'WOMEN IN DEVELOPMENT
DR ANITA SPRING
DEPT. OF ANTHROPOLOGY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
GAINESVILLE, FL 3Z611
AND THE CRISIS
T^ Q (M^AjJ
OFFICE OF WOMEN IN DEVELOPMENT
AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
WASHINGTON, DC 20523
OFFICE OF WOMEN IN DEVELOPMENT
AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
BARBARA C. LEWIS
THE VIEWS AND INTERPRETATIONS IN THIS PUBLICATION ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR
AND SHOULD NOT BE ATTRIBUTED TO THE AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
OR TO ANY INDIVIDUAL ACTING IN ITS BEHALF.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION by Barbara C. Lewis /
I. Women's Invisibility in Rural Development Planning . . .. 1
II. Rural Women As an International Issue: WCARRD, Rome 1979. .. 4
Text from WCARRD Declaration of Principles, IV,
"Integration of Women in Rural Development". . . . 7
III. The Eight Essays . . . . . . . . . . 9
FEMALES, FARMING AND FOOD: RURAL DEVELOPMENT AND WOMEN'S
PARTICIPATION IN AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION SYSTEMS
by Rae Lesser Blumberg 24
I. Introduction . . .. . . . . . . . . 24
Development with Equity . . . . . . . . .. 25
Food and the Fear of Famine. .. . . . . . 28
Women, the True "Invisible Hand" in the World
Food System. . . . . . ....... . 31
II. The Cultivation Crunch . . . . . .. . . . . 34
The Rich Get Tractors and the Poor Get Moving . . . 36
Manipulating Fertility, Geographic Mobility, Family
and Female Labor for Survival. . . . . . . 39
III. Women, Farm Work and Farm Wealth around the World. . . ... 43
Africa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Asia. . . . . . . . . . . . . 56
Latin America . . . ........... . . 61
Middle East . . . . . . .... . . . 67
IV. Sex Division of Labor and of Resources in Rural Life:
Data Problems. ............... ... ....... 69
Sex Division of Labor in the Countryside: Short-
changing Women's Work by Statistics and
Stereotypes. . . . . . . . . . . . 69
Sex Division of Resources in the Countryside:
Questions, Not Answers, about Women's
Relative Economic Power. . . . . . . . . 73
V. Brief Evolutionary Overview of Women's Power, Production
and Place. . . . . . . . . . . . . 78
Horticultural Societies . . . . . . . .... 79
Agrarian Societies . . . . . . . . . 80
VI. Conclusions and Policy Recommendations . . .
Recognizing Rural Women's Economic Roles
and Resources. . . . . .
Preserving and Enhancing Rural Women's Economic
Roles and Resources. . . . . . .
WOMEN IN AGRICULTURE: AMERICAN FARM WOMEN IN GLOBAL
PERSPECTIVE by Frances Hill
I. Women's Access to Agriculture. . . . . ..
Kinship and Contract . . . . . . .
Women and Farm Work . . . . . . .
Women and Farm Management . . . . . .
Access to Agricultural Organizations. . . .
II. Farm Women and Public Policies . . . .
Women and Rural Development . . . .
S. . . 82
S. . 82
S. . . 84
S. . .. .. 128
. . . .136
III. Policy Recommendations . . . . . . . .. 138
NEW MODELS FOR AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH AND EXTENSION: THE
NEED TO INTEGRATE WOMEN by Jacqueline A. Ashby 144
I. Women and Agricultural Extension: A Review of the
Current Situation. . . . . . . . . ... . 147
Why Women Must Be a Target Group for Delivery
of Agricultural Extension Services . . . .... 147
Extension Services for Rural Women. . . . . . . 152
Women's Access to Agricultural Extension Services:
Case Studies from Sub-Saharan Africa . . . ... .158
II. Problems of Increasing Women's Participation in
Agricultural Research and Extension Service . . . .
New Directions in Agricultural Research and
Extension Strategies . . . . . . . .
Design of "Appropriate" Research Extension Strategies:
Special Problems of Women at the Farm Level ..
The Need for Female Extension Agents . . . .
Problems of Education and Training. . . . . .
III. Policy Implications . . . . . ........
General Principles . . . . .........
Training. . . . . .. . . . . ..
Communication Strategies at the Field Level . . .
Summary and Conclusions . . . . . . . .
WOMEN'S LEGAL ACCESS TO LAND by Christina C. Jones 196
I. Principles of Land Reform and Women's Independence . . . 197
Nature of Women's Rights in Land. . . . . . .. 200
II. Exclusion of Women from Land Ownership or Land Use
under Land Reform Laws . . . .. . . . . . 210
III. Harmonizing Family Law of Maintenance with Land Reform Law . 215
IV. Conclusions and Recommendations. . . . . . . . .232
ACCESS OF RURAL GIRLS TO PRIMARY EDUCATION IN THE THIRD WORLD:
STATE OF THE ART, OBSTACLES, AND POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
by Constantina Safilios-Rothschild 239
I. State of the Art . . . . . . . . ... . . 240
The Statistical Picture ............... .240
The Importance of an Elementary School Education. . . 244
II. Obstacles to Rural Women's Attending and Completing
Elementary Education . . . . . . . . . . .247
III. Factors Facilitating Rural Girls' Access to Formal
Education . . . . . . . . . . . . .257
IV. Policy Recommendations ................ .. .259
JOBS FOR WOMEN IN RURAL INDUSTRY AND SERVICES by Ruth Dixon 71
I. The Economically Active Female Population:
A Statistical Portrait . . . . . . . .. ... 274
II. Opportunities for Expanding Nonfarm Employment . . ... .282
Nonagricultural Production. . . . . . ..... .284
Sales Workers . . . . . . . . .294
Service Workers . . . . . . . . . 297
Administrative, Clerical, and Professional Occupations. .299
III. A Strategy for Mobilizing Rural Women for Employment ... .301
Employment for Whom?. . . . ... . . . .302
Building on Current Production. . . . . . . 303
Mobilizing Groups of Women Workers. . . . . .304
Credit and Technical Assistance . . . . .... .307
Labor-Saving Technology . . . . . . ..... .310
Control Over Earnings . . .. . .......... .311
IV. Conclusions. ............ . . . .. . . 313
WOMEN'S ORGANIZATIONS IN RURAL DEVELOPMENT by Kathleen A. Staudt 329
I. Introduction . . . . . . . ......... 330
Political Empowerment: The Essential Resource . . .332
II. Women's Participation: The Literature . . ..... . . .333
Mass Participation . . . .. . . . .334
Elite Participation . .. . .343
Appointed, Career Positions .. . . . . * * 346
Political Parties . . . ... . . * 350
III. Obstacles to Increased Women's Organizational Participation.
The Political System . . . . . . . ....
Building and Strengthening Organizations . . . .
Joining the Mainstream: Cooptation, Dependence
and Other Risks . . . . . .......
Sex Separate v. Integrated Organizations . ......
Competing Loyalties: Elites within Larger Groups ..
Organizations Skills Development . . . .
IV. Conclusion . . . . . . . . ... . . . 386
V. Policy Recommendations . . . . . .
Organizational Strategies . . . .
Employment/Institutional Strategies . .
Data Collection . . . . ....
WOMEN IN FORESTRY FOR LOCAL COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT:
MING GUIDE by Marilyn W. Hoskins
I. Forestry for Local Community Development .
II. Women in Forestry . . . . . ..
Fuel Use . . . . . . . .
Other Forestry Interests and Expertise.
Forestry Activities . . .......
Local Needs . . . ........
Taboos . . . . . . . .
III. Problems and Issues . . . . ..
Competition for Land . . ....
Timeframe . .. . .........
Spatial Considerations . . ....
Unfamilarity with Forestry . .
IV. Project Ideas . . ........
Participation . . . . . .
Benefits . . . .. ....
Indicators for Project and Area Selection
Two Basic Approaches to Forestry Projects
. . . . 402
V. Project Management Agreement . . . . . . ... .440
Goals . . . . . . . . ... . ..... 441
Integrated Resources Use Plan .......... .442
Start-up and Maintenance. ............ . . 443
Benefit Distribution. . . . . . . .444
Evaluation and Follow-up . . . . . . .445
VI. Conclusions. . . . . . . ...... . . .446
Appendix: Suggested Format for a Project Management Plan . .. .448
DO NOT REMOVE STAPLE
RESERVE DESK ORIGINAL
NEW MODELS FOR AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH AND EXTENSION:
THE NEED TO INTEGRATE WOMEN
Jacqueline A. Ashby, Ph.D.
Investments in agricultural research and extension systems are cur-
rently seen as crucial to the success of the new agriculture-led growth
strategies of development (Mellor 1976). A central objective is to
redress the inequities arising both from the transfer of technology which
has proved inappropriate to the needs of many low-income farmers, and
from agricultural extension strategies which have concentrated delivery
of technical innovations to an elite of "progressive farmers."
Equitable distribution of increased agricultural productivity
requires new adaptive research to develop technologies appropriate to the
agro-socioeconomic conditions facing low-income farmers. In addition,
new organizational strategies of extension are essential if the majority
of low-income farmers are to utilize new technologies rapidly. The
success of these new strategies depends fundamentally on the increased
participation of farmers at all stages of the technology development
and extension process (Whyte 1977; Hildebrand 1978; Kere 1978).
This paper argues that new agricultural research and extension
strategies need explicitly to encompass women as participants, if objec-
tives of increased agricultural productivity and of equity are to be
attained. This paper is a cross-national survey of the current needs,
problems and policy measures associated with developing agricultural
extension services which benefit women as well as men.
Rural women constitute the majority (70 to 90 percent) of women in
developing countries; to varying degrees they are currently significant,
if often unrecognized, participants in agricultural production. In this
paper the participation of women connotes full access to decision-making,
institutional services and resources involved in improving all aspects of
agricultural production, so that women benefit from the labor and skills
Agricultural extension services are necessarily oriented primarily
to a clientele with control over the productive resources required for
agriculture-in particular, land. Agricultural technologies and the
organization of extension delivery systems usually affect those who
contribute only labor to agricultural production by increasing or
diminishing their employment opportunities in agriculture. But such
laborers, lacking control over other resources such as land and capital,
are de facto excluded from direct participation as clients of agricul-
tural extension services. The problems of the landless can be addressed
only indirectly by technical improvements in existing modes of agricul-
tural production; other policy measures relevant to the problems of the
landless fall outside the mandate of this paper. Our discussion of women
as clients of agricultural extension services is necessarily limited to
those women in households with access to land.
Agricultural extension conventionally means primarily the communi-
cation of technical information and training of farmers in new agricul-
tural practices. In actuality, the effectiveness of any agricultural
extension strategy depends fundamentally on the usefulness to farmers of
the technologies which it extends (Rice 1971). New intervention strategies
to improve the flow of appropriate technologies to low income farmers
require a blurring of conventional distinctions between research and
extension. A first step is the development of improved information
systems linking research, extension and agricultural producers. The
design of agricultural extension strategies therefore includes a two-way
communication system, in which the delivery of information and training
to farmers is complemented by feedback on farmer uses of new technologies.
The paper first reviews the major features of women's participation
in agricultural production and in existing extension services. Second,
women's effective participation in extension services serves as evaluation
criterion regarding new directions in the design of agricultural research-
extension systems. Finally, in the light of these findings and of the
nature of women's contribution to agricultural production, factors
influencing the efficacy of alternative policy strategies are discussed.
I. Women and Agricultural Extension: A Review of the Current Situation
We must first briefly review why the delivery of agricultural exten-
sion services specifically to women merits attention given current rural
development objectives. Also considered is how extension service design
has both neglected women's agricultural activities and militated against
women's access to practices increasing production.
Why Women Must Be a Target Group for Delivery of Agricultural
In order to understand why and in what social contexts the access
of women to agricultural extension services is an issue, it is first
necessary to identify their roles in agricultural production. In any
given country or region of the world a classification of women's economic
contribution to agricultural production has to be made with reference to
cross-cutting distinctions of social class, marital status, ethnic or
religious identity. Some of the main features of such a classification
outlined here provide a framework for exploring some fundamental policy
questions later in the paper.
One basic consideration is the extent of agricultural work done by
women. In Sub-Saharan Africa, women undertake 60 to 80 percent of culti-
vation in more than half of all societies and more than 50 percent in
another quarter of these societies (UN 1972). Only in one-fifth of these
societies do men play the major role (Goody and Buckley 1973). In
agricultural systems outside Africa, where men are more active in culti-
vation, women are still significant contributors to field labor. In
Asian agriculture, female labor is estimated to account for about one-
fifth of family labor, and as much as one-third of wage labor (Boserup
1970). However, case studies of rural women in India suggest that women
contribute at least 50 percent of all agricultural labor, and that this
estimate would be much higher if women's work in animal husbandry and
farm support activities at home were taken into account (Chakravorty
Even in cultures where there are norms of female seclusion, women
and children are not prohibited from field labor and may be recruited for
planting, weeding and harvesting activities: one study estimates that
agriculture employs more than a third of economically active women in
Moslem countries (Mernissi 1976). For example, a field survey in Egypt
indicates that 44 percent of rural women are engaged in agricultural
production; in the Sudan 78 percent of the female labor force is estimated
as working in agriculture, forestry and fishing; in India census data
show 80 percent of the female labor force engaged in agriculture (Ahdab-
Yehia 1977; Chahil 1977). Whether or not women contribute extensively
to field labor, in almost all farming systems women are engaged in unpaid
"household" labor (ignored in statistical estimates) contributing to
agricultural production: for example, post harvest processing, food
preservation and storage, water carrying, fuel and fodder collection,
vegetable gardening and care of livestock.
Aggregate statistics tend to obscure the variations in female
labor participation in agriculture dependent on patterns of socio-
economic stratification. Women from low-income households are found
working full-time in field labor (particularly as hired labor) in
societies where socio-economically advantaged women may withdraw
seasonally or completely from such work (Boserup 1970; Hull 1977; Stoler
1976; Hart 1978). Boserup (1970) identifies four types of rural female
work patterns which may be correlated with social class position:
(1) socio-economically advantaged women who may be purely domestic,
sometimes secluded; (2) primarily domestic women, who participate in
agricultural labor to a limited extent on family small-holdings;
(3) active women farm workers, who contribute to a larger proportion of
family agricultural production and income in poor families, and may work
as hired labor for others; (4) independent women farm workers or farm
managers, who cannot expect to be supported by a husband, and are
responsible for almost all aspects of production. Although such gener-
alizations are abstracted from a complex reality, they indicate the kinds
of cultural and class-related variations in the sexual division of labor
to be considered in designing extension strategies.
The sexual division of labor does not necessarily indicate where
authority over production processes within the farm household resides.
