Cover Image
close this bookResources, Power and Women, Proceedings of the African and Asian Inter-regional Workshop on Strategies for Improving the Employment Conditions of Rural Women (ILO, 1985, 96 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPREFACE
View the documentACKNOWLEDGEMENT
View the documentANNEX I List of Participants
View the documentANNEX II Agenda
View the documentBACK COVER


4.1 Panel Presentation

In Panel 2, Access to and Control over Resources: Land/Forest, case studies were presented by Marjorie Mbilinyi (Tanzania) and Vina Mazumdar (India). Ruvimbo Chimedza (Zimbabwe) and Noeleen Heyzer (Malaysia) were discussants.

The presentation by Marjorie Mbilinyi highlighted key issues and contradictions from seven case studies (by a team of researchers) in Tanzania where the question of access to land has to be understood within the framework of state ownership. There are marked differences in terms of availability of land ranging from abundance to scarcity. The real issue is putting the land to work. This raises related questions of who has access to and control over: labour, organisation of labour, means of production and benefits from increased production.

The differentiation between groups with consequent effect on households' relations, within the village and within co-operatives, affects women's access to means of production as well as benefits from production.

Decisions affecting land use are influenced by the valuation of cash crops over food crops and the increasing pressure to produce for the market. But often women are not interested in producing more if they have to continue producing as petty commodity producers and seasonal or full-time labourers. Moreover, in many cases the whole village is being pauperised, even the rich peasants are losing, and the whole village has to go out to find work.

This dire need for cash has opened up new avenues for income generation by women, such as beer brewing but this has also resulted in men relinquishing their family responsibilities. Moreover, as mechanisation is introduced and profits increase in women's enterprises, there is a tendency for men to take them over.

Women have a high degree of consciousness; they resist threats to their access to resources and increasing labour burdens and they organise themselves. They are also using the mechanisms of co-operatives to promote collective ownership and lessen their labour burdens through the communal ownership and use of machines.

One contradiction Chat has to be addressed is the problem of power relations within co-operatives and the need to democratise some of these organisations. This would promote participatory decision making and the dignity of the human being. Women members do not have basic information on the workings and finances and do not feel that they own the co-operatives' assets.

The power machineries of the government, the banks and the donor agencies tend to support large scale private and state enterprises rather than small, grass-roots co-operatives. This has increased their isolation and vulnerability, especially in the case of women's co-operatives.

It is important to work on developing alternative possibilities for women to organise themselves and to generate new sources of power.

Vina Mazumdar reported on a project involving landless, totally assetless women agricultural labourers from forest and hilly areas of India. Deforestation has forced these people into seasonal labour in other districts. Both men and women are migrating but there is a differential impact of seasonal migration on women and men. Women meet with physical hardship, infant mortality, reduced life expectancy and sexual oppression by contractors and employers.

A labour camp for women was organised in West Bengal by the State Government to inform women of their rights and to discover and understand their priorities. Women addressed the problems of deforestation and seasonal migration and stressed the urgent need to identify and formulate action. It was also evident that women were ready to organise but they needed assistance.

As a result of this camp a project was Started, supported by the ILO. It sought to give women full time wage income not simply supplementary income. In one area women were given access Co six hectares of wasteland and they started sericulture on it. There were three organisations with 900 members. Women themselves suggested other activities for the project, i.e. production of plates out of forest leaves with the help of small machines.

The State Government of West Bengal was amazed Co find that the project was fulfilling three of its major policy objectives, i.e. local employment generation and prevention of deforestation and of soil erosion. The State Government consequently provided some wage support for the project.

The success of the project is immediately visible in the growth of trees that women have planted. The survival rate (98 per cent) of tree saplings has far surpassed that of the Forest Department (40 per cent). To the amazement of the sericulture experts, trees have also grown faster as women are tending and watering the plants carefully. The original six hectares were soon expanded to nine hectares for sericulture production. A secondary product of the project is fuel and fodder. Manufacturing of plates and bowls has also been started with the help of simple machines but there have been difficulties in transport and marketing the plates. Yet there is great excitement among women in learning a mechanical skill which perhaps is due to their learning a new skill and getting collective ownership of an asset, i.e. the machine. Literacy classes have also been started.

The project had both an economic and social impact. It gave poor women not only much needed income but a source of livelihood. More important, it gave them confidence and fostered solidarity across villages and organisations. Personhood is understood for the first time and social barriers, maintained by centuries of caste and class ideologies, are breaking down. Tribals and untouchables who previously never mixed are now meeting and socialising together. High caste women who never worked in the forest before are now going out to work because of the income it brings. There is very little resistance from the families with regard to women going out to work, again because of the economic necessity of the income they generate, which benefits their families.

The project has succeeded in transforming the status of poor women because for the first time it gave these women:

- a sense of collective strength,
- access to development resources; and
- ownership of major assets of production, e.g. land, machines, etc.

Collective ownership is given not to families but to women's groups. Women had previously worked on the family farms but that work always remained invisible; but now the production of sericulture on land owned by women's groups can no longer be ignored or remain invisible. Women of this region participated in peasants movements in the 19th Century and also more recently (in the mid 1970's) but each time after the end of the movement patriarchy restored and extended its hold, keeping women out of leadership positions and socialising them to internalise women's subordination as the natural order of things. As a result of developing their own separate organisations and leadership, and identifying their issues, these women are now gradually becoming able to challenge patriarchal values which the political system, despite constitutional acceptance of sex equality, failed to dislodge in four decades.

The collective organisation of women has generated a new source of power. With that women can not only demand rights of access and control, more importantly they can now combat patriarchy and the resistance to change of existing structures.

