This article explores whether a region's traditional type of agricultural production - “dry” (rain-fed) vs. “wet” (irrigated rice) - has long-term effects on women's equality and on development. It examines the three world regions with the widest range of gender stratification: a “dry” region (Middle East/North Africa/much of South Asia, the most gender-unequal) and two “wet” regions (East Asia, and Southeast Asia - traditionally the most gender-equal). Men are primary cultivators in “dry” agriculture but irrigated rice is so labor-intensive that both genders are producers. Participation in production is posited as a precondition for greater gender equality (Blumberg 1984). Working toward a theory incorporating traditional production and region into gender and development, the article considers additional factors. One is the kin/property system: in the first two regions, it privileges men (patrilineal descent; patrilocal residence; male-dominated inheritance). In Southeast Asia, it is bilateral/matrifocal. And only in Southeast Asia do women traditionally earn and control income, i.e., have economic power, the key (although not only) factor affecting gender equality in Blumberg's theory of gender stratification. Cultural-normative variables remain least favorable to women in the “dry” region (especially compared to Southeast Asia). Today, the “dry” region has the least dynamic growth, with continued low female labor force participation (LFP) in oil-poor and, especially, oil-rich nations; the two “wet” regions have pursued successful export manufacturing development strategies with high female LFP, with Southeast Asia now having the fastest growth. Development prospects vs. potential problems align similarly from worst to best in the three regions.
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