Property rights, intersectionality, and women's empowerment in Nepal
Abstract: Property is widely recognized as an important resource for empowering women. Many development policies worldwide therefore call for strengthening women's rights to property, especially to physical assets such as land and livestock. However, the relationship between property and women's empowerment is more complex than generally assumed because of the overlapping and dynamic nature of property rights. In this paper, we explore how property rights affect the empowerment of women at different stages of the life cycle and different social locations, ethnicities, household structures, and social classes, using the lens of intersectionality. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted for the “Evaluation of the Welfare Impacts of a Livestock Transfer Program in Nepal,” we examine patterns in women's strategies to exercise specific rights over joint and personal property within their households. The findings show that legal categories of property rights in Nepal fail to account for nuanced rights to assets shared within households. Rather than emphasize individual control over assets for women's empowerment, the social relations around property need to be considered to understand which rights women value. The paper makes recommendations for how research and development projects, especially in South Asia, can avoid misinterpreting asset and empowerment data by incorporating nuance around the concepts of property rights over the life cycle.