Land rights, bargaining power, and the rural women's movement in Brazil


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Land rights, bargaining power, and the rural women's movement in Brazil
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Deere, Carmen Diana
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Carmen Diana Deere, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Proposal Title: "Land Rights, Bargaining Power, and the

Rural Women's Movement in Brazil"

I am currently completing a book-length manuscript entitled Gender, Land

and Equity: from Agrarian Reform to Counter-Reform in Latin America. Co-

authored with Colombian sociologist, Magdalena Leon, this study is based on

field work undertaken in twelve Latin American countries during 1996-98,

including three weeks in Brazil in June 1998. Our comparative study revealed

that Brazil differentiates itself in a number of ways from its regional

counterparts and merits a full-scale, in-depth study of its own:

It is the only country in Latin America where serious agrarian reform

efforts (defined as the expropriation and redistribution of land to the

landless) are currently underway;

It has one of the strongest organized movements of the rural landless

pressing for agrarian reform, in addition to a relatively autonomous movement

of rural women workers;

It was the first country to establish in its constitution (1988) that,

under the agrarian reform, women have the same right as men to be titled land

in their own names or jointly with their spouses or partners.

Given these favorable conditions for gender equity with respect to land

rights, it is somewhat disappointing that in the 1996 census of agrarian

reform beneficiaries women constituted only 12.6 percent of the beneficiaries

(INCRA/CRUB/UNB 1998). While this is a much higher share of women

beneficiaries than resulted from the agrarian reforms of the Alliance for

Progress period of the 1960s in countries such as Chile or Peru, it represents

a much lower figure than the female beneficiaries of the major Latin American

agrarian reforms of Mexico and Bolivia, or in recent land distributions in El

Salvador or Nicaragua (Deere and Leon 1998a). The central question of the

proposed research project is why? If there are no longer legal obstacles to

women being direct agrarian reform beneficiaries, and, moreover, rural women

are increasingly organized in their own autonomous organizations, why are they

not acquiring land through the agrarian reform in more impressive numbers?

Before proposing an approach to answering this question, it is important

to establish why gender and land rights is an important issue. Up until

recently the primary focus of the field of "Women in Development" had been on

making women's work visible and investigating the gender division of labor in

the home, fields and factories. With respect to agriculture, it was found

that the gender division of labor was most heterogenous, varying according to

plot size and land tenure, by crop and labor intensity, household size and

life cycle stage, and race and ethnicity, among other factors (Deere and Leon

1982). Given this heterogeneity, there was no clear association between

women's participation in agricultural production and their role in household

decision-making. But what had not been taken into account was the role of

property rights, or control over assets, in influencing women's bargaining

position within the household and community.

In the 1990s the relationship between gender and command over property

has come to the forefront for two reasons. First, recent studies of income

distribution, growth and poverty in the Third World have highlighted the

crucial role played by the distribution of assets (both physical and of human

capital) in welfare outcomes (Birdsall and Londono 1997). Second, advances in

the New Institutional Economics and in feminist scholarship have begun to link

gender inequities in the distribution of assets to differences in bargaining

power between men and women within the household and community (Sen 1990;

Agarwal 1994a, 1994b, 1997; Kabeer 1994). For example, differences in men and

women's control over land affects their 'fall back' position (i.e., their

alternatives, should household cooperation fail) and thus their ability to

bargain effectively. It has been shown that women with land rights (whether

or not they participate in production) are more likely to have a voice in such

household decisions as land use, disposition of family labor, and the

allocation of household income and consumption. Gender inequities in the

distribution of assets have been linked, in turn, to fundamental gender

differences in welfare outcomes ranging from mortality and schooling rates to

the incidence of domestic violence.

My intention is to link these recent theoretical advances in bargaining

theory to developments in the inter-disciplinary literature on the New Social

Movements in Latin America (Alvarez,, 1997). This literature

differentiates the new social movements of the 1990s from the class-based

struggles of previous decades not only due to their composition, but also due

to the different nature of their demands and ways of doing politics. One of

the major new social movements in the region over the past decade has been the

women's movement and considerable scholarly attention has been given to the

popular urban women's movement and the feminist movement (Stephen 1997). Less

attention has been given to rural women's organizations, partly because they

have been less visible and vocal than their urban counterparts and partly

because these organizations have often been subsumed within male-dominated or

'mixed' peasant organizations which focus on class-based demands.

