Land to the Tiller? Gender Relations and Land Reforms


Jacobs, Susie. 1997. “Land to the Tiller? Gender Relations and Land Reforms.” Society in Transition 28 (1-4): 82-100.

Author: Susie Jacobs


This paper examines the gendered effects of different types of land tenure in land reform programmes, comparing individual household/family allocation with that in cooperatives/collectives. Summarising African, Asian and Latin American cases, it takes a broad perspective.

The results of land reforms along individual household lines are strikingly similar. All programmes assign land to household heads, usually husbands, following the populist stereotype of ‘undifferentiated peasant family farms’. This factor disadvantages wives, although others such as increased food security are beneficial. Many (not all) wives gain in terms of material comfort but may lose power within households, and come to have access to land only through men.

Cooperatives/collectives have become highly unpopular, due to a variety of factors, e.g. the experience of forced collectivisation; patronage-mongering and (for some husbands/fathers), fear of loss of control over female labour and sexuality. Despite real problems, some advantages exist for women within them; these include their greater visibility as cooperative/collective members who receive work points.

State support is necessary for a gender-aware land reform, but—as the Bodghaya struggle in Bihar highlights—so is ‘grassroots’ organisation that includes gender issues in more than a tokenistic fashion.

Topics: Gender, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations, Land Tenure, Households, Rights, Human Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights, Security, Food Security

Year: 1997

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