Economics of Gender in Resource Dependent Communities
Economics of Gender in Resource Dependent Communities
- Biswajit RayBiswajit RayUniversity of Calcutta
- and Promita MukherjeePromita MukherjeeJ. D. Birla Institute
Gender inequalities exist within commons-dependent communities in developing countries regarding the role of society’s overall attitudes to women as decision-makers. While, in forestry, women have some access to resources and decision-making, in other community resources like fisheries and irrigation water, women are absent and males entirely dominate. Different theories on gender and environment suggest that women’s inclusion is an important step toward reducing their economic marginalization and argue that in reality women’s economic advancement/empowerment may not get carried into home and community spaces as durable empowerment if society holds negative attitudes toward women’s needs, contribution and deservedness in families and beyond.
Due to society’s negative attitudes toward women, women remain trapped in a vicious cycle of exclusion. Breaking this vicious cycle requires combining household assets and income to assess women’s true poverty type. A flat implementation of economic policies toward women’s pathway out of poverty may not yield the desired results and may even be counterproductive if society’s negative attitudes and the poverty characteristics of women or female-headed households are not taken into account. Since all women are not homogeneous and that a few communities hold pro-women attitudes, to promote women’s economic empowerment, the role of society’s attitudes toward women’s participation as decision-makers cannot be ignored as women’s relations to their social, economic, political, and natural environments are itself a culturally and historically specific process, which can be understood only through identifying and understanding gender-specific attitudes and actions toward those environments.
- Environmental Economics
Economic agents can be male or female, and they interact in families and households as well as in communities, firms, markets, and even the state. Their genders refer to their socially constructed identities, roles, and relations (Jacobsen, 2007). However, gender inequalities in the form of women’s deprivations and exclusions in various spheres of our economic and social life are prevalent. In the labor market, women receive low wages compared to men. Women often receive low recognition for their unpaid care work and daily household chores within families. Women’s needs are also underestimated (Agarwal, 1997). In most communities, they have no entitlement to property or access to productive assets such as arable lands, and their access to employment and other earning means and opportunities is severely restricted as compared to that of men. Also, women are given little chance to participate as decision-makers within and beyond their families and households. As a result, economists have only recently begun to take the implications of these facts into account in advancing their theory, research, and policy analysis to understand the mechanisms behind women’s exclusion in the various contexts of development (Sevilla, 2020, p. 725).
One such important development context, where women’s exclusion has increased significantly over the last three decades or more, relates to women’s participation in the sustainable use and management of common-pool resources, or commons, on which livelihoods of rural communities in the developing nations significantly depend (Agarwal, 2001).1 According to Scoones (1998), rural people’s livelihoods depend on five forms of capital—natural, social, human, physical, and financial. Compared to the other resources, it is the natural commons on which an entire community is more likely to rely. The reasons are that it provides subsistence-level benefits to an entire community, and no one can be excluded from using the resource since these resources are generally owned by communities or the government. Compared to the rural commons, the use and management of the remaining resources are based more on decisions made by an individual rather than a community.2 Hence, this chapter treats the resource-dependent communities mainly as commons-dependent communities and explores the reasons and mechanisms behind gender inequalities in the use and management of common-pool resources in rural communities of developing countries.
The issue is important, as in natural resource-dependent communities, both men and women extract, consume, and manage resources, and particularly women usually perform various daily household chores that are dependent on local commons (Agarwal, 2000). For example, they collect water for drinking and for washing utensils and clothes; they gather firewood for fuel, collect non-wood forest products for cooking food, and graze their cattle in forest areas and pastureland (Agarwal, 2000). A report from FAO has estimated that nearly 880 million people across the world spend part of their time collecting firewood or producing charcoal, and many of them are women (FAO, 2020a). Similarly, an estimated 39 million people were found to be engaged (on a full-time, part-time, or occasional basis) in capture fisheries in 2018, and women accounted for 12% of this total (FAO, 2020b). Women’s involvement in fisheries includes capturing, processing, and even trading of fishes, and in postharvest operations, it is estimated that one of two workers in the sector is a woman (FAO, 2020b).
To this end, we specifically focus on the role of community attitudes to and expectations about women’s needs, contributions, and ability to perform as decision-makers in the use and management of commons for several reasons. First, existing studies have scarcely explored the role of society’s perceptions and attitudes on the bargaining power of men and women, though incorrect or negative perceptions and attitudes toward women can weaken women’s bargaining power relative to men (Agarwal, 1997). Second, in commons-dependent rural communities, perceptions sometimes have a greater influence on determining one’s deservedness than other characteristics of resource users (Mukherjee et al., 2017). Third, while feminist economists such as Agarwal (1997) believe that perceptions do matter in the deprivation and economic marginalization of women, our knowledge about the mechanism through which society’s negative attitudes and perceptions about women aggravate women’s exclusion from decision-making in natural resource-dependent communities is incomplete, as this has been little explored in the gender and natural resource management literature.
With this aim in mind, the article is organized as follows. The next section provides a brief overview of the gendered patterns in using and managing commons. This section describes how the degree of women’s presence changes across the developing countries as well as the types of commons. The section “Economic Consequences of Natural Resource Management and Use: Gendered Patterns?” depicts the differential benefits and costs of using commons from a gender perspective, where benefits include reduction in income inequality and poverty, as well as commons as a safety net, and the costs arise in the form of time and health burdens of women and of various constraints that lead to reduced time available to women for participation in wage labor, community activities, and even leisure. To understand how gender inequalities in natural resource-dependent communities can be reduced, a brief review follows of some of the feminist and feminist ecological economic theories and works that suggest women’s inclusion as decision-makers in community-based resource management is necessary for gender mainstreaming. To ensure this, they suggest that women’s bargaining power needs to be strengthened through various measures such as women’s quota in terms of, say, women’s reservation as decision-makers in community institutions or the labor market or women’s access to arable lands. Rather, we posit that in the presence of society’s negative attitudes toward women’s needs, contributions, and deservedness as decision-makers in natural resource-dependent communities, the measures that are supposed to empower women, such as women’s quota as decision-makers in community institutions, become less effective than expected; and women remain in a vicious circle of exclusion. To test this hypothesis, we base our discussion with the help of a simple framework based on women’s utility from natural resource use and several instances of failure of this policy. After this, we draw on a theory to understand the mechanism that explains why and how a society’s/community’s negative attitudes and expectations about women’s participation in decision-making result in women’s vicious cycle of exclusions and economic marginalization. In a nutshell, theory suggests that women are economically marginalized in households and families as well as in communities, markets, and the state because society as a whole tends to hold low expectations from women as decision-makers. The next section shows the importance of women’s presence as decision-makers in sustainable natural resource use and management based on various case studies. As a way out, we propose to classify the resource users’ poverty types based on a methodology that combines men’s and women’s assets and income. This combined approach provides some policy implications based on which we argue that this approach helps in identifying women’s true poverty types to reduce their vulnerability effectively. The final section, “Policy Challenges and Future Research Needs,” discusses possible challenges that policymakers may face if they want to ensure durable empowerment of women in resource-dependent communities, arguing that the nature and impacts of those challenges on effective policymaking can be understood through further research that helps in understanding not only the factors promoting women’s economic position, but also those improving women-friendly community attitudes.