This latter situation characterizes Brazil, where the rural women's

movement was born within the trade union organizations (CONTAG, the

Confederacao Nacional dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura and CUT, Central Unica

dos Trabalhadores), the landless movement (Movimento Sim Terra) and within

organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church (Comissao Pastoral de

Terra). However, by the 1990s, the rural women's movement, the MMTR

(Movimento de Mulheres Trabalhadoras Rurais), has gradually emerged as a

relatively autonomous movement pressing its own gender-based agenda in

addition to class-based demands (Capellin 1989; Lavinas and Capellin 1991;

Stephen 1997). Among its major accomplishments has been the legal recognition

of rural women as workers and the extension of the social security rights,

including paid maternity leave, to rural women workers, including unpaid

family workers. It has been less successful in obtaining equal rights for men

and women to land under the agrarian reform (Suarez and Liberdoni 1992).

I hypothesize that the pressing need for unity with the mixed

organizations around the demand to deepen the agrarian reform (the class-based

demand) has mitigated the demand for gender equity in land rights at the

national level. However, the organized presence of rural women in a number of

states has no doubt increased their bargaining power both within the mixed

organizations and with the agrarian reform agency, in turn facilitating the

incorporation of women as reform beneficiaries and their bargaining power

within the new agrarian reform communities (the assentamentos).

The proposed research project has the following specific objectives:

1. To undertake a detailed, historical analysis of the development of the

MMTR and of the changing nature of its demands in the two regions of Brazil

where it has been strongest, the Northeast and South;

2. To analyze the gender composition of agrarian reform beneficiaries by

region, state, movement affiliation, household characteristics, and

agricultural labor force participation;

3. To analyze the impact of women being agrarian reform beneficiaries with

respect to the success of their agrarian reform communities and gender

relations within them.

The above research agenda--necessarily involving quantitative and

qualitative research--may seem ambitious for a nine-month project; however,

the proposed research is facilitated by a number of factors, detailed below,

which should ensure its viability. As already mentioned, I have carried out

preliminary research on this topic in Brazil and have co-authored a working

paper involving a fairly comprehensive review of the relevant literature

available in English and Portuguese (Deere and Leon 1998b). To complete this

phase of the proposed project, I need to carry out more in-depth interviews

with rural women leaders as well as a systematic analysis of the content of

the publications of the various rural women's organizations. The aim is to

reconstruct the relationship of the MMTR to the mixed organizations from which

it sprung, and to discern the relative weight which it has placed on demands

for social security benefits as opposed to land rights for women in different

periods and locales.

One of the outcomes of this phase of the research will be a typology,

differentiated by region and state, of the degree of organization of rural

women and the extent to which land rights have been a specific demand of their

local and state-level organizations. The quantitative aspect of the research

is facilitated by the fact that in 1996 the agrarian reform agency undertook

the first census of agrarian reform beneficiaries. While this data set is

differentiated by sex, a gender analysis of the characteristics of the

beneficiaries has yet to be undertaken. Moreover, while one can discern

significant regional variations in the share of women reform beneficiaries

(ranging from over 16 percent in the states of Pernambuco, Paraiba, and Rio de

Janeiro to under 7 percent in states such as Rondonia and Goias), these have

yet to be correlated with such factors as women's participation in agriculture

or in the rural women's movement. Simple statistical analysis should allow me

to establish whether the incorporation of women corresponds to the post-1988

constitutional period (when gender equity was first established as a principle

of the agrarian reform) and whether women's participation is associated with

those states that have a strong rural women's movement and where the demand by

women for land has been prominent.

The recent 1995 Agricultural Census is the first one in Brazil (and one

of the few in Latin America) to have collected data on the gender of the

nation's farmers as well as of the agricultural labor force. I plan to pool

these two data sets and, through multivariate regression analysis, establish

the extent to which women's participation in agricultural production is

correlated with the strength and demands of the rural women's movement and in

turn, with their role as beneficiaries of the agrarian reform.

