Empowering women: Land and property rights in Latin America - review


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From: The Law and Politics Book Review vol.12 no.3 (March 2002) pp.143-146.

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The Law and Politics Book Review
An electronic publication of the Law and Courts Section of the American Political Science Association

Herbert Jacob, Founding Editor

Richard A. Brisbin, Jr., Editor

March 8, 2002

Professor Magdalena Leon de Leal
Department de Geografia
Universidad Nacional de Colombia
Ciudad Universitaria
Santafe de Bogota

Dear Professor Deere:

I am pleased to send you an offprint copy of the review of your book, Empowering Women: Land
and Property Rights in Latin America, which was recently published in The Law and Politics Book

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From: The Law and Politics Book Review
Vol. 12 No. 3 (March 2002) pp. 143-146.


Carmen Diana Deere and Magdalena Ldon.
486 pp. Cloth $55.00. ISBN: 0-8229-4161-9.

Reviewed by Joaquim B. Barbosa Gomes,
Email: j.barbosagomes@openlink.com.br

After their independence from Spain
and Portugal in the early nineteenth century,
most Latin American states, based upon the
French and U. S. experiences, promulgated
new constitutions of their own in which the
principle of equality invariably was one of
the main features. In the twentieth century,
following the same path, they adhered to
almost all human rights covenants sponsored
by the United Nations, including the
Convention for the Elimination of all Forms
of Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW). However, the problem for Latin
America has been the gap between formal
recognition of rights and actual
implementation. This book, as the authors
put it, is about the disjuncture in Latin
America between men's and women's
formal equality before the law and the
achievement of real equality between them,
an issue well illuminated by the gap between
women's property rights and their actual
ownership of property. Extremely well-
documented and presenting multiple insights
on the law of the Latin American states,
especially the intersection between law and
gender, the book is coherently divided into
ten chapters as follows: 1) the importance of
gender and property; 2) gender, property
rights, and citizenship; 3) gender-
exclusionary agrarian reform; 4) building
blocks toward gender-progressive change; 5)
engendering the neo-liberal counter-reform;
6) the struggle for women's land rights and
increased ownership of land; 7) in defense

Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.
Paper $24.95. ISBN: 0-8229-5767-1.

Rio de Janeiro State University, School of Law.

of community--struggles over individual and
collective land rights; 8) inheritance of land
in practice; 9) women property owners--land
titling, inheritance, and the market; and 10)
land and property in a feminist agenda.

The introductory chapter, "The
Importance of Gender and Property," sums
up the core of the book. The inequality
between men and women in Latin America
is illustrated by the unequal distribution of
land property. Demonstrating why such
inequality is so deep in Latin America is the
main purpose of the study. The authors
reach their objective by arguing that gender
inequality in land ownership in Latin
America is "attributable to the family,
community, the state, and the market."
Thus, to make their point, Deere and Leon
investigate the principal means through
which ownership of land is acquired in the
region, that is, by inheritance, adjudication
by the state, and purchase in the market.
Then, in a path breaking flow of legal details
and cultural nuances, they demonstrate that
gender inequality in land ownership is
because of male preference in inheritance,
male privilege in marriage, male bias in state
programs of land distribution. In other
words, gender inequality in the land market.

Among the best features of the book
is Deere and Ldon's comparative approach
to the status of married women in Latin
America and their counterparts in the United

States and England in the early nineteenth
century. In chapter two, "Gender. Property
Rights, and Citizenship," the authors put
forth some interesting comparative and
historical perspectives on the property rights
of women. Page 32 begins by stressing that
"notwithstanding different legal traditions,
in the early nineteenth century married
women in Latin America shared a similar
status to their counterparts in the United
States, England, and most of continental
Europe: they were subject to the authority of
their husbands in almost all of their affairs."
Nonetheless, married women in colonial
Latin America had greater bargaining power
within marriage than did their counterparts
in the United States and England. Under the
Iberian codified tradition, in contrast to
British common law, married women could
own, inherit, and will property; moreover,
inheritance norms favored gender-equitable
distribution of property. A married
woman's fall-back position in Latin
America was thus much stronger for, in case
of separation or widowhood. women were
entitled to the property they brought into the
marriage as well as one-half the common
property--possibilities denied under
common law. Over the course of the
nineteenth century, these patterns were
reversed. Married women in the United
States and England gained greater
disposition over their own property and
incomes while the property rights of their
counterparts in Latin America failed to
improve much with independence.

Chapter two also presents an in-
depth, accurate and extensive analysis of the
marital regimes applied in Latin America
both in colonial era and after independence.
Noteworthy is the abundance of details with
which the authors describe individual
marital regimes under Portuguese and
Spanish rule in colonial time and in modern
times. In fact these regimes were quite

From: The Law and Politics Book Review
Vol. 12 No. 3 (March 2002) pp. 143-146.

similar until the early nineteenth century and
continue to be until now. Masters in the art
of nuances and the comparative approach,
the authors present a thorough description of
the choices allowed a woman in terms of
marital regime, exposing with clarity the
upsides and downsides of individual marital
regimes. Thus, while men's privilege and
their absolute control over the household
assets is a permanent trait of the marital
regimes of both colonial era and post-
independence, these old regimes had some
aspects that were quite favorable to women.
Widowhood, for instance, was one such
case. Should the husband die, the widow
was entitled to retain half of the common
property, no matter how much she had
brought to the marriage.

