Gendered Power Relations

Human Security and Reconstruction Efforts in Rwanda: Impact on the Lives of Women


Gervais, Myriam. 2004. “Human Security and Reconstruction Efforts in Rwanda: Impact on the Lives of Women.” Development in Practice 13 (5): 542-550.

Author: Myriam Gervais


This paper evaluates the pertinence of interventions sponsored by aid agencies that seek to meet the security needs of women in post-reconstruction Rwanda. Personal security, economic security, and socio-political security are used as the main methodological reference marks and indicators. The information and data used in the paper were gathered during several visits to Rwanda in 2001 and 2002. The study reveals that efforts have brought about positive impacts on the lives of women. However, findings also show that specific strategies aimed at increasing women's security would better benefit them if they were more consistently planned so as to take into consideration the ways in which issues of poverty, gender, and security intersect.

Keywords: women's land rights, women, economic security, socio-political security, reconstruction


  • The author examines a sample of initiatives and evaluates how pertinent the interventions sponsored by aid agencies that seek to meet the security needs of women have been. A look at the projects undertaken in Rwanda during the reconstruction period reveals that there were two types of initiatives aimed at supporting women's efforts to respond to the crisis caused by conflict and genocide: the formation of solidarity groups and production associations, and the establishment of advocacy groups and women's collectives. These associations have also taken on the task of providing legal and medical assistance services, forming groups to assist survivors, and providing business advice. The document describes how with the collaboration of local people, some non governmental organisations (NGOs) built houses in various parts of the country and tended to the most needy. By giving priority to the most vulnerable and by making this a condition for funding, NGO projects promoted the taking into account of women's needs in housing programmes. In many cases, women signed individual contracts recognised by communal authorities. The signing of a contract between a woman, the local authority, and the NGO brought about a major change: women and girls were recognised as owners of their homes. The document then considers other issues such as economic security and socio-political security.


“Promoting human security in post-conflict societies means taking specific actions that support a safe environment, social harmony, equal status, and equitable access to resources and to the decision-making process.” (542)

“Gender-based violence still remains high during reconstruction periods, proving that peace is not enough to ensure women’s security. In many cases, women are also confronted with radically changed realities: they have to assume new roles and new responsibilities at the family and community levels, and in so doing they are more susceptible to new forms of insecurity.” (543)

“Rwanda’s agriculture-based economy was completely destroyed by the war, forcing most of its population to live in a state of extreme precariousness. The food shortages caused by the destruction of crops and the severe reduction in cultivated land was aggravated by the inability of many households to obtain the labour they needed. In 1996, 34 per cent of families—with an average of six to seven young dependants— were headed by widows, unmarried women, and wives of prisoners suspected of genocide…64 per cent  of labour force in basic production is female.” (544)

“It is conventionally considered unacceptable for women to inherit from their families. Since girls who are heads of family enjoy no protection, they live in a climate of permanent insecurity and are vulnerable to attempts at intimidation and sexual assault, particularly at night.”(545)

“Following the genocide, one of the challenges for female heads of household was to secure a cultivable plot of land in order to ensure their family’s subsistence. One frequently observed way of doing this was to join an associative group.” (546)

Topics: Gender, Women, Girls, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Gender Equity, Genocide, Households, Livelihoods, NGOs, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights, Security, Human Security Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda

Year: 2004

Human Rights, Formalization and Women’s Land Rights in Southern and Eastern Africa


Ikdahl, Ingunn, Anne Hellum Randi Kaarhus, Tor A. Benjaminsen, and Patricia Kameri-Mbote. 2005. Human Rights, Formalization and Women’s Land Rights in Southern and Eastern Africa. 26. Aas, Norway: Noragric. 

Authors: Ingunn Ikdahl, Anne Hellum, Randi Kaarhus, Tor A. Benjaminsen, Patricia Kameri-Mbote

Keywords: development, economics, law, women's land rights, women, International actors


  • Discusses both the human rights-based approach and market-based approach and their relevance to equal land rights,  reviews international actors and their influence on formalization and it gives an overview of land reforms in case study countries (Kenya, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe) and issues particular to each. The study’s focus on the Human Rights Based Approach means that it emphasizes clear and “legally enforceable rights” to land for individuals, an independent judiciary to guarantee women’s human rights (stresses “the efficacy of judicial activism as a means of implementing women’s human rights (Ikdahl et al., xv)) and a market based approach to development.  Research from Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe also demonstrates the capacity of customary law to change in response to changing social, economic and legal conditions. 
  • South Africa: Reviewed women’s land rights in Southern Africa from a human rights point of view focussing principally on the content of legislation and its implementation. Found that although there were some differences in the quality of legislation, the main problem was women’s lack of information on the property rights they legally enjoyed


