and product marketing. Agarwal asserts that in order to ensure rural women’s entry into the higher-earning segments of the non-farm sector, an initial strengthening of their land rights might prove essential in many regions. The geographic distribution of land rights inequality, the gap between control and ownership rights and the impact of Muslim and Hindu law on women’s land rights are also discussed. She highlights the link between production inefficiency and tenure insecurity and suggests that titling of land could lead to increased market engagement for women and greater decision-making authority within the home and community. 

Topics: Class, Economies, Gender, Women, Livelihoods, Rights, Land Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: India

Year: 2003

© 2018 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at