Feminist Political Ecology: Intersections with Development

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Chapter 2: Literature Review

Feminist Political Ecology: Intersections with Development

This study is anchored in feminist political ecology (FPE) as a theoretical approach. At odds with the objectives of many modern development projects, FPE argues that the local experiences and micro-interactions of gender are essential and overlapping factors when attempting to understand how individuals interact with their environment. If we consider gender as an economic, ecological, and social dynamic embedded in historical processes that goes beyond simply relations between men and women, our understanding of changing livelihoods within communities can deepen (Mollett, 2018; Nelson, 2012). Gendered subjectivities, as one of many identities we experience, illustrate how and why inequalities exist regarding the well-being of individuals, power relations within and across communities, and their access to, distribution of, and relationships with natural resources (Rocheleau et al., 1996). However, many development interventions aiming to improve the quality of life for its beneficiaries through better technologies, agricultural practices, or infrastructure often fail to consider how gendered livelihoods intersect with their objectives (Bhattarai, Beilin, & Ford, 2015; Fortmann, 1996; O’Reilly, 2006; Van Houweling, 2015). Daily practices and livelihoods construct the spaces and relationships people engage with, and these spaces are inextricably linked to ecological processes (A. J. Nightingale, 2011).
FPE encompasses three dimensions of gender and environment relations in the context of political ecology; these dimensions attempt to distinguish different levels of interaction that affect and are affected by gendered social structures. The first dimension, gendered knowledge, addresses how scientific and traditional knowledge is affected by the “axes of difference that may shape peoples’ experience and understanding with environment” (Rocheleau et al., 1996, p.10). Second, gendered rights and responsibilities focus on power dynamics of control over and access to natural resources and constructed environments; this includes formal ownership of resources such as land, as well as responsibilities involved in managing resources within households and across communities. Finally, the third dimension – gendered environmental activism and grassroots organizing – addresses women’s participation in collective groups and the various ways that local people organize to manage natural resources and share risk amidst resource scarcity (A. Nightingale, 2006; Rocheleau et al., 1996). These distinct yet interrelated elements of nature-gender relations provide pathways to examine the complexities and differences of men and women’s access to and power over ecological knowledge, capital, decision-making, politics, and collectivism.
We cannot fully understand the sustainability and effectiveness of development interventions without considering the personal stories and experiences of people within their own communitiesand livelihoods. FPE emphasizes the expertise of the individual, whereby people’s perceptions and lived experiences are the foundation to understanding human-nature relations (Rocheleau et al., 1996). Using local, “situated knowledges” (Haraway, 1988) to inform policies, projects, and interventions questions the formal understanding of expertise in research and program design. For example, goals to increase women’s participation in development activities can operate upon and perpetuate preexisting gender inequities or create a divide between “traditional” and “modern” (O’Reilly, 2006). Furthermore, management of and struggles for natural resources are not merely physical or tangible, but they are also emotional and relational. Emotions are fluid, and the spaces and places of these emotions matter (Sultana, 2011). These spaces and places are dictated by institutional and social structures that influence how people see themselves, relate to each other, and relate to such structures of power (Miles, 2014). This paper aims to contribute to the deepening body of literature that uses FPE as an entryway into the complexities of individual livelihoods and their intersection with socioenvironmental relationships in the context of development, gender, and migratory impacts on agricultural production.

