Abstract In Bangladesh, women are generally excluded from participatory management of natural resources, despite such activities being widely considered by policymakers and decision makers as gender-neutral processes. In this context, we seek to examine the participatory exclusion of women from collective management of natural resources in wetland communities. As we consider ‘agency’ to be central to understanding collective action, an analysis of agency dynamics is the primary focus of our research. Drawing upon Bourdieu's theory of field, capital, and habitus and Giddens’ notion of agency, an examination of structure and voice, and emotionality as the two primary factors affecting agency is emphasized. The findings of our investigation of a development project reveal that women in local communities often exclude themselves from participatory institutions due to family endowment and their limited ability to cope with hegemonic norms (i.e. habitus). They are also excluded by powerful social forces due to the generally subjugated class position and status of women in Bangladeshi culture. However, women with significant cultural capital and social networks hold relatively higher positions within the society and are better able to exercise their agency. Introduction A comprehensive notion of marginalizing women denotes the ways women, especially the poor and disadvantaged, are excluded from participatory institutions. Women's individual and social endowments and their coping skills to deal with the social relations of power (especially gender and class) largely determine the participation outcome. Women's exclusion or relegation to the role of silent participants in community-based organizations (CBO) is a form of participatory exclusion – which implies the process of rejection from seemingly participatory institutions (Agarwal, 2001). In the Bangladeshi context, participatory exclusion refers to the social processes that individually and interactively constrain women's participation in CBOs (Sultana, 2009). Based on an empirical investigation of an ecosystem management project in Bangladesh, in this study we attempt to broaden our understanding of the participatory and collective governance of natural resources as a gendered process wherein women encounter structural barriers to equitable participation. At the same time, by conceptualizing human agency as the product of interactions between societal structures and individuals (as posited by Giddens’ structuration theory, Giddens, 1984), we attempt to refute the notion that women are mere victims of social structures and assert incorporation of agency dynamics to explain the participatory exclusion process. The issue of participatory action in governance practices is widely debated in the natural resources governance literature (Agrawal, 2001; Agrawal and Gupta, 2005; Westermann, Jacqueline, Pretty, 2005; Cleaver, 2012; Krott et al., 2014). However, most research has focused on collective action by elites to exclude marginalized groups, such as women, and generally view collective action as a gender-neutral process (Agarwal, 2000). While several scholars have drawn upon feminist literature to explain gendered participation in collective action (e.g. Agarwal, 2009; May, 2012; Coleman and Mwangi, 2013), the participatory exclusion of women from natural resource governance practices remains a neglected area of study. Our empirical investigation seeks to fill the gaps in knowledge concerning collective action in natural resources management, with a special focus on the issue of women's agency. Conceptual considerations This study underscores the need for a better understanding of participatory exclusion processes with regard to cultural constraints and women's ability to exercise their agency. Research on participation in co-management of natural resources has rarely focused on women's agency as a key factor (Cleaver, 2007). From the capability approach, women's capacity to get involved in meaningful participation through exercising agency (functioning) is shaped by their abilities, endowments, skills, and opportunities; these are determined by gender-based inequalities, such as inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities (Robeyns, 2003). As agency is seen as a key to understand participation, examining agency dynamics helps us to determine the constraints of capability. Echoing Cornwall's (2003) assertion, we posit here that ensuring women's engagement in participatory development requires strategies that are sensitive to local dynamics and conceptualization of the pattern of interactions and diverse experiences that are part of everyday life. In this regard, we draw upon Bourdieu's theory of habitus, field, and capital, and attempt to place social and cultural forces at the centre of analysis, particularly in determining the role of culture in influencing women's agency. We adopted Giddens’ notion of agency, which views individuals as having the capacity to process and cope with social experiences in the face of oppressive social norms and institutions. In our approach, we echo Frances Cleaver's argument (2007, pp. 231–240) that