Exclusion of women from land ownership enables men to constitute a gendered division of labor and, hence, to appropriate the surplus product produced by women. For women living in rural areas where land ownership is under male domination, it is still important to have access to agricultural land and other forms of rural property, agricultural technologies and commercial activities.

In this article, focusing on the form of patriarchal system that relies on the exploitation of women’s labor in agriculture, I will briefly discuss capitalist transformation in Turkey, women’s access to education, paid employment and other public institutions as well as the state’s impact on the male-dominant character of cultural and religious conditions. I think that the varied character of male domination divides women based on rural and urban. I will also make some recommendations on how feminist politics can overcome this dividedness by merging women’s different demands and strategies.

Blind spot of political economy: patriarchal labor exploitation

In classical political economy, the role of agriculture is limited to finance the accumulation needed in the early stages of capitalist transformation and to supply labor force who will be the wage workers in capitalist sectors. Arthur W. Lewis argues that wages paid in non-agricultural sectors must be higher than the level of consumption that men have in the agricultural family businesses; otherwise, for Lewis, men would not leave agriculture. In other words, unlimited labor supply from agriculture is possible on the condition that wages rise above the subsistence level. Although Lewis, unlike neoclassical economics, takes into consideration the social relations, he neglects the impacts of patriarchal labor exploitation in agriculture on labor supply.

Diverse trajectories of capitalist transformation are determined not only by the specific dynamics of the current system but also by patriarchal relations of labor. In this respect, feminist literature has analyzed in detail that domestic labor is a precondition of reproduction of labor power and capitalist labor exploitation, as well as that global value chains won’t be able to survive without women’s unpaid domestic labor.[1] Following this approach, we can argue that patriarchal labor exploitation in agriculture raised the level of consumption and level of subsistence in agricultural family businesses, and the wages paid in capitalist sectors for men while it limited access to paid employment opportunities for women. Therefore, patriarchal relations of labor have a significant impact on the labor supply from agricultural to non-agricultural capitalist sectors.

Patriarchal relations based on agriculture in feminist literature

Studies focusing on different forms of patriarchy in the Middle East and Africa underline the link between women’s labor in agriculture and male domination in the society and argue that men gain material benefit through the control they have over women’s labor in agriculture.[2] Furthermore, developing various concepts such as domestic mode of production, neo-patriarchy, classic patriarchy they touch upon the impact of present form of patriarchy on male dominant character of state, struggle strategies of women, family relations and capitalist market dynamics. Notwithstanding the contributions, these studies, on the one hand, presume that male-dominated relations in agriculture will disappear with capitalism, and on the other hand, they overlook the relationship between patriarchal labor exploitation and exclusion of women from land ownership.

Scholars of feminist political economy analyze that men increase their control over women’s labor by excluding them from land ownership, agricultural technologies and market relations.[3] In her study which examines the connection between the sexist structure of agricultural transformation and exclusion of women from property ownership Bina Agarwal demonstrates that property ownership is instrumental in terms of women’s socioeconomic conditions and for protection from male violence. However, Agarwal does not distinguish land, which is a means of production, from other forms of property ownership (e.g. house, shop). To my mind, this problem leads to the neglect of the relationship between exclusion of women from land ownership and patriarchal labor exploitation in agriculture.

Agricultural land is not just any other property. It is an exceptional form of property that allows production of surplus, in other words, it is a means of production. In the historical process, there has always been a group that has dominated the laborers who work the land and due to this domination, laborers have always had to produce more than their needs and give them to the privileged who do not work. Claiming ownership over the land, as is the case in all forms of means of production, is the pivotal way of dominating laborers and appropriating surplus value. The group that holds power in society, claiming ownership over land, imposes a division of labor and appropriates, without working, the surplus product produced by the laborers. During feudalism, the nobility, fief owners and the whites in the slavery period in America appropriated agricultural surplus, claiming that they owned the land. If we address the issue within the framework of patriarchal relations, exclusion of women from land ownership enables men to constitute a gendered division of labor and, hence, to appropriate surplus products produced by women. Patriarchal division of labor creates patriarchal labor exploitation.

Patriarchal relations of labor in agriculture in Turkey

I think that studies on capitalist transformation in Turkey, following the above-mentioned classical political economy approach, focus on industrial and financial sectors and overlook the impacts of both agriculture and patriarchal labor exploitation in agriculture on social transformation. This gap at the theoretical level is also effective at the empirical level. For example, distinction between urban and rural areas is made only on the basis of population, regardless of the major economic activity in the area. Yet, in countries like Turkey, there are lots of cities and towns whose major economic activity is agricultural production and other agriculture-related activities (trade, logistics, storage, etc.). Nonetheless, classifying these activities as non-agricultural in the employment data conceals the actual significance of agriculture in overall employment. Besides, as of 2014, every residential area with the population of over 5000 residents were authorized to institute a municipality, and residential areas with municipality were categorized under urban areas. Consequently, while in 2012 77% of the population lived in the urban areas, in 2014 this rate skyrocketed to 92%. Given the patriarchal relations of labor, our need for a different urban-rural distinction is obvious.

