Tag Archives: gender

Changing gender relations after land reform

There have been a number of excellent publications on shifts in gender relations after land reform. A piece in Agrarian South by Patience Mutopo, Jeannette Manjengwa and Manase Chiweshe, Shifting Gender Dimensions and Rural Livelihoods after Zimbabwe’s Fast-Track Land Reform Programme, reflected on work in Mwenezi, Mazowe and Chinoyi. Framed within a narrative of ‘re-peasantization’, they conclude:

“The return to the rural areas by women from every class has led to the formation of new agri-business activities among women, which has shaped new social production relations. In so doing, women have also redefined gender roles and household governance, negotiated with patriarchy in establishing niche land-based livelihoods, and created new migration patterns for themselves, where previously they had been confined to the household.”

Based on the early Utete audit report of 2003, only 18 percent of farms in A1 and 12 percent of farms in A2 are held by women. But, as the paper shows, this does not tell the whole story of access. The negotiation of access to land and land-related businesses in the context of patriarchal marriage and community relations has been possible for many (see earlier blogs on this theme, here and here).

Based on research in Mazowe and Goromonzi, Manase Chiweshe, Loveness Chakona and Kirk Heilliker argue in a paper in the Journal of Asian and African Studies that:

“…radical socio-spatial reorganisation such as fast track may destabilise systems of patriarchy. In the case of fast track, there has been a reconfiguration of relations between men and women yet this is uneven and contradictory and remains within the confines of patriarchal structures, practices and discourses. At the same time, women have manoeuvred and negotiated at local levels to enhance their lives and livelihoods.”

Patience Mutopo’s important book, based on extensive fieldwork in Mwenezi, shows this very well, documenting the importance of new migration and trading routes for women, who with access to land (often formally held by husbands) are investing in agricultural and livestock production in this extremely dry part of the country.

In a more recent paper in Africa Review, Sandra Bhatasara and Manase Chiweshe argue that there is a need to go ‘beyond gender’ and the fixation on the survey figures on land holding status. Proposing an ‘intersectionality’ and ‘agency’ perspective, they argue that multiple dimensions of difference interact to determine access, and women, even in constrained settings, can exert agency using a range of approaches, overt and more hidden. It is an approach focused on social relations rather than social status or categories that is advocated. They argue:

“Whilst women appear losers as portrayed in many studies, was it only gender that determined access? What about age, nationality, class, political affiliation and traditional roots among other aspects? How did the 18% quoted in several studies get land? What about married women in this debate? Were women just victims in the FTLRP?”

They conclude that land access needs to be understood within an intersectionality framework, arguing that “women were not merely victims but used versatile tactics and strategies to get land”.

This focus on agency, social relations and multiple, intersecting dimensions of difference seems an important step forward in the on-going debate about gender and land reform, moving beyond the numbers game to a focus on processes by which land access is gained. It does not make the case that all is well. Zimbabwean rural society is extremely patriarchal, with women often excluded and subject to violence, but it opens up more opportunities beyond a victimhood narrative.

This is the sixth in a series of short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. Nearly all of these studies are by Zimbabwean researchers, reflecting the growing research capacity and ability to comment on important issues of policy in the post-Mugabe era. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

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Why is IDS a special institution?

ids timeline

The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. I have been working here for a shocking 40% of this time, and in the week of a major anniversary conference, I thought I should jot a few thoughts down on why IDS has been and remains special.

In 1966, the Institute was founded with Dudley Seers as the first director. It was designated a ‘special institution’ by the UK government, with a particular mandate for research and training. In the period following the end of colonialism, Britain had a special role and needed a special institution. The project of ‘development’ in the ‘Third World’ back then was not supposed to last 50 years. But today with a different focus and new challenges the need for critical, engaged research and training is needed perhaps even more than ever.

Critical traditions

But what for me is special, and why have I remained committed to IDS for now more than 20 years? There have been many tributes, reflections and summary histories offered, but none for me capture the importance of IDS’ radical, critical traditions: the ability to challenge orthodoxies, to speak truth to power, and to translate this into action. Being neither a purely academic institution, nor a NGO or think tank, but a hybrid, not fettered by the constraints and limitations of either, is very important. It can be uncomfortable; but that’s the point.

When I first came to IDS in 1995, there was always a classic set-piece debate between Michael Lipton and Robert Chambers at the beginning of each academic year. They represented two different views on development, held productively in tension. Of course they agreed more than the performance suggested, but it was a useful highlight of how a common normative commitment to progressive change could be looked at through very different lenses: between top-down and bottom-up, between macro-structural and micro-people focused analyses, between economics and wider social sciences, and so on. Using diverse approaches, encapsulated in the 1993 classic, States and Markets, IDS research over many years has challenged what became the dominant neoliberal paradigm, encapsulated in its most extreme ideological form by the ‘Washington Consensus’.

In the last 20 years, these debates have continued in different forms. There have been many excellent contributions that have taken the stance represented more by the Lipton side of the debate – from looking at industrial clusters and value chains to the economic role of the rising powers – as well as many that have emphasised more the Chambers-type perspectives – including the on-going work on participation, citizenship and popular politics.