Also of particular interest is the
authors' analysis of the position of married
women in individual countries like Brazil,
United States, and England. In Brazil, the
situation of married women was similar to
that of their counterparts in colonial Spanish
America, but the default regime governing
marriage was slightly different: the full
common property regime prevailed, which
was not the case in most other countries in
the region. With regard to England, a
classical theorist of the British common law.
Blackstone, is evoked to illustrate women's
legal status. He stated, "By marriage, the
husband and the wife are one person in the
law ... the very being and legal existence of
the woman is suspended during the
marriage, or at least is incorporated into that
of her husband under whose wing (and)
protection she performs everything."
Concerning the United States, the study
stresses the "merger of identities" doctrine,
which governed family affairs in most
American states until late nineteenth
century, stating that,

upon marriage the wife became a legal
non-person. With respect to property,
wives lost the right to manage any real
estate they brought into marriage.
Husbands gained not only managerial
rights but also complete ownership of
any other kind of property that had
belonged to the wife. Married women
could not make out a will. Thus upon
a wife's death a husband automatically
acquired ownership of her real estate.
They also could not inherit property in
their own names, and hence a wife's
inheritance became her husband's
property. Married women could not
sue or be sued but rather had to rely
upon their husbands, who became the
legal owner of any damage awards
won by her suit. Moreover, any wages
earned by a married woman belonged
to her husband. In case of separation
or divorce, wives were not
automatically entitled to a share of the
property acquired during marriage nor
to the gains derived from any property
they had brought into marriage. It was
this latter point, in particular, that
made the position of married women
so much more onerous in the early
nineteenth-century United States, as
compared to Latin America, for a
married woman in the United States
had very little bargaining power over
an abusive husband.

Despite these excellent insights comparing
women's rights in England, United States
and Latin America, the study is somewhat
disappointing in explaining why the position
of Latin American women is far less
favorable in the twentieth century as
compared to their situation in the early
nineteenth century.

The focus of chapter three is agrarian
reform in Latin America and its ostensible

bias against women. As a product of the
Alliance for Progress, an aid program
launched by the U. S. government in the
context of the Cold War, this reform aimed
at mitigating the social effects of the
devastating concentration of land property in
the region, especially in countries like
Brazil, where some features of the agrarian
reform were consolidated in the constitution
promulgated in 1988. The authors sum up
the essence of the agrarian reform on the
exclusion of women. On page 99, they
state, "Reformers intended to benefit peasant
families, assuming that these processes were
gender neutral; instead, they ended up being
gender-biased, primarily benefiting male
household heads.... Women's participation
ranged from negligible or low (in Chile,
Ecuador, Honduras, and Peru) to a high of
one-third of the beneficiaries."

At the international, national, and
local levels, gender and land rights have
become a very important issue, forming the
so-called field of women in development
(WID). This field provided the framework
that has oriented the agenda of international
agencies and governments with respect to
gender issues in the last decades. The WID
field has become very influential in
association with the consolidation and
expansion of the international women's
movement, which, by its turn, has been
pushed forward by the U. N. initiatives,
especially the United Nations Decade for
Women and the four international
conferences on women.

How the neo-liberal counter-reforms
of the 1980s dismantled the agrarian policies
adopted by Latin American states in
previous decades is the focus of chapter five.
Favoring individual over collective property
and individualization of land rights over
collective land rights was one of the main
features of these counter-reforms, which

From: The Law and Politics Book Review
Vol. 12 No. 3 (March 2002) pp. 143-146.

S1 .< M. i aI u "*' V U LUU1.

C H O IC A publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries
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April 2002 Vol. 39 No. 08
Political Science Comparative Politics

Dennis Lloyd Marketing Director
University of Pittsburgh Press
Eureka Building, Fifth Floor
3400 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

The following review appeared in the April 2002 issue of CHOICE:

39-4821 KG173 2001-2752 CIP
Deere, Carmen Diana. Empowering women: land and property rights in Latin America, by Carmen Diana Deere and
Magdalena Le6n. Pittsburgh, 2001. 486p bibl index afp ISBN 0-8229-4161-9, $55.00; ISBN 0-8229-5767-1 pbk, $24.95

This is a comparative analysis of women's land rights in Latin America, based on 12 case studies (Bolivia, Brazil,
Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru). Beginning
with a historical overview of women's property rights, the authors move on to examine agrarian reform policies that
are gender-exclusionary and benefit male heads of households, the organization of rural women emerging out of
second-wave feminism internationally and in Latin America, neoliberal counter-reforms, struggles over collective
land rights, and inheritance of land in practice. Deer (Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst) and Le6n (National Univ. of
Colombia) "argue that gender inequality in land ownership in Latin America is attributable to the family, community,
the state, and the market." They note that there has been progress in the achievement of formal gender equality
through joint titling and allocation to couples during the last 20 years because of women's movement activism, but
"there has been relatively little substantive progress in remedying gender inequality in asset ownership." For
comparative feminist analysis, this book complements A Field of One's Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia
(1994), by Bina Agarwal, who encouraged the authors to undertake this comprehensive project. Recommended for
upper-division undergraduates and above. --J. G. Everett, University of Colorado at Denver

American Journal of Sociology

strategies of autonomy and state-involvement. Women's employment and
social welfare protections, availability of contraceptives, liberalization of
divorce and abortion law, and antidiscrimination policies across a wide
range of issues were the focus of feminist movements in, for example,
Canada, Germany, Spain, and the United States. As second-wave feminist
movements matured, their issues and organizations extended, involving
multiple networks and a proliferation of groups that worked, increasingly,
in coalition around shared issues. Throughout the 1980s, liberal feminism
appeared ascendant, as feminist movements focused on mainstream and
electoral politics (see, e.g., Britain, France, Italy). The pattern of Irish
feminist movement development shares a common template with feminist
movements in West Europe and North America. Whether the continued
trajectory that Connolly posits for the Irish women's movement-of a
diffused women's community-based activism-persists remains to be seen
. and analyzed.

Empowering Women: Land and Property Rights in Latin America. By
Carmen Diana Deere and Magdalena Le6n. Pittsburgh, Penn.: University
of Pittsburgh Press, 2001. Pp. xxv+486. $55.00 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).