Claims that agriculture was “dissolved” with capitalism and cuts in agricultural subsidies have effaced small and medium size enterprises especially since the 2000s neglect not only women’s unpaid labor but also protectionist policies for the domestic market that protect the local producer as well as land consolidation. Land consolidation aiming at increasing productivity of small and medium size enterprises corresponds to a considerable government support for the integration of agriculture with the global market. The claim that this practice will dispossess peasants of their lands does not comply with the majority principle, that is a precondition for the land consolidation.[4] In short, I think that the government support given to agriculture has not been cut altogether; instead, it continues in different ways, adapting to current conditions.

Patriarchal labor exploitation within the worker’s family was ignored for a very long time, until feminist studies proved otherwise. In a similar vein, it is assumed that each member of the peasant family equally participates in the production process in agricultural family businesses. However, once patriarchal relations of labor in agriculture in Turkish context are examined, what we find is quite different from that assumption. Above all, despite the capitalist transformation, agricultural structure that has been based on small land ownership has been preserved since the 1950s. Only 6% of the agricultural enterprises consist of big businesses (20 hectares and above). The ratio of small and medium size enterprises which would not be able to survive without unpaid family labor is always higher than big businesses that operate through wage labor.

Another issue that parallels with small and medium size agricultural enterprises is that unpaid family laborers in agriculture are predominantly women. In fact, in Turkey, a country which ranks in the top ten percent in terms of industrial production capacity worldwide, the percentage of agriculture in overall women employment was higher than any other sectors until 2006. While in many countries such as Argentina, Chile, Mexico, South Africa and Malaysia, women and men employment simultaneously shifts from agriculture to non-agricultural sectors, in Turkey there is a notable inequality. The shift of men employment to non-agricultural sectors was completed in the mid-1970s; however, for women employment this shift was delayed until the mid-2000s.[5] This data which shows the presence of patriarchal labor exploitation within families in agriculture is also backed by other ethnographic and qualitative studies. These studies point out to a strict gendered division of labor in agricultural production and male domination over women’s labor and address how religion and cultural values are used by men for such purposes.[6]

I explained above that there is a causal relationship between male domination over women’s labor in agriculture and women’s exclusion from land ownership. So far, women’s exclusion from land ownership in rural areas has been explained away by traditions. However, as I argued elsewhere, women were subjected to legal discrimination in small and medium size agricultural land ownership until 2001.[7] Inheritance clauses of the 1926 Civil Code which had remained in force until 2001 give small and medium size arable lands, other forms of rural property on this land such as mills, machinery, tools, and animals to the male inheritors. According to the law, if the land is agricultural land and if it is smaller than the scale of “divisible land” determined by the land registry in accordance with the regional conditions, the articles 507-602 of the Civil Code apply. Accordingly, the agricultural enterprise, land and other properties on the land are directly passed down to the male inheritor. However, if the male children do not want the inheritance and if the daughter or her husband is eligible to run the agricultural enterprise, the land and other properties pass down to the female inheritor. As Ferit H. Saymen, a legal expert of the time, states that this provision has grave discriminatory consequences for women in terms of agricultural land ownership.

Some implications for feminist theory and politics

 Turkish context shows that the patriarchal system has a specific form that relies on the exploitation of women’s labor in agriculture. Studies on different forms of patriarchy develop two main concepts based on the change in male domination: (1) “domestic patriarchy” that is grounded on the exclusion of women from all the institutions of public sphere such as education, paid employment, politics, labor unions, parliament and other public decision-making mechanisms, media and other influential nodes which shape cultural and religious terms, and (2) “public patriarchy” through which women can participate in the institutions of public sphere yet are pushed to secondary positions in the institutions in question.[8] Although these studies help us develop strategies that shape according to national, regional and historical conditions, they exclusively focus on public patriarchy and overlook various forms of domestic patriarchy.

To my mind, we can specify two sub-forms of domestic patriarchy: namely, modern and pre-modern domestic patriarchy. While in the former women’s exclusion from paid employment is required in order to maintain patriarchal labor exploitation within the home, in the latter, excluding women from land ownership enables patriarchal exploitation of women’s labor in agriculture. Both sub-forms of domestic patriarchy shape the patriarchal character of the state as well as cultural and religious terms; they also tend to push for the exclusion of women from any public institution.