Gendered Patterns in Natural Resource Use and Management
As part of patterns of their natural resource use and management, men and women have different interests, domains, and roles. These gendered patterns of common-pool resource use and management depend on many factors, including the types of commons. For example, while men catch fish from offshore fisheries, women are mostly engaged in capture fisheries and postharvest activities, such as processing and selling, that typically provide them income (Bradford & Katikiro, 2019). In irrigation water use, women are hardly allowed to access and manage water, as using water for cultivation requires landholdings, which women are generally devoid of, and water user associations are male-dominated. Whatever amount of water women collect is counted as uses for domestic purposes like cooking, washing, and even drinking (Imburgia et al., 2021). On the other hand, women’s everyday livelihoods depend on forest resources (Agarwal, 2001). In forest areas, women collect low-return forest items such as firewood, grass fodder, leaf litter, different fruits, medicinal plants, and other non-timber forest products regularly for immediate consumption and fuel to smoothly run their families. Thus, non-timber forest products constitute a major part of rural women’s forest benefits or incomes (Agarwal, 2000). Men, however, sporadically go to forests and harvest timber for construction and mostly engage in sales of valuable forest products (Agarwal, 2000). However, these patterns are not uniform. A global assessment by Sunderland et al. (2014) found that overall, most forest products (both unprocessed and processed), collected by both genders, are used for household consumption, not for sale. Moreover, the study shows that men’s primary contribution of forest income to the household is in the form of subsistence goods and not in the form of cash income, and men rather than women appear to collect a higher diversity of forest products.
In certain occasions, when the harvesting activities require more than one adult laborer, men and women work together in some complementary ways (Cavendish, 2000).The harvest and sale of high-value forest products such as Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa) in Latin America (Duchelle et al., 2011) or bush mango (Irvingia spp.) in Central Africa (Sunderland et al., 2014) are undertaken jointly by both genders. Further, gendered relations and responsibilities with respect to natural resources are also complex and dynamic (Shackleton & Shackleton, 2000) and, therefore, individual case studies may not necessarily indicate any general pattern. For instance, as opposed to the normal phenomenon that men have access to land, due to male out-migration (Giri & Dranhofer, 2010) and HIV/AIDS, female-headed households’ access to land and other resources in Southern Africa has increased (Agarwal, 2009).
Regarding the management of natural resources, in their global comparison, Sunderland et al. (2014) notice that the percentage of men participating in forest user groups is higher than that of women, while women’s involvement is lowest in Latin America and highest in Africa, with Asia falling in between. Especially in India, scholars find that in governing the forest commons, women patrol the local forests and perform other forestry activities on a rotational basis, while men intervene if conflicts arise. Thus, women bear a majority of the time cost associated with the obligatory forest management activities (Ray & Bhattacharya, 2011). Ray and Bhattacharya (2011) show that more than 50% of such costs in India are borne alone by women, who have no other options but to fall back upon village commons. However, many other factors such as age, ethnicity, household composition, marital status, class, caste, and, location and level of market integration also influence the relative roles of men and women in the management, collection, and sale of natural resources (Cavendish, 2000; Cousins, 1999; Shackleton & Shackleton, 2006). All these findings, therefore, suggest that the gender patterns in the management and use of natural resources are diverse and context-specific.
Economic Consequences of Natural Resource Management and Use: Gendered Patterns?
Commons benefit rural communities in various ways. A majority of the studies that have estimated the costs and benefits of managing the commons explore, especially, the role of forest income (derived from the direct or imputed value of consumption and/or sales of forest products) in rural livelihoods and have shown that addition of forest incomes to household total income reduces poverty and income inequality in Asia (Damania et al., 2020; Jodha, 1986; Ray & Mukherjee, 2021; Reddy & Chakravarty, 1999), Africa (Babulo et al., 2009; Cavendish, 1999, 2000; Kamanga et al., 2009; Nielsen et al., 2012) and elsewhere (McSweeney, 2004; Pattanayak & Sills, 2001). However, only a few studies (e.g., Debela et al., 2012; Mukherjee, 2019) focus on the gender differences in the benefits and costs associated with using and managing commons. Mukherjee (2019) estimated that forest income in India demonstrates a dual impact on rural households: it has reduced inequality of the poor women-headed households’ income, but it has also simultaneously increased inequality in the income distribution of the better-off male-headed households. However, the study noticed an overall reduction in poverty when forest incomes were included in the total income accounts of both the male- and female-headed households. Other forms of natural resources, such as groundwater (Solomon & Rao, 2018), irrigation water (Imburgia et al., 2021), fisheries (Bradford & Katikiro, 2019; Frangoudes & Gerrard, 2019), and watersheds (Wani et al., 2015), also provide immense benefits to resource-dependent rural households, though with differential impacts on the females or female-headed households (see, for example, Frangoudes, 2013).