But actually the most challenging contributions have been when such perspectives have been in dialogue. This is only possible in a cross-disciplinary institution, where the drag of narrow disciplinary specialisms – and the horrific metric-dominated assessment approaches that go with this today – do not limit interaction and creativity. Let me highlight a few of these areas (of many), where I think IDS work (and crucially that of its global network of partners) has been especially exciting.


One area that I have been fairly centrally involved in, and I think is quintessentially IDS, is work on livelihoods. Indeed with both Chambers and Lipton involved, this was from the beginning a syncretic endeavour. When I produced the 1998 IDS Working Paper on the sustainable livelihoods framework, both reviewed it. And indeed the framework – with its long back history involving many people from Jeremy Swift to Susanna Moorhead to Richard Longhurst, among others – was the result of just these conversations: an approach explicitly aimed at involving economists, yet not forgetting the social, political and institutional. More recently I have reflected on the limitations, particularly as applied in development practice, and argued for a more structural, political economy perspective as central to livelihoods approaches.

States and citizens

This tension between wider structural, political-economic analysis and more locality-focused, participatory understandings was perhaps best illustrated during the 2000s when IDS hosted two of the early DFID Development Research Centres – one on the state and one on citizenship, led by two formidable political scientists – Mick Moore and John Gaventa. With IDS by then exclusively reliant on external, tied support from different donors, inevitably projects had to respond to the contours of the funding environment, and this slightly odd division reflected that in DFID at the time. But hosted within one institution it allowed for a productive, if at times tetchy, debate. Does citizen action construct states, or do states construct citizens? And what do states and citizens constitute anyway? Both centres provided an important challenge, once again, to the neoliberal versions being touted elsewhere.

Gender and empowerment

Work on gender empowerment has been a central feature of work at IDS and Sussex since the 1970s, and the classic contributions of Kate Young and Annie Whitehead. Naila Kabeer, Anne Marie Goetz, Andrea Cornwall and many others followed the tradition, offering challenging scholarship rooted in real struggles. But here too the important tension between structural change versus collective organisation from below played out again. In feminist analyses of course the personal is always political – and vice versa. However in discussions of ‘empowerment’ we see different strands, ranging from those focusing on economic empowerment and formal rights, versus those emphasising individual agency, the politics of the body and sexuality. Debating these dimensions has been a massively important contribution.

The politics of knowledge

Whether taking a more structural view or one more focused on individual or collective agency, knowledge framings matter. The politics of knowledge has been especially emphasised in IDS work on the environment, which really took off in a big way from the early 1990s. As Robert Chambers memorably asked: whose reality counts? The now classic 1996 book, The Lie of the Land, edited by Melissa Leach and Robin Mearns, asked why it was that so often environmental management and policy in Africa – from the colonial era to the present – does not respond to realities on the ground, and systematically ignores local knowledges. The answer of course is politics – and how experts, embedded in institutions, understand the world.

Environment and sustainability

This theme of the politics of the policy process has been a central theme of IDS work on environment and resources over 20 years. Building on strong connections with IDS’ sister institution at Sussex, the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), also celebrating 50 years this year, we jointly launched the STEPS Centre in 2006, with ESRC funds, and with Melissa Leach and Andy Stirling I have had the privilege of jointly directing the Centre since then. Here a highly productive synergy between the concerns of development studies and science and technology studies has unfolded over the past decade. With knowledge, politics, and power central, we too have struggled with understanding ‘pathways to sustainability’ that at once capture the relational agency of diverse actors and the wider conditioning effects of political economy. Once again a cross-disciplinary engagement has been absolutely essential –and immensely exciting, intellectually and practically.

Making a difference

None of these research efforts, often lasting long periods, with multiple funders, and diverse research teams at Sussex and beyond, is aimed solely at producing outputs from esteemed academic journals (although there have been plenty of these). All IDS researchers are committed to change: generating ideas to make a difference. In the world of often pointless impact case studies and metrics this may sound glib; but political engagement matters not just to analysis, but also to practice.

The first two images of the official but rather selective IDS 50th anniversary timeline are one of Stanmer House, a very English country house in the South Downs, near the campus of the University of Sussex where IDS was first based, and a Warhol-esque picture of Chairman Mao. It is these sort of contrasts, tensions and yes contradictions that keeps IDS on its toes, and makes it, despite the funding pressures, an exciting place to work – and really does make IDS a special institution.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland



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Gender relations and land reform in Zimbabwe

What have been the consequences of Zimbabwe’s land reform for agrarian gender relations? This is a crucial question. If land reform was aimed at addressing historical racial imbalances in land ownership, has it also challenged gender inequalities?

Surveys have shown how many women gained land in their own right (and were granted ‘offer letters’). Between 15 and 20 percent of new A1 plots are recorded as controlled by women. With inheritance of land, this may have increased marginally over time. The pattern in A2 areas was even more skewed to male control, with only around 10 percent being controlled by women; although transfers have been higher through inheritance in these farms.

Based simply on these figures, the record of land reform in addressing gender inequalities is poor. However, such assessments say nothing about the effects of land reform on gender relations, and the power, influence and control of assets of men and women in rural society. New work suggests contrasting interpretations, and interesting dynamics.

