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

57 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2009 Last revised: 25 Sep 2009

See all articles by Lisa R. Pruitt

Lisa R. Pruitt

University of California, Davis - School of Law


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, education, development planning, access to credit, marketing facilities 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 attention 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 that fuel migration’s urban juggernaut, particularly in light of changing perceptions and priorities in the developed world regarding food production and sustainability.

Among other observations and conclusions, 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.

Keywords: Informal order, Custom, Customary law, Indigenous, Stasis, Migration, Development, International, Globalization, Women, Rural, Urban, CEDAW, Discrimination, Inequality, Agriculture, Food Security, Education, Micro-credit, Co-operatives, Land Reform, Property Rights

JEL Classification: J43, K33, J16, I31

Suggested Citation

Pruitt, Lisa R., Migration, Development, and the Promise of CEDAW for Rural Women. Michigan Journal of International Law, Vol. 30, p. 707, 2009, UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 182, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1432150

Lisa R. Pruitt (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201
United States

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