#Aftermath || Protecting women’s land rights in the times of a pandemic


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Protecting women’s land rights in the times of a pandemic

Dr. Girija Godbole

Dr.Girija Godbole is currently working at the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) at IIT Bombay. Trained in anthropology she has worked in the environment and development sector. Her PhD research sought to understand the impacts of increasing incidence of land sale on a rural society in Pune district. She has been doing voluntary work with a grassroots organisation Jeevan Sanstha, in helping to set up an initiative for rural women and children in villages in Maval tehsil.


Covid-19 induced lockdown has shown us the dark underbelly of our society and government as thousands of migrants are forced to take to roads in scorching heat to reach their villages. As (and if) they reach after that arduous journey not all are fortunate to be allowed to enter their homes due to the fear of carrying the virus with them. This reverse migration may have varied consequences. Lack of remittances, shortage of paid work as well as increased pressure on the already scarce resources like land will aggravate the financial hardships for many rural families.

In families where men have migrated for work, the women left behind may have relatively more say in financial matters as well as more freedom of movement. However as the migrant men are forced to return to their villages the gender relations in families may change for the worse. Furthermore, economic empowerment for women which is the cornerstone of gender equality will suffer a blow under the crumbling of income-generation activities for women and will impact other aspects of women’s agency adversely, particularly within the household. It can impact health-seeking ability, decision making within the household, as well as their ability to protect themselves from domestic violence (Swaminathan and Lahoti, 2020).

Lack of employment, uncertainty of future, fear of losing the role of provider and being perceived to be less masculine may lead to frustration which is frequently vented out as violence against women. Several studies indicate a positive relationship between exposure to extreme events and rates of interpersonal violence (Jeltsen, 2020). A sharp rise in violence and abuse against women and children all across the world has been reported. In India, the National Commission for Women as well as many organisations providing support for victims of domestic abuse have reported an increase in calls for help (The Economic Times, 17/4/2020). Rural women seldom have access to such services. Moreover, violence against women is seen as accepted form of ‘disciplining’ or even sign of love shown by husbands so women themselves may not be willing to report it unless it reaches unbearable limits. In the current situation, violence against women may also escalate due to disputes over use and ownership of family assets such as land which continues to be the foundation for security, shelter, income and livelihoods, especially in rural areas.

Previous epidemics, and post-conflict or post-disaster situations, have shown that women are likely to be further disenfranchised of their housing, land and property rights in the absence of protection. Widows and orphans often lost property to other family members and were left homeless during the AIDS epidemic. Generally during crises, widows face a higher risk of disinheritance (Stanley and Prettitore , 2020).

In our society, ownership of land by women is a contentious issue. Traditionally, a son is perceived to be the ‘rightful’ successor. Amendment in the Hindu Succession Act (which is also applicable to Buddhist, Sikh, Jain) in 2005, brought all agricultural land on a par with other property and made women’s inheritance rights in land legally equal to men’s across the states. However, as we know too well, proactive laws and policies often remain only on paper as the traditional norms and practices continue to hold sway. According to a study carried out by the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research (Mehta, 2018) women constitute over 42 per cent of the agricultural labour force in India, but own less than two per cent of farmland.

Usually, it is observed that women and girls have access to land and other property through their male relatives. In case their male relatives pass away, tenure security for women and girls may further weaken due to restrictive social norms and lack of legal knowledge. They can be at particular risk of land grabbing by their husband’s relatives (Godbole, 2016). A recent survey conducted by the Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (MAKAAM, 2018) of 505 women farmers (whose husbands committed suicide due to farm crisis) in 11 districts across Marathwada and Vidarbha in Maharashtra, found that 40 per cent of women widowed by farmer suicides between 2012 and 2018, were yet to obtain rights of the farmland they cultivated. With family members who had migrated to cities are returning to their villages,  disputes over family land are increasing. Some of the widows are facing pressure from the male relatives of husband to sell the land to raise finances to start a new business (Damle, 2020)

With the uncertain employment situation in cities some of the migrant labour may be forced to remain in villages. As the pandemic may reduce other economic resources such as wages and savings, rights to house, land and property become even more important part of overall household assets. This may in turn increase competition and conflict among the family members and in such situations, women may lack the financial resources, information, or support to enforce their property rights (Stanley and Prettitore, 2020).