Helen I. Safa
University of Florida

With this comprehensive study of women's land rights in Latin America,
Carmen Diana Deere and Magdalena Le6n continue their groundbreaking
collaborative work, begun in the 1970s, on rural women in the region.
Deere, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts
-Amherst, and Le6n, a sociologist at the National University of Colom-
bia, could serve as a model of collaborative research between U.S. and
Latin American scholars; their work demonstrates how fruitful such an
alliance can be.
Together, Deere and Le6n collected and analyzed data on women's
legal access to land under property law in 12 different countries in Latin
America and contrast these with women's actual ownership of land and
control of property through case studies in each of these countries. As
might be expected, the gap between legal and actual sexual equality in
land rights is substantial, due primarily to continuing male privilege in
inheritance, in state programs of land distribution and titling, and in land
markets. What is perhaps most surprising is the gains Latin American
women have made under neoliberalism, which certainly has not stressed
gender equality. Whereas previous agrarian reforms had centered on the
male household head as the focus of state land-distribution and titling
efforts, this concept was virtually eliminated by constitutional reforms
establishing formal gender equality and new civil codes legally recognizing
dual-headed households, the property rights of women in consensual un-

September 2002

Book Reviews

ment's prior history. Between limited suffrage for wo en in 1918 and the
emergence of a second wave of Irish feminism in the te 1960s, apparently
conservative women's organizations sustained fem* ist activists and ideas
and protected their organizational structures. Connolly employs an
underdeveloped political opportunity model to discuss the successes and
continuities of the Irish Countrywomen's A ociation, the Irish House-
wives' Association, and the Women's Social nd Progressive League, pre-
senting an abeyance trajectory that permit the reactivation of these or-
ganizations and their eventual cooperation ith the more radical feminist
groups of the Irish women's movement' ssecond wave.
In Part 2, Connolly carefully documents how the second wave of Irish
feminism, a minority movement in the late 1960s, nonetheless emerged
quickly, made and benefited from tran national feminist contacts, devel-
oped a radical branch with autonomy s and disruptive strategies, sup-
ported a liberal branch that sustain civil rights and policy advances,
and encouraged conservative wom 's organizations, such as the Irish
Countrywomen's Association, to pport explicitly feminist goals. In a
nation where women have been severely underrepresented in national
legislative office, where laws pre luding women's jury duty and married
women's employment in the c il service persisted into the mid-1970s,
where contraception was ille Ial until 1974, and where divorce is un-
available and abortion contines to be criminalized, Irish feminists have
nonetheless made impressive ains (see app. 5 for a range of social welfare
policy and civil rights legisl ion; see app. 6 for feminist progress regarding
abortion and contraception nin general, readers will benefit from the book's
extensive appendices and/endnotes).
Irish feminists have ced a daunting lack of political opportunity:
strong, well-funded opp sing movements; minority public opinion support
on issues such as divor e and abortion; a relatively weak social-movement
sector; high unemplo ent, especially among women; no conducive po-
litical party support; nd European Union willingness to exempt Ireland
from any uniform E pro-abortion policy. In short, Irish feminists have
been presented wit a hostile, gendered opportunity structure. In this
regard, Connolly h missed an opportunity herself: to critique political
opportunity struct re theory for its inability to predict and to explain the
successes of Irish eminism.
What is most s iking about Connolly's analysis is that the development
of Irish feminis as a social movement shares the pattern of feminist
development in ost Western nations. Women's suffrage motivated the
first women's ovements in the 20th century, movements that were in
abeyance fro roughly 1920 to 1960, during which time feminists sus-
tained organ' national structures or were active in a "parallel network of
women's g ups, mainly engaged in production and social services" (p.
58). A se nd feminist wave emerged in the late 1960s-early 1970s, dom-
inate4~ y radical feminist and liberal feminist components of a pluralistic
and contentious overarching women's movement, marked by competing

Book Reviews

ions, and civil divorce, as well as national plans to achieve greater gender
equality. But as the authors point out, guaranteeing women's formal land
rights is insufficient without concrete mechanisms of inclusion such as
mandatory joint titling to couples, already adopted in several Latin Amer-
ican countries but still hotly contested. Mexico really reversed itself on
women's land rights in 1992, when it enacted changes to Article 27 of
the constitution paving the way for the privatization of the ejidos (the
collective land holdings ushered in by the Mexican revolution), seriously
reducing women's land rights: what was once considered patrimoniofa-
miliar, or a family resource, has now become the individual property of
the predominantly male ejiditarios to dispose of as they see fit.
The Mexican case points to the strategic importance of the state as a
mediator in establishing and maintaining women's land rights. As women
have gained in importance as a political constituency and become political
actors in their own right, states have paid increasing importance to gender
equality. In no small measure this is due to the strength of the women's
movement in Latin America, which is now a vibrant force throughout
the region, cutting across class, race, ethnicity, and the rural-urban divide.
The economic crisis that hit Latin America in the 1980s contributed to
the spread of the women's movement to the popular classes and to the
growth of NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) staffed by leading fem-
inists, who became the chief advocacy voice for gender rights in the 1990s.
Deere and Le6n stress the importance for consolidating these hard-won
gains, of maintaining the unity of the women's movement, and continuing
the dialogue with the state, even when it proves unresponsive to women's
Maintaining unity in the women's movement has become more difficult
as feminism has spread and assumed a plurality of voices (see, e.g., Sonia
Alvarez et al., "Encountering Latin American and Caribbean Feminisms"
[Signs 28:537-80]). This can be seen in the tensions between gender and
ethnic rights among indigenous women, with the rise of the indigenous
movement in the 1990s. As Deere and Le6n demonstrate, the emphasis
of indigenous groups on collective land rights often serves to marginalize
the individual rights of women; yet the need to maintain ethnic unity is
so strong that women often subordinate their gender concerns to ethnic
interests. A similar tension between gender and racial interests in land
rights can be found among Afro-Latino communities in Latin America,
and it would have been useful to hear from Deere and Le6n in this regard.
It would appear that the weakness of gender interests in these ethnic and
racial communities is at least partly attributable to the failure of the
mainstream women's movement in Latin America to address the concerns
of indigenous and Afro-Latin women and recognize a greater plurality of
voices. It will be interesting to see how these tensions between gender
interests and competing ethnic, racial, or class concerns is resolved by the
Zapatista indigenous struggle in Chiapas, in which women have figured
prominently, or among the strong class-based MST (Movimiento dos Tra-

American Journal of Sociology

balhadores Rurais Sem Terra), which has become the voice of the landless
rural workers in 22 states of Brazil, neither of which is fully documented
in the Deere and Le6n volume.
Despite these minor shortcomings, this important book should be an
essential tool in a variety of social science disciplines. It should also prove
quite useful for courses in development, women's studies, and Latin Amer-
ica generally.

Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State. By
Mark R. Beissinger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp.
xv+503. $80.00 (cloth); $30.00 (paper).

Paul Statham
University of Leeds

To those of you who have the impression that the academy is increasingly
dominated by fashionable decorative theories, where reputations and mar-
keting ploys leave little space for understanding based on root and branch
empirical analysis, I have the absolute pleasure in announcing the arrival
of a modern day "classic" that bucks the trend. Mark Beissinger has set
himself the task of explaining-no "postmodernist" shirking from causal
analysis here-one of the most important and difficult research questions
of the last century: How do we explain the collapse of the Soviet Union?
Unpredicted and unforeseen by scholars and politicians in the West and
East alike, Beissinger takes the truly revolutionary events of glasnost that
have shaped our political world, not simply as a topic, but as a research
question that challenges the interpretative powers of contemporary
Although it will not be possible for theorists of nationalism and post-
Soviet studies to ignore Beissinger's positions in their respective fields,
the real aim and general sociological importance of this work derives from
the interpretative and analytic framework that he puts forward for ex-
plaining the processes of political change. There is little room here to do
anything other than briefly caricature the position advanced in this 500-
page magnum opus.
Against what he sees as teleological and "post hoc" interpretations,
Beissinger argues that it is necessary to tackle the difficult question of
causal interaction between structure and agency to arrive at an expla-
nation for the demise of the Soviet Union. The Beissinger approach puts
collective actors and contentious events back at the center of analysis. In
essence, he blends the contentious politics approach from social movement
research-a close cousin of Sidney Tarrow's "cycles of contention" (De-
mocracy and Disorder: Protest and Politics in Italy, 1965-1975 [Oxford
University Press, 1989])--with a subtle appreciation of how nationalist
ideas and beliefs can under specific conditions and opportunities supply

Empowering Women:

Land and Property Rights

In Latin America

by Carmen Dianai Deerc and
MagCI'daia Lc/ Univcrislty of
Pittrvburi.h P/ x. 2001i paperback.

Rural women need to own land
for economini .'iritv. but there have
been many obs.itacles to Latin Ameri-
can women doling so, this book
explains, it didn't sla'rt out that way:
women in ihe Sp,'nish colonies had
more rights than lose in the British
colonies and th: ecarhi United States.
Married v\\ m- n in Latin America
could own property when they
could' ii the LUnited States. Ironi-
cally. the ninetecnth century rev'olu-

tions in Latin America brought the
Napoleonic Code, which curtailed
women's rights.
The predominant Roman Catholic
Church also had a negative impact on
women's rights. There was no civil
divorce in Colombia or Brazil until
the 1970s, and Chile still does not
provide for civil divorces. This book
does not discuss other effects of the
Church's dominance, such as bans on
This book looks at how poor,
rural women's land rights developed
in the 20th century.
Mexico's 1917 revolution
brought land distribution, but only for
women who were heads of house-
holds (women with children, who
were neither married nor living with a
man). Men didn't
have to be heads
of households to
obtain land. The majol
Beginning in the land refor
1930s, Mexican America I
feminists de- excluded
manded land direct be
rights for women,
but women did
not get more
equal formal legal rights to land until
Cuba's revolution brought women
into agricultural production coopera-
tives, in part because of the country's
need to produce a great deal of sugar



cane. The percentage of women in
agricultural cooperatives in Cuba was
almost double that in any other Latin
American country.
Chile's attempted reforms under
Salvador Allende encountered
considerable opposition to including
women in agrarian reform, so the
government capitulated and stopped
trying to persuade men to bring their
wives to meetings.
Nicaragua's Sandinistas were one
of the first to include the advancement
of women as an initial objective of
their revolution. They included
women in agricultural cooperatives.
However, there was no women's
peasant organization until the 1986,
and by that time the war against the
contras took up much of the
time and
resources. The
waves of Sandinistas'
n in Latin land redistri-
rgely bution
vomen as program
eficiaries. mostly helped
men and
S women's
heads of
households, as was also the case in El
Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica.
Rural women need to know their
rights: they need a rural women's
organization to educate them about
their rights, the authors say.

off our backs


page 46

march-april 2002

The major waves of land reform
in Latin America largely excluded
women as direct beneficiaries. The
reformers assumed that giving land to
families was gender-neutral, although
in fact it was not, the authors write.
Even where women heads of house-
hold were given land, they had more
difficulty getting land than men. Some
countries had point systems for
determining beneficiaries, with more
points being given for having more
household members (and male-headed
households auto-
matically had one
more member) and The en
for agricultural reform
experience, which just as
women were not
considered to have. rights
Rural women recogni
were very active in
demanding land and
in militant land takeovers, but they
generally were not given land.
Inheritance is the other way that
women could obtain land, and they
often faced discrimination in that as
well. Inheritance laws often don't
provide for women living in consen-
sual unions rather than marriages,
which is the situation of most peasant
women in Latin America. In countries
such as Mexico, the local agricultural
reform institute could choose the
beneficiaries of men who died without
making wills, and sons were usually
chosen over widows.
It took international feminists
some time to become aware of rural
women's need for land. The 1975
United Nations conference on women
in Mexico City did not mention land
issues. But the 1985 Nairobi confer-
ence resolutions said that women
needed access to land, and the capital,


technology, and resources to be able
to farm it. In 1992, the first interna-
tional meeting of rural women was
held in Geneva; it was planned by the
first ladies of some Third World
countries. The 1995 Beijing confer-
ence attempted to deal with the issue
of equal inheritance rights for girls
and women, but Muslim countries
scuttled that proposal by saying it
discriminated against them because
the Koran prescribes that daughters
should inherit half of what sons do.
of land conference
ame about resolutions
romen's did commit
the Latin
gan to be American
ed. countries
to develop-
plans for the advancement of women.
However, these plans were mostly
developed by national offices with an
urban bias, and didn't provide much
for rural women.
Costa Rica pioneered in women's
land rights though it is a mostly urban
country. Costa Rica had the goal of
meeting all requests for land titles
from qualified women.
Christian community groups were
the first mixed-sex groups in Brazil,
the Andes, and Central America to
encourage rural women's participa-
tion, the authors say. By the end of the
'80s, most peasant organizations had
women's divisions. In the '90s, rural
women's organizations grew out of
these groups. They often had ties to
mixed groups that may have hindered
their autonomous development.
In the '90s, post-Sandinista
Nicaragua developed the broadest-