Kenya: Formalisation of land rights in Kenya, actualised within a very patriarchal setting, has: “resulted in the exclusion of women from ownership of land.[...] only 5-7% of registered rights-holders are women—“demonstrates how formal and informal customary laws related to land transactions in family, marriage and inheritance matters often have a spill-over effect on registration of land rights that is detrimental to women.”(Ikdahl et al., x)“The case of Kenya raises the important question of whether “formalising the informal” is the best way to provide for women’s rights to land. The subjugation of customary rights and their systematic replacement with modern norms on tenure has not resulted in the obliterating of those norms, suggesting that formalising informality is not an easy task in a social context where informal norms are sometimes perceived to be more binding than formal ones.” (xiii)

“The case of Kenya raises the important question of whether “formalising the informal” is the best way to provide for women’s rights to land. The subjugation of customary rights and their systematic replacement with modern norms on tenure has not resulted in the obliterating of those norms, suggesting that formalising informality is not an easy task in a social context where informal norms are sometimes perceived to be more binding than formal ones.” (xiii)
Tanzania: “One of the aims of the land reform was to facilitate a market for land rights and the use of land as collateral. This idea is supported by the World Bank, international donors and Hernando de Soto’s Institute for Liberty and Democracy. In this picture women’s land rights seem to be sidelined.” (2)
Mozambique: “The current legislation is a type of hybrid, through its recognition of both customary and statutory rights. Still, there is a lack of knowledge on how the present multiple and hybrid laws and practices actually impact on women’s rights to and access to land. The current focus on facilitating market mechanisms in the field of land rights does not adequately take into account concerns and questions related to ways women actually access land, for example, through inheritance.” (58)
Zimbabwe: “Land distribution, access to land and secure tenure have been issues since Zimbabwe became independent in 1980…” (xii)
“Although secure tenure does not rely solely on the law – the institutional and the infrastructural set-up are also critical – appropriate laws are a basic condition for an entitlement-based land regime. Most importantly, the Zimbabwean case shows that access to land, unless combined with political will to provide infrastructure, is not in itself a sufficient condition to improve the position of poor women.” (xiii)
Lack of measures that counterbalance male dominance results in poor access to information among women, thus constraining their participation and the exercise of their rights in land programmes carried out by both state and civil society.” (xv)
Instead of field cultivation, many women are intensively cultivating gardens close to where they live where the risks of loss are less. Gender equality in land reform calls for policies that are responsive to poor women’s agricultural activities”(68)

Topics: Economies, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Gender Equality/Inequality, Land Tenure, Households, International Organizations, Rights, Human Rights, Land Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa Countries: Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe

Year: 2005

Policy Discourses on Women’s Land Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Implications of the Re-turn to the Customary


Whitehead, Ann, and Dzodzi Tsikata. 2003. “Policy Discourses on Women’s Land Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Implications of the Re-turn to the Customary.” Journal of Agrarian Change 3 (1-2): 67-112.

Authors: Ann Whitehead, Dzodzi Tsikata

Keywords: customary law, land tenure reform, women's land interests, legal pluralism


  • This article is unique in that it approaches legal pluralism and customary law from the perspective of women’s movements fighting for increased tenure security for women. The focus on women’s movements allows the authors to present divergent views of the utility of customary law and critiques of its ability to advance the interests of women.  
  • Authors argue customary ownership has been eroded since the time of colonialism, “making women's access to land significantly more precarious as the protections traditionally ensured by the clan system have been peeled away." (2) 
  • With increased commercialization of land and problems of land scarcity, local leaders have felt pressure to protect the clan system, and in so doing have placed even greater constraints on women's access to land. The article outlines the strategies women have used to respond to the growing interest in preserving customary laws, including land alliances and coalitions.
  • Discusses the amendments to the Ugandan Land Law in 2000 and how women’s movements were not successful in their push to include a co-ownership clause in the law. This clause was necessary because current legislation provides limited opportunities for women to own land, but was omitted at the last second: “Thus under customary law, which prevails in Uganda, a woman may have jointly acquired land with her husband and may have spent her entire adult life cultivating the land, but she cannot claim ownership of the property. If he dies, the land generally goes to the sons, but may also be left to daughters. Nevertheless, he may still leave the wife with no land and therefore no source of subsistence." (6)
  • Other strategies used: purchase of land, obtaining titles to land, taking claims to courts, and organized collective protest around legislation.