agency does not operate in a social vacuum; rather, it is enabled or constrained by psychosocial, cultural, and structural factors including moral world view, the complexity of individual identities, unequal interdependence of connected livelihoods, structure and voice, embodiment, and emotionality. While all these factors have gendered implications for shaping an individual's agency, for the specific purposes of this study we primarily concentrate on the dimensions of structure and voice, and emotionality. Structure and voice The social dominance theory succinctly explains how powerful groups (e.g. men) maintain and legitimize their dominance over subordinate groups (like women, the poor) and how the psychological orientation of subordinate groups (i.e. women) toward group- or gender-based domination, along with discriminatory institutional practices and cultural norms, shapes relationships of domination and subordination (Pratto and Stewart, 2012). In this context, structure and voice is seen by Cleaver (2007) as one of the main enabling or constraining factors in understanding agency in natural resources management. She argues that structural placement (e.g. class, gender) shapes the ability of individuals to exercise agency. She asks: [W]hether strategic muteness is evidence of the conscious exercise of agency or merely another manifestation of the hegemonic inequitable social structures… [if] participatory spaces are imbued with power relations that may result in the conscious and unconscious self-muting of disadvantaged people…space and location shapes the ability to exercise agency through voice (Cleaver, 2007, pp. 236–237). In this study, we explored these issues in the context of co-management of fishery resources, addressing a number of key questions: How does structural position within a culture shape women's ability to exercise agency? Who decides the membership of participatory institutions? Who has access to resources and why? To answer these questions, we turned to Bourdieu's notion of habitus, field, and capital. A habitus is defined as a system of durable, transposable dispositions. These dispositions embody quite specific ‘generative schemes’ that operate below the level of consciousness. The disposition of the habitus provides people a practical sense of the social structure in terms of which they can unreflectively and routinely orient themselves to each other (Lopez and Scott, 2000). Fields are ‘spaces’ where people compete with one another for resources, which are ‘modalities’ of social power and forms of capital. In society, the distribution of resources is often skewed, forming the ‘basis of relation of domination and subordination’. For Bourdieu (1986), four types of resources or capitals are generic to a field: social (power relations in a particular group), cultural (formal education or other forms of legitimate knowledge), economic (income, wealth), and symbolic (honour and prestige). In the struggle over these resources, the norms and social relations that individuals produce, reproduce, and transform through their actions are established (Lopez and Scott, 2000). Structure, voice, and habitus (individual bodily dispositions – norms of thought, speech, gesture, posture, etc. according to particular social positions) are intricately interwoven. Individuals’ social position is determined by wealth, education, social networks and relationships, and occupation. Habitus is also age, gender, or class specific; it shapes individuals’ potentiality or capabilities to raise one's voice while individuals are capable of overcoming the constraints of habitus through the conscious exercise of agency and through drawing on various forms of capital (Cleaver, 2007). Emotionality An additional important factor in determining one's agency is emotionality. Cleaver's (2007, p. 240) argument that ‘conscious and unconscious emotions are crucial in shaping people's sense of self-efficacy and their social relationship, and therefore the extent to which they publicly engage and assert their rights’ is plausible. The unconscious motivation upon conscious action and the unconscious self-disciplining of agents and their internalization of hegemonic norms are significant cognitive processes. In Giddens’ (1984) view, most individual actions are the result of routine activity rather than ‘conscious strategy’. Habitus provides practical knowledge of action – the unintended and unacknowledged consequence of action (Swartz, 1997; Guzman, 2009). The Giddensian notion of agency outlines a number of specific attributes that shape agency, emphasizing the variations resulting from the exercise of agency, the structural constraint within which an agent operates, and the intended and unintended consequences of individual actions (Giddens, 1984; Cleaver, 2007). It underscores the nature of agency as reflective action, and that individual actors have the capacity to process social experience and devise coping methods in the face of oppressive social norms. Structure, voice, and emotionality are mutually implicated in this coping process as structural placement affects the emotional bearing of