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close this bookGendered Poverty and Social Change: An Issues Paper (UNRISD, 1998, 44 p.)
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View the documentGender-Based Entitlements: The Intra-Household Arena
View the documentGender-Based Entitlements: The Interplay between Institutions


The argument so far has been that an exclusive focus on poverty outcomes very often means that the processes leading to poverty are either overlooked or otherwise analysed through regressions and correlations of a few variables abstracted from a far more complex scenario wherein a wide range of institutions interact. It also, inevitably, means that gender will be dealt with through a process of disaggregation - either of households (using the gender of the head as the stratifier) or of individuals (differentiating males and females). The question that has not been explicitly addressed, but which is clearly central to our discussion, is: How can the focus of poverty analyses be sharpened and shifted so that the social, economic, cultural and political processes and institutions that are implicated in the creation and perpetuation of poverty become more lucid and central to the enquiry?

An important contribution to poverty analyses has come from the literature on hunger and famines, namely the "entitlements" framework as developed initially by Amartya Sen, and later in collaboration with Jean Dr (Sen, 1981; Dr and Sen, 1989). Entitlement analysis has been useful in directing attention to the processes through which individuals gain access to commodities and other resources (or fail to do so), which is said to depend on their socio-economic position and on the rules that render claims over commodities "legitimate". And in as much as these rules and norms "entitle" people differently and unequally, they draw attention to the likelihood that deprivation will be diversely constituted across a population along the lines of gender, caste, class, etc. (Kabeer, 1997).

Taking on board the important qualifications and criticisms made of this framework, especially of its excessively marketized and "legalistic" view of the rules of entitlement (Gore, 1993; de Waal, 1990), entitlements can now be seen more broadly to encompass not only state-enforced legal rules, but also socially-enforced moral rules which constrain and enable command over commodities. Thus rather than seeing famine as inevitable once certain entitlement shifts occur (such as falling wages in relation to food prices), it is now possible to include rebellions and food riots as forms of collective action that enable the poor to cope with calamity.

In E.P. Thompson's original work, food riots are identified as a form of collective action by which the poor in eighteenth century England, when threatened by exchange entitlement failure in the market-place, ensured that the moral economy of food provisioning, derived from Tudor times, took precedence over legal property rights as rules of entitlement. In that case, entitlement to food depended on acts which were legitimate, but illegal. These illegal acts also had specific rules. The riots were characterized by restraint and discipline, and a key element of them was not theft, but the setting of a just price (Gore, 1993:447)

The understanding that rules and norms are "unruly" and negotiable carries significant implications for both poverty and gender analyses, by providing some analytical space for considering individual and collective expressions of agency and contestation. As we will see below, in some contexts the structural constraints on women may be overwhelming and it may be difficult, or even dangerous, for such expressions of agency to take shape. But elsewhere gender-based norms and rules are both more contested and more malleable, and women are able to express resistance and make resource claims in meaningful ways. The rest of this section will consider gender-based access to resources, focusing in particular on land and labour, which are critical in the "asset portfolio" of the rural and urban poor in many Asian and African countries. But it will be argued that there are important differences in how men and women, in the same contexts, relate to these assets and employ them in their survival strategies.