Co-Ownership Rights for Women in Uttarakhand, IndiaUttarakhand is the first state in India to provide women with co-ownership rights of their husband’s ancestral property. While much more work remains to be done to achieve gender equality, it is important to look at how far India has come in granting equality to women to get to this moment in history.

A History of India’s Struggle with Gender Equality

Much of India’s struggle for equal rights stems from cultural and social developments throughout history. In ancient Hindu and Indian culture, specifically during the Vedic period, families would strive to have sons over daughters. Sons were thought to provide more for their families and were valued for their strength, fighting abilities and because their marital status kept them within the family.

The influx of different religions throughout India did have an impact on women to an extent. Since there were many representations of religious cultures, this impact tended to fluctuate. For example, the Hindu and Islamic teachings both had competing views when it came to the status of women. In both, women were not to be objectified but their roles were to remain subordinate to men. An alternative teaching existed in Buddhist practices where women had the opportunity to elevate their role in a religious setting because they had the option to be nuns and study the sacred texts. Currently, India has personal laws that allow various religious groups to instate rules and regulations to control the everyday lives of those who live under them. This has a negative impact on women when it is used by radicalized groups to perpetuate gender inequality.

An Indian State Decides to Make a Change

Uttarakhand, a Himalayan state in India, is the first (and hopefully not the last) Indian state to grant married women co-ownership of their husband’s ancestral property. The Act in question, the Uttarakhand Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, has forevermore changed the lives of 350,000 women. Much of the “ancestral property” consists of farms that have historically been passed down by patriarchal family lineage.

Migration has been a substantial issue in Uttarakhand for nearly 10 years now. About 456,000 people have moved out of the state, with nearly 50% of them in search of work. This left villages to mostly consist of mostly elderly couples and women. Due to many husbands being forced to migrate away from home in search of employment, women were often left alone to work the farms — agriculture being a crutch of Uttarakhand’s economy — but with no claim to them. Thus, the government stepped in to grant women access to co-ownership rights. These rights extend to divorcees as well. Until a divorced wife remarries, she can remain a co-owner of their ex-husband’s land, and this can even persist if that same ex-husband files for bankruptcy. In addition, if the divorced wife never had children with her ex-husband, she could become a co-owner of her father’s land.

Looking Ahead

Although this is only the first step, it is the first step in gender equality. “It is a pragmatic move. There is no point bringing in a scheme or a loan when people who need it cannot apply or avail it,” said Rashmi Jungwan, a citizen of the village Chandrapuri in the Rudraprayag district, to The Times of India. The rest of the state is hopeful that the rest of India will soon follow in Uttarakhand’s footsteps in granting married women co-ownership rights of property. The former Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat himself is confident in that.

Samantha Fazio
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Patriarchy
While poverty and patriarchy may seem like separate issues, the two connect deeply. As long as poverty exists, women’s rights and livelihoods will suffer. Likewise, women’s oppression leads to their inability to contribute to the economy and prevents a family’s escape from cycles of poverty. Here are some examples from around the world of poverty and patriarchy reinforcing each other, and some ways humanitarian aid can improve these situations.

Microcredit in Bangladesh Has Left Millions of Women At High Risk For Domestic Violence

From the 1980s to the mid-2000s, people thought that micro-loans would be the future of international development. In Bangladesh, most of these loans went to women on the belief that women could handle money more responsibly than their male counterparts. They received a small amount of money to invest in materials to start a business and earn an independent livelihood in order to bring their families financial stability. Unfortunately, when these women were unsuccessful at lifting their families out of poverty and their families plunged into greater debt as a result of the loans, they often suffered spousal abuse. For other women, as soon as they received the money, the men and their families took it and used it, leaving them to pay off the loans by themselves. As a whole, micro-credit has not had the intended impact on the people of Bangladesh that the international community once hoped for, and rates of violence against women have climbed, increasing the correlation between poverty and patriarchy

Solution: Investing in women’s education will provide them with the knowledge they need to become financially independent and ensure greater legal protection for victims of domestic violence could greatly combat this issue.

Poverty As a Weapon Against Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Sixty-one percent of women living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo live in poverty, compared to only fifty-one percent of men. This is because people have systematically excluded women from peace-building efforts in the country. Because there are no women’s voices at the decision-making table, countries set policies that prioritize men, often at women’s expense. Disturbingly, women’s rights activists in the country are often a target for violence. Many think that those who advocate for women-centered poverty-relief efforts are distracting from larger issues within the country.

Solution: Studies that researchers conducted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo demonstrate that in areas with high levels of poverty, there are high levels of violence against women. Providing food security, as well as funding institutions and organizations to empower women, are important steps in relieving both poverty and oppression in the DRC.

Time Poverty Makes it Nearly Impossible for Indian Women to Contribute to the Economy

In India, the average man works seven hours per day. Although women usually work for nine hours a day, the vast majority of their labor is unpaid housework and childminding. This means that they have little time to earn any outside wages, and therefore, remain financially dependent on the men in their families.  The power dynamic that this situation creates is extremely dangerous. Women lose any agency they may have because they depend on their fathers, husbands or brothers for everything. This means that they have no power to go against their male relative’s wills. It also hurts the Indian economy, as women have little ability to contribute to it.

Solution: In rural India, women spend upwards of four hours each day gathering fuel and cleaning utensils to cook with. Providing them with solar or electric cookers could save them three hours of unpaid labor, giving them more time to do what they want to do or contribute to the economy as an untapped workforce.

These examples display just how poverty and patriarchy intertwine and push women and their families into poverty. If women could gain an education, receive food security or use alternative cooking equipment to limit labor, they might be able to improve their situation and lift themselves out of poverty.

Gillian Buckley
Photo: Wikimedia