Common-pool resources also act as an important safety net especially for marginalized people such as women and the poor in rural areas of developing countries. Wunder and his colleagues evaluated the role of forests in crisis and emergency across 24 developing countries, noting that households increase forest resource harvest when they face covariate shocks such as floods, epidemics, and crop loss due to community-wide pests in order to cope with an income shortfall (Wunder et al., 2014). However, regarding the gendered use of forest as a safety net, the literature is ambiguous. For example, whereas Wunder et al. (2014) did not find evidence of gender difference in forest resource use as a coping strategy, Debela et al. (2012) find larger negative economic shocks to have led to greater use of local forests in subsequent periods in Uganda, especially by asset-poor and female-headed households. Moreover, these authors find that, compared to their relatively rich counterparts, Ugandan women and the families with below-average land holdings rely on income from a more diverse set of sources (including the extraction of forest products) to cope with shocks. By contrast, McSweeney (2004) finds that female-headed households in eastern Honduras significantly decreased forest product sales when a person died, or the head was ill longer, probably because both calamities have constrained adult labor.
Apart from these benefits, there are certain costs associated with men’s and women’s uses and management of commons. The costs appear mainly as the time and health burden and are found to be borne by women irrespective of the nature of commons, cultures, and regions. For example, women bear the greatest time and health burdens of providing and using energy in their households, spending, on an average, around three hours per day collecting firewood, dung, charcoal, and agricultural residues; hence, they have little time left for wage labor and leisure (World Bank/FAO/IFAD, 2009). The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) estimate shows that women and children in Africa spend 40 billion hours per year in collecting water (UNIFEM, 2008). This burden further increases if natural disasters like drought and floods, and also deforestation, reduce the supply and quality of water resources. Easy access to commons leaves women with more time for earning. In case of water collection, in a comparative study of two Indian villages, Sijbesma et al. (2009) find that adequate quantities of water of sufficient quality within reasonable distances ease women’s workloads in their productive and domestic daily activities and thus save their time for earning incomes and engaging in community participation, leisure, and the like. The authors note that in that village, where the water supply is working well and women have easy access, women spent more time in income-earning activity and, consequently, their income rose from 750 to 5,500 Indian rupees per capita per annum (Sijbesma et al., 2009).
However, women face several constraints within and outside of their communities, such as their being involved in many unpaid tasks and more manual activities for resource management, which increase their time burdens of accessing commons, which in turn reduce women’s time for wage labor and leisure. Evidence abounds. In ocean fisheries, women perform many important preharvesting tasks such as repairing nets, retrieving bait, feeding male fishers, and keeping accounts, which are in most cases undercounted as employment (Williams, 2008). Or they receive very low remuneration depending on local practices and, where these activities are mechanized such as in Norway and France, and often done in factories, women have become vulnerable due to the lack of job alternatives within fishing communities. If these women belong to a fishery household as a fisher’s wife, then they rarely get paid (Hitomi, 2009). For them, these tasks are considered a part of household activities.
Despite the odds they face in their commons-dependent everyday life, women are responsible for taking care of children. They often supply the household economy by growing important vegetables and produce that is sold outside the house by the children (Frangoudes & Gerrard, 2019). In this way, they support the household economy, which is especially important when the catches are bad. According to Power (2004), women’s caring and unpaid domestic labor are vital parts of any economic system and should be incorporated into the welfare analysis of the system. In spite of these key contributions of women to fisheries and the household economy, little data are available on the number of female fishers in most countries, excepting Chile, Brazil, Japan, and Norway. Even if such data are available, they hardly allow us to investigate women’s contribution in commons management, an indicator of their marginalization by researchers and policymakers in relation to men (Frangoudes, 2013).
Women’s Inclusion in Natural Resource Management: Theories and Reality
The gender disparities in natural resource-dependent communities have become a growing concern for policymakers and researchers in the development community because the biases and expectations ingrained in community norms exclude women, who face significant constraints in their attempts to participate in collective action. These disparities have led to the emergence of a number of theories concerning women and their relationship with the environment. Mainstream development agencies adopt an instrumentalist line of argument commonly known as the women in development approach (Jackson, 1993; Leach & Green, 1995, p. 2; Manion, 2002; Martine & Villarreal, 1997). This approach argues that women are more dependent on nature by virtue of the sexual division of labor and are primarily responsible for gathering natural resources for survival, while men grow cash crops for profit (Leach & Green, 1995, p. 7). Having an inherent closeness to nature (Jackson, 1998, p. 314), this theory considers women the most appropriate participants in commons management (Shah & Shah, 1995, p. 75) and “the principal managers” of the environment at the local level (Green et al., 1998). By contrast, ecofeminism emphasizes women’s natural and spiritual connection to nature (Agarwal, 1992, p. 147; Jackson, 1993, 1998; Leach & Green, 1995, p. 10). The gender and development perspective, on the other hand, sees women’s relation to environmental resources merely as a part of general entitlements and capabilities ascribed to them by social relations of gender, class, and so on (Joekes et al., 1994, p. 139). It draws attention more to debates over women’s intra-household bargaining relationships. However, the feminist ecological economists strive to avoid overly generalized assertions about women’s relation to nature, unlike ecofeminists (for an overview, see Perkins et al., 2005). They emphasize how women’s work and nature’s work are invisible to economic practice because they lie outside the intellectual tradition and vision of the economics discipline; and because of this inside/outside problem, neoclassical economics presents only a partial analysis of gender and environment relations (Perkins et al., 2005). As a result, feminist ecological economists like Agarwal (1994b, p. 93) believe that “women’s and men’s relationship with nature needs to be understood as rooted in their material reality, in their specific forms of interaction with the environment,” and that women are materially more dependent on rural commons and as such take better care of natural resources as compared to men (Agarwal, 1992).
These theories suggest that women should be fully involved as decision-makers in community management of resources for their meaningful empowerment so that they can influence decisions (Agarwal, 2001). Agarwal has repeatedly documented the importance of including women’s voices in environmental decision-making (Agarwal, 1994b, 2000, 2001) as this may reduce women’s economic marginalization through improving their bargaining power (Agarwal, 1997). To explore whether women’s inclusion as decision-makers in resource-dependent communities reduces women’s marginalization by improving their well-being, the section “Community Attitudes and Effectiveness of Women’s Empowerment Policy: The Case of Women’s Quota as Decision-Makers in Commons Management” examines the effectiveness of one such policy of woman empowerment, namely the policy of women’s quota as decision-makers in community-based natural resource management institutions, which we find in the context of forest management in India and Nepal.