Women are now widely recognized as important contributors to decision-
making and farm management in traditional agriculture. Again the extent
of women's decision-making powers with respect to different aspects of
production processes, types of crop or inputs, varies enormously across
farming systems and across social classes within a farming system. The
impact of the sexual division of labor on decision-making responsibilities
is clearest in those African societies where each wife in the polygynous
family economy constitutes a separate unit of production (Levine 1970).
However one survey of farm decision-making in seven African and Latin
American countries finds women's influence to be significant in all
aspects of agricultural production. This survey finds that even where
women's active participation in farming appears to be relatively low
women may have the decisive influence over farming matters (Riegelman,
et al. 1976). Similarly in Asian households where males traditionally
mediate between the household and the outside world, women may manage
family finances and dominate decision-making processes (Stoler 1976
[Indonesia]; Reining 1977 [Philippines]; Misch 1975 [Korea]; Jayasat
Moreover, the declining viability of small-scale agriculture in many
low income countries means that women increasingly bear primary respon-
sibility for farm production decisions. Population pressure on the land
and outmigration of male labor in search of off-farm employment result
in increasing members of actual or de facto female-headed households in
rural areas. Recent estimates of the number of "potential" female house-
hold heads (i.e., widowed, divorced, separated or single mothers who are
not de facto female household heads) for 74 developing countries range
from 10 to 48 percent of all households, and suggest that this phenomenon
is widespread with no distinct geographical or cultural clusterings
(Buvinic and Youssef 1978). For selected African countries, estimates of
rural female headed households are as high as one-third to 40 percent of
all households. Studies in Asia and Latin America suggest that the
emergence of large scale commercial agriculture, seasonal agricultural
wage labor, opportunities for male non-farm employment and population
pressure on subsistence small holdings are all related to the breakdown
of the traditional division of labor, leaving women responsible for
almost all agricultural tasks. These pressures toward the outmigration
of male family members tend to concentrate and increase the incidence
of female-headed households among the lowest income rural groups.
Finally, there is some evidence that extensive male outmigration
may be selective, leaving the less educated, less skilled and less able
men in the agricultural sector, so that skill and knowledge may be con-
centrated among women farmers (Moock 1976). A rising proportion of
female farm managers among the rural poor makes it all the more imperative
that agricultural extension services reach women; otherwise the benefits
of improved agricultural practices will not reach many low-income farm
Not only the extent of women's participation in agricultural produc-
tion, but the types of production for which they have primary responsi-
bility are important. Increased production of basic food crops and
technical improvements in crop storage and food processing are two areas
critical to the solution of the world food problem (Wortman 1978). In Sub-
Saharan Africa, increased production of cash/export crops has progressively
relegated subsistence food crop production almost exclusively to women
(Boserup 1970; Reining 1975). The shift of men to large-scale commercial
agriculture and non-agricultural employment (as discussed above) has the
same effect (Deere 1976; Bourque and Warren n.d.). But this pattern is by
no means universal. In Asian wet rice cultivation male and female labor
are required for subsistence production, and female labor accounts for a
significant proportion of that involved in commercial export production
(Buchanan 1968; Boserup 1970). However in Asian dry land farming systems,
women are often primarily responsible for food crops other than rice.
The failure to recognize that women dominate post-harvest produc-
tion processes in the vast majority of farming systems can negate
efforts to increase available food supplies. For example, in Nepal
women, responsible for milling and storage, rejected high-yielding
varieties of maize because of inferior milling and storage qualities
(IADS 1976). This was initially viewed as irrational behavior to be
overcome by greater extension efforts; the failure to consider technology
related to women's work caused this erroneous analysis. Clearly, agri-
cultural extension service design must take into account the extent of
women's labor participation in agricultural production, their influence
in decision-making and farm-management, particularly their responsibility
for basic food crop production and post-harvest production processes.
Extension Services for Rural Women
Historically, the failure to recognize women's extensive involvement
in agricultural production and management has resulted in extension
strategies designed for women as a clientele distinct from men. These
strategies have focused primarily on women's reproductive, child care
and homemaker activities.
The persistence of sex-segregated models of extension programs is
shown by UNESCO surveys of the access of rural women to education. A
1964 survey found that in out-of-school programs for women in low-income
countries, home economics subject matter predominated, with health educa-
tion second, and rural economy, accounting, and cooperative management
as subsidiary activities. The only specific agricultural content iden-
tified was kitchen gardening (UNESCO 1964). A subsequent survey in 1973
found similarly that home economics, hygiene, nutrition, child care
and sewing were most often offered by extension programs for women
Pervasive concentration on women's domestic role to the detriment of
agricultural training is evidenced by numerous country case studies of
extension programs (Ahmed and Coombs 1975; Lele 1975; Sheffield 1972).
One study argues that in Africa "the goal of extension services has
frequently been not the increase in farm level productivity of women
but rather finding ways to reduce their participation in agriculture
through promotion of more homebound activities" (Lele 1975: 77). How-
ever, the exclusion of women from agricultural training is not necessarily
because women are excluded from the target population, but because
program design militates against women's attendance at training courses.
In East Africa, for example, most farmer training centres have a general
policy of offering training to the whole farm family, including wives,
but find that women are seldom able to leave the responsibilities of
household work and child care to attend residential courses (Barwell
1975). A recent survey of farm training centres in Asia shows that out
of nine countries which provided for female enrollment only one, Sri
Lanka, had successfully recruited women for farmer training (UNESCO 1975).
In general extension training for women tends to relegate them to
non-agricultural activities. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where, as we have
seen, female farming is of major importance, extension programs for rural
women have historically concentrated almost exclusively on women's home-
making activities (Heasman 1966). A more recent estimate reveals the same
tendency (see Table 1).
The perception in Botswana that agricultural training is important
Table 1. Estimated Access of Women to Non-formal Education in Africa
Area of Training
Arts and crafts
Units of Participationa
aPercentage of training time allocated to women
Source: "Women, population and rural development Africa" ECA/FAO,
primarily to males (in a farming system where women do over 70 percent
of all crop work) is illustrated by Table 2.
In rural training centers 70 percent of all courses offered were
agriculture-related; in all but one (the 4H course for young people),
women participants were a significant minority. Moreover only 50 percent
of women trainees were in agriculture-related courses compared with 88
percent of men trainees. A similar example is the farmer training
course in Kenya, in which approximately one-third of the trainees have
been women. However, lessons for women concentrate on a wide range of
Table 2. Male and Female Enrollment at Rural Training Centre Courses
A. Type of Course
B. (A) as percent
of all courses
C. Percent of Participants:
Source: adapted from C. A. Bond (1974).
Total 100 60 40
home economics topics, and agricultural aspects comprise at most 30
percent of the course (Staudt 1975).
It might appear that where purdah (female seclusion) is practiced,
"domestic science" training is most appropriate. However, conceptions
of this domestic role derive largely from western notions and ignore
how much of women's time in the home is occupied by agriculture produc-
tion processes. For example, a study of Muslim village women in
Comilla district, Bangladesh found that in seven out of twelve months
the major proportion of women's time was devoted to threshing, drying,
cleaning and husking of rice, jute processing, care of poultry and live-
stock, fruit and vegetable gardening, fishing, and food preservation
(Sattar 1975). Yet extension programs for such women include almost no
training related to these activities. Table 3 shows the percent of
courses and course participants by type of course offered from 1966-1973
for rural women in Comilla district by the Women's Education and Home
Development pilot project. The gap between the agriculture-related
activities occupying women's time and the training offered is apparent.
The sex-segregated model for extension programs has relegated
"women's programs" to low status. Often token programs with low budgets are
little encouraged by government bureaucracies, donor agencies and, as
a result, by community level leadership. These programs are poorly
adapted to the economic needs of rural women and to the constraints on
their time. This in turn has limited extension programs' effectiveness
in reaching the mass of low-income rural women even in the home economics
sphere (UNICEF 1975; see also Hull 1977 [Java]).
Conventional extension programs for rural women have in the past
tended to serve primarily an elite clientele. Nonetheless, there are
Table 3. Women's Education and Home Development Pilot Project,
Type of Course 1. 1966-1969 2. 1969-1970 3. 1971-1973
(a) percent (b) percent (a) percent (b) percent (a) percent (b) percent
courses partici- courses partici- courses partici-
(N-244) pants (N-305) pants (N-190) pants
(N-674) (N-646) (N-665)
% Z Z Z Z %
1. Health and
related 48 31 34 49 86 64
2. Handicrafts 5 10 5 15 12 30
gardening 1 5 0 0 2 6
literacy) 46 54 61 36 0 0
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Source: Annual Reports 1966-1973, Academy for Rural Development, Comilla.
programs for women which, despite emphasis on women's domestic role,
have experimented with extension strategies: these can serve as
valuable models regarding agricultural services to women (see concluding
Women's Access to Agricultural Extension Services: Case Studies
from Sub-Saharan Africa
We have seen that extension services for rural women do not
typically involve any substantive recognition of their role in agriculture.
There are, however, other ways in which agricultural extension is oriented
toward a primarily male clientele. First, traditional norms of male-
female interaction in many societies inhibit women's contacts with
unrelated members of the opposite sex, including male extension agents.
Second, where women's work is largely in the subsistence food crop sector,
they are less "visible" to agricultural extension services concerned with
commercial crop production. Third, female farm managers whose husbands
emigrate to seek work are most likely to be low-income, and thus least
likely to be sought out by extension services following a "progressive
farmer" strategy. Fourth, extension staff, even if cognizant of women's
agricultural activities, often have the western view of male farmer
systems, and thus do not actively seek out contacts with women farmers.
The extent of systematic sex-biased access to agricultural services
where agricultural extension is oriented toward a male clientele is
sparsely documented. Studies of agricultural extension impact typically
do not distinguish clients by sex. The assumption is that women's needs
in relation to agricultural production-if they are recognized at all-
are identified with and served by extension contacts with men. The
error of this assumption is demonstrated by data on women agricultural
producers' access to agricultural services in three case studies of
farming areas in which a substantial proportion of farms were managed
by women or in which women performed the major proportion of agricul-
Table 4 summarizes the major findings of these case studies on
women's access to different types of extension contact. In each case the
data show that women enjoy sharply lower levels of contact with and
knowledge of extension services. In the Botswana case, most extension
contact measured is from a pupil farmer scheme; those women registered
in the scheme were frequently widows whose husbands had joined the
scheme (Bond 1974: 50). Only a small number of women are registered in
the scheme in their own right. The Kenyan case study shows more pro-
nounced inequalities between female managed and joint managed farms.
Women farm managers were found to be particularly disadvantaged with
respect to more valuable services, training and loans (Staudt 1976).
Not only do independent women farm managers have little real access
to agricultural services. Within families, women depend largely on
extension contacts with male family members for access to agricultural
information, as the data from the Tanzanian case study show. In house-
holds which had contacts with extension services, only 0 to 15 percent
of all types of contact were directly with the wife. Moreover, the
study found that in households where a given recommendation was known,
husbands were 1 to 5 times more likely than wives to report this
knowledge (Fortmann 1977: 16). Apparently, extension contact with
husbands in no way ensures that information is transmitted to wives.
This is particularly harmful where, as in this case, women are frequently
responsible for applying improved practices (Fortmann 1977: Table 4).
TABLE 4. Agricultural Extension Contacts with Hales and Females: Findings From Three African Case Studies
1. Kenya:a 2. Botswana:b 3. Tanannia:c
Percent each type Percent of contacts Percent of contacts
farm contacted with each type farm with husband or wife
Female Joint Female Male
Type of Extension Contact Managed Hanaged Managed Present Husbands Wife Both
Contact Recipient Farm Z Farms Z Farms X Farm X only X only Z Z
1. Extension agent visit 51 72 41 59 24 0 76
2. Attend demonstration plot
or meeting 52 59 44 56 52 7 40
3. Received extension training 5 20 44 55
4. Knew of or applied for
credit 1 15
5. Received credit 0 3 -- ----
6. Acquired seed from exten-
sion agent -- 24 76
7. Knows of extension agent -- 48 52 53 2 44
8. Discussed recommendation -- -- -- 38 7 55
9. Listens to extension
radio program 42 58 50 15 35
S mg:rat *K.A. Staudt (1976) Tables 1,
bC. A. Bond (1974) Tables 23,
CL. Fortmann (1977) Table 7.
Possible explanations for sex-related differences in receipt of
agricultural extension services are that women farmers lack resources
to adopt new practices, are more subsistence-oriented, and are inherently
less innovative. However, Staudt (1975, 1976) shows that in the Kenyan
sample sex-related differences persist under a number of controls for
land size, subsistence orientation and timeliness of adoption of new
Sex-related differences in extension contact and information trans-
mission often lower productivity. In Tanzania, women were found to be
underrepresented by a factor of 5 in a program promoting an improved
maize package and women also had significantly lower levels of knowledge
of how to utilize the maize package (Fortmann 1976). In the Kenyan case,
27 percent of farms with a man present were early adopters of hybrid
maize compared with 19 percent of female managed farms (Staudt 1976:
One result of sex-biased extension of new technologies is that men
learn to operate new types of equipment so that women lose control over
production processes and income derived from them, or experience a decline
in employment opportunities as their labor is displaced (Rubbo 1975
[Colombia]; Hoskins 1978 [Upper Volta]; Barres 1977 [Niger]; Tinker 1976
[Kenya, Nigeria, Mexico, Sarawak]; Stoler 1976 [Indonesia]). In other
instances new farming practices have led to increase in cash crops, de-
priving women of land previously farmed by them for food, or diminishing
their access to the returns to their own labor when cash-cropping becomes
a male-controlled enterprise (Palmer 1977 [Ivory Coast]; Cloud 1977
[Sahel]; Hoskins 1978 [Upper Volta]; Stavrakis 1978 [Belize]).
In addition, increased acreages or labor-intensive practices demanding
more female labor often reduce women's production of other crops or
their ability to engage in other income-earning activities (Hanger and
Morris 1973 [Kenya]; Stoler 1976 [Indonesia]; Palmer 1977 [Gambia, Sierra
Leone]; Boserup 1970; UNICEF 1972 [Central and West Africa]). This may
increase hardship among low-income households dependent on female
earning capacity for as much as one-third of their income, and for the
provision of food staples. In low-income countries, changing conditions
of women's work appear to have lowered food availability and nutritional
levels in their families and communities (PAG 1977).
Although the evidence is fragmentary, these case studies indicate
a trend towards declining productivity of women relative to men in
parts of the developing world. There is also evidence that the rele-
gation of women's labor to the subsistence sector is exacerbating
inequalities in productivity between the sexes. Such inequalities in
productivity between the sexes reinforce the vicious cycle of rural
poverty and over-population.
