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Property and social privilege are two of the most enduring forms of authority, and families often jealously guard the control and transfer of these sources of influence. This chapter explains the social conventions around the Hindu extended family (encompassing control of property, social alliances, and the politics of mobility and public voice) that govern the intrahousehold distribution of power. After exploring how they have been constructed, I study the unintended consequences of multiple attempts during British colonial rule to legislate gender-equalizing social reforms. The British attempted to homogenize diverse religious, spiritual, and pragmatic traditions into a single code with a tiny elite of highly educated Brahman men at the top. Comfortably, the elite’s sense of “tradition” looked much like the male British colonial ideal of “classical patriarchy” in terms of control of property and social authority. Ironically, this British-Brahman imposition has become integral to India’s legal code. The chapter next details the changes to the ecosystem of norms around women’s traditional property rights, and their enforcement, from independence to contemporary India. Where relevant, I include insights from my field research about the continuity of familial expectations around what it means to be a “good” Hindu son or daughter.
This chapter studies the strategic political origins of gender-equalizing land inheritance reforms using legislative debates newly translated to English, and analysis of historical behavior and motivations. It examines three states and the constitutional amendment mandating women’s electoral representation. Kerala entered independence with one of the highest levels of caste and landholding inequality, alongside small matrilineal communities with high female autonomy. Here, women’s rights to land were weaponized as a source of injustice (to men). Andhra Pradesh also entered independence with high caste and landholding inequality, absent a strong tradition of women’s autonomy. Activism by radical, caste-based movements to undercut caste dominance enabled rethinking of power elsewhere. In this “moderate” example of reform, legislation was symbolic, resonant with newly pivotal female voters but unlikely to be enforced. In Karnataka, moderate caste and landholding inequality enabled a newly empowered party and chief minister to legislate and enforce reform for women, due to women's status as pivotal voters and the promise of fundamentally restructuring political agency. Constitutional reform occurred due to women’s increasingly pivotal role as well-informed voters willing to reward or punish parties for their commitments.
Do quotas mandating women’s political representation unsettle social norms enough to foment backlash that precludes future generations of daughters? I examine the extent to which diminishing sons’ traditionally stronger economic and political position alters preferences for male over female offspring. Overall, this analysis provides decisive evidence that backlash immediately follows quota-mandated female representation that enables enforcement of women’s substantial inheritance rights. Exposure to female gatekeepers lowers the proportion of daughters mothers bear by 5 to 20 percentage points, relative to women without access to female representatives. What about women with the greatest bargaining power? New political representation that expands opportunities for women to claim gender-equal economic rights might shift behavior amongst the youngest cohorts of mothers exposed to both changes (female-led political institutions and substantive economic rights) early in familial formation. At the margin, this group of women appear more inclined to give birth to daughters. Overall, analysis suggests a slight shift in favor of bearing and raising healthy sons for all but this youngest cohort of mothers. This chapter finds political representation enabling women to claim crucial economic rights to inherit property is not sufficient on its own to bring about meaningful or benign change.
Can enforcement of India’s gender equal property inheritance reform advance equality by bringing about meaningful reorganization of familial responsibilities? Quotas increasing women’s political representation strengthen enforcement of gender-equalizing land inheritance reform (as Chapter 5 shows). Such enforcement may increase conflict within the family. This chapter finds families are more likely to block equal distribution of inheritance to daughters, conditional on the anticipated cost of losing ancestral property rights. This “cost” can be transformed into a benefit for the entire family when female gatekeepers spur integrative bargaining solutions, striking agreements about the distribution of rights and responsibilities across multiple domains simultaneously. This chapter identifies the causal effect on behavior of as-if randomly applied reservations for female elected heads of local government on the willingness of children to support aging parents. It finds that when daughters leverage female gatekeepers to exercise symbolic land rights, conflict is unlikely, and women are more able to care for aging parents, choosing closer marriages and planning to financially support parents. However, when a daughter gains gender-equal property inheritance after exiting marriage negotiations, all children revoke support for parents.
