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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Beyond the 'Feminization of Agriculture': Rural out-migration, shifting gender relations and emerging spaces in natural resource management

Leder, Stephanie


In international research and development discourses, the 'Feminization of Agriculture' is often used as a vague umbrella term referring to an increase in women's labor burden and responsibilities in agriculture as a result of male out-migration. However, the term is under-conceptualized, and fails to reflect changing gender relations in agriculture and natural resource management, with the potential consequence of ill-defined agriculture and gender research programs. This paper challenges narratives of the 'Feminization of Agriculture'. Drawing from feminist political ecology, this paper conceptualizes gender relations more broadly by highlighting gendered subjectivities and power relations in agriculture in contexts of male out-migration. I propose a conceptual framework to explore shifts in (1) socio-spatial struggles over resources, (2) influence within agrarian households and communal spaces, (3) aspirations, feelings of insecurity and self-determination. I build on extensive participatory fieldwork conducted in three countries, Nepal, India and Bangladesh. The conceptual framework helps analyze how some gender norms and relations are renegotiated in contexts of male out-migration. While unequal power relations shape everyday struggles in agriculture and natural resource management, for some women, increased mobility, social engagement and handling cash create new spaces to influence, move, and communicate. Importantly, everyday struggles over agricultural, water and land resources remain shaped by gender, age, caste, land ownership, remittances and household position, particularly those living with the family in-laws. Research and development programs need to take intersectionality into account and explore emerging spaces for influence, but also be aware of persistent gender norms and power relations which shape agricultural practices, aspirations and self-determination. I conclude by arguing for the need to expand the 'Feminization of Agriculture' debate towards a broader understanding of socio-spatial change and gendered subjectivities within agriculture.


Feminization of agriculture; Migration; Gender; Natural resource management; Feminist political ecology; Intersectionality; Nepal; India; Bangladesh

Published in

Journal of Rural Studies
2022, volume: 91, pages: 157-169

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG5 Gender equality
SDG16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

UKÄ Subject classification

Gender Studies

Publication Identifiers


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