This process is illuminated by a theory of wages postulating that
workers must be paid at least a subsistence minimum in order to survive
and reproduce. Maintenance of the subsistence sector via the labor of
women and children means that wages can be collapsed by an amount equal
to the net value of that subsistence production (de Janvry 1975). As
women and children become the main productive agents in subsistence agri-
culture while men work in the cash economy, women's labor provides cheap
services which low wage males could not otherwise afford. Purchasing
power in the rural population is thus depressed, which in turn undercuts
efforts to stimulate aggregate demand in the non-agricultural sector of
the rural economy. The need for children's labor in the subsistence
sector and for numerous children to support parents in their old age
makes increased family size a rational response to poverty. Thus,
marginal subsistence production by women and children perpetuates the
cycle of poverty through low purchasing power and population growth,
despite development efforts.
II. Problems of Increasing Women's Participation in Agricultural
Research and Extension Service
This section of the paper examines: (1) problems relating to the
design of appropriate technology and extension strategies at the farm
level; (2) issues related to the integration of women at the institutional
level, particularly as extension staff; and (3) problems related to
education and training at all levels, or investments in women's human
New Directions in Agricultural Research and Extension Strategies
To increase the agricultural productivity and welfare of low-income
farmers requires immediate short-run improvements in their capacity to
produce enough food to support their families. In this context, one
definition of "appropriate technology" is improved practices which can
be adopted rapidly and under farmers' present agro-socioeconomic condi-
tions (Hildebrand 1978). The enormous diversity of local agro-socio-
economic conditions among traditional farming systems is now recognized
as a significant constraint on the transfer of borrowed agricultural
technology. As a result, much international agricultural research now
emphasizes adaptive research in developing technology suitable for
diverse local conditions (Moseman 1970). Identifying adaptive research
priorities requires institutionalized information flows between the farm
and the research station. Information about the diversity of farm-
level constraints to which technology must be adapted is a precondition
for the development of appropriate technology. It is the farmers them-
selves who test the viability of recommended technologies and also
modify and adapt technology to specific conditions (Hildebrand 1978;
Evenson 1974). Therefore continuous "feed forward" and "feedback"
regarding farm-level constraints and farmers' experience with new tech-
nologies is critically important to efforts to deliver appropriate
technology rapidly to the majority of farmers.
Adaptive research design of extension strategies requires that
research and extension efforts be organized as a continuum (Hildebrand
1978). Extension agents learn from farmers in the sense of identifying
farm-level constraints; this is as essential as their traditional role
of delivering technical information to producers (Lele 1975).
The characteristics of women's participation in agriculture are an
integral component of the location-specific constraints to which tech-
nology and extension must be adapted. This requires looking not only at
the level of the household unit but at production relations and access
to assets between the sexes as well. Male-oriented extension strategies
diminishing the agricultural productivity of women ultimately limit
productivity in the agricultural sector as a whole.
Design of "Appropriate" Research-Extension Strategies: Special
Problems of Women at the Farm Level
Where a significant number of women are autonomous farmers or farm
managers, their particular opportunity structures are clearly important.
However, within other types of family structure, the sexual division of
labor, of income disposal, or of responsibilities for providing certain
types of produce or material goods to the family also materially affect
women's incentives and ability to benefit from agricultural services.
Significant variations exist not only between societies, but also
between classes within societies. In rural Asia and in other peasant
societies, the sexual division of labor and control over resources are
often a function of class position, with greater autonomy among poorer
women. Sex roles appear to be flexible or adaptive depending on the
income generating opportunities available to members of either sex (see
for example, Moses 1977 [West Indies]; Kandyoti 1977 [Turkey]; Hull 1977;
Stoler 1977 [Indonesia]).
The diversity of customary modes of allocating resources and rights
between the sexes in agricultural production means that each agricultural
production system has unique implications for the resource allocation
strategies women are likely to pursue, and the benefits (or costs) they
are likely to incur from a particular agricultural innovation or exten-
sion strategy. However, there are four general questions which will
guide the design of specific extension strategies: (1) who controls
strategic resources; (2) who benefits from new practices; (3) who actually
implements new practices; and (4) who is penalized by new practices.
Each of these will be discussed in turn.
1. In production relations between the sexes, who controls strategic
assets-land, labor capital--in the sense of making allocative de-
cisions? What is the relevant unit for communication purposes and
decision making-husband and wife, women only, or men only?
For example, in some areas of Africa women may be solely responsible
for production on land over which they have usufructory rights but not
rights of disposal. Decisions to plant new crops or to purchase agricul-
tural inputs can in some cases be made only with permission of the husband.
In this respect women may face special problems analogous to those of
tenants or sharecroppers whose ability to adopt new agricultural prac-
tices is constrained by relationships with landowners controlling the
allocation of land and other inputs.
Where women contribute labor, they often have only limited rights
over produce (Boserup 1970; Barres 1977; Hoskins 1978; Bourque and
Warren n.d.). Even where women control personal income from farming or
trading, their financial obligations for household support (food,
clothing or schooling for children) curtail their possible investments
in agriculture. For example, data on farmers' expenditure of income
from cattle sales in south-eastern Botswana show that women managers
spent almost 100 percent of this income on food or education, and none
in agriculture, whereas male respondents spent up to one-third of this
income in agriculture. This study also suggests that lack of cash for
seed, hiring labor or oxen for ploughing often delayed women managers'
planting decisions; other farms were less subject to these constraints
(Bond 1974). Women's limited control over income and their obligatory
expenditures thus affect their ability to accumulate capital and the
kinds of farm investment decisions they can make.
2. Who is likely to receive the benefits--and therefore to have the in-
centive to adopt new practices? This may not be identical with con-
trol over strategic resources or with who actually uses new practices.
Where women have only usufructory rights over land, they may not be moti-
vated to make substantial cash or labor investments in crops which only
yield an economic return over a number of years. For example, the Niger
Animation Project, women refused to plant fruit trees because these
would belong to their husbands. Women's investment decisions were here
dictated by concern for security within the context of marital insta-
ability: thus they preferred to invest cash in livestock-which they
owned-rather than in field crop production. In contrast women ini-
tiated the adoption of improved planting tools, although men use the
tools for planting, because women were more motivated to maximize yields on
their small food plots (Barres 1976). In this situation, a new technique
should be communicated to women-its beneficiaries--although men would
in fact use the technique. Where cash crops are controlled by men, women
have little incentive to plant them. In this situation, women have
proved unwilling to contribute labor to new cash crops because they
benefit only peripherally (DeWilde 1967; Apthorpe 1971).
3. Who is likely to implement new practices-i.e., who actually does the
work? For whom should the technology be usable in the sense of time
and energy constraints? Therefore, for whom should practical
training in the use of new farming techniques be designed?
Firstly, patterns of women's time allocation may be a critical
constraint. Women from low-income households are most likely to work
long hours per day and more days per year in agricultural and domestic
tasks; thus they are least able to benefit from labor intensive tech-
nologies or to participate in time-consuming extension services. Secondly,
where women do not participate in decisions about the adoption of new
practices, it may still be women who actually implement them. In this
case practical knowledge about the use of new practices should be com-
municated directly to women.
4. Who is likely to be penalized by the introduction of an innovation?
What compensatory adjustments need to be made in the farming system
or in production relations between the sexes?
Problems relevant here are illustrated by the introduction of an
hydraulic oil press into a Nigerian village. Traditionally women ex-
tracted the oil. However, the daily time schedule for using the hydraulic
press did not coincide with women's work routines. Also, the press was
designed for use by men, so that women could use it only with an
increased labor force. Finally, all the oil extracted belonged to the
men. As a result the majority of women did not use the hydraulic
press (Janelid 1975). In this case the technology design and the exten-
sion procedure were both faulty because the customary division of labor
and rights over produce were disregarded.
Labor-saving technologies for women's work-in post-harvest proces-
sing, or water carrying for example-are often advocated to free women's
time for more productive tasks. However, even such apparently simple
tasks as water carrying can involve a hierarchical division of labor
among women which is related to social class position. One study
describes four types of women involved in fetching water from the village
well: (1) the socio-economically advantaged who draw and carry their
own water; (2) the advantaged who carry their own, but pay other women
to draw it; (3) the socio-economically disadvantaged who are paid for
drawing water; and (4) the disadvantaged who are paid for both drawing
and carrying water (Barres 1977). In tasks providing income to socio-
economically disadvantaged women, new labor-saving technology may benefit
the more advantaged at the expense of the least advantaged (see Stoler
1977 for a similar example involving displacement of rice pounding labor
of low-income women). In the water-carrying, women would not take con-
certed action to improve the water supply system. Thus, a viable exten-
sion strategy required some compensatory innovation for the women who
stood to lose income.
In summary, many of the problems relating to women's control over
factors of productioL in agriculture are not amenable to technical
solutions, nor can they be solved by adjusting communication strategies
in accordance with authority over production processes. Unless and
until such problems are tackled by legal or political avenues, they
remain constraints on women's capacity to participate in and benefit
from agricultural services. Moreover, the examples discussed here are
illustrative rather than representative. The socio-cultural specificity
of such problems underlines the importance of involving women as parti-
cipants in information "feed forward" and "feedback" processes. This in
turn poses a different set of problems regarding effective extension
communication with women.
The Need for Female Extension Agents
The provision of equal access to agricultural information and
of effective communication with women requires that current agricultural
extension staffing patterns change to include trained female workers.
Female extension field staff are needed for two reasons.
First, because traditional barriers to communication between the
sexes prevail in many cultures, men may not be reliable transmitters of
information either to or about women. Numerous ethnologies document the
distinct communication channels for members of each sex in rural societies.
This pattern prevails not only where women are traditionally secluded
(Stirling 1965; Fernea 1965) but wherever low female status inhibits
interaction between the sexes (Harding 1976; Wolf 1974). We have seen
from the Tanzanian case that communication between husband and wife is
not always an effective means of disseminating agricultural information
to women. The Niger Animation Project provides more striking evidence:
"Women may know what men discuss but they may choose to disregard this
knowledge explicitly because it was not directed to them. They do not
necessarily regard information reaching them through men as having
passed through 'legitimate' channels" (Roberts 1977: 66). In such situ-
ations, female extension workers will be able to reach women because
they can have access to local women's communication networks.
Research on the dynamics of communication processes shows that
"the most effective extension agents are those who are most like their
clients in all respects except for technical competence, about the
recommended innovation" (Rogers 1973: 58). Particularly when adoption
of new practices entails uncertainty and economic risk, individuals
tend to seek information from peers or like-individuals. Moreover, the
trustworthiness of the information source is greatly enhanced if the
potential adopters see the communicator as sharing their situation.
Thus women extension agents should clearly be recruited to work with
women. Because new agricultural technologies are often high-risk under-
takings, it is optimal that women extension staff be rural women with
practical farming experience.
There is currently growing recognition of this need to train women
for agricultural extension purposes. Recent examples are the Farm
Women's Agricultural Extension in the Ministry of Agriculture, Sri Lanka,
the training of women as agricultural extension agents by the Ministry
of Agriculture, Botswana, and plans for a special women's extension sec-
tion in the Ministry of Agriculture, Iraq. Several African countries
(Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Uganda for example) have
training programs for women as agricultural extension agents. However,
we lack systematic data on different approaches to the integration of
women into agricultural extension services; existing information is frag-
mentary. Evaluating the approaches is difficult in the face of
regional, cultural and socio-economic variation in women's roles as
agricultural producers. Moreover such efforts are often too recent
for meaningful evaluation to have occurred, or questions of effective-
ness cannot be disentangled from the inadequacy of new practices intro-
duced. Nonetheless, a brief overview of agricultural extension efforts
to use women extension staff shows that there is a not inconsiderable
history of experimentation with this idea.
Sarawak and Venezuela are instances in which agricultural services
have been provided as an integral component of extension for rural
women. Over a decade ago, a small project of the Department of Agri-
culture in Sarawak trained an experimental group of rural women in
agriculture and animal husbandry as well as the usual home economics
curriculum. After 18 months training, the women worked in teams with a
male agricultural extension officer and his wife in villages on rural
women's agricultural activities including rice production, rubber proces-
sing, fish pond development, small livestock and vegetable gardening
(Wallis 1966). A similar, but well established program utilizing women
field workers for agricultural extension is the Venezuelan home demon-
strator program. Two schools supervised by the Ministry of Agriculture
recruit mainly rural women and give them a three year course including
special training in agriculture. Approximately 120 students are gradu-
ated annually. For over a decade women demonstrators have been active in
training village women in improved agricultural techniques, including
new varieties of garden and field crops (Ruddle 1974).
The Botswana Ministry of Agriculture has had a program which
trained 13 women in agriculture from 1974-77. Despite its very small
scale, this program is of interest because it represents an explicit
shift away from the home economics conception of women extension
staff roles toward the full integration of women into normal agricultural
extension operations. Women and men have been trained in exactly the
same courses and posted and assigned duties in the same manner. A
recent evaluation of female agricultural field staff concluded that
women could do all the agricultural work required by their positions,
and that there were no significant differences in job performance between
male and female officers. Moreover most women agricultural staff appeared
to work with basically the same group of farmers as male staff (although
in a conventional "progressive" farmer program). The capacity of these
female field staff to work with farmers of both sexes and under the same
work conditions as men appears to have been established (Bond 1976).
The training of women animators by the Rural Women's Animation
project in Niger, 1966-1975, illustrates a contrasting approach. Staff
members were selected among village women by villagers. Specialized
training took place as part of their daily work, dealing with actual
village problems and women's agricultural activities, supplemented, as
needed, with periodic intensive in-service training. A total of 136
village women workers trained in agriculture and livestock worked in 23
districts in the course of the project. Extension activities of women
animators were planned on the basis of data from surveys of village women
(conducted through informal or formal meetings). Their role was generally
to relay technical information and demonstrate the use of new practices.
The effectiveness of the extension program appears to have been limited
by technical flaws in new inputs, many of which were unsuitable to local
agro-socioeconomic conditions (Roberts 1977). However, project evaluation
indicates that women animators were a key factor in arousing interest
and disseminating information about new agricultural investments among
village women previously hampered by sex-based barriers to communication
These examples demonstrate that women have worked effectively as
agricultural extension agents in a variety of socio-cultural settings.
Although more systematic data is needed on different approaches to inte-
grating women staff into extension services, this is a policy measure
which merits not tentative experimentation, but energetic implementation.
The major institutional changes required both in staffing patterns and
in the organization of extension systems will be discussed in the con-
cluding section on policy implications.