individuals. Due to individuals’ structural position, such subject (e.g. poor women) may tend to internalize hegemonic norms. Often such internalization may result in the conscious, discursive, or reflective exercise of their agency. Against this backdrop, the intention of this study is to examine the extent to which people draw on various forms of capital (e.g. social, cultural, economic, and symbolic) in order to exercise their agency, and to what extent participatory action is shaped by the possession of these resources within a particular cultural context (Ballet, Nicolas, Mélanie, 2007). We explore into why some men and women are better placed than others and what factors enables them to exercise agency, and how women exercise agency through the use of social relationships as capital. The empirical context: the MACH Project Wetlands cover almost 50 percent of Bangladesh's total land surface (Akonda, 1989), and over 70 percent of the households in these areas catch fish either for household income generation or for subsistence consumption (Rahman and Begum, 2010). These resources are diminishing due to excessive population growth, unchecked appropriation by privileged social classes, and numerous environmental disturbances. In response to issues of poverty, the Government of Bangladesh with financial support from various donor agencies [e.g. USAID (USA), formerly CIDA (Canada), and Department for International Development (UK)] and technical support from various national and international NGOs has initiated programs for promoting equitable access to and conservation of the fishery resources through co-management practices. One such initiative was the Management of Aquatic Ecosystems through Community Husbandry (MACH) Project, which was founded upon the principle of co-management, to address the problems and issues of fishery resource governance in the wetland communities of Bangladesh. With the support of USAID, Winrock International, Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, Centre for Natural Resources Studies (CNRS), and Caritus Bangladesh, the MACH Project was implemented in Hail Haor (a wetland) region of Moulvibazar district in northwest Bangladesh, the Turag-Bongshi river basin of Gazipur and Tangail districts, and the Kangsha-Malijhee river basin of Sherpur district. The MACH Project implementation was completed in June 2007, and since then the community-based co-management of Baikka Beel (closed perennial wetland) sustained as an ongoing activity under Integrated Protected Area Co-management as a follow-up initiative. Under the MACH Project, three types of local organizations were created to nurture co-management networks: (i) The Federation of Resource User Groups (FRUGs), formed as a distinct organization of poor fishers to enhance livelihood diversification, within which 40 percent of the membership were women; (ii) The Resource Management Organizations (RMOs) were established to protect and sustain wetland resources: about 60 percent of RMO members came from Resource User Groups (RUGs); (iii) CBOs, including RMOs and FRUGs, created a coalition to formally link with the local government (Union Parishads or elected local councils and Upazila administrations) through Upazila Fisheries Committees. One of the main objectives of the MACH Project was to improve the participation of women in co-management practices. Our study particularly focuses on the constraining and enabling factors influencing women's agency within the context of the Project. Due to its high ecological, economic, and social significance, we selected the Hail Haor (large depressions or low-lying floodplains), specifically Baikka Beel – a sanctuary in Bangladesh – as the study site. Baikka Beel is fully managed and protected by a local community organization, the Baragangina Resource Management Organization (BRMO). Methodology There are eight RMOs in the Hail Haor, each including various types of stakeholders (e.g. fishers, women, farmers, and local leaders). There are also five FRUGs comprising only poor men and women who had previously made use of these resources. Notably, the BRMO plays a central role in managing the Baikka Beel. It consists of a total of 56 members – 43 males and 13 females. FRUG in the Baikka Beel consists of a total 15 RUGs, of which 4 are female RUGs and 11 are male RUGs. The size of each female RUG is 22 members, while each male RUG has 39 members. In order to investigate participatory exclusion, we analysed both male and female memberships who were associated with either FRUG or RMO. In Bangladesh, patriarchy is very dominant and men make most of the decisions for women – both within and outside the household. It is particularly important to capture how men perceive gender relations, roles, proper behaviour, division of labour, gendered bodies, and women's participation in institutional tasks. In order to understand women's agency in community-based fishery management, this research seeks to understand the nature of women's participation as RMO members and as FRUG members within RMOs. Two types of women's participation in RMOs were recorded: (i) when women raise their voice