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Integrated approach to research: Towards transformation of social (gender) injustices: A case of understanding gender-land injustice

This article is a contribution to the transformative methodologies blog series. It argues that employing an integrated approach to research, by equally highlighting status order (such as gender relations, by utilising a gender lens), challenges the focus only on class or political-economic dimensions of research concerns. Hence, an integrated approach to research brings forth the integration of economic (distribution), cultural (recognition), and political (representation) dimensions in knowledge production, thereby challenging the conventional methodological approaches, and elucidating the neglect and invisibility of an equally important research dimension, such as gender relations. 

What is integrated approach and what makes it transformative?

The theory on integrated approach is taken from Fraser’s theory of integrative approach to justice. In this article, the integrated approach is taken and discussed as a methodological approach in knowledge production. This means, taking cognisant consideration of the economic (mal)distribution, cultural (mis)recognition, and political (mis)representation (Fraser, 1999, 2005) in research. As such, these three spheres are considered as equal loci of power structures. Thus, an integrated approach not only challenges power hierarchies, and dominant perspectives and approaches in research, but also explores the transformative potential of undertaking research.

According to Fraser (2005:73), overcoming injustice means eliminating the institutionalised barriers (economic, cultural, and political) that hinder “parity participation” in societal interaction, between and among social classes and status order. Injustice emanates from economic maldistribution, cultural misrecognition (especially women’s subordination to men), and political misrepresentation. Thus, an integrated approach to justice becomes useful in developing a more comprehensive understanding of social injustice, by bringing both gender and class concerns simultaneously to the forefront of research and analysis. In the following sections, I use the case of land injustice to illustrate the utility and challenges of employing an integrated approach towards developing a nuanced understanding of the various intersecting forces that shape and sustain land injustice.

Understanding an integrated approach to research: the case of gender and land injustice

The economic sphere of justice centres on the redistribution of resources, where class structure is the main barrier. When people are deprived of required economic resources to participate fully in societal life, there is a distributive injustice (Fraser, 1999/2005). This subscribes to the Marxian understanding that class is an economic relation between the capitalist and proletariat, and thus focuses on structures of exploitation and domination (Wright, E.O. 2009:60). Examining the agrarian structure, for instance, Borras, (1997/2007) found the link between landlessness and peasants’ socio-economic status in relation to land reform. Borras elucidated, among other factors, that landlessness has a direct correlation with peasants’ poverty and injustice, and landowners’ domination and violence (Ibid). Similarly, feminist scholars have found that women’s landlessness is brought about by both — a lack of land redistribution, and a lack of recognition of women’s equal land rights (see for example, Deere and Leon, 2001, Jacobs, 2013, Deere, 2017 , and Bejeno 2021a and 2021b).

The cultural sphere, which centres on the recognition of status order, posits that status relations (in this case the gender relations) is the main barrier. When people, particularly women, are deprived of required recognition to fully participate in societal life, there is recognition injustice (Fraser, 1999/2005). This gender injustice is produced and reproduced through patriarchy or male supremacy, and is described as “the institutional all-encompassing power that men, as a group, have over women, [along with] the systematic devaluation of all the roles and traits which the society has assigned to women.” (Popkin, A., 1979).  Therefore, under patriarchy, men obtain economic, cultural, and political dominance, on one hand, and maintain women’s subordination and oppression on the other. This divide between hegemonic power of men, and the subordination of women, shapes the societal everyday practices, norms, and public policies, that in turn produce and reproduce gender-based injustice, such as land injustice (Bejeno 2021a).

Now, in the political sphere, which centres on the representation of peoples (in this case of women’s voices and participation), the political structure is the main barrier. When people (such as poor women and men) are deprived of participation, such as in framing policies, there is a representation injustice (Fraser, 2005). The political misrepresentation of women, for instance, in policy formulation and implementation (be it in state or peoples’ organization), may jeopardise women’s advancement and equality, such as in land (Bejeno, 2021a). Thus, by employing an integrated approach to research, the simultaneous scrutiny of the economic, cultural, and political sphere, as discussed above, can result in a more holistic and nuanced understanding of the intersecting injustices at play, thereby pointing to more transformative solutions for societal change.