During the pandemic period, the government should ensure that particularly in case of inheritance, that female heirs are not forced to sign over their property. It is time that we as a society should  break the barriers to women’s access to land and recognise and protect women’s rights while the pandemic places them in a vulnerable situation.


Damle S. (2020) Taale lagtele jine (In Marathi) Loksatta, Chaturang. 6/6/2020 https://www.loksatta.com/chaturang-news/coronavirus-pandemic-lockdown-life-of-farmers-widows-dd70-2180297/ accessed 10/6/2020

Godbole G. (2016). “Selling land is the beginning of the end for us”: Understanding rural people’s perspectives on the impacts of increasing land sale in western Maharashtra, India. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Cambridge, UK.

Jeltsen M. (2020) Home Is Not A Safe Place For Everyone. Huffpost US 12/3/2020. https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/domestic-violence-coronavirus_n_5e6a6ac1c5b6bd8156f3641b?ri18n=true

MAKAM (2018) Social security of women farmers from suicide affected households: A situational analysis.  https://drive.google.com/file/d/10j7Q17iW2Eym3hkMc3QUfxE77oRV9NfQ/view accessed 12/6/2020

Mehta A. (2018) Gender gap in land ownership. Business Standard April 17, 2018   http://www.ncaer.org/news_details.php?nID=252

Stanley V and P. Prettitore (2020). How COVID-19 puts women’s housing, land, and property rights at risk. World Bank Blogs.  https://blogs.worldbank.org/sustainablecities/how-covid-19-puts-womens-housing-land-and-property-rights-risk  accessed 12/6/2020

Swaminathan H. and R. Lahoti (2020). The COVID-19 Lockdown Will Ravage Prospects for India’s Female Workforce. The Wire. https://thewire.in/women/coronavirus-women-economy accessed 10/6/2020.

The Economic Times 17/4/2020 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-witnesses-steep-rise-in-crime-against-women-amid-lockdown-587-complaints-received-ncw/articleshow/75201412.cms


#Aftermath || Gender Implications of COVID-19 Pandemic and Challenges for Community Interventions


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Gender Implications of COVID-19 Pandemic and Challenges for Community Interventions

By Dr. Vibhuti Patel

Dr. Vibhuti Patel is a distinguished academician, social thinker, researcher and speaker from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She is known for her extensive research and expertise in the issues concerned with women in areas such as gender economics, development economics, social infrastructure, human rights, women’s studies.


On March 24th 2020, the Government of India announced a nationwide lockdown that demanded 1.3 billion Indians to stay home and strictly adhere to ‘social distancing’ for 21 days to slow the spread of COVID-19. This emergency measure has had dire implications for the vulnerable populations – 94% of the workforce in the informal sector, women headed households which are poorest of the poor, persons with disability, homeless, lonely elderly, socially stigmatised transgender community, sex workers, prisoners and inmates in overcrowded shelter homes. The lockdown has been followed by curtailment of public and personal transportation. As per the 2011 Census, 309 million women are migrants in India. The migrant workers, daily wage earners, unorganized sector workers including the self-employed women and men have been worst hit due to loss of wages, no money to pay rent of house and buy daily necessities, exposure to hunger, malnutrition and infection and the worst of all- police brutality as most of them tried to go to their native place as they had nothing to survive in the neo-liberal decision makers of the urban local self-government bodies that were concerned only about middle and upper strata of the economy living in gated communities.

The lockdown has also forced women to bear the burden of unpaid care work, both, in terms of housework, home-schooling of children and enhanced care burden of sick, children and elderly. Over the last two weeks, women’s rights groups, community based non-government organisations, networks on right to food and right to shelter,  citizens associations, self-help groups, trade unions have been busy providing provisions of all necessary services (food, shelter, water, healthcare, information) for the marginalised and socially excluded poor people most of whom do not have a bank account or Unique Identification Number (UID).