or exert their opinion; and (ii) when women mute themselves or become passive participants. Data were collected in 2012 using several rapid rural appraisal tools, including semi-structured in-depth interviews, focus groups discussions (FGDs), and key informant interviews. We conducted 4 FGDs, 11 semi-structured interviews, and 3 key informant interviews. Two FGDs with male FRUG members (from five RUGs), and two other FGDs with female FRUG members (representing three RUGs) were organized. Four semi-structured interviews with male members (two RMO and two FRUG) and seven semi-structured interviews with female members (five FRUG and two RMO) were conducted. A survey was conducted on a total of 25 individuals (11 RMO and 14 FRUG members), based on purposive sampling to obtain information on income, educational level, and wealth status of RMO and FRUG members. For semi-structured interviews, a guided questionnaire was used for addressing specific issues such as how individuals cope with hegemonic norms or how agency is constrained or enabled by social relationships. Data were first transcribed and then translated from Bengali to English. We encountered two major ethical and methodological challenges during data collection (Islam and Siti Hajar, 2013; Islam et al., 2014). To address gender issues, the field investigators were sensitive to cultural gender norms for procuring informed consent. We assured confidentiality and anonymity to deal with the concerned power issues. Results and discussion Gender and class dynamics in leadership and management structures: the processes of inclusion and exclusion The participatory management approach of the Baikka Beel sanctuary is exclusionary to both poor women and men. The Baikka Beel is fully controlled and managed by the BRMO. The constitution of the BRMO requires that 60 percent of RMO membership must be composed of FRUG members so that people dependent on the resources of the Baikka Beel can participate in the co-management process. At present, BRMO consists of 56 (15 executive and 41 members-at-large) members, with the major executive positions overwhelmingly filled by wealthy and influential local elites and their clients. A comparison of RMO executive and FRUG (non-RMO) members in terms of education reveals that RMO executive members have much higher level of schooling background than the FRUG (non-RMO) members, and among the RMO members, males are more educated than females (Table 1). Table 1. Distribution of the level of education of RMO executives and FRUG members Years of Schooling RMO FRUG Male Female Total Male Female Total No schooling 0 0 0 2 5 7 1–5 3 0 3 4 3 7 6–8 3 1 4 0 0 0 9–10 2 1 3 0 0 0 11 and more years 1 0 1 0 0 0 Total 9 2 11 6 8 14 Years of Schooling RMO FRUG Male Female Total Male Female Total No schooling 0 0 0 2 5 7 1–5 3 0 3 4 3 7 6–8 3 1 4 0 0 0 9–10 2 1 3 0 0 0 11 and more years 1 0 1 0 0 0 Total 9 2 11 6 8 14 In comparison to the distribution of FRUG (non-RMO) members’ income and accumulated wealth, the corresponding RMO executive members consist of a much higher number of better-off individuals (Tables 2 and 3). The members of RMO compete among themselves for the top five positions, including President, Vice President, and Secretary. The selection is made through an electoral process, claimed to be ‘participatory’ although FRUG (non-RMO) members’ access is very limited. Table 2. Distribution of income (monthly) of RMO executives and FRUG members Range in Bangladeshi Taka (BDT) RMO FRUG ≤5000 1 2 5001–10,000 4 3 10,001–15,000 2 3 15,001–20,000 0 3 20,001–25,000 1 3 25,001–30,000 1 0 30,001–35,000 1 0 ≥35,001 1 0 Total 11 14 Range in Bangladeshi Taka (BDT) RMO FRUG ≤5000 1 2 5001–10,000 4 3 10,001–15,000 2 3 15,001–20,000 0 3 20,001–25,000 1 3 25,001–30,000 1 0 30,001–35,000 1 0 ≥35,001 1 0 Total 11 14 Table 3. Distribution of assets (in Bangladeshi Taka) of RMO executives and FRUG members Range RMO FRUG ≤100,000 0 9 100,001–500,000 2 4 500,001–1,000,000 4 1 1,000,001–1,500,000 2 0 1,500,001≥ 3 0 Total 11 14 Range RMO FRUG ≤100,000 0 9 100,001–500,000 2 4 500,001–1,000,000 4 1 1,000,001–1,500,000 2 0 1,500,001≥ 3 0 Total 11 14 RMO is responsible for the protection and restoration of the resources as well as for ensuring fair access by the poor. They set the rules and norms for managing the sanctuary. Due to their better socio-economic position, RMO executive members take control of most of the activities. Participation of most poor RMO-FRUG (both women and men) members remains generally ‘passive’ (Agrawal, 2001), largely limited to handling paperwork. Formal membership and major executive posts rotate among the RMO members due to strong internal networks. A female member of the FRUG (non-RMO) explained the situation as follows: They (RMO members) do not allow us to participate in election. We are only allowed to attend the meetings. Since we are not members of RMO, we cannot be a voter … They neither seek any help from us nor bother to ask us to attend any meeting; we do not know the reason. We want to express our voice but are not allowed to do so. The oligarchic control of RMO over the selection of members is legitimized