Sunday, August 09, 2009

Migration, Development, and the Promise of CEDAW for Rural Women

Worth noting -

Professor Lisa Pruitt, UC Davis School of Law, has been writing about rural-urban difference in relation to law for several years, but her work has not been directly about agricultural issues. Pruitt’s most recent article, however, takes a decidedly agricultural turn, and is international in scope.

In Migration, Development and the Promise of CEDAW for Rural Women, Pruitt’s topic is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which features an entire provision, Article 14, regarding the rights of rural women. More specifically, Article 14 is primarily about the role of rural women in agricultural production—as the so-called architects of food security—and it is on the ag-related provisions which Pruitt focuses. The article is forthcoming in the Michigan Journal of International Law (2009) and is available now on SSRN and bepress. The abstract is as follows:
This Article explores the potential of international development efforts and human rights law to enhance the livelihoods of rural women in the developing world. In particular, the Article takes up the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which enumerates in Article 14 specific rights for rural women as a class. Pruitt’s focus here is on Article 14’s guarantees in relation to land ownership, development planning, access to credit, marketing facilities, extension services and technology, and other rights that are linked closely to women’s role as the architects of food security. While CEDAW has attracted enormous attention among legal scholars in the decades since its inception, Pruitt’s is the first scholarly article to focus on the Convention’s provisions regarding to rural women. To better understand the potential of CEDAW in relation to this particular population, Pruitt examines the drafting history of Article 14, as well as the most recent country reports of four Member States: China, Ghana, India, and South Africa.

Written for a symposium called “Territory without Boundaries,” Pruitt’s discussion of CEDAW’s Article 14 is situated in the context of massive rural-to-urban migration worldwide. Indeed, its publication comes just months after demographers report that, on a global scale, urban dwellers began to outnumber those living in rural areas. As globalization creates conditions that induce migration, causing the populations of cities to burgeon and their territories to sprawl, those same forces shape rural places, too. Although that which is rural is often thought of as quintessentially local, rural livelihoods around the world are buffeted by economic restructuring, migration, and climate change. Pruitt thus considers CEDAW in relation to migration’s consequences for the women who are left behind. Among these consequences are enormous challenges, but also opportunities for change and empowerment.

Pruitt’s analysis raises several broad, structural issues. The first is the impact of rural spatiality—including a relative absence of formal legal institutions and actors—on the ability of rural women to realize the promise of international instruments such as CEDAW. The second is the extent to which development entails or encourages urbanization and how CEDAW’s vision for empowering rural women might influence the trajectory of development efforts. The third is the wisdom of development strategies such as the industrialization of agriculture, which fuel migration’s urban juggernaut. Such strategies—which Pruitt argues reflect an urban bias—seem wrong headed at a time when the developed world’s food production priorities are shifting to value and emphasize sustainable agriculture.

Among other observations, Pruitt lauds the priorities and framework of CEDAW’s Article 14 in terms of the ways in which they seek to foster women’s agency and material well-being. These include CEDAW’s aspiration to secure women’s roles in development planning and implementation and to empower them as producers of food. Pruitt also discusses the potential for CEDAW’s Article 14 to accommodate legal pluralism, which can be particularly relevant in rural places, where custom and local sources of authority tend to be more entrenched and influential than in urban locales. Finally, Pruitt suggests that the population churn associated with migration represents an opening for the renegotiation of gender roles and other cultural practices in rural places. This is because migration enhances the prospect of raising the consciousness of rural communities regarding national and international legal norms, while also facilitating enforcement of rural women’s rights by fostering their access to formal legal actors and institutions at higher scales, in urban places. Throughout her analysis, Pruitt considers parallels between developing and developed nations with regard to rural-urban difference, population trends, the industrialization of agriculture, and the social and economic consequences of these phenomena.

Professor Pruitt blogs at Legal Ruralism, A Little (Legal) Realism about the Rural.


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