“Rather than seeing customary land practices as a basis on which to improve women’s access to land, they are advocating for rights-based systems that improve women’s ability to buy, own, sell, and obtain titles on land." (2)

“Because women's ties to land are mediated by their relationship to men in patrilineal societies, women's attempts to assert their rights in ways that challenge customary land tenure systems is often perceived as an attempt to disrupt gender relations, and society more generally." (2)

“Women, both rural and urban, have responded to the renewed interest in protecting customary laws and practices through collective strategies, which in Uganda have included a movement to ensure women's access to and ownership of land. Women have also adopted individual strategies of purchasing land and taking their land disputes to court. Purchasing land has, in effect, become a way of circumventing the traditional authorities." (2)

“Heightened protection of customary land tenure arrangements has taken place in a context where the customary and religious laws and practices that have been retained have selectively preserved those elements that subordinate women. These arrangements have included customary divorce and inheritance practices, keeping women as minors (e.g., Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe), bridewealth, widow inheritance (levirate), dehumanizing rituals pertaining to widows, early childhood marriage, polygamy, and female genital cutting." (3)

Topics: Civil Society, Clan, Coloniality/Post-Coloniality, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Gender Equality/Inequality, Land Tenure, Governance, Households, Political Economies, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa

Year: 2003

Land, Dowry, Labour: Women in the Changing Economy of Midnapur


Gupta, Jayoti. 1993. “Land, Dowry, Labour: Women in the Changing Economy of Midnapur.” Social Scientist 21 (9-11): 74-90.

Author: Jayoti Gupta

Keywords: dowry, gender, gender roles, womens rights, women's land rights


  • This paper explores the situation of women returning to their homes and communities after their countries have experienced major conflicts. In that context, it assesses the range of barriers and challenges that women face and offers some thinking to address and remedy these complex issues.  As countries face the transition process, they can begin to measure the conflict’s impact on the population and the civil infrastructure.  Not only have people been displaced from their homes, but, typically, health clinics, schools, roads, businesses, and markets have deteriorated substantially.  While the focus is on humanitarian aid in the midst of and during the immediate aftermath, the focus turns to development-based activities for the longer-term.
  • Development activities provide a significant opportunity to ensure that gender is central to the transitional process. Here we take gender centrality to be a first principle of response – namely planning, integrating and placing gender at the heart of the development response to conflict.  First, many of the post-conflict goals cannot be implemented when the population is starving, homeless, and mistrustful of government-sponsored services.  Women constitute the overwhelming proportion of refugees misplaced by war; not responding to their specific needs to return home dooms the reconstruction process.  Second, women are central to any socioeconomic recovery process.
  • This paper looks at the need to integrate development and post-conflict, and then turns to an analysis of why gender matters.  It then looks at the development as both a short and long-term process, using the model of “social services justice” to describe immediate needs as the country begins the peace stabilization process.  Social services justice serves as an “engendered” bridge between conflict and security, running the temporal spectrum from humanitarian relief through post conflict to longer-term development, any of which is inclusive of transitional justice.  The goal throughout is to respond to the immediate needs of the population post-conflict, ranging from livelihoods to health to education.

Topics: Development, Displacement & Migration, Refugees, Economies, Gender, Women, Gender Mainstreaming, Gendered Power Relations, Livelihoods, Peacebuilding, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: India

Year: 1993

Women, Land Struggles, and the Reconstruction of the Commons


Federici, Silvia. 2011. “Women, Land Struggles, and the Reconstruction of the Commons.” The Journal of Labor and Society 14 (1): 41-56

Author: Silvia Federici


This article examines the question of communal land property in Africa and its implications for women's land rights. Among the themes discussed are: the reforms of communal land tenure attempted by the World Bank in the 1990s, the critique of communal land relations that feminist organizations have made on account of their patriarchal discrimination against women, and the simultaneous efforts by landless rural and urban women to appropriate unused plots of public land for subsistence farming. While warning that the feminist attack on communal land ownership may strengthen the neo-liberal drive towards the privatization of land, the article looks at women's reclamation of unused public land for subsistence farming as the path to the constitution of new commons.


  • The article looks at two kinds of struggle that women are making in Africa that have a direct impact on the future of communal lands. First is the women’s movement that has developed in the 1990s to fight for land rights and which has declared its opposition to customary tenure because of its patriarchalism and discrimination against women. Second, are the struggles of women in urban areas who, in contrast to the prevailing trend toward privatization, take over plots of public land to farm them for their families’ subsistence.