by complex patterns of socially embedded institutions such as patron–client relationships and family ties. Powerful leaders and authorities within RMO draw on various forms of authority as a source of legitimization in institutional processes. Frances Cleaver's (2007) explanation that the function of various bureaucratic and socially embedded institutions profoundly shapes the prevailing social relations is applicable here. An assessment of water management projects in Bangladesh by Sultana (2009; 2011), which described how participation is often shaped by traditions, patronage, and kinship structure, also supports this explanation. Socially embedded institutions, such as kinship and family ties, do not play an equal role for everyone. The powerful, privileged socio-economic class often invokes kindship and family ties to strengthen their position and legitimizes inequality through notions of prestige and honour (symbolic capital). Ironically, FRUG members (both male and female) are unable to become RMO members and exert negligible influence over the member selection process despite having close kinship ties with RMO members. Instead, kinship and family ties constrain FRUG members from raising their voices because it would go against their close relatives. Women members of FRUG particularly do not have a voice in RMOs even though they have kinship ties with current RMO members. Female FRUG (non-RMO) members stated that they receive very little scope to express their opinions. Rather, inclusion in participatory institutions hinges upon class alignment. Here, participatory institute has transformed existing social network and relationship into a form of social capital; however, rather than including people from all socioeconomic classes, it has excluded some particular cohorts of society. FRUG women members have rationalized and internalized their own exclusion from RMO membership through such beliefs as ‘RMO members are wealthy people; they are matobbor’ (i.e. headmen). FRUG women members believe that RMO members are superior to them in all respects, including education, wealth, and experience (i.e. ability to convince and lead); interestingly, however, they are not unconsciously internalizing the hegemonic norms but rather doing so with conscious knowledge that the wealthy and powerful have unlawfully captured the participatory space. They are thus exercising some part of their emotional (discursive) agency, but lack the resources (e.g. capital) to overcome societal constraints. Among numerous socio-cultural factors, the following three factors that hinder female FRUG members from obtaining membership in RMOs are notable. First, one would argue that they are unable to overcome the constraints of habitus. Habitus tends to represent a kind of cultural matrix by producing actions, perceptions, and an attitude consistent with the condition (cultural matrix) under which it was produced (Swartz, 1997). Cultural aspects such as norms, values, traditions, and customs are internalized into the body that provides meaningful action. In the context of rural Bangladesh, common cultural norms include the notion that women should stay at home, look after their children, obey their husbands and mothers-in-law, and remain subordinate to their male counterparts. Therefore, poor women's aspirations to take up leadership roles in RMOs are severely hindered. This in turn perpetuates the existing power structure. Second, habitus is class and gender specific; therefore, embedded forms of culture function as capital mainly for the wealthier and privileged social classes. People having institutional capital (e.g. formal education) are relatively well positioned, but may not have the necessary financial capital to exercise their agency through occupying posts in RMOs. Third, societal norms of proper behaviour, societal stability, and the excuse of maintaining peace through avoiding conflict hinder people from claiming their rights. RMO members draw on these societal norms to legitimize their activities (Pratto and Stewart, 2012). Nonetheless, not all women are excluded from the membership in RMOs; a small number of women outside FRUGs do hold memberships in the BRMO. This fact raises a number of questions: what is the difference between women in RMOs and FRUGs? What are their opinions regarding member selection? Do the RMO women express their voices? Do RMO women members make efforts to increase women's participation? On the whole, women in RMOs do not differ from the women in FRUGs in terms of wealth and/or age, but in education (cultural capital). However, female RMO members are relatively less prompt, aware, and active, as are FRUG members. For instance, one female RMO member we interviewed was also a local Union Parishad (UP – the lowest administrative unit) member. As such, she holds significant degree of symbolic capital (e.g. honour) and social power compared to both male and female FRUG (non-RMO) members. She expressed her opinion regarding the member selection process in the following words: We are only 13 to 14 members [executive members]. The president decides about the membership. First, they