The quantitative work, besides providing the basis for a rigorous

analysis of the factors which have facilitated and impeded women's

incorporation as reform beneficiaries, should also facilitate the selection of

the sites for the case studies of the impact of the incorporation of women as

beneficiaries. I plan to select the two states (in the Northeast and South)

which exhibit the highest correlation between women's participation in

agricultural production, the rural women's movement and the share of women

beneficiaries. I will carry out participant observation and unstructured

interviews in four assentamentos in each state, selected as to represent the

low and high end of women's share of the membership. By holding other factors

constant, this selection should allow me to draw insights on how changes in

women's bargaining position affects the productive and organizational success

of the assentamentos as well as household relations.

The final factor which should ensure the viability of the proposed

project is that I have already met and established contact with the principal

researchers and institutions with whom I propose to be affiliated. I plan to

make my principal base of operations Rio de Janeiro since the main researchers

concerned with rural women's issues are located at three institutions there:

the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA, Instituto de Pesquisa da

Economia Aplicada); the graduate program in Sociology and Anthropology of the

Federal University of Rio de Janeiro; and the Center for Agricultural

Development of the Rural University of Rio de Janeiro. IPEA already has the

agrarian reform and agricultural censuses on its computers and I hope to

establish this as my principal affiliation through the good offices of Dr.

Lena Lavinas.

In addition, my field work in the Northeast and South should be

facilitated by the contacts which I have made with researchers at the Fundacao

Joaquim Nabuco Instituto de Pesquisa Sociais in Recife, Pernambuco, and the

Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. Also, I have already interviewed

several of the national leaders of the Articulacao Nacional de Mulheres

Trabalhadoras Rurais (ANMTR) and I would enlist their support in facilitating

further interviews, access to archives and assistance in selecting the case

study communities.

My proposed time line for the project is as follows. I plan to spend the

first five months in Rio de Janeiro carrying out the quantitative analysis.

During this period I would also make short trips to the Northeast and South to

expand the work on the history of the rural women's movement, commence the

archival research, and select the case study sites. The local-level case

studies would be carried out during the sixth and seventh months. The last

two months would be dedicated to writing up the research findings and

presenting the results at the appropriate academic and policy-relevant forums,

including the proposed host institutions.

The results of this research effort should include at least one technical

article from the quantitative work on the factors which explain women's

incorporation as reform beneficiaries; another article, drawing on the case

studies, which would explore the relationship between the likelihood of

assentamento success and the share of women beneficiaries and their enhanced

bargaining power within the household and community; and a book-length

manuscript targeted to a broad inter-disciplinary audience. I will endeavor

to publish these results in both English and Portuguese. (As my C.V. should

demonstrate, I give great importance to publishing the results of my research

in the country where I have conducted the research.)

The benefits of this project to my own intellectual and personal growth

and to the consolidation of Latin American Studies at my home institution, the

University of Massachusetts, are considerable. This project reflects my long-

standing desire to carry out research in Brazil. I studied Portuguese for

four years in college and had the opportunity to live and work in Brazil for

only one year, during 1971-72, as an Assistant Program Economist with the

Agency for International Development. I subsequently became involved in

research in the Andes, Central America and the Caribbean and only returned to

Brazil this past June after an absence of over twenty-five years. I was

pleased by how quickly I was once again able to communicate in Portuguese and

this experience convinced me that now was the time to pursue my life-long goal

of becoming fluent in that language. In addition, while I have had ample

opportunity to carry out short-term research in Latin America over the years,

I have not been able to reside in Latin America for any length of time since

carrying out my dissertation research. I am now in a position to do so, and

given the importance of Brazil within Latin America, I want to utilize my

sabbatical to increase my knowledge about this country.

At my institution, I have been the Director of the Latin American Studies

Program (now the Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies)

since 1992. While we have a talented Portuguese language and literature

faculty, few students choose Brazil as the focus of their studies because of

the lack of trained faculty within the Social Sciences. Nonetheless, interest

in Brazil has been growing both among undergraduate and graduate students.

The opportunity to retrain myself as a Brazilianist at this stage of my

academic career should allow me to incorporate the study of Brazil more

adequately into my current courses in Latin American economic development and

economic history, and to supervise honors' theses and dissertation work on

Brazil. Finally, the University of Massachusetts has exchange agreements with

five Brazilian universities, including the Federal University of Rio de

Janeiro and the Federal University of Niteroi. My proposed affiliation with

the former institution should allow me to invigorate this exchange, hopefully

contributing to lasting academic linkages between our universities.

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