Civil society groups are extensively using social media demanding implementation of  urgent measures to provide comprehensive information about COVID-19 to mitigate panic and initiate public messaging against discrimination and take steps to address any violations of basic rights of citizens/ employees by employers, landlords, state administrators and police. Indian feminists are focussing on 9 key areas of interventions for state and non-state actors:

  1. Food security for informal sector daily wage workers, migrant population and women headed households where widows, single, deserted and divorced women are the bread earners.
  2. Health care for womene. timely access to necessary and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services during the crisis, such as emergency contraception and safe abortion. Maintain an adequate stock of menstrual hygiene products at healthcare and community facilities. Train medical staff and front-line social workers to recognize signs of domestic violence and provide appropriate resources and services
  3. Education through creation of educational radio programming appropriate for school-age children and expansion of free internet access to increase access to online educational platforms and material. The school/colleges and universities should enable students to participate in virtual learning and provide disability-accessible classroom sessions.
  4. Reduction of social inequality in care services by encouraging the equitable sharing of domestic tasks in explicit terms and through allowances for time off and compensation for all workers. The state must ensure increased access to sanitation and emergency shelter spaces for unhoused people. It should implement protocol and train authorities on recognizing and engaging vulnerable populations, particularly where new laws are being enforced. Consultations of the government bodies with civil society organizations are a MUST for implementing the legislation and policy and for guaranteeing equal access to information, public health education and resources in multiple languages.
  5. Water and sanitation departments of the local self-government bodies must cease all disconnections and waive all reconnection fees to provide everyone with clean, potable water.
  6. Feminists are demanding reduction of economic inequality through engendered public economics policies and gender responsive participatory budgeting, Protection services to deal with violence against women, domestic violence/intimate partner violence in the context of the lockout as well as mass exodus of migrant workers.
  7. Along with human rights organisations, feminists are demanding adoption of human rights-oriented protocols with regards to people in prisons, administrative migration centres, quarantine centres, refugee camps, and people with disabilities in institutions and psychiatric facilities who are at higher risk of contagion due to the confinement conditions.
  8. Feminists have been strongly advocating against the communalisation of COVID-19 crisis to whip up Islamophobia and stigmatisation of poor migrants.
  9. Ensuring availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), safety, security, welfare and inclusion in decision making (with regards to combating COVID-19) of the front-line workers – doctors, nurses, sanitary staff, volunteers of NGOs who are risking their lives, is the topmost priority as well as the challenge for citizens and the state. 



Excerpts from an article by Asiya Islam, Junior Research Fellow at Newnham College, University of Cambridge.

A message with email signoffs adapted for use during the coronavirus pandemic has been doing the rounds, one of the many memes that this crisis has generated. The usual ‘Best’, ‘Sent from my iPhone’, and ‘Take care’ have been replaced by ‘Best (but could be better), ‘Sent from my living room’, and ‘Take Care – no but really’. It seems that, perhaps for the first time, people actually want to know the answer to ‘How are you?’ and that it is acceptable to venture past the cursory ‘I’m fine, thanks, and you?’ 

This change in the way we communicate with each other may have been prompted by a sense of unity in feeling lonely, anxious, and insecure. But perhaps this change is also a realisation, on a collective level, of what is absolutely essential to the survival and sustenance of society – care.

Ethic of care
When the things that distract us every day – the emails that need to be sent, the profits that need to be calculated, the booking that needs to be made at the new restaurant – are stripped back to make space to deal with a crisis, we may arrive at an awkward realisation. That as urgent as we may believe our everyday activities in times of ‘normalcy’ to be, they are indeed (quite literally) not matters of life and death. At this moment, people are thinking much more closely about provision of healthcare, neighbourhood support groups, manufacture of ventilators and masks, sanitation, food production, and delivery services. Is this what a society premised on the ethic of care look like?

Read the full article here

Asiya Islam, ‘TAKE CARE – NO BUT REALLY’: GENDER, LABOUR, AND CARE IN TIMES OF CRISIS, Discover Society, April 1, 2020