Premodern domestic patriarchy is one of the factors determining the trajectories followed by capitalist transformation in Turkey. As opposed to the assumption that later stages of capitalism would dispossess and proletarianize peasants in agriculture and lead to capitalist farms that need wage labor, in The Capital Volume III, Karl Marx explains that there are different trajectories of capitalist transformation. He states there is a possibility that small producers can exploit the labor of others by continuing to own the means of production.[9] Drawing on this approach, we cannot ignore that patriarchal labor exploitation has slowed down rural women’s proletarianization process and increased wages and subsistence level, hence, has had an impact on labor supply from agriculture. For instance, in Latin American countries, all laborers, men and women alike, have been proletarianized through dispossession; thus, capitalist farmers based on wage labor could dominate the agricultural structure. These farms which prioritize men in employment led to a shift of women’s labor to non-agricultural sectors. However, in such countries as Turkey, men who have the opportunity to take the advantage of gendered division of labor in agriculture appropriate agricultural surplus value and, thus, have a relatively higher level of consumption. The impact of patriarchal labor exploitation in agriculture on the labor supply shapes the historical capital accumulation and competition in the global market. However, I am not going to address this discussion in this article which focuses on patriarchal transformation.

What I have so far written about the sub-forms of domestic patriarchy does not mean that public patriarchy in Turkey does not exist. There are a significant number of women who can access education, paid employment, private property, and public decision-making mechanisms in urban areas. These women, who take to the streets on every March 8 Feminist Night Marches, have to struggle with forms of domination that, in my opinion, are predominantly peculiar to public patriarchy. While for urban women, under the conditions of increasing wage dependency and in the face of men excluding women from paid employment opportunities, issues such as education, employment, day-care, wage and political representation gain importance, for women in the rural areas, where land ownership is under male domination, it is still important to have access to agricultural land and other forms of rural property, agricultural technologies and commercial activities. This division among women in the patriarchal system is reflected not only in the demands but also in the strategies. For instance, developing a struggle strategy based on religious law and values might have a different meaning for rural women, as such they can make their political preferences accordingly.

Feminist movement can overcome this division by uniting different demands and strategies of women. I will explain my point using two examples: data presented by the World Values Survey shows that almost all rural and urban women embrace the demands addressing male violence. Under this tripartite diversity of the patriarchal system and different forms of domination, feminist policies and strategies developed against male violence have become a common demand that crosscuts different groups of women. On the other hand, despite the significant gains of feminist movement, when the 1926 Civil Code was replaced by the 2001 Civil Code, discriminatory article in agricultural land ownership was replaced by an ambiguous phrase of “being eligible” to be decided by the judge (the 2001 Civil Code, Article 661). Given that judges are predominantly men, it is easily predictable that this discrimination against women continues under the 2001 Civil Code. However, at the end of 2014, the AKP[10] government announced a points-based eligibility system in a way to bring positive discrimination for women and the law –albeit insufficient– became the most egalitarian law in our history in terms of land ownership.[11]

Turkey is not the only country where the form of patriarchal system which relies on women’s labor in agriculture exists. The available data shows that India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, some countries of the Middle East and North Africa (Morocco, Egypt and pre-war Syria) have a similar system. We, the feminists, have always tried to learn from the experiences of similar countries while basing our analysis on Turkey-specific characters of patriarchy. However, I think, rather than Latin America, or Islamic dictatorships which rely on oil/gas revenue, we have a lot to learn from above-listed countries in which capitalist transformation exists hand-in-hand with patriarchal labor exploitation in agriculture, where sub-forms of domestic patriarchy and public patriarchy both clash and act in harmony.

Finally, some feminist work has made great contributions by addressing how capitalism, racism and nationalism differentiate women’s experiences and create divisions among women based on class, race, and ethnicity. However, while forms of male domination can crosscut class-, race-, and ethnicity-based differences among women it can also divide women again on patriarchal grounds. Therefore, while developing our feminist strategies, we should explore continuities as much as change. I believe that reflecting on forms of patriarchy to do this can offer us a suitable theoretical and political ground.

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

Translator: İpek Tabur

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan


Acar Savran, G. (2004) Beden, Emek, Tarih: Diyalektik bir Feminizm için. İstanbul: Kanat Kitap.

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Agarwal, B. (2003) “Gender and land rights revisited: Exploring new prospects via the state, family and market”, Journal of Agrarian Change, 3(1-2), pp. 184-224.

Boserup, E. (1975) Women’s role in economic development. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Boyraz, Z. and Üstündağ, Ö. (2008) “Kırsal alanda arazi toplulaştırma çalışmalarının önemi”, E-Journal of New World Sciences Academy, 3(3).