Ruvimbo Chimedza argued that the question of land can not be discussed in isolation; control over choices, control over means of production, control over proceeds are all related issues. Ownership of land per se is not sufficient unless there is also access to other means of production, such as labour, seeds, fertilisers and water. Women may have access to land essentially as labourers but they may not have control over the proceeds of land. Historical development, cultural values and agrarian systems are also to be taken into consideration. However, in general, lack of land is a problem in Asia whereas in Africa there is lack of availability of inputs.

Different types of ownership have different effects. Traditional rules relating to communal land in most instances had protected women's right of access but there is evidence that with a shift to new laws governing land, including that of private land ownership, women's traditional rights were often lost. How to protect communal land ownership is a critical issue in the African context.

The impact of land reforms and resettlement schemes on women's access to land must be looked into more carefully. In resettlement schemes, often only single women and widows are given land ownership. Marital status of women also affects their access to and control over land. In addition, the multi-nationals' control over land are changing the picture. How that affects women must also be analysed.

Noeleen Heyzer (discussant) observed that access to and control over resources is a necessary part of women's struggle. The nature of how inequalities are maintained and reproduced should be made clear and strategies to break these vicious circles have to be worked out.

Women's lives are structured differently from men's. They are more oppressed by increased work burden and hierarchical situations. Since conditions of women's work are also influenced by larger systems that produce inequalities, attention should be given to them. Macro issues, such as general developmental policies and the international division of labour are critical elements affecting women's access to and control over resources. Resources are both tangible and intangible (e.g. solidarity, networks, knowledge and rights).

A lot can be done for women by projects but they must be placed in the larger context of social change. Inequalities in structures and processes should be removed.

4.2 Discussion

In the general discussion following the panel presentation, law and access to power were identified as major factors determining access to land. Customary law can neutralise statutory law and vice versa. For example, in Zimbabwe the new constitutional reforms establish women's right of land ownership but in practice customary law, which regards women as perpetual minors, limits the exercise of this right. In Kenya, despite new egalitarian laws among the Luo, customary laws of inheritance favour males. Women's assets and income are seen as belonging to men and wives' income is taxed at their husbands' marginal rate. On the other hand, in Lesotho under customary law a widow could inherit land but under a 1979 law a land committee is given the right to give land to a male child or, otherwise, the whole family decides on the heir (with the widow having little chance). In many other instances, statutory laws, particularly private land ownership, have eroded women's traditional rights to land, particularly communal land.

It is also important to understand how a woman's rights to land can be constrained by her marital status. For instance, in Nigeria, under the new land-use decree everybody has access to land but it is difficult for divorced women to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy. Polygamy poses special problems which the new laws seldom comprehend. Some south-east Asian countries (e.g. Malaysia, Indonesia) legally confer joint ownership to husband and wife but the latter has little control over the former's decisions. A new government policy in India states that joint titles for husband and wife shall be provided for land being redistributed by the state under land reform, but in practice this is yet to be implemented in most places.

There are contradictions within legal systems between different forms of ownership (communal, corporate, private) and between different systems of rights (uncoded customary, coded scriptural, statutory secular, etc.). New state laws governing the distribution of land and forest often contradict the rights of women guaranteed under customary or family laws or the rights of workers guaranteed under labour laws.

The critical importance of giving women access to land was brought forward with an illustration from China. In the pre-revolutionary days, many peasant women could not own land in their own names. After independence, Chinese women received the right to own land in their own names and when land was transferred to co-operatives, they got full membership. This resulted in women playing a significant role in production brigades and it fostered agricultural production. Now land has been distributed Co families so Chat the more productive will obtain more benefits and women are playing an important role in the rural responsibility system. In China, women's problems and projects are fully integrated with national problems and policies.

Access to power was also viewed as critical in ensuring access to resources, particularly land. Women need to have socio-economic power in order to act and access to political and bureaucratic power and decision making bodies is necessary in order to improve their conditions. Resistance should always be expected from groups with vested interests and women must combat it. They should not be deceived in the name of peace in the family and in the society. True peace will come only after women share power.

Other less obvious avenues of power, such as the power of traditions, need to be recognised. Power can also be identified in sensitive individuals (men and women) within bureaucracies. Women can harness much support from such people in power Co obtain assets for rural women. Because of such support in Kenya, 1721 rural women's groups had obtained commercial plots which would never have reached them otherwise. The issue is more one of management of power rather than only of having women in power positions - such women may not always be ready to or capable of assisting women.

Power and assets are inter-related. While access to power is one way of ensuring women access to resources, control over resources in its turn empowers women.

Summing up the discussions, the Chairperson observed that land is a critical issue. If women do not own and control land, access to other inputs for production will not help them. Moreover, access to other resources, i.e. credit, fertilisers, training, etc., are often determined by access to and control over land. Women in Africa had fought for independence from colonialism to obtain better access to land but are now being deprived of that access.

A complicated set of factors determine women's access to and control over land. In many cases laws deny women equal rights but even where the laws are not discriminatory they seem to have failed to protect women's rights to own and use land. Family traditions, inheritance systems and women's own acceptance of subordination stand in the way. Women labour on the land but they give power and control to the men.

Access to power structure is a strategy to give women access to resources but rather than depending too much on individual women in power positions, it is more important to build alliances across sectors with different levels of bureaucracy, and with political parties, academics, media and organisations, particularly women's groups at grass-roots levels and above. Women should not just concentrate on Co women's issues but deal with the underlying principles of society. For example, provision of clean water would help not only women but the whole community.

There are many women who had quite by accident proved themselves to be extraordinarily dynamic leaders. It is important for them to undergo training in how to transfer their human leadership skills to others, to train a new generation of leaders.