decide on the name and then authorize the names through formal meeting. Selections of members entirely depend on them; however, they sought the opinion of the women [RMO] members. Based on other social processes and capital like class and space, gendered subjects are likely to experience a dual process of exclusion and inclusion. Class and power relationships cross-cut gender relationships (Meinzen-Dick et al., 1997). Women with differential social networks, education, and even religious identity experience inclusion and exclusion differently. It is therefore not possible to generalize such processes across all women or even men (Sultana, 2009). In the co-management process, not only do men exclude women from participatory action but powerful men and women also exclude poor and marginalized women and men. For example, a male respondent (formerly a member of RMO, aged 45 years) said that the RMO members are reluctant to give RMO membership to the poor, while a female RMO member accused other female FRUG members of not being proactive and literate. Poor women thus become the victim of binary (gender, class) subjugation. Generalization of women as a single unit is therefore questionable, and a differentiated approach may be necessary to understand the participatory exclusion process. Gender and power dynamics in participation and decision-making processes Examination of women's agency, specifically in light of such constraints as emotionality, may help in understanding the coping strategies that many women adopt to deal with patriarchal and hegemonic norms. Kandiyoti's (1988) term ‘patriarchal bargain’, which refers to the existing norms and values that regulate gender relation to which both genders accommodate and acquiesce, is relevant here. In the rural Bangladeshi context, the nature of participation (voice or muteness) of female RMO members and the exclusion of female FRUG members from RMOs collectively result from the interplay between habitus, women's ability to draw on various forms of capitals for their daily practices, and the opportunities and/or constraints placed upon them in the form of gender roleiww016s, family endowment, collective notion of gender space, gender body, class, and religious identity. Gendering the participatory space as well as location, for example, has resulted in exclusion of women from attending meetings and decision-making processes. Edward Hall explains that space is a ‘silent language’ and ‘hidden dimension’ that shapes human action (cited in Spain, 1993). Ideas about social spaces are socially constructed and take on institutionalized forms, which in turn shape the ability of women to exercise their agency. Thus, gendered spaces are produced and reproduced through daily activity, segregating the women from public places and reinforcing the status of inequality between men and women. Men draw on these as legitimizing myth to disguise their dominance over women (Pratto and Stewart, 2012). However, social space has varied impacts upon different groups of women. Women with formal education, social networks, and wealth can overcome the constraints of social space, indicating that habitus shapes the sense of place. The alteration of participatory space can create opportunities for deprived women to raise their voices. Such an alteration occurred when a government officer from Upazila attended a meeting with the RMO members. As one female RMO revealed: Everyone gets the opportunity to raise his/her voice or to complain while the annual meeting is being held where the DC [Deputy Commissioner] and other officers from Fish Department attend. According to meeting resolutions, people will lose his/her position if she/he misuses his/her power. Attending meetings in a seemingly participatory institution, like a community-based fishery management project, is often a physical activity. Notions of gender roles, proper gender behaviour, gendered division of labour, gendered bodies, and household endowments affect women's mobility. For instance, Laila Begum (pseudonym) was previously a member of an RMO but resigned due to family matters. She is a mother of three sons and her husband currently lives abroad. She has the sole responsibility to look after her family, aged father and mother-in-law. She resigned at the request of her husband. A female RMO member who was also UP member said: Speaking in front of a man ignoring purdah [veil] is usually prohibited. I am busy with my children and household chores. There are men who do not allow females to go outside the house. Men think wives have to stay at home; they should not go outside their home. Some women have education, but their husbands are unwilling to send them outside; thus they are killing their education [potentialities] staying at home. In spite of the obstacles some women are able to attend meetings, but their voices are not respected. Women think female members are not required in the meeting since males as members of RMOs take their decision of their own, and decisions and opinions of women are not valued. Therefore, women also sometimes exclude themselves willingly as their views are not well respected. Male