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Policies that seek to give women assets, particularly land, have often failed to achieve their goals. Explained as a failure of implementation and adequate resourcing, the deeper problem lies in the use of a segmented rather than holistic analytical framework that treats both assets and women as discrete, individual objects, rather than socially embedded and networked.
Land gives meaning to people’s lives – not just a productive resource and a source of material wealth, it equally offers security, status and recognition; hence access to land is coveted, contested and negotiated in multiple ways by differently positioned people, including women. Failure to understand the lived realities of people’s lives and the gendered meanings of both assets and agency, including power relations, contributes to converting women into ‘beneficiaries’, their agency denied in the process.
Drawing on long-term research in South Asia, and some elsewhere, Nitya Rao explores the need to develop an alternate framework that goes beyond binaries, unpacks the continuums and multidimensionality of grassroots realities and women’s lives, and underlines the subjective dimensions of respectability, belongingness, recognition and risk-taking ability, as equally coveted resources.
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