Community Attitudes and Effectiveness of Women’s Empowerment Policy: The Case of Women’s Quota as Decision-Makers in Commons Management
The idea of implementing women’s quota in different institutions has emerged mainly from the literature on gender and politics that has long debated how the proportion of women representatives influences policy formulation within legislatures. This measure has several benefits. First, it strengthens women’s bargaining power to negotiate with men in various institutions (Agarwal, 1997, 2010, 2015). Second, in community-based natural resource management, it often leads to efficient management and use of common pool resources (Agarwal, 2009, 2010). Several authors studied empirically community forestry institutions in Nepal (e.g., Agarwal, 2010; Leone, 2019) and India (e.g., Agarwal, 2010, Ray et al., 2017) and concluded that forests are managed successfully in the presence of a female decision-maker. Using a randomized economic experiment in which 440 forest users from Indonesia, Peru, and Tanzania made decisions about extraction and conservation in a forest common, Cook et al. (2019) found that groups with a fixed proportion of women’s quota conserved more trees as a response to a “payment for ecosystem services” intervention and shared the payment more equally than any other group.
The findings suggest that women’s decision-making has improved rural commons. But, at the same time, efforts to mainstream gender (especially in forest policies and practice) have reduced that potential to an administrative formality, thus limiting real change that could take place. As a result, a recent study by Ray et al. (2017) finds that even in the successfully managed forest areas of India, women’s presence in the decision-making committees is mostly nominal. Although there are some instances of women’s presence as decision-makers in community-based forest management, in the context of managing other commons such as irrigation water, fisheries, and watershed, women are totally absent. These resources are fully dominated by males. Quotas in favor of women in decision-making units of commons management institutions that are set up to ensure women’s participation in forest governance cannot bring about transformational changes until policy is prepared to counter the sociocultural basis of exclusion (Arora-Jonsson, 2014). Besides, whether a critical mass is sufficient for enhancing resource-dependent women’s empowerment and welfare is ambiguous, as contrasting evidence exists (e.g., see Van der Windt et al., 2018). So, the concept of “critical mass” of women as a gateway to long-term objectives needs to be questioned and reassessed in formal (community-based natural resource management) institutions. Moreover, a woman’s holding of an influential position or assets might rather create other types of conflict such as marital instability that may worsen women’s socioeconomic position even further (see, for example, Jackson, 2003; Jacobs & Kes, 2015).
Even if women are responsible for uses of natural resources—including, for example, domestic water—and are accorded priority over irrigation and other water uses, this does not necessarily result in women making decisions regarding who, when, and how much to use commons (control rights) (Zwarteveen, 1997). Women’s land use rights through their families or relatives allow them to use the resource to some extent; but such rights prevent women from making any long-term investment on the land, since those who give them access start believing that women are asserting a claim of ownership (Place, 1994). Because of such attitudinal rigidities, we argue that the women’s reservation policy in accessing commons, private resources, and even in labor markets may not be as effective as expected by policymakers and researchers.
To show this, let us consider a very simple model. Suppose that the government has implemented a fixed proportion (say, 33%) of women’s quota () at the community level in the decision-making unit of the common-pool resource management institution. We further assume that a woman’s access to commons () depends on women’s quota in the commons management institution. According to Agarwal (2010), women’s quota as decision-makers improves their bargaining power within community institutions that gets carried into even households and families. This in turn helps in their accessing common-pool resources. Further, let be an attitudinal measure that represents sociocultural parameters and includes factors such as traditions of use, superstition, societal beliefs, expectations, and attitudes toward a woman’s access to and managing commons. In the ocean fishery, in some countries during catching fish, men consider women’s presence on board bad luck, and hence they give women access neither to the boat nor to the catches (Frangoudes & Gerrard, 2019). Therefore, determines . For the sake of this analysis, we assume that is a measure of a community’s negative attitudes toward women and low expectations about women’s performance as leaders/decision-makers in using and managing the commons.
We can measure either in yes/no format or in terms of the market value of the harvested resources from the commons. We assume the latter measure here to consider as a continuous variable to depict its relations with and . Then . is, however, a percentage/fraction, such as the 33% quota of women as decision-makers in joint forest management in India, and hence . Among other methods, we can measure with the help of a scale that comprises one or more statements regarding women’s participation in community resource use and management. For example, this scale may consist of a single statement that may take the following form: “A woman’s presence as a decision-maker in the forest management committee makes no difference in sustainable forest management,” with the response options ranging from Strongly Agree (5 points), Agree (4), Neither Agree Nor Disagree (3) Disagree (2), and Strongly Disagree (1). The attitude score of a community would be then the sum of the scores of all members of the community based on their responses to such statements. Depending upon the number of statements and the response options under each statement, will have a higher and a lower value. In the current example, lies in between 1 and 5 for each community member. Measured this way, the higher value of , therefore, represents a community’s more unfavorable attitudes to women in commons management and thus increases constraints that a woman faces in commons extraction and management (see Ray et al., 2017). If other factors, such as rules, the distance of an individual’s house to the location of commons, market forces, and the like that affect an individual woman’s resource use, are unchanged, then is affected positively by and negatively by . Ultimate effects of and on rely on the relative strength of the two factors. This relation among , and is depicted by equation (1):
Let represent a woman’s utility from accessing the resources. It can be measured either qualitatively, such as high or low level of satisfaction, or quantitatively, by using a proxy of utility such as income from commons. We adopt the latter method as the former is unobservable. We assume that the greater the woman’s access to the commons , the greater her utility , as described by equation (2):
If other factors (such as product preference and costs of harvesting the resource) affecting are unchanged, then depends on both women’s quota and community attitudes toward women. Therefore, given , the function is positively related to , and given , is negatively related to . That is, as a community holds negative attitudes toward a woman, a woman’s economic marginalization increases, and her well-being reduces. If quota is implemented (that is, , which implies women may have stronger bargaining power) and decreases (which shows the concerned community’s more friendly attitudes to women), then women would find it less constrained to access commons that ultimately increases their income or utility as described by equation (3), which we obtain from (1) and (2):
It may be noted that will be a shift parameter in the (, ) plane, and may not necessarily be a linear function of . This is so because an increase in will lead to an increase in at a diminishing rate. Agarwal (2010) argues that after a critical mass (25%–33%), free-riding among women in commons management occurs that may dampen the rise in women’s bargaining power and well-being. However, for simplicity’s sake, we assume all the functional forms depicted are linear. This whole system of equations describing the effect of women’s quota on women’s well-being through their access to commons is depicted in figure 1.