RMO members were asked to what extent they recognize and respect the opinions of women: When a woman speaks, we consider whether her speech is acceptable or not. If it is acceptable, we accept it. They (women) leave most of the decision to men. They say: ‘we do not go either to Haor or do not walk through the community; hence we don't know much. You know these very well, so take the decisions’. Therefore they do not talk but attend the meeting. A female RMO member, who is a UP member and also the president of ‘Women's Network’, believes women are ignorant of organizational customs and requirements. Most, she claims, are illiterate and only know how to write their name. She also believes poor women's participation can be increased through motivational training and meaningful incentives. She further asserts that due to her religious identity as a Hindu, she faces fewer social barriers compared to Muslim women. Deb, Haque, and Thompson (2015) also found that Muslim fisherwomen and peasant women were restricted from ‘active’ participation in the wider public domain due to deeply entrenched socio-religious norms such as purdah (veil) and gendered division of ‘space’ and labour. Gender and class dynamics in resource conservation, access, and control By virtue of habitus, individuals’ orientation to action is shaped by ‘anticipated consequences’ (Swartz, 1997). Despite understanding that the elite have captured the participatory space, poor women usually do not challenge the elite because they (poor people) depend upon the local elite for judgment during gram salish (village arbitrary councils). This ‘strategic muteness’ can be viewed as a form of practical consciousness that may have some unintended negative consequences. The social and power inequalities are aggravated by the interplay among the women's muteness, the outcomes of the conservation and resource regeneration project, and pre-existing social hierarchies of class and gender. Habitus shapes individuals’ ability to raise their voices. People internalize structural disadvantages through socialization processes into relatively durable dispositions, which results in a self-defeating character (Swartz, 1997). Poor women are often able to overcome the constraints of habitus and demonstrate limited agency, but due to structural positions their voices and opinions for resource conservation are not respected by those in power. In this regard, some FRUG women members elaborated the following: We (FRUG women members) request the male elites not to catch fish (jal dio na). By disregarding our requests fully, they catch fish valued lac (one hundred thousand) taka and sell them to the market and take the money … Due to fear of oppression, poor people do not go close to these elites. Women's participation in conserving resources can be divided into (i) direct and (ii) proxy participation. Only female RMO members have the scope to directly participate in the resource conservation process. In the Bangladeshi society, it is largely the men rather than the women who catch fish for living. Poor women's proxy participation in resource conservation is therefore quite significant. In the study area, women play a crucial role in conserving the natural resource base through influencing their family members (proxy agency). They try to prevent their male family members from catching fish in sanctuaries, but are nonetheless unable to directly access or control these resources. It is undeniable that since the Baikka Beel was declared a sanctuary by the government, wetland resources – particularly fish – have increased significantly. However, the poor are still unable to access these enhanced resources. Ironically, not only did the creation of the sanctuary help sustain existing inequalities, it also aggravated them. In this context, women representatives of the FRUG explained that: [t]he amount of fish the elite catch by throwing fishing net once worth more than 10/15 thousand Taka and they take it all. We told the elites to give us the opportunity to catch fish, they [the elite] replied, you don't have any share on it. If someone goes to catch fish, ‘we will hand him over to the police’. The multifaceted nature of social relationships and interests constrain female FRUG members from uniting and exercising their agency. For instance, they reported that only the RMO members can catch fish from the sanctuary. However, these women are unable to raise their voices for fear of losing social patronage by going against the powerful or the Murobbis – the elderly who are socially valued and highly respected. The poor FRUG members revealed that they cannot allow such practices by the elite to continue. However, they do not have the strength and cooperation among themselves to change the discourse. They therefore do not protest directly and become self-muted. If these poor women were to receive an appropriate ‘space’ through appropriate institutional support, assistance, and resources, they would be better able to include themselves in the RMO decision-making process. All the female FRUG members present during the FDG agreed on this issue. These women thus exercise some