Barriers in using integrated approach to research in understanding land injustice

In land reform and peasants’ studies, various dimensions of land justice are oftentimes ignored, which render gender (in)justice invisible. Gender justice here means that women are also recognised, for instance, to own land independently, or as co-owners in the event of all agrarian land redistribution (Bejeno, 2021a). Many studies are oftentimes not cognisant of gender inequality and fail to consider the contemporary status relations in the society. Therefore, the land reform discourse remains generally centred on class question, which in turn, continuously neglects gender-based injustice in land reform. Moreover, such a discourse is also bolstered by discriminatory laws and policies, women’s ignorance to their land rights, male dominance in decision-making bodies, directed distribution of land to household heads, (primarily men), and the strong opposition of men, on one hand, and non-assertion of women, on the other regarding their land rights (Agarwal, 1994a; Deere and Leon 2001; Levien, 2017; Morgan, 2017; Leonard, et.al 2015 Bejeno, 2021b:7-8).

This discourse is also rooted in the undervaluation or devaluation of women’s labor and contribution to production, and the equation of reproductive work to ‘unemployment’ (Bejeno, 2021a). Women’s access to, and control over land, is oftentimes determined by the patriarchal households (Walker, 2003:143). And in many cases, women may not necessarily inherit from their husbands in case of widowhood, such as in Sub-Saharan Africa (Doss et.al, 2014) and Asia (Agarwal 1994a and 1994b). A household, therefore, can be a site of women’s oppression (Jacobs, 2002:33, see also Agarwal 1994a) and women’s exclusion from land ownership (Ibid; Bejeno, 2021a; Kieran et.al, 2015; Leonard et.al, 2015, Alano, 2015). In effect, by giving primacy to the economic or productive aspects in research, any other  form of intervention becomes problematic, which, therefore, cyclically places women in less valued, invisible, and marginalised socio-economic and political status, and thus neglects the interconnected root causes of societal inequality and injustice.

Using a gender justice approach, therefore, can illuminate the gender-based power relations and dynamics. Thus, an integrated and transformative approach to land injustice would entail not only ensuring access to and control over land resources for women and other marginalised groups, but also engendering fundamental changes in perceptions of and about women as citizens and human beings (Cornwall, 2016). Transformative approach, therefore, requires an overhaul of social structures and power asymmetries to build a just society, where people, regardless of gender and other status order, have equitable resources, standing, and voice (Fraser 2005).

Paving the way forward for transformative social change

In conclusion, a transformative methodology in research considers both the class hierarchy or economic maldistribution, status relations (such as gender relations) or cultural recognition, and political structure or misrepresentation, to  understand and address societal problems in a more nuanced and comprehensive manner.  The case of land injustice discussed in this article illustrates, for instance, how gender relations, as a form of status order, is often neglected in  more traditional research approaches, and how an integrated approach can offer a more nuanced analysis by taking into account gender relations as a critical dimension of inquiry in agrarian concern. Such an approach, therefore, may result addressing the gendered control of assets, decision-making power within the household and communities, and women’s participation, among others, thereby leading to a more transformative change in the long term.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Cynthia Embido Bejeno is a PhD and a Guest Researcher of Civic Innovation group at ISS

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EADI/ISS Series | Why gender matters to social movements by Stacey Scriver and G. Honor Fagan

There are right and left, radical and conservative social movements at work in today’s volatile and unequal world. Whether directed towards a transformative social justice agenda or not, social movements themselves do not exist outside of the structures of power. Even among social movements directed towards deep social justice, gender inequality remains a key concern, since gender-related inequalities persist, both within the movements themselves, as well as in their recognition, support and the response to them.

There are right and left, radical and conservative social movements at work in today’s volatile and unequal world. Whether directed towards a transformative social justice agenda or not, social movements themselves do not exist outside of the structures of power. A growth in populist politics, a resurgence of religious movements with conservative agendas on gender and sexuality, and new male supremacist ideologies remind us that gender justice is an extremely challenging and ongoing struggle.  Even among social movements directed towards deep social justice, gender inequality remains a key concern, since gender-relatedinequalities persist, both within the movements themselves, as well as in their recognition, support and the response to them.

The Sustainable Development Goals represent the blueprint to achieving a better and more sustainable future. SDG 5 is particularly relevant to considerations of gender and social movements. It is clearly recognised that to achieve sustainable growth, gender equality is necessary. This includes the removal of barriers to women’s empowerment, such as the common and pervasive experience of violence against women or gender-based violence. It also implies re-shaping power structures through the inclusion of women in leadership roles, both within government and in economic activities.