Problems of Education and Training
Investment in farmers' human capital-their literacy, schooling and
non-formal training-has been shown to be a key factor in effective dis-
semination of new agricultural technologies. Human capital skills affect
farmers' ability to acquire accurate information, to evaluate new produc-
tion processes, and to learn how to use new techniques efficiently.
Particularly in a modernizing agriculture, the complexities of adjusting
to new technical possibilities and new market forces make it difficult
for farmers to make optimal allocations of resources (Schultz 1975).
Theories of the allocative functions of human capital suggest that invest-
ments in farmers' human capital skills improve their ability to allocate
resources efficiently and contributes to rapid adoption and higher level
of productivity (Welch 1970). To the extent that human capital skills
such as literacy and schooling influence farmers' capacity to benefit fully
from agricultural extension services (see Lockheed, et al. 1977 for a
review of the empirical evidence) women agricultural producers are
likely to be severely handicapped.
At the aggregate level, the disparity between male and female
illiteracy is increasing (Tinker 1976). Table 5 shows the proportion of
women without schooling an illiterate in various countries by world
regions. As these data indicate, illiterate women are a significant
proportion of the human resources in the agricultural sector of
developing countries. This presents a serious obstacle to conventional
extension strategies which rely on minimum levels of literacy for communi-
cation with farmers. In addition, generally a minimum requirement for
admission to farmer training courses is a certain degree of literacy
or in addition some level of formal schooling (UNESCO 1975; Barwell 1977;
UNESCO 1973). In the short run, women's participation in farmer training
must continue to be severely curtailed unless communication and training
methods are drastically revised to reach illiterates.
Low rates of literacy and restricted access to schooling at all
levels also present an obstacle to the recruitment of rural women as
agricultural extension staff. Low rates of enrollment of girls resident
in rural areas at all levels of schooling indicate a very restricted pool
of potential recruits particularly given most countries' requirement that
extension staff complete one or more years of training beyond the
secondary level (UNESCO 1975; 1972).
There is moreover an acute shortage of women with agricultural
training. Very few countries include girls in secondary level voca-
tional training in agriculture (UNESCO 1973). Women are a small propor-
tion of university level agricultural students and an even smaller propor-
TABLE 5. Percent of Female Population Without Schooling and Illiterate for Selected Countries by Region of the World.
(A) () (A)3)() (A) ()
Total Femlea Rural Femlab South and Total Females Rural Femaleb Total Females Rural FemaleI
Population Population Central Population Population Population Population
Africa With no Schooling Illiterate America With no Schooling Illiterate Aela With no Schooling Illiterate
(it (Z) () I) (ngleh W
Algeria 99 9 Brazil 46 Bangladesh -
Botswana 68 65 Colombia 41c 37 India 92c 87
Egypt -- 88d Costa Rica 24c 17 Indonesia 70c 60
Kenya 89c 90 Ecuador 43 51 Korea 94c 27
Malawi 79 88 El Salvador 67 71 Malaysia 72c 52
Morocco -- 99 Cuateala 95 78 Pakistan 95 92
Nigeria -- 94d Honduras 68c 57 Philippines 22 23
Sudan 99 96d Peru 70 69 Sri Lanka 45c 35
Tanzania -- 85d Venezuela 56 39 Thailand 43 32
Tunlsia 99c 89
Uganda 86 74d
Upper Volta -- 99d
Zaire 99 86d
Zambia 79 78d
Source: UNESCO, Statistical Yearbook, 1977, Tables 1.3, 1.4.
Notes: a25 year +; b15 years +; Cpercent of rural female population percent of total fenmle population.
tion of graduates (see Table 6). Lastly, women enrolled in agricultural
training constitute a negligible proportion of the total female enroll-
ment. These data demonstrate that higher level agricultural training is
widely seen as a male pursuit. Ironically, this phenomenon is pronounced
in the African countries where the majority of farmers is women. Hence
the barriers to training women in agriculture at advanced levels include
not only women's low access to schooling at all levels, but also the
prevalence of occupational sex-stereotyping.
Another facet of the training problem is that in many countries
higher education, and even post-primary education, is strongly associated
with upward mobility and mobility out of rural areas. This appears to be
especially true for rural women (UNESCO 1973). In most developing coun-
tries institutions for secondary vocational and agricultural training
are located in urban areas. Urban-trained students tend to lose their
familiarity with local farming practices. Often training in western
views of agriculture tends to diminish their respect for local farmers
and their ability to communicate with them. Moreover, the socio-economically
advantaged women most likely to have access to schooling or even to acquire
literacy are least likely to have practical experience in or commitment
to farming as an occupation. Thus recruitment of women extension staff
with advanced training and a commitment to remaining in rural areas is
likely to be very difficult.
III. Policy Implications
The policy measures needed if women are to achieve direct access and
full benefits from agricultural research and extension services fall
under three broad headings: (1) general principles of organizational
TABLE 6. Female Enrollment in Agricultural Training at the Third Level for Selected Countries by Region of the World
(A) (B) (C) (A) (B) (C) (A) (B) (C)
Females Females in Females Females in Females Females in
as Agriculture Females as as Agriculture Females as as Agriculture Females as
Percent as Percent Percent of South and Percent as Percent Percent of Percent as Percent Percent of
of Total of Female Agriculture Central of Total of Female Agriculture of Total of Femle Agriculture
Africa Enrollment Enrollment Graduates America Enrollment Enrollment Graduates Asia Enrollment Enrollment Graduates
() () (%) (n) (%) () () (n) ( ()n (I) (n)
Algerla(1976) 15.0 1.0 11.0 (5) Argentina (1976) 22 2.7 8.5 (62) Afghanistan 2.1 1.4 0
Egypt(1974) 22.2 8.0 26.0(1639) Brazil(1974) 12 0.4 9.7(315) Bangladesh 19 2.0 0
Ethiopia(1973) 4.2 3.6 3.2(3) Costa Rica (1970) 3.5 0.2 -- India 0.7 0.07 5.2(49)
Ghana(1975) 15.0 5.9 5.0(5) Cuba(1970) 25 7.7 25(115) Indonesia 19 8 3.7 13.4(353)
Halawi(1975) 8.4 13.7 7.8(5) Ecuador(1972) 7.0 1.0 4.0(5) Korea(1976) 7.6 2.6 5.9(288)
Horocco(1975) 2.3 0.4 -- El Salvador(1975) 5.4 1.1 4.0(5) Pakistan 0.8 0.2 0.9(6)
Hlgeria(1975) 9.3 5.0 9.6(29) Cuatemala(1970) 3.1 0.8 4.6(2) Sri Lanka 30.9 2.5 30.0(19)
Sudan(1975) 11.5 5.5 6.8(20) Honduras(1975) 3.8 0.8 -- Thailand 25.7 1.9 28.9(250)
Tunisia(1976) 8.2 1.3 -- Peru(1973) 28.9 4.4 8.9(100)
Uganda(1975) 13.0 6.6 9.6(12) Uruguay(1974) 21.7 5.2
Tanzania(1975) 14.6 8.8 --
Source: UNESCO, Statistical Yearbook, 1977 Tables 5.2, 5.4
design of research-extension systems; (2) training needs; and (3) com-
munication strategies to reach women at the field level.
The heterogeneity of women as a target group is an important con-
sideration in designing policies to effect the delivery of agricultural
extension services to women. The cross-cultural and intra-cultural
complexity of sexual divisions of labor and decision-making in agricul-
tural production means that no single policy strategy can be applied.
Hence any assessment of policy alternatives requires identification of
women's specific sex role and class-related situations; these variables
define distinct target populations among women, which may in turn neces-
sitate alternate extension strategies. One must first ask (1) what is
the nature of women's labor participation; (2) what access and control
do women have over strategic resources-land, labor and capital, and what
is their role in decision-making; (3) what benefits do they receive.
This information must be an integral component of any efforts to design
"appropriate" technology or strategies to extend it. In this context
it must be recognized that women's farming activities are necessarily
related to time allocated to domestic activities. So-called domestic
activities, such as carrying water, preparation of feed for livestock, or
post-harvest processing done in the home are often integral to the house-
hold's agricultural productivity. To enhance women's agricultural produc-
tivity, the whole range of activities in which women's labor is engaged
needs to be considered. Thus the purview of existing agricultural exten-
sion services needs to be expanded into an integrated package including
agricultural information, health-related, nutritional and other activities
conventionally the domain of women's programs. A first step in this
direction would be to integrate agricultural services into existing
extension programs for women.
However, as was noted earlier, women's programs tend to suffer
from a low status welfare-orientation while existing agricultural exten-
sion services are overwhelmingly male-oriented. In the long run integra-
tion of agricultural services with other extension programs in a single
organizational entity may be necessary to gain equitable access for
women and to avoid costly duplication of agricultural services valuable
to both men and women. Cost-effectiveness is particularly relevant to
the implementation of field-level research and extension activities.
Communication of technical information to farming populations also
involves cross-cutting lines of communication between men and women,
whether at the decision-making or implementation stage of adoption.
Both of these considerations indicate that male and female extension
staff need to work in tandem in the field, not in separate programs.
One example of this approach is the Integrated Family Life Education
project of the Ethiopian Women's Association. Agricultural training
concerned with animal health, soil erosion, use of fertilizers, selection
of seeds is included with programs for literacy, health and nutrition.
The program includes both men and women (Pettit 1977).
Recruitment of women into agricultural training at all levels is
essential. The acute shortage of women in agricultural secondary and
university programs reflects sex-stereotyping of agriculture and, more
generally, the restricted access of women to higher education. With
respect to the former, an end to stereotyping in admissions as well as
in vocational counseling of women students is clearly needed. With
respect to women's access to higher levels of agricultural training, a
number of measures require serious consideration. Optimally women
training for staff positions in agricultural research and extension
should come from rural backgrounds, have practical farming experience,
and have a commitment to work in rural areas. Yet women from this type
of background are least likely to obtain higher education, and, if they
do, they are unlikely to remain in rural areas. Need-based scholarships
for rural women, sex quotas at training institutions, and expanded
training facilities in rural areas are all needed. Nonetheless, upward
and outward mobility associated with higher education is likely to per-
sist as long as wage and status differentials between urban employment
and rural extension positions continue.
Another question is whether formal education should be a necessary
criterionfor female agricultural extension staff. Firstly, the evidence
that formal education of extension field workers enhances their effec-
tiveness is inconclusive: some studies indicate that more highly educated
extension workers are less effective in promoting innovations since the
more educated tend to have urban backgrounds and to view farming as an
inferior occupation (Leonard 1973). Women with little schooling and
even illiterate women have been trained as field aids and found
to be effective in a number of large-scale extension programs concerned
with family planning, literacy and health care (Rogers 1973 [Indonesia,
Philippines, Pakistan]; Ahmed 1977 [Bangladesh]). Mature women with low
levels of literacy or schooling but less likely to be mobile out of rural
areas can be recruited. This was the staffing approach used in the Rural
Women's Association Project, Niger (Barres 1977). Another strategy is
rapidly to increase the supply of women agricultural extension staff
through in-service training of women extension agents currently working
in health, nutrition, family planning or other "women's" programs. But
such short run strategies will not vitiate the need for women at all
staffing levels of agricultural extension services; the rapid expansion
of women in advanced agricultural training is imperative.
Agricultural training for women at the farmer level presents a
different set of needs. First, training courses need to be designed in
accordance with women's work schedules; residential courses appear to be
impractical in this respect. Some countries (Lesotho, Mali) have begun
to experiment with day courses for women. Second, training methods for
women need to be designed for the illiterate or semi-literate if they
are to reach beyond a very small elite of rural women. This implies
that practical field demonstrations rather than classroom centered
approaches need emphasis. Third, projects involving training for rural
women consistently find that, just as new practices must be profitable
for farmers, an explicit income generating component is critical for
Communication Strategies at the Field Level
Creative communications strategies are needed if large numbers of
women are to be reached. Such strategies must compensate for (1) time
constraints (particularly among low-income women) limiting ability to
participate in group meetings, demonstrations or training courses;
(2) low levels of literacy and schooling; and (3) the shortage of women
One approach is to graft agricultural extension activities onto
existing women's groups. Women's groups have been observed to play an
important role in mobilizing local support, disseminating information,
legitimizing proposed changes, and in reinforcing participants' motivation
and commitment to change (Rogers 1975 [Korea]; Misch 1975 [Colombia];
Crone 1976 [Philippines]). Firstly, women's groups provide a social
context for peer-group support in decision making and mobilization for
action. This may be particularly important for women because frequently
women's participation in local level councils and committees is restricted,
participating women are channeled in stereotypical "feminine" concerns,
or their deference to men inhibits them. For example, data on women's
participation in Tanzania's Ujaama village committees shows that women
are the minority of committee members and that the few women on committees
focus on education, health and culture. Furthermore, women rarely attend
committee meetings and, when they do, they often speak only to agree with
their husbands (see also Roberts 1977; Fortmann 1977: 8-10). Secondly,
group activities are efficient where extension staff are responsible for
contacting a large number of individual clients in the face of manpower
and financial constraints. An active women's group can enhance the effec-
tiveness of extension services and may generate local organizational
capacity to make demands on central planning agencies and to sustain
programs initiated by outside agencies.
Numerous studies of low income countries document the widespread
existence of functioning women's groups of varying degrees of formal
organization. Although many of these focus on women's "domestic role,"
several are active in agriculture-related concerns. One prime example
is the numerous women's groups in Sub-Saharan Africa. Such groups, with
a long historical tradition, have become powerful institutions in agri-
culture and commerce. For example, Ibo villages in Southern Nigeria
all have women's councils which
...are responsible for everything concerning agriculture....
They fix the time-table for all the important agricultural
tasks, look after the protection of crops, and regulate all the
ceremonies involved. If anyone, man or woman, contravenes any
of their decisions they can take sanctions against them and they
have great authority in judicial matters. (Lebeuf 1963: 114)
An example of the integration of extension activities with women's groups
is Kenya's Women's Group Program initiated in 1971 by Ministry of
Cooperatives and Social Services. This involved the entire network of
extension agencies including agriculture, health and nutrition, family
planning, home economics, commerce and industry. By 1974 about 500 group
members had been involved in the program (Berger and Krystall 1975).
Existing women's groups are a dynamic resource for channeling extension
services to women.
Formal women's groups may not ensure contact with the full target
population, particularly as they tend to recruit elite women. Informal
women's groups-such as those forming around common work activities--
can provide an alternative resource. One such case, a project in
Guatemala, used the pila or laundering group found all over Guatemala, at
which rural women usually spent several hours daily drawing water and
washing clothes, dishes, and children. The pila provided one of the few
opportunities each day to contact women conveniently. A locally recruited
assistant distributed small inexpensive audio-cassette equipment at the
pilas replaying a 30 minute program four or five times a day. The
flexibility of the cassette system meant that contact with women could
be adjusted to changes in their schedule due to seasonal labor demands.