form of emotional collective agency in that they all share a common feeling of being excluded. This intersubjective emotional agency is the product of a struggle over natural resources and particular pattern of emotional conflict with RMO members, especially men. However, the unintended consequence of this conscious action (self-muting) has a disempowering effect on norms articulation; it promotes and perpetuates the social relationships and power structures that lead to hegemonic inequality. Conclusion This study illustrates the multifaceted constraints that limit poor women from exercising their agency due to their intersecting structural positions (mainly gender and class, but often religious background and age) in rural Bangladesh. Although they play a decisive role in natural resource conservation, the poor women are restricted from accessing those resources. Some women take their exclusion as a ‘natural’ phenomenon, while others think of it as discrimination. These inequalities are exacerbated by deficiencies in inspiration and desire for women to take up leadership roles, as well as efforts by elites to maintain their leadership positions. However, some poor women believe that if given sufficient ‘space’ through institutional help, they would be able to challenge the existing domination and leadership. Evidence from Redd Barna, Uganda (Mukasa, 2000), and solar home system project in Bangladesh (Wong, 2009) indicate that creating participatory space through institutional design is necessary but not sufficient. Advocacy at all levels (i.e. individual, household, and community) along with strategies and tactics to deal with differential socio-economic outcome due to asymmetrical power dynamics is required (Cornwall, 2003). In this regard, Wong's (2010) assertion that a flexible approach between ‘counter-elite’ and ‘co-opt-elite’ can better deal with the issue of elite capture is useful. However, the prevailing social structure at large holds women back from exercising their agency. As a result, the poor women further drive themselves away from participating in management practices, which in turn results in displacement of the poor and mismanagement of community resources. Our study has found social class to be one of the important determinants that shape the inclusion–exclusion process. Women with cultural capital (e.g. education) and social networks are in better positions to exercise their agency. Supporting women's education and outdoor activities thus can facilitate increased participation of women in Bangladesh. Regardless of their class position, most women consider male domination and supremacy as ‘granted’ in decision-making processes (i.e. habitus). Therefore, the culture of male superiority and women's psychological orientation of subordination need to be challenged and addressed through education and social policies. In the current development discourse, the notion of community-based natural resource management is becoming increasingly popular. The findings of our research indicate that overarching, generalized, gender-neutral initiatives to improve women's participation in natural resource management are often inadequate. As hierarchical patterns of gender relationships are often embedded within broader economic, religious, and political contexts, such efforts must be contextualized with respect to local socio-cultural norms. To ensure equitable access to natural resources, sustainable development, and alleviation of rural poverty, designated policies to reduce gender inequalities and programs for women empowerment are necessary in Bangladesh. Social theorists like Anthony Giddens are generally very optimistic about the notion of agency, which allows people to overcome the constraints of habitus and transform their environment. However, we observed that this ability is largely constrained by hegemonic cultural norms that have become ‘internalized’ through socialization processes, creating submissive and self-defeating characters. The exclusive focus on agency may thus be inadequate; instead, interventions should foster agency through structural enablement to help people overcome the constraints of habitus. Funding The authors are grateful to the University Grant Commission (UGC), Bangladesh for funding (2012–2013) this research through the University Research Center at the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet-3114, Bangladesh. We are also grateful to the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant for providing additional financial supports. Mahed-Ul-Islam Choudhury is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at ShahJalal University of Science and Technology, Bangladesh. 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Lessons from the ‘counter-elite’ and ‘co-opt-elite’ approaches in Bangladesh and Ghana, Working paper, World Institute for Development Economics Research, 82. © Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal. 2016 All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Community Development Journal – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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