When do quotas for women’s political representation promote economic gender equality? Legislative reforms equalizing economic rights are common globally, with mixed results. I consider the impact of quotas on women’s rights in a crucial domain: property. I first explain my research method, utilizing more than two years of qualitative research and quantitative data. I leverage exogenously set electoral quotas—reservations—for women as heads of local government in India. Reservations enable clean identification of the impact of representation on enforcing gender-equalizing land inheritance reforms. I find that political representation enables women to secure property rights and ensure that they are upheld. However, backlash occurs when reservations guaranteeing female representation make enforcement of reform credible. Women can reduce this backlash by utilizing female representation to trade traditional monetary dowry for property inheritance and familial responsibilities. This, in turn, reduces the “cost” of reform to men. These findings confirm the power of political representation. However, quotas for female representation will be successful at incentivizing economic gender equality only to the extent they also provide women with resources to pursue enforcement of rights in ways that provide opportunities for integrative bargaining solutions.
How do women access social, economic, and political power in settings where multiple, interlinked systems prevent female influence and agency? More fundamentally: how does a low status group challenge and destabilize what prior to that point appeared to be a highly stable, inegalitarian system? In this chapter, I construct a theory linking women’s political representation to their economic agency. I utilize analysis of electoral behavior and negotiations of political authority and rights garnered from extensive field research to develop my “gatekeeper theory” of how women’s representation impacts enforcement of economic rights and subsequent welfare. I argue that constitutional reforms mandating female representation catalyze change. We see this clearly where economic reforms present an opportunity for women to translate political voice into entitlements to inherit the most precious resource and primary repository of wealth in contemporary India: land. Whether an individual experiences backlash or benefits depends on her bargaining power at the time she gains enforceable property rights, thanks to the confluence of reform and quotas mandating female representation. I include individual narratives to explain the scope and significance of my theory. I also investigate how social norms and their enforcement and contestation are evolving in light of changing political representation.
When can quotas enable representatives and their constituents to upend hierarchies in favor of the women they are meant to empower? "Gatekeeper theory" explains the connection between political representation and economic power. It explores how quotas expanding women’s ability to gain the most influential elected role in local government fundamentally reorder power. Female leaders revolutionize how women occupy the public sphere, create new spaces for women’s benefit, and repurpose the private sphere. Where women replace traditionally male gatekeepers, they catalyze the claiming and enforcement of female rights to a crucial economic resource: land inheritance. This energizes many forms of resistance, particularly in the short term. Most striking is women’s ability to transform conflict over traditional rights into consensus over new distributions of resources when three factors align: access female political representation, substantial economic rights, and social bargaining power. Field research and large-scale data analysis confirm a key window of opportunity for women to secure rights: marriage negotiations—when many valuable resources are distributed. Where female gatekeepers can support women to claim rights at this critical juncture, women can strike integrative solutions to intrahousehold bargaining.
This chapter explores the global reach of “gatekeeper theory.” It studies how the institutional structure of electoral quotas and economic reforms for greater gender equality interact, comparing parental leave in the former Soviet Union and Sweden, and land tenure reforms in Tanzania and Rwanda. Where women’s quotas are effective, reforms are enforced (everywhere but Tanzania). However, the welfare impact of such enforcement depends on whether reform enables integrative bargaining. If so, we see empowerment; otherwise, backlash follows. The chapter next explains how the book’s findings build theory in three domains: how quotas change the relationship between citizens and families, communities, and the state, through the prism of bargaining power; which mechanisms push the impact of reform toward increasing either social equality or resistance; and the necessity of studying how evolving social norms, political institutions, and economic rights can converge to achieve greater equality. It concludes that local political institutions can productively engage with social norms to bring about progressive, egalitarian change. To do so, reform must exploit critical junctures, where multiple paths are possible. By identifying and paying close attention to these pivotal intersections, we foster mutually beneficial agreements within families in the service of incremental social progress.
Quotas for women in government have swept the globe. Yet we know little about their capacity to upend entrenched social, political, and economic hierarchies. Women, Power, and Property explores this question within the context of India, the world's largest democracy. Brulé employs a research design that maximizes causal inference alongside extensive field research to explain the relationship between political representation, backlash, and economic empowerment. Her findings show that women in government – gatekeepers – catalyze access to fundamental economic rights to property. Women in politics have the power to support constituent rights at critical junctures, such as marriage negotiations, when they can strike integrative solutions to intrahousehold bargaining. Yet there is a paradox: quotas are essential for enforcement of rights, but they generate backlash against women who gain rights without bargaining leverage. In this groundbreaking study, Brulé shows how well-designed quotas can operate as a crucial tool to foster equality and benefit the women they are meant to empower.
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