Field workers' records show that an average of 200 people listened to
the program per day. Evaluation proved that listeners were more
accurately informed, and utilized more recommended innovations than
non-listeners (Colle 1978).
In addition to informal group activities, information networks among
women in rural areas may be a valuable resource for effective communica-
tion of agricultural information. The networks communicate vital infor-
mation rapidly and are a primary means by which women influence opinion
and behavior. Based on her finding that women appeared to discuss
farming matters with others more often than men (61 percent of women
reported doing so and 19 percent of men), Bond suggests that women may
diffuse ideas faster than men (Bond 1974).
Establishing direct communication linkages with women may also serve
to enlist men's support for innovations in agriculture. Anthropological
studies of women's use of gossip to influence community affairs and to
affect the decisions of men within and outside their families suggest
that women have greater effective informal power than men with regard to
information and opinion control (Harding 1976; Wolf 1964; Lamphere 1974).
Women also use gossip, insult and mockery to control community behavior.
Leis (1974) cites one west African village in which women ridiculed
inspectors of a sanitation inspection scheme so that villagers would not
cooperate. Ibo women use such sanctions to control individuals of either
sex who violate their regulations concerning planting times, crop
protection or marketing (Van Allen 1976). The Venezuelan home demon-
strators project illustrates explicit use of women's informal communi-
cations networks. Demonstrators made initial contacts in informal and
casual meetings and often made gifts of new seed varieties, in accordance
with customary visiting practices. Thus demonstrators both gained access
and learned about women's role in the traditional food supply system
In summary, a number of policy measures need to be considered if
women are to have access to agricultural information and training and
to benefit equitably from agricultural research and extension services.
1. Research-extension information systems must communicate effectively
with rural women about their needs in order to design locally
appropriate technology or extension strategies.
2. Agricultural services need to be included in existing women's
3. National level planning and implementation of an integrated extension
"package" should link agriculture, nutrition, health and related
concerns at the field level.
4. Women must be recruited into advanced formal agricultural training
if agricultural research and extension systems are to incorporate
the women staff necessary for effective communication with women.
5. Training of rural women as para-professionals in agricultural extension
skills is required to supplement the acute shortage of trained women.
6. Women extension workers in non-agricultural programs should be given
in-service supplementary agricultural training.
7. Farmer training needs to be organized on a day-session basis in accord
with women's work schedules, to enable rural women to attend.
8. Audio-visual techniques, field demonstrations and other methods for
farmer-training need to be designed for little educated and illiterate
9. Agricultural extension workers should use existing women's groups in
rural areas; women's groups also provide a resource for integrated
10. Women extension staff need to tap informal women's groups and com-
munication networks at the field level.
Summary and Conclusions
Appropriate channels of information feedforward and feedback between
extension and research systems are needed in order for improved agricul-
tural practices to be rapidly accessible to the majority of small farmers.
Communication and direct contact with women in their capacity as important
contributors to farm management and production are essential to this
strategy. Firstly, the special problems faced by women agricultural
producers need to be identified if these women are to benefit from new
appropriate technology and agricultural practices. Secondly, women
frequently participate in farm family decision-making and manage specific
components of production (such as staple food crops); agricultural exten-
sion strategies need directly to involve women who allocate resources or
implement new techniques.
Existing extension services for rural women have both focused on
women's domestic role to the detriment of their training in agriculture
and have tended to serve primarily an elite class of women. Agricultural
extension services on the other hand have been predominantly male-staffed and
oriented towards a male clientele. The resultant sex-bias in access to
agricultural services and information is often compounded by new agricul-
tural practices with negative consequences for women's agricultural
productivity. A reorganization of staffing patterns, farmer training and
field level contact strategies is essential if new agricultural practices
are to be disseminated both equitably and productively.
Several points for action need to be emphasized if the required
policy goals are to be realized. Rapidly improved access of women to
existing agricultural services could be enhanced by identifying rural
extension services, women field staff and women's groups possessing
established contacts with a clientele of rural women. Relevant points
are: Can available agricultural information be integrated into existing
extension services reaching rural women? Can supplementary training
and/or liaison between existing women field staff and agricultural exten-
sion be institutionalized to effect the transfer of relevant agricultural
information to women? Can existing women's groups--formal or informal-
be mobilized to include agricultural information in their activities?
Can training programs at the farmer level be rescheduled and relocated
in an outreach program facilitating women's access?
In the long run the fundamental problems of appropriate technology
development and the staffing of agricultural extension with women must be
tackled. Research on women's labor participation, access to strategic
resources, and roles in decision-making in agricultural production will
permit agricultural researchers and policy makers to evaluate the pos-
sible effects on both women and men of technological innovations and al-
ternative extension strategies. There is in addition a significant lack
of systematic data on different programs currently seeking to integrate
women staff into agricultural extension services. Basic principles of
training and extension communication strategies involving women may be
transferable; needless duplicate experiments can be avoided by their
'Third world countries surveyed included Algeria, Burundi, Camero
Dahomey, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali o'
Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, People's Republic of the Congo, Sierra
Leone, Indan, Tanzania, Barbados, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic,
Guatemala, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago; Argentina, Brazil, Colombia
Paraguay, Venezuela; Burria, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq,
Republic of Korea, Thailand, Syria.
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WOMEN'S LEGAL ACCESS TO LAND
Christina C. Jones, Ph.D.
I. Principles of Land Reform and Women's Independence
Land reforms symbolize a commitment on the part of governments
to distribute agricultural wealth more equitably. Legislation upsetting
the status quo in property ownership has been one of the main instru-
ments by which governments have expressed this commitment. Legisla-
tors have tended to characterize the reforms broadly, outlining their
purposes in terms of improving the economic status or raising the
social class of the needy. This paper shows how the resulting laws in
some instances have failed, and in other instances have served to make
greater economic equity a reality not only among men but also between
men and women. The paper's conclusions represent in essence an effort
to refine the conceptualization and understanding of new approaches so
that policy makers and administrators become sensitive to the needs of
the female population.
In her classic study of Persian land reforms, A. S. K. Lambton
expressed the purpose of land reforms to be: "the spread of peasant
proprietorship, the emergence of an independent peasantry, and a strong
cooperative movement" (Lambton 1969: 355). It is now time to apply
this general economic and political principle vigorously as the standard
for measuring the effect which land reforms are having on women. We
can begin by asking whether new land laws are permitting the spread of
proprietorship among peasant women as well as men, fostering indepen-
dence among female as well as male farmers, and encouraging the partici-
pation of women and men in vigorous cooperative movements.
There are two great deficiencies in thinking underlying land
reforms. One is a failure to appreciate some of the benefits of
traditional laws and practices. This is particularly true with regard
to traditional laws protecting the economic independence of women.
Legislators enacting land reform for the purposes enumerated above
should take care lest undue interference with traditional law increases
women's economic dependence and forfeits optimal responsibility of
women farmers. In some cases legislators have improved their reform
codes by a subsequent partial return to tradition; in others a
deleterious notion of modernity has meant increased female dependence.
The Persian reforms are a perfect example of legislators initially
reducing women's rights to those of children: women were made dependent
upon the rights granted to their guardians. Women's independence was
not a principle taken seriously by the reformers. The law stated that
a person could hold land in one village only. The definition of a
village included the number of families engaged in agricultural opera-
tions in a particular geographical area. The family was defined as
husband, wife and children under the husband's guardianship. According-
ly a wife and her guardian (husband) could hold land jointly in the
same village, but a wife could not hold land anywhere other than the
village where her guardian held land. The initial law thus excluded
women from holding land in most of the cases in which they would be
likely to do so. An amendment to the law grants women legal status and
land holding rights independent of their guardians. The initial version
of the law compromised the Islamic legal principle that husbands and
wives own property as individuals independent of their marital ties,
while the amendment, by returning to this traditional Islamic princi-
ple, extended the principle of Persian land reform (enunciated by
Lambton) to women.
Likewise, in the Indian state of Kerala, the Law of Land
Reforms, 1963, as amended in 1969, was designed to establish ceilings
on the amount of land held by any one person or family. It gives
monogamously married women no rights in land apart from the rights of
their husbands (Gangadharan 1970). Only the divorced woman and the
never married woman are recognized as constituting entities eligible
to own lands within the ceiling set:
For purposes of this section, an adult unmarried person shall
include a divorced husband or a divorced wife who was not
remarried, provided that if such divorced husband or wife is
the guardian of any unmarried minor child, he or she together
with such unmarried child shall be deemed to be a family.
(Gangadharan, section 82, Expl. 2, 1970: 121-122)
When the male head of a Kerala household is wedded to two or more
wives, one of the wives (chosen by the husband) and the husband are
regarded as one unit for purposes of the ceiling; each other wife is
deemed a separate family unit (Gandadharan, section 82, Expl. 1, 1970:
121-122). Thus a woman in the "modern" situation of monogamy (or
that wife so designated by her polygynous husband for the purposes of
land law) loses economic rights, while wives in the "traditional"
status of polygyny are largely independent with regard to land owner-
ship. As in Iran, in Kerala, traditional principles have the perhaps
unexpected potential of being used in the context of land law to
enhance women's economic independence.
Thus the introduction of "modern" reformist principles has not
always benefited women. The second deficiency in thinking underlying
land reform is apparent when the traditional law and practices keep
women dependent on men and there is a failure to use the opportunity of
reform to rectify the shortcomings of tradition. Sometimes the modern
reform creates a new abuse or dependence. This essay discusses the
interplay between traditional legal systems which no longer serve the
needs of women or preserve their independence and the new reforms.
In traditional legal systems and under the new reforms women
neither have full ownership rights in land or usufructory (use) rights.
Usufructory rights, in which land ownership and final decisions of
disposition rest with the family or clan (usually represented by a
male), make a woman's rights to farm land dependent upon her family's
or her spouses' family's wishes or her production of a male heir from
whom she may, as guardian, hold (and farm) the land. Women's owner-
ship rights vary, but they are generally more restricted in traditional
law than in contemporary law. Both usufructory and ownership rights
must be examined to grasp the practical input of legal codification
Nature of Women's Rights in Land
In order to understand to what extent land reforms are encour-
aging women to be self-confident and to manage land independent of
their male guardians or at least on an equal footing with them, one
must understand the problems which face women under both traditional
systems and the land reform laws. Women's access to land usually
takes one of two forms: women are permitted either full ownership
rights or usufructuary rights. Yet even when women are permitted to
own land in their own names, whatever their marital status, their
shares in inheritance are either limited to less than what their
brothers or other male relatives receive, as in several Islamic
countries, or their rights are determined by the head of the family
or village, who is usually a man. When a woman has only usufructuary
rights, as in several African countries, her effective ability to
demand that the relevant male authority fulfill his customary duty to
provide land for maintenance is necessarily diminishing as land
becomes a marketable commodity. How the laws encourage or discourage
women regarding full use of their rights is discussed following the
section on ownership rights below.
Full ownership rights: The right to own land in one's own name
does not necessarily result in full control over the use of the land.
For example, in Tunisia daughters and wives have received fractional
shares of property held in co-ownership with many other relatives.
Under traditional Maliki Islamic law a joint owner could not dissolve
the state of co-ownership without the consent of all the other co-
owners. Thus, a decision to give the property to one owner could be
made only by consensus. Such a rule hampered an enterprising woman
who might find it more advantageous to dissolve the joint tenancy, to
acquire sole ownership of the unit in question, and to compensate the
other joint owners. However, it also protected the woman who was
actually working the land and who, because of social or political
biases, was not able to own all of the land exclusively by herself.
Such a woman enjoyed the right of veto against the sale of the land.
As in many other "modernizing" contexts, in Tunisia the new
Code of Property Rights introduced in 1965 changed the traditional law.
It has enabled co-owners to petition a court when they cannot agree
upon an equitable partition among themselves or disposal of the unit.
The court can force the end of co-ownership in circumstances where
the agrarian property in question is a viable economic unit and
fragmentation of ownership hampers efficient management of the unit
(Jones 1975; Dufour 1967 and 1970). A woman's right to remain in
possession of an economic unit has come to depend more on the discre-
tion of the court and its evaluation of whether her social position
will or will not hinder good management of the unit than on any well
defined legal principles.
A similar situation has existed in Egypt since the enactment of
the Agrarian Reform Law of 1962 (Saab 1967: 48). The law leaves
succession to the decision of the family or of a government committee
established for settling claims. Families are permitted to give full
rein to social prejudices against women being entrusted with the
operation of agricultural lands. If the family fails to designate
a successor, the government committee can designate a responsible
person. The legislators did not define circumstances under which a
woman must or may be presumed responsible. The system of administra-
tive discretion such as that adopted in Egypt may or may not work to
the detriment of women. The outcome depends on whether the decision
makers are committed to treating women as economic equals to men. The
problem is that there has not been established any way of ensuring that
the discretion would be consistently applied.
Even when land reform legislation benefits farmers over land-
lords by giving full ownership of land to farmers, irrespective of
sex, the law makes exceptions for women. Various state laws in India
are designed so as not to force, or even to give incentives to, women
to be responsible primarily, rather than secondarily, for farming the
land. The reform laws prohibit subletting and abolish intermediary
rent collectors (formerly known as zamindars). Exceptions to the
rule permit widows and minors and military personnel away from home on
assignment to sublet because they cannot cultivate themselves (Malaviya
1955: 112, 169). They can also employ an intermediary to collect the
rent. The subtenancy ceases when the owner wants the land and gives
proper notice. However, in the northern region (the Punjab) of India,
the tenant acquires rights of pre-emption or purchase of the land after
having been in continuous possession for four or twelve years, respec-
tively. No protection was given to widows against such rights. The
law makers recognized and perpetuated, by way of exception, dependency
of the woman who is not confident or able socially to till her land
herself. Yet they did not protect her from ending up with nothing--
no land, no ability to be independent.
Usufructuary rights in land: Women receiving usufructuary rights
are even more dependent on the discretion of the courts when competing
with male relatives for land. In one well known suit in Tanzania the
court explains the inadequate protection provided for contemporary
women by customary use rights.
The case concerned a daughter's challenge to an action in
trespass brought against her by her uncle. The uncle asserted that
under their customary law daughters were precluded from inheriting
clan land, land which was considered essential for the economic sur-
vival of the clan. Maintaining the integrity of this economic unit
was considered the exclusive province of men. The daughter had lived
on the farm, harvested the coffee, and despite her blindness, insisted
on managing the property. She did not wish to be maintained by her
uncle, who had been living in the city for several years before his
brother (her father) had called him back to the property. The Tan-
zanian Restatement of Customary Laws had not specified a daughter's
rights as far as inheritance of clan land was concerned when her father
left no sons.
