Gender, Class and the Commons: A Case Study from the Indian Himalayas in Natural Resources Management

"Research carried out in the Indian Himalayas in the state of Himachal Pradesh suggests that a household ownership of land and cattle resources generally corresponds to a household's increased use of village forests, but that the control and management of village commons is influenced strongly by socio-political village dynamics. Data from 33 household interviews in two villages in the Kullu Valley suggest that the while the majority (73%) of the women surveyed own from 3-15 bighas of land and 1-3 cattle, 91% of women from the survey use the forest extensively for multiple purposes. Despite the predominant role of women in the utilization of village commons, not all women participate in the women's organization, the Mahila Mandal, that has gained substantial control of village resources. At a macro level, looking at rural villages from the outside the 'poor', rural village people as a collective entity, are those who respond to protect forests from degradation. At the micro level, however, observing internal social, economic and political village dynamics, the 'poor' are often without any power to influence the control or decision making over forest resources. There are, then, micro and macro levels of stratification and this study emphasizes the dynamics at the micro level. At issue in this paper are two dimensions to natural resources management: the differentiation between women in their use of common property resources, and ways in which women differ in their control and management of common property resources. Although one might expect these aspects of natural resource management to come together, in actual fact, they are reflections to a large extent of ownership of resources the former (use) and one's social-political status through caste in the latter (management and control). This study suggests that social and political stratification of people within village populations needs to be understood in order for policy-making to consider those whom it is empowering."
resource management, village organization, social networks, gender, common pool resources, Himalayas