based rural women's organization in
Central America.
In 1996, the first conference of
Latin American and Caribbean rural
women was held in Brazil.
In the 1980s, a wave of neo-
liberalism hit Latin America, bringing
policies aimed at diminishing the
countries' deficits and reducing
inflation. Governments turned to
structural adjustment, a policy of
privatization and reduced spending on
social programs. Most agrarian
reform was brought to a close. State
farms were privatized and govern-
ments favored individual land owner-
ship over collective holdings.
The authors note that the end of
land reform came about just as
women's rights began to be recog-
In Mexico, ejido (collective)
communities were disbanded, and
individuals who had been given land
during land reform were given the
right to sell or rent it. Only one
member of a household-the man, of
course-had been allowed to join the
ejido decision-making body, so
women were shut out of decisions
determining the future of their
communities, whether the land was to
be sold or not. Also, each ejido
member was allowed to sell his
property and his wife or partner had
no right to stop him. She had the
"right of first buyer"-she could buy
the family property if she had the
money, but of course women did not
have the money to do so. Ejido
members were given the right to make
wills leaving their property to anyone,
even if that left their partner or wife
In the Zapatists struggle that
began in 1994 in Chiapas, women
demanded a reversal of these laws

off our backs

march-april 2002

page 47

because they took away a woman's
right to own and inherit land. They
demanded that land should be explic-
itly titled with women as co-owners.
The women also demanded that when
a couple separated the land should be
divided equally between them.
There was some land redistribu-
tion as part of the peace process in
Nicaragua and El Salvador in the
1990s, but women didn't do so well.
Many Nicaraguan women had already
left the land cooperatives before the
land was divided into parcels, and
thus lost out in the distribution. In El
Salvador, women got the smallest
parcels and the worst land.
Although there is little
land reform any more, a
number of countries are Wo
moving to joint titling of o
land to couples. Joint titling
is important because it th
protects the woman's col
property rights in case of Sti
separation or divorce, or in Lat
case the man wants to sell prc
the property. In Brazil and in
Honduras, there is joint
titling only if the couple
requests it, which is not so
good for women, who may
not be aware of the law or may not
have the power to persuade their
partners to request it. There is now
mandatory joint titling of state-
distributed lands in Colombia, Costa
Rica, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. In
1994, Colombia passed a law giving
priority in titling to women who found
themselves "without protection" due
to the nation's violence.
A 1990 law in Costa Rica made
joint titling mandatory for married
couples, and required that land
occupied by couples in consensual
unions be put in the woman's name.
This came about because the feminist

group CEFEMINA had challenged the
practice of putting urban subsidized
housing in the man's name However,
a group of peasant men challenged the
law putting titling in the o.oman's
name, and Costa R ica's supreme court
ruled that this was unconstitutional
discrimination against men. For a
couple of years aitcr that. the govern-
ment stopped giving lands to couples
in consensual unions: after that. it
titled the landsjointl\.
For a time. the Costa Rican
government worked with feminists.
but then a more conservative govern-
ment was elected and it no longer
worked with feminists.

men in the Spanish
lonies had more rights
an those in the British
lonies and the early United
rates. Married women in
tin America could own
perty when they couldn't
the United States.

Even policies designed to benefit
women may n;t be !ip!emente'd in a
beneficial way. In Nicaragua. local
rural administrators didn't .-ee that
joint titling was meant to benefit
women. They gave most of the joint
titles to fathers and sons. or to
brothers. Women demanded that the\
change. and the national government
specified that joint titling was meant
to help women. and \ as supposed to
be for couples.
Guatemalan women w ho had
been refugees in \lie,\i: 1 'he 1980s.
when theMr o ,' : ,'ntaliz-
ing rural petpie. ;n- :' n-

oriented perspective from interna-
tional organizations that helped the
refugees. When they returned to
Guatemala, they demanded joint
Some conservative regimes have
favored joint titling because it
promotes family stability. The book's
authors suggest that individual titling
of at least some property in the
woman's name would be better.
because then women could not be
forced to take the worst part of the
land in case of separation, but they
note that the idea is not likely to gain
favor soon because it would not be
seen as promoting family stability.
There have been some all-
women land collectives in
Colombia. Honduras, Costa
Rica. and Nicaragua, but they
have been only been economi-
cally marginal, with not
enough help from governments
and nongovernmental organi-
zations, the authors write. I
wish they had written more
than a few sentences about
these projects.
In recent years, governments
have focused more on selling
land to rural people than on
land redistribution. Of course women
have less money and less access to
,-_edit than men. so these programs
don't do much for women. For
example, a study in Peru showed that
\(,men bought smaller parcels of land
an d paid more per acre than did men.
fhe authors suggest that a focus
on inheritance rights would be a good
strategy because it could unite rural
and urban %women.
A great many of the world's
,,women are rural. This is an important
hook 'hat howsws the problems they

b\ carol anne douglas

off our backs

1,' 1, __-4

march-april ..A e.

page 48

American Political Science Review

Vol. 96. No. 4

In the final chapter. Clark argues that we have a New Po-
litical Culture (NPC). He proposes (in algebra) that voting is
a function of party programs. occupation, demographics, and
political attitudes, but provides no estimates for the value of
each variable in his equation. The evidence is drawn from con-
tent analysis of party program changes over several decades
in some 30 countries. Clark and his collaborators found a
near-simultaneous erasure of issues of particular interest to
labor beginning in the early 1980s by both left- and right-
wing parties. The chapter also draws upon another research
project investigating municipal policy choices with respect
to the trade-off between fiscal austerity and social services.
The connection to the New Political Culture thesis is tenuous.
particularly as austerity measures often aim to preserve social
Ultimately, it is the lack of attention to some of the most ob-
vious causes of Third Way politics that frustrates the reader.
The Third Way politics of the 1990s aimed to encapsulate a
new left coalition capable of holding onto power for extended
periods, by bringing middle-class voters and women voters,
along with an old but much transformed working-class con-
stituency, together on a defense of the welfare state.
The "pink-collar" revolution was less about class than
about gender, and to that extent the "class still matters" folks
have a point. Female service-sector workers are still workers.
The encapsulation of middle-class voters and women voters
as part of the Third Way political bloc required policy initia-
tives and party reforms that sidelined blue-collar and man-
ual labor. It is a pity that neither side debating in this book
bridged the gap between sociology and party appeals by the-
orizing the connection among occupational change, interests
and identities, and electoral strategies.