The Tanzanian court believed that "[t]he time had now come when
the rights of daughters in inheritance should be recognized" (James
and Fimbo 1973). The court found that the daughter had a legitimate
claim to own the land and hence was not guilty of trespass. The court
based its decision on the grounds that the traditional custom which
discriminated on the basis of sex had "outlived its usefulness" (James
and Fimbo 1973: 208). Custom permitted male clan members who had not
contributed to the estate to grab the estate of a deceased relative and
put the deceased's wives or daughters in fear. The court noted that
women are permitted usufructuary rights in clan land and are entitled
to be maintained by the male relatives; but the court characterized
such rights as getting something ex gratia. In effect, the court was
implying that usufructuary rights are not enough to protect women in
a social system where their male guardians cease to have moral restraints
and abuse the right of ownership to the detriment of the holders of
usufructuary rights. The court believed that the best way to preserve
the interests of female heirs on agriculturally productive land was to
give them rights of possession, especially when the deceased during his
lifetime had shared the wealth with the female members of his household
and benefited from their labor. Unscrupulous male relatives who could
not be trusted to continue the will of the deceased were undeserving.
The court did not deem it worthwhile to seek to formulate a legal
principle by which it could force the male guardian to preserve all
the rights which the daughter had enjoyed while her father had lived.
It chose the principle of individual equality. It stated: "The age
of discrimination based on sex is long gone and the world is now in
the stage of full equality of all human beings irrespective of their
sex, creed, race, or colour"(James and Fimbo 1973: 208). By applying
this principle to the dispute between the daughter and uncle, the
court in effect was saying that the individuals whose interests would
be most impaired by the unscrupulous and greedy are the ones who should
be permitted to protect their own interests by being given rights to
control access to economic resources.
One of the weaknesses in the case, however, was the final
order of the court. The court found that the daughter had a stronger
argument than the uncle under another customary principle. She had a
son, albeit without a legal father, who could succeed as a male heir
to the clan lands of his maternal grandfather. Such a child belonged
to the mother's father's family. The court order gave the defendant
mother only the right to hold the land as a guardian of her son.
Although the court commendably gave a woman instead of a male relative
the right to serve as guardian over a male with the consequence that
she could direct the use of the land, the woman could still be in a
vulnerable position when her son reached majority. As owner, the son
could decide not to follow the will of his grandfather and could use
the land to the detriment of his mother. Furthermore, if he died,
and she later had a daughter, whether her daughter would have rights
in the land could also depend on whether the daughter in turn had a
Many land reform programs in which the government is the ulti-
mate owner of the land are sex neutral on paper, but in application
their dependence on judicial discretion can prove to be biased against
women. The Tanzanian land reform program is illustrative (James and
Fimbo 1973: 106). A plot in an ujamaa village or cooperative may be
held or rented by female or male. Ultimate disposal of the village
settlement rests with a Minister responsible for cooperatives in that
if a cooperative society fails to administer a settlement efficiently,
the Minister can have the settlement vested in another cooperative
society. Succession to the use of the land is to be governed only
partially by the statutory, customary, or religious laws governing
inheritance to non-settlement lands. To avoid fragmentation of the
land among numerous heirs, the legislature permitted only one person
to succeed to a holder of settlement land. That person can be named
by the holder if the customary, statutory, or religious law of the
holder permits disposal of land by will. If an heir has not been or
cannot be named, a person who would ordinarily inherit can apply to the
local court to be named the successor in right. If several heirs were
to apply the court is to base its choice on justice and equality (James
and Fimbo 1973: 110-111). If the principle of equality among sexes
had been adopted, as in the controversy between the daughter and uncle
discussed above, Tanzanian women would stand an equal chance with men,
regardless of whether they had sons or not. But as we have seen, tne
Tanzania court did not give the daughter full ownership. The principle
of equality among sexes remains controversial. Thus, if a woman's
right to be sole heir to cooperative lands is to be secure, decisions
probably should be based on more than the good discretion of the courts.
For example, the land reform law also permits a court to order the sole
successor to compensate--when there are no other lands left by the
deceased--any other person who, but for the land reform law, would
have benefited from the estate of the deceased and desired to be named
sole successor. With such a law, a male relative can easily argue that
in the interest of commercial efficiency, he should be sole successor
and the female relative simply compensated. Clearly, policy makers
would do well to promulgate legislative guidelines on how equity and
justice should be applied to safeguard wives' or daughters' rights in
lands which they were farming or helping to farm during the lifetime
of their deceased spouse or father.
In societies where women are given usufructuary rights by way
of a maintenance allowance, but are expected only to use revenues from
the land rather than farm the land themselves, the women must contend
not only with relatives, but also tenants. For example, in Uttar
Pradesh in India the U.P. Law of Zamindari Abolition and Land Reform
(Act No. 1 of 1951) (Law of Zamindari 1971) disfavors subletting and
use of rent collectors. It exempts, however, an unmarried woman and a
divorced or separated woman holding land as a maintenance allowance.
She was deemed a "disabled person" (section 157). Such a woman can sub-
let and her tenant, unlike the tenant of an able-bodied man, cannot
claim heritable rights in the land (sections 10 and 11). This exception
perpetuates women's dependence on an intermediary rent collector who is
usually a male and usually takes over management of the land. The law
in effect gives rights of use to women, yet fails to force women to
take direct responsibility for exercising these rights. Two court cases
illustrate how the law places women in a difficult dilemma and how
women are at the mercy of judicial discretion in trying to solve the
In Khema Kunwar v. Harnan Singh et al.,  1 ALL (Indian Law
Reports) Allahabad Series 215, the tenant of a widow challenged the
settlement officer for failing to register him as a tenant with
heritable rights. The tenant argued that the landholder was not a
widow, a disabled person, but an able-bodied man, the theka (an inter-
mediary rent collector). He brought forth evidence of a contract between
the widow and the theka by which the theka undertook to collect the
rents, pay a fraction of them to the widow and manage the land, including
eviction and re-letting. The widow claimed in turn to be the true
landholder. A landholder in the U.P. Law of Zamindari Abolition and
Land Reform is defined as the person to whom rent is or would be payable
but for a contract, express or implied (section 2). The High Court
finally decided that the right to let out the land vested initially
with the widow and secondarily with the theka; therefore, she was the
landholder and a disabled person. The court denied the tenant the right
to be registered with heritable rights. However, the court admitted
that the theka equally could have been the landholder within the strict
meaning of the statute. But it argued that the decision in favor of the
widow was more compatible with the parliamentary intent, which was, as
seen by the court,
. to give relief to such disabled persons who could not have
either cultivated their own land or could not get direct benefit
as intermediaries and the rights of such feeble persons or
disabled person have been preserved by the Legislature so that
these persons may not ultimately suffer on account of the drastic
legislation which has divested very many rights vested in persons
and has conferred rights which were not in existence at all.
(Law of Zamindari 1971: 230)
Despite this exposition on the need to protect a woman's rights
in land which she cannot or will not till or lease herself, the same
court refused to protect another widow who sued for an order to evict
tenants because she needed the land for personal cultivation. In
Mulayan Singh et al. v. Board of Revenue et al.,  1 ALL (Indian
Law Reports) Allahabad Series 341, the defending tenants were found
to have been trespassers for several years. Under the U.P. Law of
Zamindari Abolition and Land Reform a tenant who was a squatter became
a tenant with heritable rights if the landholder failed to evict the
tenant within two years after the new law came into effect. The two
years had expired by the time the widow had brought the eviction suit.
She argued that the two year statute of limitation was immaterial
because she was a disabled landholder entitled to protection against
tenants claiming heritable rights. The court chastised her for not
acting within the two years. She, like anyone else, was capable of
protecting her rights and could have sued earlier. The opinion gave
no indication of whether the woman was actively independent in managing
her lands or was managing them through an intermediary who had failed
to apprise her of the trespassers.
While the court rightfully placed ultimate responsibility for
the land on the woman, it should have also taken into account the social
restraints which are placed on women and which hinder them from being
responsible in reality for their holdings. If the court had found that
the widow was very much dependent on an intermediary, it should have
urged the legislature to amend the law so that the intermediary would
be held to a higher standard of accountability to the woman and required
to involve her more actively in management of lands set aside for her
II. Exclusion of Women from Land Ownership or Land Use
under Land Reform Laws
In some countries, issuance of interpretative guidelines for
safeguarding women's rights would not protect women sufficiently. In
these cases, the legislation itself needs re-examination.
The Colombian Agricultural Reform Law of 1961 is a good example
of outright denial of direct access to women to agricultural lands
(Colombian Agricultural Reform Law 1967, Article 36). The reforms
consisted of distribution of lands to the needy. The needy, however,
were defined as married males of at least eighteen years of age.
They were eligible to receive grants of public land or of family farm
units and held responsible for all the duties of ownership. The
Colombian Institute for Agrarian Reform was to divide large holdings
into family farm units and consolidate small holdings into larger
viable family units. The family farm unit was defined as a sufficient
area, given climatic and soil conditions, to provide a normal family
with adequate income for its maintenance, for paying off debts incurred
in buying or conditioning the land and for improvement in housing,
farm equipment and the general standard of living (Colombian Agricul-
tural Reform Law 1967, Article 50). It is not to be so large as to
require more labor than that of the owner and his family. During his
lifetime, the married male can sell only to persons having the same
qualifications as he did when he obtained the original grant. If the
married male owner dies, either his heirs can divide the land among
themselves, or, if they can not continue exploiting the land, they have
to sell it. This provision gives no support to the young widow or
daughter who is unable to exploit the land herself either for lack of
physical strength or knowledge or by reason of social taboos. There
is no provision permitting such women to continue exploitation of the
land by hiring willing labor. For the same reason no father can
reasonably be expected to pass on the land to an unmarried daughter.
Only if there is a danger of fragmentation of the family plot into
areas of less than three hectares per heir will a court have authority
to intervene. The court can decide whether to divide the land or keep
it intact. A decision to keep the land undivided and treat all heirs
as co-owners will be permitted only if such would protect the spouse
or other heir who has depended on the land for a livelihood (Colombian
Agricultural Reform Law 1967, Article 89).
The Colombian land reform scheme was justified in part by the
principle that the tiller of the soil should own the land. As in
Colombia, legislators' application of this principle to women in many
other countries leaves much to be desired. A recent case involving
application of the agrarian reform law in the Philippines provides an
excellent illustration of the problem. The Code of Agrarian Reforms
abolishes share tenancy except for lands used for such commercial
enterprises as fish ponds, salt-beds, citrus groves, cacao, coffee
and other permanent trees (Nolledo 1974). The share tenants are
converted to leaseholders. They have the right to apply the rental
payments towards purchasing the lands which they work. The lands
eligible for purchase have to be family sized, that is, capable of
sustaining a family and not requiring more than the labor of the
household. The leaseholder has to till the land personally. The
statute provides for continuance of the leasehold should the original
leaseholder die or become incapacitated. The spouse has first priority
to succeed, then the eldest child or grandchild, and last, the next
eldest child or grandchild. Thus, the statute permits women to become
leaseholders and ultimate purchasers of the land which they personally
till. However, the landlord is given authority to choose the successor
among the spouse and descendants within one month of the death or
incapacitation of the original leaseholder. In effect the landlord
can prefer an elder son to the mother, but not a younger son to an
The land reform laws of Nepal are similar to those of Colombia,
in that landlords also have the right to choose among the successors.
However in Nepal, daughters have been denied the right to be con-
sidered as potential successor tenants. Nepalese lawmakers could well
examine the Philippine experience where daughters are not excluded by
such a restriction (Land Acts of 1964; Regmi 1976: 204).
With regard to unmarried persons, however, the Philippine
legislation has gaps. No provision was made for divorced spouses or
unmarried persons tilling the soil jointly. The absence of this
provision has worked to the detriment of women. In Bautista v.
Salazar, 18 Court of Appeals Reporter 2d (1973), the complaining
landlord sought to end the tenancy relationship with the defendant
because of permanent incapacitation. He alleged that the leaseholder
had no heir. The defendant admitted that he was unmarried and had no
lawful child. He claimed that he was actively tilling the land and
that the action was brought to harass him. Landlords were notorious
for trying to avoid the new law. During the course of the suit the
defendant died. His common law wife substituted and carried on the
suit. The lower court ruled in favor of the landlord. The common
law wife appealed. She sought to be declared a qualified heir who
could become the leaseholder. The Court of Appeal ruled against her
on the grounds that the Code of Agrarian Reforms permitted only
spouses to succeed and spouses were persons in lawful wedlock. As a
common law wife, she was only a partner in tilling the land, not a
spouse. This construction of the statute is not sex biased per se
since a common law husband presumably would have been equally denied
succession to the leasehold held by a female partner. It would be the
same had the leaseholder and her or his legal marital partner been
divorced even if the divorce had taken place immediately prior to the
time the leaseholder became incapacitated. Yet in effect, the court
decision--when placed in the context of existing social and economic
facts--perpetuates a sociological bias. In the case of Bautista the
legal contract of leasehold had been made in the names of the men (the
landlord and the leaseholder). Yet the work was clearly being done in
part by the female partner of the leaseholder's household, even
though it was not a household sanctioned by wedlock. This would not
be an atypical situation. Philippine legislators could find a simple
remedy to this anomaly in the experience under the Mexican Federal
Land Reform Act of 1971 (Food and Agricultural Org. 1974: 19). Sec-
tion 85(e) of this Mexican law permits a person who received part
of a collective land grant to name as successors in title a spouse,
or children, or where there were no children, the common law marriage
In Tanzania women on settlement schemes on government land have
been denied proceeds from crop sales, have found themselves empty
handed in the event of divorce, and have been excluded from land in-
heritance in the event of a spouse's death. These are among the out-
comes which have led J. L. Brain to conclude that matrilineal women
in eastern Tanzania have fared far less well on settlement scheme
lands than in their traditional societies (Brain 1976). Thus in their
home villages these women would gain a share of proceeds from crops
cultivated jointly by spouses as well as all the proceeds from some
crops of their own. But on the settlement schemes men have been
given the sole right to receive all proceeds from crops produced by
both spouses. Under customary law, in the event of divorce both spouses
receive a share of proceeds, while on the settlement schemes, women
receive nothing upon divorce. Inheritance rules in the matrilineal
villages place men and women on similar footing, with women inheriting
from their maternal uncles and often their father (Brain 1976: 266).
Thus under customary law the husband's death, like divorce, alters the
wife's economic situation very little. In contrast, on the village
settlement schemes, no provisions have been made for a surviving wife,
although these women settlers are likely to have lost their tradi-
tional rights to land in their region of origin (Brain 1976: 278).