The relationship between resource access and quota is described in the (, ) plane of quadrant 1. Suppose that the initial access-to-commons curve is given by the A1A1 line. For a given value of quota, say (which can be equal to 0 also in the absence of women’s reservation as decision-makers), and attitude score of the community, say , women’s access to commons is denoted by OC in quadrant 1, and the corresponding utility of a woman is OU1 in quadrant 2. If women quota increases from to , in the absence of any (increase in) negative attitudes of the resource dependent community toward a woman, access to common resources increases to OD from OC and, consequently, a female resource user’s utility increases to . However, if the community holds negative attitudes toward women’s needs, contribution, and deservedness, and low expectations about women’s participation as decision-makers, then the line would shift downward from A1A1 by such an extent that the new line A2A2 may pass through point J, at which increase in women’s access is totally offset by a reduction in their access. Consequently, women’s access to commons and utility from the harvested commons remain unchanged at OC and . If the increase in is such that the reduction in women’s access to commons more than offsets the increased access due to the rise in , then theoretically it is possible that AA line shifts even further downward to A3A3, and then women’s well-being declines. This is described in quadrant 2 by a fall in women’s utility from to . The reason is that if a community holds negative attitudes toward women and low expectations about women’s participation in the use and management of commons, this creates additional constraints that women face apart from their everyday livelihood-related constraints, which makes women’s participation in sustainable resource use and management more difficult. Case studies related to community-based natural management confirm this (see Appendix 1 for case studies, and Appendix 2 for various types of negative attitudes that a community holds regarding women’s access to and management of natural commons). Thus, this graphical exposition suggests that women’s empowerment policy alone cannot improve women’s fate in resource-dependent (rural) communities if their members hold negative attitudes toward women. These attitudes not only disregard women’s key contribution to household economy and community where they belong, but also deny women from having access to productive assets and employment (Agarwal, 1997). Agarwal (1997) points out that socio-perceptional factors such as communities’ or society’s attitudes toward women are important determinants of a woman’s bargaining power; but in the gender and bargaining literature, few studies focus on factors beyond women’s income (earned or unearned) and access to asset (e.g., arable lands), and even fewer explore the qualitative aspects of power such as the role of attitudes on women’s bargaining power (Agarwal, 1997). As such, the literature on the economics of gender partially analyzes the causes and remedies of women’s economic marginalization (Agarwal, 1997, p. 6).
However, the attitude-based simple framework as depicted by figure 1 can be utilized to explain woman’s low economic status and discrimination both inside and outside the home. For example, if women’s reservation policy is implemented in the labor market, a woman is more likely to get a job and then, in terms of figure 1, an type of line can be considered interpreted as women’s access to earning opportunities or higher wages. In the absence of any types of negative attitudes toward women’s working in the labor market that may be held either by their family members or employers, or by a community to which women belong, the increase in would imply women’s better bargaining power and access to more earning or wage opportunities, and thus would lead to a rise in female workers’ well-being. However, they may earn low wages compared to a male worker even if all other factors required for getting a job remain same for female and male employees due to communities’ or employers’ negative attitudes toward a woman’s efficiency or performance. Then this wage discrimination may make her economically more marginalized than a male worker in the job market. This can be shown as a downward shift of the -like line as in figure 1 to the extent that overall women’s utility declines despite female workers’ reservation in the labor market. Analogously, even if the laws related to women’s inheritance and landholding are amended in favor of women, the presence of families’ resistance and negative attitudes (if any) to their female members may make such amendments less effective. Another important point of this framework is that it focuses on women’s well-being, which, according to Power (2004), should be the central point of any economic analysis.
Explaining the Mechanism Behind Women’s Exclusion From Commons
The mechanism behind women’s economic marginalization in natural resource-dependent communities, and the reasons for why policies of empowering women inside and outside home sometimes cannot promote women’s well-being as desired, can be explained with the help of Expectation States Theory (EST) (Berger et al., 1972; Correll & Ridgeway, 2003). This theory suggests that when a group of members (including a community or society in a broader sense) anticipate that a specific individual can make more valuable contributions to the group’s goal, then it tends to respect that individual more and give her/him more opportunities to speak up and make group decisions compared to others. These (implicit) expectations of society about the relative quality of that individual member’s performance at the group level are what Berger et al. (1972) refer to as performance expectations. The greater the society’s expectations of one individual’s performance compared to another’s, the more likely that individual would be able to influence others. Berger et al. (1972) argue that these relative performance expectations create and maintain one’s ability to influence others through a hierarchy of evaluation, influence, and participation, which they referred to as one’s “power and prestige” or “status” in a group. Thus, if society holds positive expectations about an individual, the more that person will enjoy higher status and greater access to all kinds of resources. By contrast, if society holds negative expectations about an individual, then that person would be given little space to speak up and participate as a decision-maker at the group level. The factors that enable a group to form (un)favorable expectations about an individual’s performance in a group are called status characteristics, which vary across context, culture, and region. Following Berger’s argument, scholars (e.g., Correll & Ridgeway, 2003; Ray & Bhattacharya, 2013) argue that women are less likely to enjoy power and influence others as compared to men, and, hence, they are low-status actors due not only to their asset constraints (Doss et al. 2020) or burdens of poverty (Quisumbing et al., 2001) but also to the society’s tendency to hold negative attitudes toward women’s needs, deservedness, and contribution to their families and performance (Agarwal, 1997). In short, while the economics literature views one’s status as represented mainly by one’s asset holding, poverty measures, or consumption patterns (for a nice review of the economic literature on status, see Heffetz and Frank, 2011), this theory redefines status from a broader perspective of society’s expectations about one’s performance and one’s ability to influence others and treats economic assets as one of the many important determinants of one’s status.