The Social Relations Approach to Empowerment

Recent literature has attempted to understand how changes in decision-making authority and workload in the context of male labor migration relate to empowerment with contradictory results. Some argue that increasing labor burdens on women and girls reinforce unequal gendered divisions of labor, overburdening women to perform more work in the absence of men without adequate time for education, leisure, and other personal investments (Lastarria-Cornhiel, 2006). Others assert that increased control over income, access to remittances, and decision making authority over household tasks can lead to a greater sense of autonomy and empowerment (Deere, 2005; Yabiku, Agadjanian, & Sevoyan, 2010). Women’s empowerment within the feminization of agriculture narrative is often measured through participation in household decision-making, access to wage employment, control over finances, or assuming other managerial roles as their husbands migrate. However, the link between such outcomes and increased empowerment has been challenged and complicated. Managerial spheres of financial and agricultural duties at the household and community levels add complexity to dimensions of women’s empowerment as new gendered responsibilities contest and redefine preexisting power dynamics (Gartaula et al., 2010). Empowerment is a “process of change” (Kabeer, 1999, p. 437) in relations of power and “extensions of agency” (van den Bold, Quisimbing, & Gillespie, 2013). Empowerment is often measured by the presence or absence of inequalities in meeting demands of basic well-being, i.e. nutritional demands or reliable access to natural resources, or in observable actions such as market participation. However, these metrics fail to incorporate the capacity of choice in everyday lives. Kabeer (1999) emphasizes the need to understand empowerment through three main dimensions: agency (actions, motivations, and meanings exercised by both individuals and groups to make choices and act toward self-defined goals), resources (material, human, and social resources used to make such choices), and achievements (outcomes and inequalities  associated with the ability to make choices and achieve desired goals). These dimensions are inevitably complicated to measure, predict, and attempt to understand. Lacking a final state, empowerment is not an outcome in itself (Carr, 2003). Rather, empowerment indicators can “indicate the direction and meaning of change” (Kabeer, 1999, p. 461) as it relates to a conscious effort of transformation within an individual’s reality. Furthermore, it cannot be measured in a holistic manner without considering the values, perceptions, and biases of the individual measuring it. As Haraway (1988) suggests, the question “with whose blood were my eyes crafted” (p. 585) helps identify the ways that an outsider or researcher’s perspective is created through historically systemic inequalities and cultural differences. Gender inequalities that pervade everyday lives cannot be directly assumed as unjust without placing them in a large societal context (Kabeer, 1999). Thus, in considering individuals’ perceptions, empowerment is difficult to claim as an objective measurement or outcome; its quantifiable potential is limited. Individual indicators often used in agricultural development, such as input in decision-making, attendance at agricultural trainings, or access to markets, are insufficient. Relations of power must be considered within specific geographical contexts and through dynamic factors that affect roles within and beyond households.
The Social Relations Approach (SRA) to empowerment recognizes that gender relations are entrenched within systems and structures that shape social relations (Kabeer, 1994). As an institutional analysis of gender inequalities, it assumes that development ultimately aims to improve people’s livelihoods beyond economic growth. Furthermore, it focuses on the importance of social relations in determining how people view and act upon their roles and responsibilities with others. Four main institutions, the state, the market, the community, and the family, “defined by their rules, resources, people, activities, and power” (Miles, 2014, p. 4) reciprocally interact and produce social relations, as well as inequalities. As these institutions function, they enforce and reinforce gendered policies, actions, and relationships that they are built upon; the short-term and long-term implications of these institutional interactions are integral for sustainable planning and a thorough, yet unavoidably incomplete, understanding of how power operates in a given context (Kabeer, 1994; Kabeer & Subrahmanian, 1996; Miles, 2014). Empowerment reflects both an individual’s ‘power within,’ or their agency and choice in their own life, as well as their ‘power with’ families, community members, and other actors in their social networks to collectively socialize, organize, and act toward a commonly defined goal. The importance of social relationships and collective action in empowerment has been emphasized in recent research (Cornwall, 2016; Eyben, 2011; Kabeer, 2011; Kabeer & Huq, 2010; Miles, 2014). Even if material resources may incentivize people to come together, continuously building trust and social reciprocity through face-to-face relationships establishes power and ownership over social spaces toward positive change (Cornwall, 2016; Kabeer, 2011). The relational dimensions of development are often undervalued in comparison to measurements of individual agency, yet both are inextricably linked along pathways of empowerment.

Deconstructing the Feminization of Agriculture Narrative

Women have had significant and varying responsibilities in agricultural production throughout history. However, as Boserup (1970) initially argued, as men migrate to look for wage labor, women may take on the abandoned agricultural roles of men. As other scholars have further examined, farm management roles have also been changing (A. Maharjan, Bauer, & Knerr, 2012; Radel, Schmook, Mcevoy, Mendez, & Petrzelka, 2012; Su, Eriksson, Zhang, & Bai, 2016). Referred to as the feminization of agriculture, this trend addresses the increased labor participation and decision-making roles of women in agriculture (Gartaula et al., 2010). The concept of feminization originates from its application to poverty by Pearce (1978) and has been widely accepted, discussed, and applied in the development of agriculture literature (e.g.Bieri, 2014; Chant, 2006; Chilibeck, 2004; Gaddis & Klasen, 2014; Medeiros & Costa, 2008). Changes in labor and decision-making responsibilities of women in agriculture can be linked to and understood within several globalizing forces, including increasing trends in export-oriented agriculture and push and pull factors for labor migration (Lastarria-Cornhiel, 2006). This feminization phenomenon, however, is a sweeping and oversimplified generalization when considering the gendered complexity of how agricultural households divide labor, make decisions, and enact gender roles (Bieri, 2014). Considering women as “reserve labor pools” (Radel et al., 2012, p. 116) in the context of male out-migration may overlook the contextual variation and complicated ways gendered beings navigate changes in their
livelihoods. Recent literature has called to destabilize a priori assumptions of gendered labor roles and social expectations in the feminization of agriculture and become open to possibilities of how individuals negotiate spaces of capital accumulation in a globalizing world (Bieri, 2014; Ramamurthy, 2010). We have visually conceptualized the feminization of agriculture narrative within the context of this research in Figure 1 in the following section.

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Introduction and Conceptual Approach
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Research Questions and Conceptual Approach
Chapter 2: Literature Review
2.1 Feminist Political Ecology: Intersections with Development
2.2 The Social Relations Approach to Empowerment
2.3 Deconstructing the Feminization of Agriculture Narrative
Chapter 3: Study area
3.1 Overview of Nepal
3.2 Overview of Research Sites
Chapter 4: Methodology
4.1 Sampling Scheme
4.2 Data Collection
4.3 Data Analysis
Chapter 5: Findings
5.1 Complexities of Household Composition and Migratory Patterns
5.2 The Black Box of Household Headship
5.3 Labor Feminization: “Men Plough, Women Plant”?
5.4 Managerial Feminization: Expanding Spaces of Decision-Making
Chapter 6: Discussion, Conclusions, Limitations, and Recommendations
6.1 Discussion
6.2 Conclusions
6.3 Limitations and Recommendations for Future Research

“When He Comes Home, Then He Can Decide”: Male Out-Migration, the Feminization of Agriculture, and Integrated Pest Management in the Nepali Mid-Hills

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