  • There is much that we can learn from them as to the interests that are today shaping people’s relation to communal resources and the role that gender issues play in this process. These struggles show that egalitarianism is for commons a question of survival, for unequal power relations within them open the way to outside intervention and expropriation. In particular, they show that gender-based disparities generate dynamics that consolidate the dominance of the market over agricultural relations for they weaken the solidarity between women and men in front of the siege to which the commons are subjected by state business, and international institutions and lead many women to demand a strengthening of the very legal machine upon which land privatization depends. This is a lesson social justice movements need to learn if commons are not to remain pure ideals but are to become an object of struggle. The same movements can learn from the example of the women who instead of turning to the law, opt for direct action, farming on public land, thus subverting the neoliberal attempt to put a monetary gate around all natural resources and reaffirming the principle the earth is our common.

Topics: Feminisms, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Land Tenure, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights Regions: Africa

Year: 2011

Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina: Integrating Women's Special Situation and Gender Perspectives in Skills Training and Employment Promotion Programmes


Walsh, Martha. 1997. Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina: Integrating Women's Special Situation and Gender Perspectives in Skills Training and Employment Promotion Programmes. Geneva: International Labor Office.

Author: Martha Walsh


This report is an input to the ILO Action Programme on Skills and Entrepreneurship Training for Countries Emerging from Armed Conflict. The programme has undertaken several country-level research activities of which the author's report is one example. The report examines the gendered consequences of war. They include gender role changes emanating from exigencies of the conflict-affected context; weakened community structures, cohesion and trust and their impact on women's coping strategies and vulnerability after war; increase in numbers and vulnerability of female-headed households; and greater differences between men and women in their opportunities in the post war labour market. The limited focus men receive in programmes set up to tackle war-related physiological traumas could add to the high level of male violence against women in postwar households. The report also shows how prewar differences amongst women influence the impact of war on them, as well as how other causes of vulnerability, such as ethnicity, disability and age, need to be tackled in post war technical assistance projects. The study finds that ongoing postwar projects do not contribute substantially to empowering women, nor do they target women's strategic needs. Whilst many women's organisations exist in the country, the extent of their contribution is limited since they do not engage in the public arena. The report makes a number of proposals regarding policy and programme to guide future action.



“The way in which men and women experience and deal with the consequences of conflict depends on gender roles and relations prior to the conflict and how they were renegotiated during wartime.” (2)

“ Bosnia, where class, ethnicity, and residential status are key elements in determining a woman’s position and have proved to be a source of conflict between women and women’s organizations.” (2)

“There has always been a profound bias against rural people, which has been worsened by heavy refugee flows from rural to urban...displaced women in urban areas must compete with other groups of women, such as families of dead soldiers, for housing and other resources.” (3)

“Conflict creates a confusing and contradictory dynamic in which gender identities are reified and polarized while at the same time women’s roles are expanded into male-dominated arenas.” (4)

“The rape of women during wartime is an intentional and strategic act of brutality. It is designed to degrade women as the moral guardians of their traditions and to demoralize the community in which they live.” (9)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Ethnic/Communal Wars, Combatants, DDR, Displacement & Migration, Ethnicity, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, Health, PTSD, Trauma, Households, Livelihoods, NGOs, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Security, Sexual Violence, SV against Women Regions: Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina

Year: 1997

Refugee and Returnee Women: Skills Acquired in Exile and their Application in Peacetime


Vázquez, Norma. 1999. Refugee and Returnee Women: Skills Acquired in Exile and their Application in Peacetime. Washington, DC: International Center for Research on Women.

Author: Norma Vázquez


The large number of displaced and refugee women in El Salvador is a direct result of the government's indiscriminate repression of the country's poor, peasant population during the 1970s and 1980s. During this period, many people who feared for their lives were forced to flee the country. The women who spent most of the war in the Colomoncagua and Mesa Grande refugee camps in Honduras recall their experience as a catalyst for important life changes. The refugee camps, established in response to a humanitarian disaster, turned women's lives upside down, lives that had been characterized by isolation, exclusive dedication to household chores and care of the family, and strict compliance with a moral code based on obedience to masculine authority. Besieged by both the Honduran and the Salvadoran armies, but supported by a number of international and national organizations, refugee women developed abilities in the public realm that they had never before needed for their survival. Despite these advances, the women never questioned their traditional role in the home during their time in the camps, or during repatriation. New activities were simply integrated with old responsibilities. Somewhat paradoxically, the women have come to view the changes that occurred during the time of exile in a positive light, and to think of the return to El Salvador and onset of peace as events that--while important and desirable--made them take a step backward on the road to empowerment. The experience of women throughout the war-asylum-repatriation-peace cycle forms a kind of kaleidoscope, characterized by nostalgia for what they learned and experienced while in the camps, and by simultaneous recognition that peace and freedom are basic rights that are inherent to any long-term of social transformation.