Empowering Women: Land and Property Rights in Latin
America. By Carmen Diana Deere and Magdalena Leon.
Pittsburgh: The University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001. 544p.
$55.00 cloth, $24.95 paper.
*Still Fighting: The Nicaraguan Women's Movement, 1977-
2000. By Katherine Isbester. Pittsburgh: The University of
Pittsburgh Press, 2001. 272p. $45.00 cloth, $19.95 paper.
Leslie Anderson, University of Florida
The titles of these books point both to their common concern
and to the difference between them. Still Fighting under-
scores the extent to which Latin American women (in this
case, Nicaraguans) are still struggling, from a disadvantaged
position, to achieve recognition of their own personal value
and identity, as well as a better social, political, and economic
position. Empowering Women underscores, instead, the ex-
tent to which women's struggle is about achieving power in
the form of legal title to land. The former stresses gender
identity while the latter emphasizes personal empowerment.
The first accentuates setbacks experienced and the work still
to be done: the latter highlights accomplishments while ac-
knowledging that much work remains. Carmen Diana Deere
and Magdalena Leon locate their work within gender studies
in Chapter 1, stating their orientation toward redistribution
rather than recognition (p. 9). Although Katherine Isbester
does not refer to gender studies, her work is about the strug-
gle for identity and the role it plays in strengthening a social
Both volumes share a common theme: The outward polit-
ical experience of a nation or region, either with regard to
democratization, land reform, or titling, is not necessarily the
experience of women within the situation. Where a nation has
democratized, women have been included in democratic par-
ticipation to a much lesser degree than men. Where land has

been redistributed. men have benefited far more than women.
Where peasant landowners have received title, the majority\
of recipients are male. The extent to which both volumes
illustrate the difference in gender stories underscores the de-
gree to which studies of political reform need to attend to the
difference in the wav reforms affect the genders. Changes
that look positive may only be positive for men. Accordingly.
if the goal of reform is a more just society, close attention
to the experience of women within revolution, democratiza-
tion, and agrarian reform is in order. To assume that political
progress has equally benefited all members of society is to
ignore and perpetuate the extent to which positive changes
may only have helped men.
Deere and Leon's book. Empowering Women, is an ex-
tensively researched volume on the land ownership rights
of Latin American women. Reaching across the continent
and over history. the book offers admirable scope and exten-
sive detail on the changes in women's land ownership. It be-
gins by examining this ownership in colonial times, and then
describes changes throughout the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries. Chapters include a review of land reform under
the Alliance for Progress and with neoliberalism. Each chap-
ter outlines the limits to reforms with regard to female land
The attention to detail and historic comparison reveal sur-
prising findings. For example, the legal codification of prop-
erty that came from Europe in the colonial period left women
and women's property less protected in the New World na-
tions that inherited English common law than they were in
nations that inherited the Spanish legal system. Additionally,
Chapters 7 and 8 illustrate that the indigeneous, pre-Spanish
legal system accorded more protection to women's property
rights than previously understood. In regions where indige-
nous land rights have affected property ownership, women
are more likely to own land than they are where indigenous
influences have been eliminated.
One irony of changes in land ownership laws is the out-
come of neoliberal reforms. With its emphasis on individual
liberty, neoliberalism has sometimes enhanced the economic
position of women by increasing their land ownership to its
highest level ever. As the book reaches the end of the twen-
tieth century, it concludes that real progress has been made
on the continent. Various reforms combined with revolutions
and other pressures for change have made laws more gender
neutral. Where these are enforced, women's property own-
ership has increased. Nonetheless, much work remains and
the book concludes with a sense of urgency because land-
titling programs are underway virtually everywhere in Latin
America. Insofar as gender-neutral laws can be utilized, the
legal and economic position of women will improve.
Regrettably, the book does not address the extent to
which changes in property ownership have improved the life
situation of Latin women. Deere and Leon say that such
questions are beyond the scope of the volume. The omis-
sion. however, limits the inferences we can make about the
relationship between property rights and women's empower-
ment. Similarly, the book's failure to place its findings within
a sytematic theoretical framework, and the decision instead
to concentrate on detailed legal history, constrains any gen-
eralizations about women's empowerment in other places
and times. Such limitations, however, should not overshadow
the book's great scholarly accomplishments. Empowering
Women is a monumental study of the legal history of women's
property rights in Latin America, with utility to legal scholars
and historians, as well as to political scientists and women's
In contrast to the Deere and Leon book. Isbester's Still
Fighting is a detailed study of the women's movement in one

