It is now widely recognized that the agrarian reforms implemented from
the 1950s through the 1970s were gender blind. These reforms were often
based on the assumption that assets allocated to the head of household -
typically male - would benefit all household members equitably. Not only
did these reforms ignore the well-being of women and their dependents in
the event of household dissolution (upon separation, divorce or
widowhood), they were also blind to the ways in which gender-based
inequalities in access to land exacerbated married women's (unpaid)
workloads, economic insecurity, and bargaining power within households.
These reforms took place at a time when gender equality was marginal to
the policy agenda and when women's organizations lacked their current
visibility. In the 1990s the reform of land tenure institutions once
again emerged as a prominent issue for international development
agencies. But was this new wave of reforms any more gender sensitive
than those of the past?
A main focus of the more recent reforms was land titling, designed to
promote security of tenure and stimulate land markets. The reforms were
often driven by domestic and external neoliberal coalitions, with
funding from global and regional organizations subscribing to the
position that private property rights are essential for a dynamic
agricultural sector. Yet it would be too simplistic to view the diverse
national experiences of land tenure reform as top-down neoliberal
undertakings. Democratic transitions, though often fragile, have opened
up new possibilities for agrarian reform, placing inequalities in land
distribution back on national agendas. The involvement of social
movements, including women's movements, and their domestic and
international allies has been the other hallmark of recent policy
debates on land. The extent to which women's interests are reflected in
the new generation of reforms is the key question examined in this
Research and Policy Brief.
Briefing available in english, french and spanish.
United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Geneva, Switzerland, ISSN 1811-0142, 4 pp.