Social movements can be powerful actors in efforts to protect and expand human rights, including gender inequality. Further, social movements are vital training-grounds for leadership and political engagement: many who ultimately take up positions of power within societies initially learned skills in negotiation and communication and built their reputations through work with social movements. They thus also offer a pathway for women to achieve political and economic status.

Gender in Social Movements for Economic, Environmental and Social Justice

Despite the potential of some social movements to contribute towards a gender-just world, inequalities persist within the structure and organisation of many. Leaders are most often men, and often men who ascribe to a culturally acceptable form of masculinity. Women often take on the ‘house-keeping’ roles within social movements, such as organising recruitment and developing campaigns, or ‘soft’ activism, such as maintaining relationships behind the scenes. Consequently, those whose voice are heard most and who consequently benefit most from such public profiles are more likely to be men, limiting the benefits of participating in social movements for women. In short, the working culture of these movements and their pedagogical methods do not create gender parity in membership and decision-making unless they are ‘engendered’.

Many social movements neglect to address the question of gender. For instance, in movements for peace and reconciliation, concerns perceived as relating only to women are often relegated to a secondary status. Peace movements may perceive conflict-affected gender-based violence, including the propensity for increases in intimate partner violence in the context of conflict, as being a second-class category of concern. That is, to be addressed once the ‘bigger’ issues of, for instance, organised violence by paramilitaries, are resolved. This is despite gender-based violence affecting more individuals than organised violent attacks.

The failure to apply a gendered approach to social issues and to create equality within social movements may thus replicate inequalities within the movement itself. This undermines the potential for social movements to be a space wherein women can develop key skills in leadership, shape demands for justice, and develop trust with publics. There is a crucial role for feminists and gender justice activists to create change within social movements, even those advocating social or environmental justice and sustainable development.

Gendered Social Movements                                         

While women have historically taken on important, if often under-recognised, roles in social movements, with examples including the labour movements of the 19th and 20th Century, ‘women’s movements’ have also been active in combating gender discrimination, from suffrage movements to Violence agains Women (VAW) movements. There have been notable successes. The Global Campaign of the early 1990s, and the organisation of the Vienna Tribunal, achieved a significant shift in the human rights agenda, with the explicit recognition of violence against women as a human rights violation.

However, women’s or gender movements also face particular barriers due to gender bias, stereotypes and inequalities.  Being perceived as having particularist goals or lacking sufficient political allies in positions of power has limited the successes of often vibrant women’s movements in terms of translating knowledge raising and public activism into direct political and/or economic gains.

Gender justice is too important to be siloed as a ‘women’s issue!

Put simply, social movements are critical components of thriving democracies, and even more critical where democratic accountability is on the wane. However, persistent gender inequalities within social movements, mean that social movements themselves may not be representative of the needs of its members. Social movements need to engage in critical reflection and restructuring to ensure that they are themselves gender just.

Moreover, adequate recognition that equitable social change and sustainable development requires gender equality must be central to the organising principles not only within social movements but also across those seeking social justice.  Additionally, gender justice is too important to be siloed as a ‘women’s issue’. Allyship between explicitly gendered movements and those focused on other kinds of social justice change is needed. Transformative social change is necessary for long-term and sustainable development and social movements have an important role to play; gender justice, within and between social movements, is a prerequisite.

If you are you interested in discussing gender and social movements further, consider submitting to our harvest panel “Gender Movements and Social Justice” at the EADI/ISS General Conference 2020

Our panel seeks to deepen understanding of the role of gender movements, and gender in movements (including gender solidarity), working towards peaceful, equitable and just communities and societies. We welcome papers that engage with the issues of gender justice and social movements through a variety of perspectives and approaches. Contributions from early career researchers, established academics, and practitioners, including empirically and theoretically-based draft papers, are all welcomed.

This article is part of a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.

Image Credit: Molly Adams on Flickr. The image was cropped.

About the authors:

s200_stacey.scriverStacey Scriver is co-convenor of the Gender Justice Working Group of EADI. She is also a lecturer in Global Women’s Studies in the School of Political Science and Sociology and Director of the MA Gender, Globalisation and Rights at the National University of Galway, Ireland.honor-g-fagan-hme

Honor Fagan is co-convenor of the Gender Justice Working Group of EADI. She is a Professor of Sociology at Maynooth University, Ireland. Her research interests focus on human security and international development, water, waste and social sustainability, and gender and governance. She is currently leading the Social Science component of two Horizon 2020 research programmes on water sustainability.