Book Reviews: COMPARATIVE POLITICS December 2002

nation: Nicaragua. Grounding her work in the social move-
ments literature, Isbester uses resource mobilization (RM)
theory to consider both the accomplishments and the limi-
tations of different movements and subgroups of women in
Nicaragua over two decades. She considers women's position
in the revolutionary insurrection, throughout the Sandinista
years, and under the Chamorro regime. Where the women's
movement or subsections of it succeeded, withered, or failed
entirely, she shows how resource mobilization theory helps
explain those outcomes.
Although Isbester never summarizes her theoretical po-
sition, the thrust of it eventually emerges. Ultimately she is
dissatisfied with RM theory, stessing instead the contribu-
tion of identity theory in understanding social movements.
Resource mobilization theory considers the material goods
available to a social movement and explains success or failure
within this materialist conception. Yet it fails to account for
the perception of what a "good" actually is (p. 13), an eval-
uation that may well be related to participants' identities.
For example, whereas oppression is often a disadvantage to a
social movement, when combined with a struggle for identity
that itself defies oppression, it can be an asset. This reality is
captured by identity theory but not by RM theory. Isbester
illustrates how an emphasis upon women's identity, including
a demand that society recognize that identity in a positive way,
enhances movement strength.
Isbester does scholarship on Nicaragua a great service in
separating the "Sandinista story," essentially a male story,
from the experience of women within the Sandinista revo-
lution. A movement that was supposed to be liberating and
reformist was more so for men than for women. Yet one won-
ders if the picture painted is too dark and the responsibility
for limitations imbalanced. Progress on women's issues did
emerge under Sandinismo, and Violeta Chamorro's tradition-
alism did soften during her government. If Isbester had placed
Nicaragua in comparative context or examined the Aleman
years, the difficulties she describes might appear relative. In
Deere and Leon's continental study, Nicaragua is often one
of the more progressive cases.
More importantly, however, and omitted from Isbester's
account, is the responsibility of Nicaraguan women them-
selves for their predicament. Women provided majority
support for Chamorro's election, while men tilted slightly
toward Daniel Ortega. And women voted for both Arnoldo
Aleman and Enrique Bolanos more strongly than did
men. Isbester overlooks women's support for candidates
antithetical to their interests. While she is correct that
Sandinismo could have done and could do more, Nicaraguan
women have supported governments that have done far
Although Isbester's consideration of the women's move-
ment within social movement theory is one of the strongest
aspects of her book, grounding her work in gender theory
as well would have allowed her to recognize women's own
responsibility. The role of the state and the limits of orga-
nization, both of which she addressed, are only part of the
explanation for women's restricted progress in Nicaragua.
The other part lies with the limits and contradictions of the
women themselves and of their demands. Sonia Alvarez's dis-
tinction between "feminine" and "feminist" goals (Engender-
ing Democracy in Brazil: Women s Movements in Transition
Politics, 1990) illustrates that women may constrain their own
progress toward liberation by the traditional nature of their
demands. If Nicaraguan women's claims are more feminine
than feminist, leading them to support a traditional female
candidate, then that position can still improve women's lives.
But it will also restrict long-term progress toward women's
liberation, a constraint that is only partly the responsibility

of the government and parties. Ironically, the strength of
Isbester's work-her emphasis upon identity within social
movement theory-is also its weakness. While identity the-
ory enhances RM theory, the stress upon recognition instead
of redistribution, identity instead of empowerment, leaves
women's demands constrained and their responsibility for
those constraints unrecognized.
Nevertheless, Isbester deserves credit for her extensive re-
search and data collection in a nation where both are ex-
tremely difficult. She has also shown considerable courage in
her willingness to criticize the Sandinistas. Her work demon-
strates that the revolution did not produce gender equality,
while the Chamorro regime may well have slowed progress
forward. The question of why that is the case still remains to
be fully explained.
In sum, these volumes make substantial contributions to
our understanding of political development in Latin America
and of the fate of women within progress. The shortcomings
of the volumes in no way undermine the contributions they
make but, rather, point toward new avenues of research and
additional theoretical considerations of the findings they

Rebellious Civil Society: Popular Protest and Democratic
Consolidation in Poland, 1989-1993. By Grzegorz Ekiert
and Jan Kubik. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,
2001. 296p. $22.95.
Framing Democracy: Civil Society and Civic Movements in
Eastern Europe. By John K. Glenn, III. Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press, 2001. 289p. $45.00.
Creating a Democratic Civil Society in Eastern Germany:
The Case of the Citizen Movements and Alliance 90. By
Christiane Olivo. New York: Palgrave, 2001. 293p. $55.00.
Andrei S. Markovits, University of Michigan
A decade after the epochal events of the late 1980s and early
1990s, we have come to see them not as quasi miracles the
way we did then but almost as prosaic way stations in the
ever-present process of societal change. To be sure, there has
been a stream of often pathbreaking scholarship in the fields
of comparative politics and political sociology, with a special
emphasis on social movements, civil society, the transition
from authoritarian to democratic societies, and the complex
consolidation of the latter that has rightly contributed to the
demystification of these events. Yet, as citizens as well as
scholars, we still remain so riveted by what happened in those
few years in East Central Europe that the point of diminishing
returns potentially afflicting additional research and writing
on the subject remains distant.
All three books under review here do both things bril-
liantly: They demystify and explain with intellectual acuity
and scholarly rigor, but-precisely by doing so-they also
show what an amazing, indeed unique, time this was. The
three books share a few important features. They concen-
trate on the same geographic area. Grzegorz Ekiert and Jan
Kubik focus on Poland, though in an explicit, if subordi-
nate, comparison with Slovakia, Hungary, and East Germany.
John Glenn's book, the most overtly comparative of the
three under review, analyzes Poland and what then was still
Czechoslovakia. And Christiane Olivo features the former
East Germany. While Olivo and Glenn concentrate their
analyses on what could be called the transition processes nar-
rowly construed-that is, the key events and rapid changes
of 1989 and 1990 proper-Ekiert and Kubik are more in-
terested in the aftermath of these events, thus the years
1989 to 1993. Lastly, all three studies are deeply steeped
in the extensive literature in comparative politics, political