Brown, C. (1981) “Mothers, Fathers and Children: From private to public patriarchy”, in Sargent, L. (ed.) Women and Revolution: A discussion of the Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism. New York: Pluto Press, pp. 239-268.

Caldwell, J. (1982) Theory of Fertility Decline. London, New York: Academic Press Inc.

Deller Ross, S. “Women’s Land and Property Rights in Kenya”, The International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, Kenya: Georgetown University, Law Center and Federation of Women Lawyers, 41.

Dunaway, W. A. (2014) Gendered Commodity Chains: Seeing women’s work and households in global Production. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Federici, S. (2004) Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. Brooklyn: Autonomedia.

Fonjong, L., Sama-Lang, I. F. and Fombe, L. F. (2012) “Implications of Customary Practices on Gender Discrimination in Land Ownership in Cameroon”, Ethics and Social Welfare, 6(3), pp. 260-274.

Gardiner, J. (1975) “Women’s domestic labor”, New Left Review, 89 (January, February), pp. 47-58.

GDSW (2000) Kırsal Alan Kadınının İstihdama Katkısı, Ankara: Türkiye Cumhuriyeti, Kadın statüsü ve sorunları bakanlığı.

Hartmann, H. I. (1979a) “Capitalism, patriarchy and job segregation by sex”, in Eisenstein, Z. (ed.) Capitalist patriarchy and the case for socialist feminism. New York, London: Monthly Review Press.

Hartmann, H. I. (1979b) “The unhappy marriage of Marxism and feminism: Towards a more progressive union”, Capital and Class, 8(Summer), pp. 1-33.

Hartmann, H. I. (1981) “The Family as the Locus of Gender, Class, and Political Struggle: The Example of Housework”, Signs, 6(3), pp. 366-394.

Himmelweit, S. and Mohun, S. (1977) “Domestic labor and Capital”, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 1(1, March), pp. 15- 31.

Hoşgör-Gündüz, A. and Smits, J. (2007) “The status of rural women in Turkey: What is the role of regional differences?”, in Moghadam, V.M. (ed.) From patriarchy to empowerment women’s participation, movements, and rights in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, pp. 180- 202.

Kandiyoti, D. (1988) “Bargaining with Patriarchy”, Gender and Society, 2(3), pp. 274-290.

Kocabicak, E. (2018) “What excludes women from land ownership in Turkey? Implications for feminist strategies”, preparation for publication.

Lewis, A. W. (1954) “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour”, The Manchester School, 22(2), pp. 139-191.

Marx, K. (1976) Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Translated by: Fowkes, B. England: Penguin Books.

Mies, M., Bennholdt-Thomsen, V. and Werlhof, C. v. (1988) Women : the last colony. London ; Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Zed Books.

Moghadam, V. M. (2003) Modernising Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East. London: Lynne Reinner.

Moghadam, V. M. (2004) “Patriarchy in transition: Women and the changing family in the Middle East”, Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 35(2), pp. 137- 162.

Morton, P. (1971) “Women’s work is never done!”, in reprinted in 1995, M., E. (ed.) The politics of housework. Cheltenham: New Clarion Press, pp. 110- 134.

Morvaridi, B. (1992) “Gender Relations in Agriculture: Women in Turkey”, Economic Development and Cultural Change, 40(3), pp. 567- 586.

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 [1] For more detailed information, see: Debate on Domestic Labor, Acar Savran, Himmelweit, Gardiner, Morton, Mies, Federici, and Dunaway

[2] For more detailed information, see: Caldwell, Sharabi, Kandiyoti, Moghadam, and Tillion

[3] For more detailed information, see: Agarwal, Fonjong, Muchomba, Deller Ross, and Boserup

[4] For more detailed information on majority principle, see Boyraz and Üstündağ.

[5] All statistical data was calculated on the basis of the data obtained from Turkey Statistical Institute, International Labor Organization and World Bank.

[6] For more detailed information, see: Karkıner; Hoşgör-Gündüz and Smits; GDSW; Onaran-İncirlioğlu; and Morvaridi.

[7] For more detailed information on gender-based legal discrimination in inheritance of agricultural land from 1926 to date, see Kocabıçak.

[8] For more detailed information, see: Walby, Hartmann, Siim and Brown.

[9] See, Marx, K. (1976), Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (vol 3: pp.931). England: Penguin Books.

[10] The acronym of Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi  [Justice and Development Party] which has been the governing party in Turkey for the past 18 years. (Editor’s note)

[11] For criteria for eligible inheritors, see: Official Gazette, No. 29222, Article 10.


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