One implication of this theoretical perspective is that women suffer from the vicious circle of exclusion due to the community’s negative attitudes and low expectations from women’s participation as leaders in resource-reliant communities. This is depicted by figure 2. Agarwal (1997) argues that society holds negative attitudes toward women’s deservedness, needs, and contribution both in the intra-household (e.g., families), and extra-household (e.g., community space) activities and, as such, women’s unpaid care and domestic labor within families as well as collective action in communities are often given little importance. This precludes women from having an entitlement to assets such as arable lands, and from entering into the labor market for wage income. According to Sen (1999, p. 197), women’s agency, their ability to be “active agents of change,” is crucial to ensuring their well-being. Women’s agency is furthered by women’s employment outside the home, literacy, ownership rights, and active rights of citizenship (Sen, 1999), which most women are devoid of (Agarwal, 1997). Hence, women’s agency and, consequently, their bargaining power are weak. Collectively, these make women’s ability to influence others low (Berger et al., 1972) and they are also at high risk of economic marginalization. In other words, women’s status is low. Evidence abounds (e.g., Doss et al., 2020; FAO GLRD, 2020; Quisumbing et al., 2001). Hence, women are not allowed to make decisions within family, nor in community and other extra-household activities. These all may motivate resource-dependent communities to continue to hold negative attitudes and perceptions toward women in using and managing the commons. Similarly, men’s virtuous cycle of decision-making can be depicted using EST. Despite women’s vicious cycle of economic marginalization in commons-dependent communities, women’s presence as decision-makers has led to efficient and sustainable management of community resources.
Gender and Sustainable Commons Management: Impacts of Women as Decision-Makers
The issue of gender and sustainability has two sides: the first relating with men’s and women’s differential contributions to sustainability, and the other focusing on disproportionate impacts of mainly environmental degradation on men and women. Scholars have focused primarily on the former, while the available evidence on the latter is limited to the extent of the effects of changes in climate and other shocks on sustainability. However, focusing on sustainable commons management is important because it provides long-term viability of the resource base by making the best use of environmental goods and services at the community level and, also, emphasizes the more active role of women (and men) in everyday natural resource management. Because different types of inequality result in different incentives and abilities of men and women to manage resources sustainably, according to Meinzen-Dick et al. (2014), the relationship between gender and sustainability in terms of men’s and women’s differential contributions to natural resource management can be better understood in terms of men’s and women’s motives, as well as means and opportunities to sustain natural resources.
Several empirical works have found that women’s presence in the community-based resource management committees, especially in the context of forest management in South Asia, has made successful co-management (e.g., Agarwal, 2009; Leone, 2019; Ray et al., 2017). Some scholars further estimated that a critical proportion of women’s presence as decision-makers has made conservation of natural resources cost-effective (e.g., Agarwal, 2010; Ray et al., 2017). Mukherjee et al. (2017) further observed that despite society’s negative attitudes toward women’s leadership in commons management, women show greater proclivity than men toward collective action for forest management in India, while men were interested only in holding a powerful position in the joint forest management committees. Westermann et al. (2005) studied 46 different gender-differentiated social groups in 20 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America with respect to their different activities and outcomes for natural resource management. They conclude that women’s groups perform significantly better than men’s groups regarding regeneration of natural resources. Some behavioral economic studies also find that women are more pro-environment than men (Ray & Bhattacharya, 2013; Ray et al., 2017).
However, women’s inherent drive to conserve natural resources is ambiguous. In situations of dire poverty and scarcity, women may be less prone than men to conserve because they are in charge of the immediate survival of the family as found in India (Agarwal, 2000). In China also, in historical times of hardship, women collected greater amounts of fuel wood and ferns in order to supplement their income at the cost of degradation of their community resource base (Yang & Xi, 2001). Women sometimes also may hold less favorable attitudes toward conservation. In Myanmar, scholars have noticed that women living near protected areas tend to hold less positive attitudes and perceptions of the benefits of conservation. One plausible reason may be that the conservation programs have targeted men (Allendorf & Allendorf, 2013). Jewitt (2000) and Resurreccion (2006) observed that some women in forest settings do not care to participate in forest- or land-related issues. Also, in a Nepalese irrigation scheme, women were found to have no interest in participating in the formal management committee. By not being involved, they were able to take more water than their quota and also freeride by contributing less to maintenance activities without risking punishment (Zwarteveen & Neupane, 1996). However, men also have conservation-friendly attitudes and preferences, as they often emerge as instrumental leaders (Sinha & Suar, 2005). On the other hand, Sultana and Thompson (2008) surveyed the floodplain and fisheries management areas in Bangladesh and found that when both men and women are involved in management groups, compliance with rules is higher and conflict is lower.
Besides, men and women often prioritize different aspects of sustainability. In Tanzania, because of their gendered responsibilities for water and trees, women are found to value drinking water because they have few rights to land, trees, and nurseries, while men prioritize irrigation water and trees to mark farm boundaries (German & Taye, 2008). Also, Nightingale (2006) has shown how gender in Nepal intersects with caste, age, and marriage to determine who harvests leaf litter. Though these works demonstrate that men and women show diverse interests and motivations relating to sustainable management of commons and that these are conditioned not only by gender but also by many other factors that shape their individual situations and lived realities (Meinzen-Dick et al., 2014), all of these studies find that while women are efficient resource managers, women in resource-dependent rural communities are poor relative to men. Thus, policies need to enable women to get rid of the vicious cycle of economic marginalization. To this end, the section “Reducing Women’s Economic Marginalization in Resource-Dependent Communities: A Method and Policy Implications” outlines a way of identifying women’s true poverty type that would help in locating areas of emphasis in order to (economically) empower women in natural resource-dependent communities.
Reducing Women’s Economic Marginalization in Resource-Dependent Communities: A Method and Policy Implications
To break the vicious cycle of women’s low status and nominal participation in common pool resource management, it is important to identify the factors that characterize the poverty group to which resource-dependent rural women and/or female-headed households may belong (Nielsen et al., 2012). To this end, unlike the extant research on poverty and community resource dependence that rely on income of a household as a poverty measure (e.g., Babulo et al., 2009; Cavendish, 1999; Shackleton et al., 2007; Ray & Mukherjee, 2021), we propose to combine assets and incomes of households to measure poverty in order to identify women’s true economic marginalization and natural resource dependency.