The core of the problem, Brain observes, has been officials' unwilling-
ness to devise a system of rights based on local matrilineal custom.
They sought instead to establish a patrilineal system which greatly
curtails women's economic independence and security. Because of
deliberate myopia, officials failed to recognize that the women had a
serious problem, even in the face of suggestion that the law should
give to the women a fixed percentage of the proceeds from the sale of
crops or designate fields from them to cultivate collectively and con-
trol those proceeds independent of the men (Brain 1976: 275). Thus
despite the apparent absence of sex bias in Tanzanian law (as noted
above), some women on the settlement schemes find themselves deprived
of the rights that they would have enjoyed in their traditional
matrilineal villages. Their situation is worsened because, should
they leave the settlement scheme to return home, they are likely to
discover that their use rights have lapsed in their absence.
III. Harmonizing Family Law of Maintenance with Land Reform Law
There may be one reasonable justification for the Colombian or
Nepalese types of legislation which restrict the benefits of land
reform to married males. One can argue that where there is a short-
age of land, the person held responsible for maintaining a family
must be given fullest possible access to land resources. Under family
law the married male generally bears this responsibility. The law
presumes irrebutably that the woman is not capable of bearing such a
burden. The male provider is to be protected against competition
from a female attempting to fulfill that role. Such a restriction
on distribution of the benefits of land reform is not socially just,
although it may appear to be logical. However, the premise must be
re-examined. When it is, the logic will change. This premise is
sufficiently pervasive in various countries that it is worth examining
how lawmakers have, in some instances, resisted change and, in other
instances, have introduced innovations challenging the traditional
In Tunisia proposed changes in the law of maintenance have been
aborted. The Islamic law of inheritance permits a widow with children
only a minor part of an estate. A daughter receives only half as
much as her brother. Relatives who receive more are expected to
compensate for this inequality by maintaining the widow or daughter.
The provisions of the statute on maintenance make sense, given the
economically secondary position of women. However, the statute is
sufficiently ambiguous to be interpreted either one of two ways.
According to one interpretation, the male relative would be princi-
pally responsible for maintaining the woman. Under another inter-
pretation the man would be obliged to maintain the woman and the
woman liable for contributing to the maintenance of her spouse only
if she had property.
A proposed reform would have made explicit that, at least in
marriage, each spouse has to maintain the other in proportion to their
wealth or financial capacity (Jones 1975: 555). From the point of
view of statistical distributions of wealth, the old land and the
draft proposal can be regarded as fair since it took into account the
fact that women have levels of fortune generally inferior to those of
men. From the point of view of principle and economic effect, however,
they both can be considered instruments for perpetuating the material
inequality which exists between the sexes with regard to the basic and
most traditional source of income: inheritance. If a country were to
adopt as national policy the principle of equality between the sexes
in inheritance, then not only must their duties be made equal, regard-
less of financial capacity, but also their capacity to fulfill these
duties equalized. Agrarian reforms introduced to assist husbands and
wives, daughters and sons equally to make a decent living would then
acquire a different meaning.
In Tanzania where proponents of African socialist theory empha-
size the dignity of each citizen, the Commissioner for Community
Development, nonetheless, was known to state, "Women may demand their
new rights, (but] this would disrupt the relationship between husbands
and wives" (Brain 1976: 276). This attitude is typical of the almost
schizophrenic thinking which plagues policy makers when asked to con-
sider women's rights as an integral part of the pursuit of justice
through land reform. On one hand, they believe that political stability
can be fostered by giving a sense of economic independence to male
tillers of the soil, free of domination from their fellow men. Such
freedom is intended to give them a sense of responsibility and maturity.
On the other hand, they believe that family stability can be fostered
by giving men domination over the female, whether it be in a marital
or sibling or parental relationship. Economic independence of the
female is regarded as having a disrupting rather than a maturing
influence. Theoretically and practically, this is unjust and
socially unsafe. Domination does not produce stability. Mutual
submission should be the goal.
Studies in Morocco support this conclusion. In Morocco a
divorced woman is entitled under Islamic law to share in her father's
estate and a widow is entitled to shares in the estates of her father
and husband. In practice the husband has been given control over the
wife's shares in her relatives' property and the brother control over
his unmarried sister's share (Maher 1974: 126-127 and 158). Marriages
among brothers' children have been encouraged so that the wife's share
could be inherited eventually by her father (also her uncle's family)
in the event she had no children (Maher 1974: 12). Even when the
woman knows that marriage is no safe bet in a society where the
divorce rate is nearly fifty per cent, she must turn to other males
(her brothers) for help in farming, and in return for their help, she
is expected to cede control over her property to her brothers upon
The impact of such stressful cross-pressures on marital ties
have been empirically documented: V. A. Maher's research reveals a
positive correlation between women's relative economic independence
and stability of marriage (Maher 1975: 163, 193, 215). The rela-
tively independent woman, who has received a sizable dowry upon mar-
riage, feels secure enough not to feel the necessity of building up
a social network among her female kin or female friends. The econom-
ically insecure spend so much time building up such an insurance
against future divorce that they cause great tension between them-
selves and their spouses. The husband tends to become jealous of time
his wife spends with female friends and relatives. Despite such
evidence, Maher observes that "[t]he idea of reducing the economic
and political dependence of women on their husbands, fathers or
brothers seems to present an intolerable threat to the status quo"
(Maher 1974: 42, 57, 84).
Only after twenty years of experience in land reforms (since the
1950s) have Indian legislators come to see how groundless were their
assumptions about males' responsibility for family maintenance which they
used to justify discrimination against women in land reform legislation.
The 1974 report of a government Committee on the Status of Women
examined the new laws enacted in the 1970s to set ceilings on the
amount of acreage held by any one individual (Government of India 1974:
35, 169). The Madhya Pradesh Ceiling on Agricultural Holdings (Amend-
ment Ordinance) of 1974, the Land Reform Act of 1974 of Karnataka, and
later, the Punjab Ceiling Act of 1977 permit a son to acquire title to
holdings beyond the ceiling limit, but do not make a like exception
for a daughter, married or unmarried. Yet the social statistics indi-
cate that it is the men who tend to leave the land and leave the women
to care for themselves. The only practical choices which the divorced
or separated woman usually has are returning to her natal home (if
her family can afford her) or becoming affiliated with another man.
State governments give her little opportunity to gain independent access
to land. The Committee recognized that legislators have given the son
more access to land because he alone has the duty under general family
law to maintain his parents or wife and children. It therefore recom-
mended that women and men bear equally the obligation for family
maintenance (Government of India 1974: 128-129).
Several decisions made by Kenyan courts are good examples of how
judicial discretion can favor as well as hinder women's access to
land for their maintenance. In settlement schemes organized as part
of land reforms, which consisted largely of surveying and registration
of title, a woman's right to maintenance was often secure only if her
presence on the land served the interests of the male heirs. Rarely
would courts give judgment unless the village elders and relatives
had reached a consensus about who could purchase or who could succeed
to settlement plots. Statutory law governs the procedure of regis-
tration and adjudication, but customary laws and practices govern the
disposal and succession. The cases in which courts have given title
to women are ones in which the women expressed a wish to remain on the
land of a deceased spouse and the elders or children wanted the mother
to maintain the land for the children's survival (Jones n.d., District
Magistrate, Meru, Succession Cases 1973). However, the widow who re-
ceives title in her name often expresses an intention to hold the land
in name only. She accepts responsibility for its upkeep and its
farming because she wants, in effect, to hold it in trust for her
children (Jones n.d., District Magistrate, Meru, Succession Cases 1973).
In some instances the sons express a preference that the mother be
named sole title holder even though they are adults and are helping the
widow farm the land. Thus the land will be worked as one unit as long
as possible, postponing any quarrels that may arise upon the ultimate
division of the land among the sons (Jones n.d., District Magistrate,
Meru, Succession Cases 1973). Thus, it is not surprising that when
a farmer died, leaving a widow and one son with no competing male
heirs, the family agreed that the land should be registered in the
name of the sole son rather than the widow (Jones n.d., District Magis-
trate, Meru, Succession Cases 1973). In one case the sons were given
title and the widow registered as guardian (Jones n.d., District Magis-
trate, Nkubu, Succession Cases 1974). Registering the land in the
name of the son rather than widow has the effect of protecting the
son's rights, until he comes of age, against a man who might remarry
the widow and persuade her to pass title to him. It also keeps the
widow in a dependent position, She is able to exercise control over
the land only for the sake of others. As guardian or trustee, rather
than co-owner, she is vulnerable to challenge from male relatives who
may disagree with her management and may wish to have her removed.
Widows have also been named by the courts as co-heirs with
sons-perhaps because of the clan members' greater confidence in the
widow. In some instances the land has been left to the widow and
sons to decide whether to demarcate their acreage among themselves;
in others the court order specified the acreage allocated to each
son and to the widow (Jones n.d., District Magistrate, Meru, Succes-
sion Cases 1974).
On balance, a widow needs the protection of legislation which
makes her removal from the guardianship of trusteeship difficult or
which makes it difficult for her to transfer land in her name to a
man whom she would remarry. She also needs legislation which requires
her to seek, or requires the state to give her, access to management
skills if necessary. The lack of access to management training in
Egypt has long been regarded as having a crippling effect on the
success of the land reform programs (Saab 1967: 138-139, 156). The
Egyptian Agrarian Reform Law of 1952 enacted an ambitious program of
imposed ceilings on ownership, cooperatives and labor unions, and lands
reclamation. Yet twelve years later the only vocational centers which
had been founded were for teaching women and young girls sewing,
knitting, and manufacturing of carpets. This is hardly adequate for
training women peasants who spend on the average only forty days less
than men per year cultivating the small farms. Requiring vocational
training by law (as has been done in the Philippines [Nolledo 1974:
section 51]) has been advocated in Egypt because:
Vocational training in agriculture and agricultural co-operation
would have fostered entrepreneurship among smallholders and
female members [emphasis added] of their families and would
also have provided them with basic technical knowledge. It
would, moreover, have been the logical corollary to the "liberal"
approach to agrarian problems, which allows for the emergence
of individual initiative within a cooperative approach.
(Saab 1967: 138-139)
Although the right of the widow to use and possess the land is
usually protected during her lifetime from distant relatives (assuming
that her children do not challenge her right to remain on the land),
it is the daughter who ultimately suffers from the distant relative.
In Kenya, when distant relatives (for example, nephews who come from
other settlement schemes) claim shares, thus competing with the widow,
the clan members tend to urge the court to favor the widow. The object
seems to be to protect as long as possible the cohesiveness of a
scheme against invasion from outsiders, especially when the outsiders
already have land and are of a quarrelsome disposition (Jones n.d.,
District Magistrate, Meru 1973). In contrast, the unmarried or
divorced daughter may be left to depend on male relatives for main-
tenance; the married daughter has her husband's land to sustain her-
self (Jones n.d., District Magistrate, Meru 1973). In some instances
nephews claiming the land, cattle, and beehives of the deceased have
been known to offer to take care of the unmarried daughter (Jones n.d.,
District Magistrate, Meru 1973; Cotran 1969). Under several customary
laws in Kenya the daughter may not formally inherit land (Jones n.d.,
District Magistrate, Meru 1973; Cotran 1969). A nephew or male cousin
can be named sole heir if he can prove that the deceased had no objec-
tion to his receiving a plot registered under the land reform schemes
and that the deceased has left neither sons nor spouses (Jones n.d.,
District Magistrate, Meru 1973; Nkubu 1974). The fact that the
deceased left a daughter would be immaterial.
Even when a male owner of a registered plot wishes to sell his
plot during his lifetime and has only daughters with no hope of ever
having a son, the law has not prevented him from disposing of the
land prior to his death without taking into account the needs of his
daughterss. In one rather protracted suit a widow having one adult
son, four unmarried daughters, and one son in school, challenged the
court to protect herself and her daughters from the sons. She foresaw
difficulties with her older son whom she accused of wanting to chase
her away from the land, which was the main source of livelihood for
the women. The most the law could give her and her daughters was a
usufructuary right during her lifetime. After her death her sons--or
distant male relatives if the sons predeceased her--could step in and
dispose of the land as they wished (Jones n.d., District Magistrate,
Meru 1973). The absolute right to cultivate belonged to the mother.
The right to be maintained without the right to cultivate belonged to
the daughters. Thus, the daughter in general is under much pressure
for the sake of economic survival to marry or to give birth to sons who
can claim her father's lands or her husband's. The single daughter can
hardly be said to be encouraged by the law, or protected by the law, to
become as independent as-her brother. The land reform programs as
administered at the discretion of the courts or bureaucrats do justice
to only half of the population. They are unrealistic in the face of
the growing divorce rates and leave women little alternative but to go
into the town to join the landless and industrial rootless.
In Kenya, outside the settlement schemes, the married woman who
divorces or is divorced may arrange her affairs so that her economic lot
is somewhat better than it ordinarily might be if she were to return to
her status as an unmarried daughter to be maintained ex gratia by male
relatives. This is because of the fact that the Kenyan courts have
recognized a woman's equitable right to get back at divorce the contri-
butions which she made to her husband's wealth. The case of I. v. I.,
1971 E.A. 279 (K), was a judicial bombshell giving her this right.
Whether its principle will be applied in respect to settlement lands
remains to be seen. If it is, it would be most innovative. The High
Court in I. v. I. found the British statute, the Married Women's Property
Act of 1882, applicable in Kenya, and (because it is a statute) gave it
precedence over customary laws. The divorced parties in the suit were
hardly typical farmers and the property involved was a house in England,
but the principle involved was not confined to the facts of the case.
The proceeds of the sale of the house in England were used to buy a
house in Kenya in the joint names of the spouses. The divorced husband
argued that, in Kenyan circumstances, a married woman had no right to
property owned by her husband. The court in response established the
broad principle that "the circumstances of Kenya and its inhabitants
do not generally require that a woman should not be able to own property"
(1971 E.A. 279 (K); also Maina 1976). The court did not bother to
establish as a-fact whether the wife had or had not kept whatever she
earned or contributed or not contributed to the matrimonial capital.
It simply concluded that even "if she did Ikeep her earnings), it left
her husband with extra money for other purposes" (1971 E.A. 279 (K);
also Maina 1976). The court awarded her half of the proceeds of the
sale of the house.
About a year after the case of I. v. I. a Resident Magistrate
applying Akamba customary law heard on appeal a petition for divorce
brought by a prosperous woman who owned cattle and small shops in
a rural area (Jones n.d., Resident Magistrate, Kitui, Divorce Cases of
1971). The petitioner was upset about her husband having married a
second wife although it was quite valid under their customary law.