Some researchers have argued that land reform has opened up spaces of opportunity for women, whereby new livelihoods can be pursued, and a greater economic independence realised. This view has been emphasised by Patience Mutopo in her excellent study of women in a new resettlement area in Mwenezi district, in the dry south of the country. Access to land – often portions of husbands’ fields – provided the route to building new trading enterprises. Mutopo traced the economic and social linkages that resettlement women created. It is a fascinating story, now written up in a book. It shows that economic and social empowerment does not have to come through the formal allocation of land to women, but many women are able to negotiate access to resources within existing marriage and other institutions, and make very good use of these opportunities. She argues that women ‘can have remarkable bargaining power in certain domains’. She shows how new livelihood activities, notably trading involving travel away from the rural home, have meant changed gender relations. When women travel, husbands must take on domestic caring roles, including cooking and childcare. And with increased incomes, women may be the ones offering cash to their home-bound husbands when they return.

In a paper in Agrarian South by Mutopo, together with Jeanette Manjengwa and Manase Chiweshe, a series of cases are offered that show women accumulating in their own right. In the higher potential zones, agricultural production on the new resettlements was providing income that was being invested in school fees, home development as well as farming inputs. In the drier parts of the country, the cases showed women adopting more diversified livelihoods, including the use of natural resources for craft making and trading. Such patterns of accumulation are assisted through forms of collective organisation by women, facilitating trading, gaining access to markets or providing mutual aid to help out with domestic activities. Such new relations among women provide a basis for solidarity, assistance and economic organisation maximising the opportunities of the land reform, they argue.

In our work in Masvingo province we found a diversity of patterns across sites. New gender relations were being negotiated within households, as women gained economic independence and control over resources, separate from men. Simply having larger farms, and a greater level of production and income means that divisions of labour have shifted, with separate enterprises created, with different responsibilities. While in communal area homes, women have often managed to create some form of independence – growing their own vegetables, buying their own goats – the room for manoeuvre is limited, and with less income to hire labour from outside, women are often restricted to social reproductive activities, and providing labour for efforts controlled by men.

Those women who highlighted the benefits of land reform most enthusiastically in our study areas were those who had been marginalised and ostracised in their previous homes. These included single women, divorcees, and those who – for a range of reasons – had become outcasts in their communities, often targeted as ‘witches’. The land reform areas offered a space outside restrictive, discriminatory, sometimes dangerous settings from where they came. For such women, these were genuinely liberated spaces.

However, others have highlighted that there are severe limits to such liberation. In a recent paper Manase Chiweshe, Loveness Chanoka and Kirk Helliker ask, based on data from Mazowe and Goromonzi, whether radical socio-spatial reorganisations such as fast-track land reform can destabilise forms of domination such as patriarchy. They conclude that patriarchy is so entrenched and the fast-track programme is ‘highly masculinized’, very often limiting opportunities. Bargaining with patriarchy, they argue, has limits. They quote one woman in Goromonzi who comments:

“The household setup is not fair, as men have full control of cash crops and as we women … are responsible for crops that are mainly for family consumption for example round nuts. The unfair part of it is, even if as women we sell surplus ‘women crops’, men’s hands will be seen when monies get on the table. That is the reason why we also engage ourselves in other non-agricultural income-generating activities in a bid to widen our income base”.

When so-called ‘customary law’ becomes extended into new resettlement areas women can become especially disadvantaged. In the early days of land occupation and the beginning of the fast-track programme, the new resettlements – as the old resettlements – were outside customary control, organised through Committees of Seven, linked to political and administrative structures. However over time, as Chiefs and headmen have exerted authority over the new resettlements, hybrid institutional arrangements have emerged.

In areas of land and inheritance in particular an increasing influence of patriarchal customary systems are observed. As Prosper Matondi comments in his 2012 book, the land reform ‘has perpetuated the customary property rights in favour of men’. The implementation of new A1 permits may have helped to reverse some of this trend, as the more detailed permits now replacing ‘offer letters’ require both men and women to be named, and thus specify inheritance rights for women. This provides some protection of the imposition of ‘customary’ rules that frequently result of land and assets being taken by male relatives on the death of a husband.

As Chiweshe and colleagues point out, the burdens of social reproduction continue to fall substantially on women in the new resettlements. But in these new settings, the challenges may well have increased, with the lack of basic infrastructure. The distance to clinics for example can be substantial, and similarly water collection distances may be longer than in their former homes. While investments have occurred, these have been slow and limited, and most resettlement areas have few facilities.

There are thus highly contradictory effects resulting from land reform on gender relations. As Chiweshe and colleagues conclude “[al]though in large part insensitive to the land needs and rights of women, in some ways fast track nevertheless improved – albeit inadvertently – the lives of A1 women… Despite the prevalence of patriarchy as an intertwined system of structures and practices, women have sought to identify and open up gaps and pursue new activities as they manoeuvre their way..”.

It is this active agency, involving negotiation, bargaining and generating creative solutions, that comes across strongly in these studies. While the power imbalances are clear, and gender discrimination widespread, this does not mean that women always lose out.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland



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