Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis open access



First Advisor

David Spener

Second Advisor

Tahir Naqvi

Third Advisor

Richard Reed


Since the 1990s, giving women land rights has been a part of international development organizations’ agenda to empower the so-called “Third World woman.” Development organizations generalize women’s land rights as a cultural and local/state patriarchy issue, and to have “land rights” mostly means to have a documented titling to their family’s private agricultural land. Based on one month of fieldwork with the Vasava women in southeastern Gujarat, this thesis exposes the limits of this gender-based and property-based narrative in explaining the experiences of tribal women and land issues. It argues that the supranational development organizations’ framework around “women’s land rights” poorly addresses the lived experiences of tribal women, because of two main problems. The first problem pertains to how supranational development organizations represent and talk about the tribal women and land, in a way that neglects their social, cultural, and historical contexts. This narrative purposefully obfuscates the complicity of the same development agents in disrupting tribal livelihoods through capitalist projects and blocking tribal women’s access to many common forms of land for production. The second problem pertains to the missing voices of women in the land rights agenda. By positing a causal relationship between private land ownership and women’s empowerment, development agents provide little space to take into account the tribal women’s sentiments, dilemmas, doubts, and complex personal experiences after they gain land titles. The lack of attendance to the women’s granular and historically embedded experiences in the development work is what this thesis calls “immodest empowerment.”

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License