Promoting Gender Equality Through Development: Land Ownership and Domestic Violence in Nicaragua


Arenas, Carlos, and Shelly Grabe. 2009. “Promoting Gender Equality Through Development: Land Ownership and Domestic Violence in Nicaragua.” Working Paper, Gender, Development, and Globalization Program, Center for Gender in Global Context, Michigan State University, East Lansing.

Authors: Carlos Arenas, Shelly Grabe


This study takes into account global debates surrounding women’s role in development and how access to resources impacts the structures that perpetuate gender inequalities. For example, scholars have argued that women’s ownership of and control over resources are linked to gender-based violence. This paper provides a theoretical framework for, and an examination of, the role of land ownership in women’s empowerment and receipt of domestic violence that has been posed in the literature but never empirically tested. Household surveys conducted in rural Nicaragua reveal that land ownership is directly related to women’s status and power within the marital relationship and to their empowerment and psychological well-being, each of which explained why and how owning land contributed to lower levels of domestic violence. The findings have important implications for the discussion of gender-based violence in the context of development involving land resources, as well as for initiatives that can improve women’s well-being and lead to more equitable policies for women.

Keywords: development, domestic violence, gender empowerment, gender relations, women's land rights, gender violence


  • Bina Agarwal (1994) first put forward the connection between property ownership and domestic violence, but since then, very little empirical investigation has been done to advance this research. This paper investigates how women’s land ownership is related to domestic violence and how it is not simply about owning land, rather it is the process that develops as a result of women’s altered status within the household that has the critical bearing on their receipt of violence.
  • The article is significant both because it is the only paper on land rights and domestic violence with a geographic focus of Latin America, and because it contributes to our empirical understanding of the connection between women’s land rights and incidence of domestic violence.
  • Systemic differences in land rights between men and women create structural inequalities that may contribute to the alarmingly high rates of domestic violence for women. It discusses how women’s land ownership challenges power and gender relations.


[The authors] specifically aimed to test whether land ownership would result in a shift in traditional gender ideology, a shift in intra-household gender relations, and an increase in women’s empowerment and psychological well-being, thereby curbing levels of domestic violence.” (2)

“Processes involved in owning and controlling land can transform the conditions in which women can exercise agency and, in turn, be empowered to confront aspects of their subordination.” (2)

“Throughout Latin America, and in Nicaragua in particular, domestic violence has been recognized as a public health problem with national prevalence estimates indicating that between 28 and 69 percent of women in Nicaragua report experiences of domestic violence.” (1)

“Land issues—who owns and controls land use—are issues of power and dominance [and] entrenched inequalities in the distribution of power and resources between women and men create a risk environment that supports high levels of gender-based violence”(3)

"Argues that land ownership is a material basis, or structural inequality, that contributes to the subordination of, and violence against, women. Women’s role as landowners therefore challenges these gendered power relations." (3)

"Because ownership of property among women substantially challenges traditional gender roles, it increases women’s power and influence within the household and, in turn, provides a stronger base for women’s empowerment. Moreover, it is not merely possessing the title to a plot of land, but the control or administration of it that contributes to change." (4)

“While benefits of several forms of land ownership are possible (e.g., cooperative farming arrangements), it is important to note that women’s effective rights to land (i.e., women functioning independently as decision makers with control over the land) are best insured with individual titles.” (4)

Topics: Development, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Households, Rights, Land Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Americas, Central America Countries: Nicaragua

Year: 2009

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