Following common practice (Cavendish, 2000; Kamanga et al., 2009; Vedeld et al., 2004), concerned female-headed households or women may be then divided into five equally sized income quintiles (0–20%, 20–40%, 40–60%, 60–80%, and 80–100%, respectively) based on total annual income. Similarly, five equally sized asset quintiles may be constructed and ranked based on the sum of the value of their assets, including domestic animals, business capital, bank savings or debts, and other implements like plow, cart, and the like as proxies of women’s asset wealth. Following Carter and May (2001) and Nielsen et al. (2012), female-headed households/women may be further defined as chronic or structurally poor if they rank lowest in both income and asset quintiles. Similarly, women can be categorized as rich if they rank highest in both income and asset quintiles. Transient poor women are those who rank high in asset quintile but low in income quintile. Similarly, one may define women in the two highest income and two lowest asset quintiles as transient rich (i.e., those that, at least temporarily, have found a higher income source and hence a potential pathway out of structural poverty). The women who fall in the middle most quintiles of income and asset may be referred to as the regular stakeholders of commons. This classification may be also equally relevant to classify male-headed households or men as individuals. However, to avoid misclassification, any method such as the participatory wealth ranking exercise that considers the actual clusters in the sample to construct the income and asset groups should accompany the aforementioned method. Whatever methods one may adopt, the resulting poverty characteristics matrix as depicted in figure 3 would be able to locate the actual status of women vis-à-vis men.
This approach has a clear correspondence to policy effectiveness as regards women’s pathway out of poverty in developing countries. The existing gender and poverty literature as cited throughout this article asserts that resource-reliant rural women are poor and more asset constrained than men and suggests a policy of overall income promotion across all women. Such poverty alleviation strategies may fail to perform as expected because all women may not belong to the chronic poverty group alone. This was found in Congo, where Nielsen et al. (2012) observed that a significant number of the forest-dependent women was clustered mainly as transient poor. In contrast, Agarwal (1994a, 2001) found rural women in India mostly as chronically poor. Nielsen et al. (2012) also observed that rich households were mainly male-headed, and thus, according to our classification, males are more likely to belong to the group of rich and/or transient rich (cells 3 and 4). Figure 3 suggests that a policy of women’s economic empowerment would therefore be more cost-effective if it is possible to identify where a majority of women are located in a particular community. For example, if women are found to be mostly the chronic poor (cell 1), the poverty alleviation policy could focus not only on promoting income of women but also on asset creation. This may be possible through giving women greater access to credit or through other means such as microfinance. If women are transient poor, then income generation policy should be implemented in such a way that a part of women’s income needs to be utilized for maintaining the existing asset. By doing so, in times of income shortfall, women can be prevented from distressed sale of their cattle or ornaments because community shocks such as floods are often recurring (Wunder et al., 2014) but once their assets are sold, they can hardly build them again (Ray & Mukherjee, 2021).
Furthermore, to improve women’s participation in management of natural resources, several measures may be taken. First, priorities may be given toward inducting both chronically poor women and transient poor women rather than a single type of women wherever possible, as they may help each other in times of bargaining with men. If this is not feasible, then the chronic poor women should be given greater priority because they are the most vulnerable groups. So, the combined approach suggests that women’s quota should be contextually set. Moreover, society’s attitudes toward transient poor women may differ from their attitudes toward the poor women. This may reduce or increase the costs of overall cooperation, depending upon the proportion of both groups of women as decision-makers. Second, some of the natural resource management tasks may be reserved exclusively for women so that they can prove their worthiness before the community, and then the community’s adverse attitudes may start changing gradually over time. Since women also have their household chores as their main responsibility, to encourage their participation in those tasks they may be paid for their ecosystem services, as it has been observed among the poor in some of the remote, less favored agricultural land areas of the world (Barbier, 2017). Doing this not only adds to their household income but also makes the community resource management system gender-sensitive and incentive-compatible. Third, some type of reward mechanism may be introduced in a gender-sensitive way for natural resource use and management. For example, in case of forest management, one such policy may be that those institutions that have registered both (a) women’s attendance at a minimum of 75% of the meetings regarding natural resource management (almost) every year and (b) improvement in their local forest biomass may be given a greater amount of development funds, leadership awards, and monetary rewards than the other forest management institutions. A complimentary system of rewards and punishment may better shape local people’s attitudes toward women’s participation and empowerment in community-based resource management; but these provisions are absent in many programs, such as joint forest management in India (Shyamsundar & Ghate, 2014). Above all, creating women-specific livelihood alternatives and employment opportunities in an integrated system of community-based rural development and sustainable management of natural resources may enhance women’s economic position and, more so, if women and men are given complimentary roles in those contexts.
Policy Challenges and Future Research Needs
While these policy suggestions are confined to community-based natural resource use and management, in line with this proposed method, a number of possible drivers of women’s economic empowerment in resource-dependent communities can be considered that can enable chronic poor women and transient poor women to participate in decision-making not only in community-based natural resource management but also in other areas of community development. These include, for example, women’s participation in self-help groups (Kumar et al., 2019), disseminating information to both men and women (e.g., about women’s rights and legal protections, or how to effectively engage in decision-making); education or training to expand young women’s economic prospects (Dhar et al., 2019); training men on the benefits of empowering and working with women (O’Sullivan et al., 2019); providing cash transfers directly to women (Heath et al., 2020); mandating the participation of women in community development programs (Beath et al., 2013); offering modes of transportation (e.g., bicycles) to girls for their economic activities (Fiala et al., 2020); or exposing women to female role models (Beaman et al., 2012).
However, if community attitudes are to be improved in order to ease women’s empowerment, several challenges may emerge that need to be tackled effectively. The first is to explore whether women’s economic empowerment is sufficient for creating pro-women attitudes inside and outside the home. If it is not so, then it is essential to determine what type of policies can foster women-friendly attitudes. However, little is known about these from the extant literature and, thus, this can be an important area of research. Much in line with the expectation-based mechanism, in Papua New Guinea, Kosec et al. (2021) noted that there is a sense that wives should agree with their husbands, and that women need to abide by traditional gender norms and defer to men with regard to decisions that affect the household and the community. As such, men’s attitudes favored women’s economic participation mainly due to men’s desire that women’s income will contribute to the household income and men’s expectation that women must not renege on their responsibilities to the family and defer to men’s decision-making authority. Moreover, Kosec et al. (2021) find that when the local communities in their study area felt that women were relatively poorer than men, they were more likely to support girls building their human capital and women engaging in paid employment. However, this support did not extend to women’s participation as the decision-making authority in their communities or households. Most strikingly, the authors found that neither male nor female respondents expressed any support for women’s involvement in community decision-making.