“On their return to El Salvador...the women took with them the communal systems of education, medical care, and production that had enabled them to be self-sufficient in the resettlement camps. This process of adopting new systems was critical because, upon returning to El Salvador, the women no longer had the support of the international organizations that had guaranteed their survival in the refugee camps.” (6)

“It became clear that following repatriation, women had lost their new roles and reverted to traditionally submissive lives.” (6)

Topics: Class, Displacement & Migration, Refugees, Refugee/IDP Camps, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Masculinism, Households, International Organizations, Livelihoods, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Americas, Central America Countries: El Salvador

Year: 1999

Why Gender Matters When the Dust Settles


Sheckler, Annette C. 2002. "Why Gender Matters When the Dust Settles." Developing Alternatives 8 (1): 27-32.

Author: Annette C. Sheckler



“The purpose here is to emphasize the role of political, economic, and social institutions in democratic nation building as the main vehicles for ensuring more equitable access to resources and opportunities. And although ethnic, religious, and regional groups represent the more visible competing interests, gender is a core concern in democratic nation building.” (Sheckler, 27)

“In most post-conflict societies, women constitute the majority of the population, are heads of households, and are the productive base for restarting the economy. If the primary objective of post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation is to create an enabling environment for development, correcting gender disparities should be a major priority of donor assistance.” (Sheckler, 28)

“During post-conflict transition, societies are given a window of opportunity to build on the accomplishments of women and institutionalize their gains in the new political, economic, and social order.” (Sheckler, 28)

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender Mainstreaming, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Political Participation, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction

Year: 2002

Women in the Decade of Transition: The Case of Georgia


Sabedashvili, Tamar. 2002. Women in the Decade of Transition: The Case of Georgia. Tbilisi: Heinrich Böll Foundation.

Author: Tamar Sabedashvili

Topics: Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, Post-Conflict Governance, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Asia, Central Asia, Europe, South Caucasus Countries: Georgia

Year: 2002

Patriarchy, Militarization, and the Gender Gap in Education: The Case of Pakistan


Azhar, Talat. 2009. "Patriarchy, Militarization, and the Gender Gap in Education: The Case of Pakistan." PhD diss., Pennsylvania State University.

Author: Talat Azhar


This study investigated the effects of patriarchy and militarization on women's educational attainment in Pakistan, where the literacy rate is among the lowest in the world, roughly two-thirds of all women cannot read or write, and even modest goals of girls' primary school enrollments seem elusive. Some progress has been made toward universal primary school enrollment, but by and large, secondary and tertiary education has remained beyond the reach of women in many parts of South Asia, including Pakistan. Efforts to improve women's education in Pakistan have focused on issues related to underdevelopment, poverty, and religious fundamentalism. Consequently, most literature addresses school, family, and community factors as the primary barriers to participation in education. My thesis represents the first attempt at exploring the power relations emerging from patriarchy and militarization, and their collective contribution to gender differences in educational attainment in Pakistan. Using data from the Adolescent and Youth Survey of Pakistan, conducted by the Population Council and the government of Pakistan in 2001-2002, I have investigated the reasons for persistence in women's low educational attainment. I used binary logistic regression to analyze three dependent variables: currently attending school, primary school completion, and ever attended school. Results of this study suggest that girls are at a distinct disadvantage relative to boys in educational attainment. Girls are also far less likely to seek an education because of perceived social undesirability of schooling and lack of empowerment to make decisions regarding their lives. A further analysis reveals that the disadvantages increase during the military government. The findings of this study have implications for providing policy direction toward achieving gender parity in education as a first step and subsequently striving for universal primary education in postcolonial conflict zones. More specifically, the findings point to a need to look beyond establishing girls' primary schools for a solution to the education crisis.

Topics: Age, Youth, Coloniality/Post-Coloniality, Education, Gender, Women, Girls, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, Post-Conflict Governance, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militarization, Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: Pakistan

Year: 2009


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