December 2002

women continue to use gendered discourse
and remain politically marginalized.
Friedman's approach brings together
democratic transition theory with women's
studies and mobilization theory. Friedman,
whose first book includes extensive inter-
views, explains the ebb and flow of women's
mobilization by applying a "political oppor-
tunity structure approach" to social move-
ment analysis with a focus on the role of
Female participation thrives during dicta-
torships because women, traditionally associ-
ated with family and home, are viewed as
nonthreatening and are therefore encouraged
to organize against dictatorships. During the
transition to democracy, political parties
become dominant and take the place of other
forms of mobilization. Parties create
women's bureaus to capture women's votes,
without adequately representing their inter-
ests or allowing them to participate in party
Once democracy has been consolidated,
women's mobilization opportunities rise
again. But taking advantage of them depends
on their ability to form coalitions, the creation
of a women's ministry, international influ-
ences, grassroots civic participation, and the
formation of alliances across social classes.
During the most stable democratic period
between 1982 and 1992, Venezuelan women
formed effective coalitions on three different
occasions. In 1982 they pushed through a pre-
dominantly male congress the Civil Code
reform that gave women the same legal rights
as men within the family. To get their way in
a machista society, women advocated a gen-
dered approach that called for "a democratic
family" within a democratic country, staying
clear of the equal rights issue. The 1990
Labor Law reform (equal pay for equal work
and maternity entitlements) and the 1992
Equal Opportunity Law (quotas for political
participation of women within each party)
also avoided association with equity femi-
nism. Since 1992, the serious political and.
economic crises have prevented women from
organizing across institutions and social
classes, as poverty issues have taken prece-
dence over women's issues. Friedman con-
cludes that the Venezuelan women's quest for
full equality will remain unfinished unless it
challenges traditional gender relations.
Unfinished Transitions: Women and Gen-
dered Development of Democracy in
Venezuela will prove most useful to students
of Venezuelan politics and those interested in
the political role of women in Latin America,
serving as a supplement to Jane Jaquette's
study The Women's Movement in Latin Amer-
ica: Participation and Democracy. It pro-
vides fewer insights to transitions to democ-
racy theory, a topic covered expertly by
Diamond, Linz and Lipset, Dominguez and
Lowenthal, and O'Donnell and Schmitter.

College of Notre Dame of Maryland

Bolland, 0. Nigel
The Politics of Labour
in the British Caribbean:
The Social Origins of Authoritarianism
and Democracy in the Labour Movement
Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, Ltd.
696 pp., $29.95, ISBN 976-8123-94-X
Publication Date: May 2001

0. Nigel Bolland, a sociologist at Colgate
University, continues his productive scholarly
career with this magisterial study of organized
labor in the British Caribbean. Focusing pri-
marily on the years from 1934 to 1954-two
decades that encompassed the worst of the
Great Depression, World War II, the cold war,
and the last years of British colonial rule-
Bolland sees common patterns throughout the
numerous British possessions of the region.
Moreover, his research incorporates events in
Belize and British Guyana, two countries
often overshadowed by Jamaica and Trinidad
in works about the British Caribbean.
As Bolland's research is fundamentally
historical in nature, he looks at the earliest
efforts of labor to protect itself in the
Caribbean, particularly during the last
decades of slavery in the British Caribbean,
and then the hesitant routes to a free labor
system. For Bolland, many of the ingredients
to understanding the dynamics of twentieth-
century labor were present during that earlier
period-racism, low wages, a vulnerable
export economy, and the migration of work-
ers into and out of the Caribbean.
Perhaps Bolland's greatest contribution to
the understanding of his subject is his sophis-
ticated and complicated treatment of orga-
nized labor and regional politics. In almost
every case, the founding fathers of the labor
movement were also significant figures in the
fight against colonialism, opponents of racial
and class discrimination, and strident nation-
alists. It is hard to determine whether those
individuals were labor organizers first, indi-
viduals who realized the importance of poli-
tics to labor success, or politicians who
understood that organized labor was a key to
national power. Most likely they were both.
Although encyclopedic and reasonably free
of jargon, The Politics of Labour does have
some shortcomings. It is nearly seven hun-
dred pages long, meaning that it will often be
consulted but seldom read by modem stu-
dents and scholars. Although recognizing the
importance of the global economy in shaping
events in the Caribbean, Bolland ignores the
early history of union organizing in nearby
Spanish-speaking countries, particularly
Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, Panama, and
Venezuela. It is impossible to include every-
thing, but labor activity in these areas was
vibrant, confrontational, and influential on
the migratory work force of the region. In the
end, however, Bolland's monumental work is
a great contribution to the collective history
of the modern Caribbean.

Western Carolina University

Deere, Carmen Diana, and Magdalena Le6n
Empowering Women: Land
and Property Rights in Latin America
Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press
512 pp., $55.00 cloth, $24.95 paper
ISBN 0-8229-4161-9 cloth
ISBN 0-8229-5767-1 paper
Publication Date: October 2001

Carmen Diana Deere, a professor of econom-
ics at the University of Massachusetts-
Amherst, and Magdalena Le6n, a professor in
the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sci-
ences at the National University of Colombia,
have produced a comprehensive study of the
continuing inability of women in Latin Amer-
ica to acquire and control land despite legal
and constitutional changes that formally
established women's property rights. The
analysis by the two prominent feminist schol-
ars is based on case studies of twelve coun-
tries: Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa
Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Hon-
duras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru.
Deere and Leon set the historical context
by describing the legal tradition in Latin
America and the constitutional and legal
reforms in the various countries that resulted
from challenges posed by the early move-
ments for women's rights. They continue with
an examination of agrarian reforms, imple-
mented through social revolutions or the
Alliance for Progress, and neoliberal counter-
reforms to assess how they affected women's
land ownership. They further note the impact
of international entities, including the United
Nations, through its agencies and confer-
ences, nongovernmental organizations, and
the development sector, on both formal gen-
der equality and actual practice.
Deere and Le6n discuss in depth the con-
cept of the male-as-head-of-household,
forms of marital ownership, inheritance
practices and patterns, communal land own-
ership and usufruct traditions, the process of
formal land titling under neoliberal govern-
ments, and the neoliberal land market, evalu-
ating each in terms of its impact on the ten-
dency of women in Latin America to acquire
and control land. They conclude that the
state must take positive steps, such as oblig-
atory joint titling for couples and preferential
treatment in land distribution for single,
female heads of household, if women's own-
ership of land is to increase. Finally, they
become advocates, as they argue that women
will not achieve full equality in ownership
and control of resources, nor will poverty be
substantially reduced in Latin America
unless women's organizations mobilize in
support of gender-equitable land redistribu-
tion programs.
With this comprehensive, well-document-
ed study of women and property in Latin
America, Deere and Le6n have produced a
landmark volume that will serve as a refer-
ence point in discussions about formal equal-
ity and actual practice in the region. Empow-
ering Women: Land and Property Rights in
Latin America will be useful for advanced

Summer 2002

HISTORY: Reviews of New Books

students, scholars, practitioners, and social

State University of New York-Plattsburgh

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