This shows that women’s economic participation may not necessarily bring about their durable empowerment due to the dominance of society’s low expectations from women (Kabeer, 2010), and so comprehensive policymaking may not be an easy task for promoting women-friendly attitudes within and beyond households for several reasons. The most important reason is that attitudes are one of the stable human characteristics (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1977) and should not be expected to change overnight through policies and programs. Moreover, policies and programs aimed at empowering women may also beget backlash if women’s economic advancement is perceived as a threat to men or elders (Morgan & Buice, 2013). They may also have unintended effects, such as intensifying restrictions on women’s ability to make choices (Razavi, 1992). Further, even if programs empower women in community decision-making, they may fail to bring about egalitarian gender attitudes or elevate women’s intra-household bargaining power (Van der Windt, 2018). Thus, our understanding of the economics of gender remains incomplete if we ignore the role of socio-perceptional factors in women’s empowerment. Consequently, further research should focus on various issues concerning community attitudes and women’s durable empowerment. For example, it may be explored whether women’s exposure to decision-making changes gender attitudes or not. Besides, whether people’s beliefs regarding gender roles and gender stereotypes impinge on women’s development opportunities can be examined with respect to women’s labor market outcomes, access to assets, access to credit, community decision-making and even subjective well-being. Scholars may also aim at understanding whether male dominance in decision-making has any intergenerational transmission or not. Based on the received wisdom from such research efforts, policies and programs may be made more effective in fomenting beliefs in gender equality inside and outside the home.
Though economics of gender builds on economic theories and empirical methods to understand the mechanisms behind gender inequalities inside and outside the home (Sevilla, 2020), gender inequalities in common-dependent communities make up a less explored area of research in gender economics, especially with reference to the role of society’s overall attitudes to women in resource-dependent communities as compared to those concerning women’s discrimination in the labor markets and their contributions to the household economy (Elmhirst & Resurreccion, 2012). However, the attitude-driven analysis of women’s economic marginalization presented in this article could be utilized to understand the other dimensions of gender economics, such as the role of employers’ attitudes in influencing women’s economic marginalization in labor markets. Hence, the role of society’s attitudes toward women’s participation in resource-dependent communities cannot be ignored because pro-women community attitudes could be a pre-condition for ensuring women’s durable empowerment (Kabeer, 2010). More importantly, women’s relations to their social, economic, political, and natural environments are itself a culturally and historically specific process, which can be understood only through identifying and understanding gender-specific attitudes and actions toward those environments (Zein-Elabdin, 1996). Since all women are not homogeneous and a few communities hold pro-women attitudes, changing societal attitudes in favor of women to make women’s economic upliftment durable is a real challenge for policymakers. So, whatever policies are adopted, the longer and more effectively those policies create female-friendly community attitudes and expectations, and consequently expedite women’s participation in socioeconomic activities within and beyond their households, the longer community resources and their people will endure.
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Appendix 1. Effectiveness of Quota on Women’s Decision-Making in Community-Based Resource Management: Summary of Some Case Studies
Type of commons studied
Women’s reservation as decision-makers (Q)
Societal attitudes and expectations about women’s leadership (Z)
Did the quota improve women’s empowerment?
Groundwater in Bangladesh (Sultana, 2009)
Women did attend water user association’s meetings; passive participation; rules favored the wealthy who continue to make decisions; rather, women’s position has worsened.
Irrigation water in Uzbekistan (Gunchinmaa et al., 2011)
Despite women’s quota, women hardly make any decisions in the Water User Association.
Forest resource management under joint forest management program in India (Ray et al., 2017)
Negative attitudes in some villages and positive attitudes in some other villages
Yes, in the villages with women-friendly attitudes
In those villages where women-friendly attitudes are prevalent, women are leaders of forest management committees, and women’s reservation as decision-makers has improved community forest conditions under joint forest management. However, in villages with negative attitudes toward women’s participation, women’s economic status was low and women could little influence forest management-related decisions.
All community resources in Solomon Island (Dyer, 2018)
No specific negative attitudes were found in the study
“Gender parity does not equal gender equality at meetings because of cultural constructions of influence and gendered behavior” (Dyer, 2018, p. 3).
Community-based fisheries in Lake Victoria, East Africa (Nunan and Cepić, 2020)
Women’s status matter in their participation as decision-makers; men, particularly boat owners, dominate in the decision-making unit. Women were mostly followers of decisions.
Appendix 2. Types of Community Attitudes and Expectations as Barriers to Women’s Participation in Governing the Commons: Some Examples
Classification of attitudes
Community attitudes and expectations about women inside and outside their home
Norms and beliefs about women’s primary roles and responsibilities
Women/girls are limited to domestic duties, not allowed to work, should not/cannot be leaders, and should not be concerned with formal education
Women are better suited for domestic works; joint forest management requires skills, communications, and networks, which only men have; girls/females are followers in collective actions
Women cannot speak in front of men, men are better decision-makers and leaders, women are property, women cannot/should not own land and not make major decisions that affect the household
Gossip, criticism of participants that a woman is neglecting her domestic duties
Community’s passive attitudes
Women who attend meetings do not feel welcome, or are looked down upon, or not empowered to speak/participate; are not in leadership roles
1. Common-pool resources are humanmade or natural resources that are enjoyed collectively, and no one can be easily excluded. However, if one uses the resource, the available amount for use reduces for others (Van Laerhoven & Barnes, 2014). These resources are also referred to as commons; A community could be defined in terms of a shared identity based on location (e.g., a village) and/or social grouping (religious, racial, ethnic, caste, clan, and so on). A person will generally be a member of several communities simultaneously; for instance, of a caste or religious grouping within a village (or spread across several villages), as well as of the larger village community containing several castes or religious groupings (Agarwal, 1997).
2. Though to some extent, a community may depend on social capital or social resources, such as the female community’s reliance on informal networks as found in the rural areas of developing countries (Agarwal, 2000), social resources are intangible and build often on the basis of personal relations such as trust. Hence, the quality and quantity of social capital can be conceptualized more as a characteristic of a household or an individual economic agent than of a community.