Gender and Rural Women’s Collectives Literature Review
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Sandra Biskupski-Mujanovic, Dina Najjar. (30/12/2020). Gender and Rural Women’s Collectives Literature Review.
Collectives, or groups, are seen as a panacea for collective action to address many development problems in the Global South, such as natural resource degradation, conflict resolution over water use, poverty eradication and reaching economies of scale (Agarwal, 2001; Najjar et al., 2019; Desai and Joshi, 2014; Sudgen et al., 2020). Meinzen-Dick and DiGregorio define collective action as ‘‘a voluntary action taken by a group to achieve common interests’’(in Coppock and Desta, 2013: 95). All groups studied in this paper are geared towards collective action in varying degrees however, the benefits reaped by women vary from context to context. Gender inequality in employment is prevalent globally but especially in the developing world where women are more likely to work in unpaid or poorly paid positions, mostly in family agriculture and the informal sector (Dol and Odame, 2013: 70). Women’s agriculture and other groups have been suggested as potential solutions to issues facing many of the world’s women by aiding them to access economies of scale, lowered marketing and supply costs, pooling of risks, access to training and other services and even economic and social empowerment (Desai and Josh, 2014; Sudgen et al., 2020). Cooperatives are thought to have improved women’s participation in the labor market in Spain over the last twenty years, and due to their principles, seem better suitable to facilitate progress in gender equality over other business models due to the perceived value of democratic membership control (Esteban-Salvaor, 2019: 41). While not all of the groups studied in this paper are cooperatives per se, we see exclusions in many of them at levels of membership and governance for women specifically, demonstrating how they are not always the shining examples of democratic control that they set out to be. Development policy has increasingly turned to collectives to focus on women’s empowerment through collective action. To accomplish this, group farming in India for example, strives to work less through top-down expert driven planning and towards participatory, localized and decentralized models (Agarwal, 2020: 173). Through a broad review of the literature on women’s collectives, this paper will discuss examples of rural women’s collective groups and discuss how they work, how they benefit women and the challenges women face based on gender norms, ideologies and power relations operating on various levels and in different spheres. We explore literature on group farming through self-help groups, community resource management groups (forests, water and rangelands), and collectives or cooperatives that are expected to be based on the fair division of labor and benefits. Our findings reveal that the type of collective determines the extent women’s empowerment and the benefits derived from participation. To begin, we will outline the three types of groups that we looked at for this literature review and include some examples of them, before moving on to a discussion of membership and governance as well as the benefits and challenges for women in these groups.