She sued for divorce on the ground that her husband was allegedly
failing to maintain her and her children. Testimony given established
that her father had lent her money to start a business. She became so
prosperous that she built several shops--a hotel, a butchery, a bar,
a tea room, a warehouse for storing grains. She gave management of
these places over to her husband. He began claiming ownership. She
prayed in her petition that the court make a marriage settlement by
way of an order of division of the properties. The lower court had
found that the husband was not guilty of neglecting his duty to main-
tain the wife. The father of the complaining woman had testified that
the loans which he had made were to his daughter and son-in-law
jointly. The court concluded that the children were being maintained
by the husband by virtue of his participating in the joint business.
On appeal the Resident Magistrate bluntly disagreed with the lower
court. He found that the husband had nothing of his own with which
to maintain the wife and children. The court further found the father's
testimony about making loans jointly to the daughter and son-in-law
incredulous. The court concluded that the husband was using the
proceeds from his wife's business and her cattle to maintain the family
and to pay the bridewealth for the second wife. The court made no
specific order relating to settlement of property. The judgment of
divorce simply implied that all of the property originally belonged
to the wife, who was being maintained by virtue of her own wealth and
not that of the husband.
Although the Resident Magistrate's decision above was in keeping
with the principles laid down in I. v. I. above favoring rights of a
married in property jointly managed by herself and her former
husband, the appellate decision conflicted with the reasoning of
another lower court which expounded a theory of Akamba customary law
which worked against the married woman. The theory is worth examining
because it represents a problem which land reformers have not addressed
directly. The theory was expounded by a district magistrate court in
a semi-arid area southeast of Nairobi, where there seems to be a direct
proportional relationship between the rate of divorce and the severity
of drought (Jones n.d., District Magistrate, Machakos, Maintenance
Cases of 1969, courtesy of P. Waki). The complainant was a woman who
sought divorce on the grounds of the husband's alleged desertion and
failure to provide maintenance. She sought in addition a monthly
allowance for herself and the children. She had moved from the
matrimonial farm to her parents and was earning money as a government
employee. She had bought a farm where she intended to settle. The
parties had married under their customary law. The district magistrate
examined their customary law of divorce. He found that she had
deserted by going to her parents. She therefore automatically deprived
herself of any support from her husband. The court went on to pronounce
. it is a [customary] law that a married woman has got no
property of her own which she acquires while in the enjoyment
of her matrimonial life. That includes any property acquired
by the wife either in the course of employment or in the course
of any other work done by her but while she is a legally married
wife. That does not include any property given to her by her
parents or any other type of present from her friends. (Jones
n.d., District Magistrate, Machakos, Maintenance Cases of 1969,
courtesy of P. Waki)
In brief, a married woman upon divorce could not expect under customary
law to claim any properties which she acquired with her own money earned
during her marriage. She could claim only properties bought with money
from her family or friends. The court deemed the wife's salary in this
case and the wealth (including the farm) which she accumulated from
these earnings as belonging to her husband. Therefore, since he
could not be said to be neglecting his duty to maintain, no divorce
This kind of reasoning would be more appropriate for a situation
in which the married woman received from her husband land to cultivate
to feed herself and their children. Upon divorce she could not claim
the children or a share in the land because the land was reserved for
the next wife to cultivate for herself and the children. She returned
to natal relatives for support or she remarried and worked on her new
husband's land or his family's land. This kind of reasoning not only
violates the principle that a woman has the right to the profitable
contributions which she made to the matrimonial home; it is also
inimical to one of the purposes of land reform, which is to give
security of tenure in order to encourage long-term investment in
improvements in the land. The legislators may do well to consider
legislation which would harmonize the divorce and maintenance laws
as they relate to women and the principle of land reform. For example,
they could consider requiring the husband upon divorce to turn over
to the woman wishing to continue to till that portion of land which
would be the equivalent in value of the improvements which she made
on the land while farming it during the marriage, provided that her
father has no land to give her in her own name.
The law seems inherently unfair when it gives a person (usually
a man) the economic use of the labor of another (usually a woman)
without any compensation to the latter, under the guise of maintenance.
Lord Denning, a highly respected common law judge, dear to the hearts
of many citizens of the formerly colonialized developing countries,
refused to permit the law this luxury. His thinking is well worth
examination by any government seeking to harmonize family law and
agrarian reform as a matter of justice. In Wachtel v. Wachtel, (1973)
1 All England Reports 829, he enunciated judicial recognition of the
economic value of the labor contributed by a woman to a household.
It is as valuable as the earnings which a woman contributes to house-
hold expenses or savings. Being of value, it entitles her to a share
in the homestead upon divorce or separation ( 1 A.E.R. at 830).
The principle could logically and equitably be extended to the Philip-
pine common law wife discussed above. In Wachtel the lower court had
divided the value of the family assets equally between the two
divorced spouses who had been married for eighteen years. Family
assets were defined as "things acquired by one or the other spouse with
the intent that they should be continuing provision for themselves and
their children during their joint lives and used for the benefit of the
family" ( 1 A.E.R. at 836). The husband was ordered to pay one
large lump sum of money to the wife who had decided to leave the matri-
monial home. The money was sufficient for a deposit on a flat. The
husband appealed the decision, contending that the recent statute
enacted on the division of property upon divorce had not intended a
shift from the old idea of maintenance to one of distribution of assets
and purchasing power. He also disliked the court's starting from the
presumption that "equal division" was right.
Lord Denning disagreed. He traced the history of division of
assets under common and statutory laws. Twenty-five years before
Wachtel, if the home were in the husband's name, as it usually was in
fact, it belonged to him in law and equity. Whatever money the wife
contributed was regarded as a gift and not recoverable. Some courts,
however, were permitting her to recover whatever financial contribu-
tions she had made towards paying mortgages or deposits. The Royal
Commission on Marriage and Divorce observed that since then that
". .. it is an unwarrantable hardship when in consequence [of
devoting herself to caring for her husband and children] she finds
herself in the end with nothing she can call her own" ( 1
A.E.R. at 837). In other words, as graphically portrayed by another
Justice, "The cock can.feather the nest because he does not have to
spend most of his time sitting on it" ( 1 A.E.R. at 837). Lord
Denning knew that it was time that the courts did justice to the
woman. The court decided that Parliament intended that the wife
who looks after the home and family is contributing in kind, not to
be treated differently from the woman who contributes money from her
salaried or commercial earnings. Lord Denning discounted the pros-
pects of remarriage as an important consideration when awarding a
lump sum to the woman. In the past a woman who remarried suffered
a reduction in what she could claim from her former spouse. Lord
Denning in ruthlessly applying the principle of fairness wrote:
"After all she has earned it by her contribution in looking after the
home and caring for the family. It should not be taken away from her
by the prospect of remarriage" ( 1 A.E.R. at 841).
In Peru one of the basic principles of land reform law is
potentially compatible with Lord Denning's notion of equity as
described above in Wachtel. The Peruvian agrarian reform law was
designed to abolish all relationships that de facto or de jure linked
the granting of usufructuary rights in land with the rendering of
personal services (article 2) (Peru, Agrarian Reform Law, No. 15037 of
1964). However, it does not seem that the Peruvian legislators were
thinking of wives and daughters. If they were, they would have asked
themselves why a woman's services rendered to the household in which
she lives should be linked only to usufructuary rights in the lands
owned by the male head of her household.
It is true that the provisions of the agrarian reform law does
not explicitly limit to men eligibility to participate in the distri-
bution of public lands, as in Colombia. Yet the law is written in
such a way that men are favored in receiving allotments because of a
recurrent presumption that women are incapable of farming. The law
created the Institute of Agrarian Reform to make allotments to land-
less peasants or peasants with insufficient lands. The allotments
are to be family sized lots, meaning areas that could be worked
directly by the farmer and the members of his family" (article 96).
Among the eligibility requirements for a recipient are Peruvian
citizenship, capability for farming, and an age of not less than
eighteen years or not more than sixty unless one had a seventeen year
old son. Apparently, and unfortunately, daughters are not expected
to farm, and even if they do farm, they are not to be encouraged to
farm on behalf of their fathers. The security of tenure during the
lifetime of the owner also depends on the owner having a son. Eject-
ment from the family sized allotment that was the only agrarian property
of the farmer in question is not permitted if the owner famrs the land
directly or has an adult son or sons capable of farming the land
(article 148). Again the lawmakers presumed irrebutably that women
are not capable of farming. When a farmer who had received an allot-
ment dies, the estate is to stay within the family by way of inheri-
tance. The original owner can designate by will one successor as long
as the successor works the land (article 106). Because it was appar-
ently regarded as socially unacceptable for women to work the land
primarily rather than secondarily as helpers, the law only perpetuates
the status quo: the dependency of women. If the owner leaves no will,
the surviving family members can designate a successor. If, in social
practice, women do not have decision-making powers in a family, the
law does not motivate the family to encourage them to become indepen-
dent peasants. If women are not chosen as heirs, they can receive
only financial compensation equal to a prescribed percentage, rather
than the value of their contribution towards improving the land.
IV. Conclusions and Recommendations
As indicated in the foregoing case studies, too many legislators
have written into land reform laws, explicitly or implicitly, several
obstacles which prevent women from becoming independent peasants able
or willing to take the initiative regarding the lands they till.
Undergirding this legislative behavior are certain basic social assump-
1. Social and economic stability in a society depends on men
being made primarily responsible for maintenance of their
families. Women are and should be only secondarily respon-
2. Women, highly respected and admired for their reproductive
and productive contributions, especially when married, are
adequately protected by their patrilineal or matrilineal
ties. Women have no needs beyond the need to help their
male guardians to preserve their control over land for the
protection of women and children.
3. Family laws creating unequal responsibilities for maintenance
and permitting accordingly unequal distribution of family
assets among men and women in inheritance pursue goals
which are and should be different from the goals of agrarian
law reforms. There is no need to reconcile the two or to
decide which will take precedence in case of conflict.
Until policy and law makers are willing to perceive the inequity
of these assumptions, half of the population will not be contributing
their utmost to development and will be sources of instability. To
overcome this unjust and counterproductive situation, governments should
begin to implement the following policies:
1. In addition to the goal of economic equity, governments
should make equality between women and men a principle
of their legal systems. This is crucial in countries where
rights depend on the discretion of courts or of land reform
2. Governments should re-examine current legislation with the
purpose of providing incentives for women to exercise equal
rights of management of land. This is needed particularly
in countries which exempt women from prohibitions against
subletting the land, but permit male tenants or rent col-
lectors to manage land.
3. The traditional obligation to provide women with land to
produce food for their children should be preserved. This
is crucial in countries where polygyny is practiced or where
men are frequently absent from the farms. Where women are
put in control of wealth not for their own welfare and
independence but as trustees for their children, the law
should make it difficult for a woman to transfer the land
or its produce to men who wish to replace her as guardian
because of sex bias.
4. In reconciling family laws with agrarian reform laws, govern-
ments should preserve a range of rights to property from
which women, not their guardians, can choose. Such
choices should depend on the degree of harmony between
a woman and her matrilineal family when the patrilineal
ties break down. This is important in countries where
the divorce or separation rate is high.
5. Governments must educate women in the rights which they
can assert regardless of social practices and should
include the study of legal rights in agricultural voca-
tional curricula. Where the desire to assert economic
independence will depend on a woman's confidence in her
ability to till land herself or to overcome traditional
taboos, the laws should especially provide for her
training in tilling and, at the very least, for greater
accountability of male managers to her.
The Ethiopian land reform law--one of the most recently enacted--
is a good example with which to conclude. It is a case in which
legislators could have implemented the foregoing five policies, but
instead attempted to blend modern principles with tradition without
a realistic understanding of the choices which are and should be
open to women. In Ethiopian communities which are traditionally
matrilineal, the divorced or separated woman previously had a right
to take part of her former spouse's land or ask to control land
inherited from her parents but possessed by a male relative or her
former spouse (Bruce 1976: 270-271). Her wishes were fulfilled so
long as she was head of a household and paid her share of land taxes.
Often in practice her ultimate share was so small that she left it
in the possession of the male relative or former spouse and received
only a share of the harvest (Bruce 1976: 406ff.). Thus, it would
seem that in practice a woman was not expected to be in control of
In 1975 the Public Ownership of Rural Lands Proclamation
(No. 31/1975 in Food and Agricultural Org. 1975: llff.) introduced
two principles: one, all lands were the collective property of the
people; two, only tillers of the soil may be allotted land sufficient
to sustain themselves and their families [section 4 (1)]. The law
states clearly that there was to be no "differentiation of the sexes"
[section 4(1)]. A woman head of a household can receive land as in
the past. However, a woman who cannot cultivate her land, for whatever
(traditional) reasons, is in effect excluded from the allocation program.
She cannot hire labor to help her [section 4(5)] as she might have in
the past. Only a woman who both cannot personally cultivate and has
no other adequate means of livelihood is permitted to hire help.
The Proclamation did not define the term "livelihood." A government
official allocating lands is left to construe the Proclamation's
meaning. Such an official will most probably interpret the term
"livelihood" in such a way that a woman has to prove not only that
she lacks skills, agricultural and non-agricultural, to sustain herself
by her own efforts, and also is not being maintained in the traditional
manner, sharing in the harvest of lands tilled and controlled by male
relatives. When a head of a household is widowed, is unable to culti-
vate her land, and is not being maintained by relatives, the peasants'
association (mandatorily organized under law) is given the responsi-
bility to till and control the widow's holdings [section 10(7)].
The divorced or separated woman is also inadequately provided
for: she is, in effect, excluded. She no longer has the traditional
right to her former husband's lands. She has a new right to be
allocated ten hectares, but if she cannot cultivate this land herself,
she cannot get help from the association. She can hire labor only
if she proves that she has no other means of livelihood. In effect,
the new Proclamation forces women either to choose to break all tradi-
tional taboos against personal involvement in all the work tradition-
ally done by men or to choose to fall under the maintenance umbrella
of a husband or male relative who tills her land. Neither choice
would seem to be palatable for many women in the current Ethiopian
context. Nor are women and men treated equitably, because a man faces
these choices only if he is ill or physically or mentally incapacitated.
The legislators should have devised exemptions for women designed
to enable them to start taking advantage of the principle that one who
tills shall control the land. A woman, regardless of marital status,
should be able to control land as she was under the traditional matri-
lineal system. And she should be required to prove why she needs help
to till her land and to inform the village peasant association of the
steps she is taking to improve her ability to till the land herself.
The Ethiopian example underlines the propensity for land reform
to increase the dependence of women and how this outcome can be
circumvented. The price of land reform should not be and need not be
to increase women's dependence.