Assets, agency and legitimacy: Towards a relational understanding of gender equality policy and practice

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Gender equality policies seeking to give women assets, particularly land, have often failed to achieve their goals. Explained as a failure of implementation and adequate resourcing, the deeper problem lies in using a segmented rather than holistic analytical framework that treats both assets and women as discrete, individual objects, rather than socially embedded and networked. Land gives meaning to people’s lives, it is more than a source of material wealth; hence access to land is coveted, contested and negotiated in multiple ways by differently positioned people. Drawing on long-term primary research in India, as well as secondary research in China and Indonesia, in relation to women’s access to land, I unpack some of the complexities and contradictions in terms of both legal and social interpretations of legitimacy as well as women’s agency. Apart from having a large proportion of their population dependent on agriculture, the choice of countries is also useful in constructing typologies of governance systems and social relations at different institutional levels that shape women’s access to land, a prime one being inheritance. I demonstrate the need for an alternate, relational framework that is both dynamic and transcends binaries, unpacking the multidimensionality of women’s agency vis-a-vis assets, in diverse livelihood, environmental and governance contexts, if gender equality goals are to be met.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43–54
Number of pages12
JournalWorld Development
Early online date6 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017

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