Burmese women working in fields. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Burmese women working in fields. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Consider the following:

Land Matters is a month-long campaign developed by Devex highlighting innovative solutions and furthering the dialogue among smallholder farms in developing countries around the world, land experts, social entrepreneurs, business people and governments. In partnership with the International Food Policy Research Institute  and with support from organizations like USAID, Chemonics, to name a few, this campaign hopes to create a collaborative movement to tackle land challenges for, among other sectors, women.

What is the situation for women and land rights?

In many parts of the world patriarchy still rules. The UN-HABITAT report Women’s Rights to Land and Property highlights how women have no rights to land because land ownership is all too often bestowed upon the male head of the family – the father, eldest son or husband. In the case of divorce or death of the husband, a woman can lose her and her children’s right to stay on the land on which she lives (and sometimes works) and be thrown on the streets, left to fend for themselves. Additionally, women are disproportionately affected by slum clearance, forced evictions and resettlement schemes by the state. In many places like Lesotho and Zimbabwe, women face legal discrimination laws and policies, no access to credit, and/or few to no female or gender aware male representatives with decision-making power.

Land ownership is important, even critical, for many women around the world. Whether it’s the land they live on, the land they work, or a combination of both, land can be the gateway to a better life. In countries like El Salvador, Burundi and Niger, organizations like IFAD have helped provide women technical and legal assistance in achieving land rights and navigating government systems. UN Women has had success in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan spreading awareness in communities about women’s land rights and providing legal assistance and training classes on farm management to thousands of women. Even if laws recognize women’s’ rights to land ownership, actually implementing them can be more difficult than getting them on the books in the first place. So often the hardest part of implementing rights is changing the ingrained patriarchal attitudes of society and that may prove to be the biggest challenge in acquiring land rights for women.

Former UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet visits Rural Women’s Land Rights Project in Morocco. Courtesy of UN Women on Flickr (Creative Commons).
Former UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet visits Rural Women’s Land Rights Project in Morocco. Courtesy of UN Women on Flickr (Creative Commons).

Why is it important for women to have land rights?

There are a number of arguments to be made for furthering women’s land rights, but the most compelling is that research shows that when women have access to land rights and control over the family finances, there are a lot of benefits not only for women but also for children, families and communities as a whole. Families have better nutrition and reduced food insecurity. Children, especially girls, receive more education; are born healthier at higher birth weights; have better health outcomes; and girls are less likely to marry young. There are less reports of domestic violence. This list goes on, but you get the idea.

When you consider this research in relation to the fact that women disproportionately bear the burden of poverty and that female-led households tend to be the “poorest of the poor,” what is missing is glaringly obvious. We are missing out on so much potential. If women can produce better outcomes for their families working on limited resources, just think of how much better off children, families and communities could be if they actually had access to their full rights and resources. The outcome could very likely be a world with less hunger and malnutrition, less violence, less poverty, and better health outcomes for children.

Moving Forward

Just because the #LandMatters campaign ends at the end of September does not mean the conversation needs to stop. Fighting for women’s land rights is an on-going project that requires partners from all sectors and disciplines. Check out these organizations working to improve land rights for women…:

…and these resources:

And check out this video from the International Center for Research on Women with economist Krista Jacobs explaining why everyone benefits when women have access to land rights:

Cover image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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One Response

  1. I think you guys might be interested in the Minangkabau people: Their culture is matrilineal, with property and land passing down from mother to daughter, while religious and political affairs are the responsibility of men (although some women also play important roles in these areas)-wikipedia

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