The percentage of land owned by women is disproportionately small considering their crucial contribution to agriculture and especially the food security of households and communities. The existing gender inequality in access to and control over natural resources is an obstacle to their sustainable management and to sustainable development in general.
There are two key arguments for promoting women’s land rights:
- Women’s human rights are violated
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that human rights apply equally to all, regardless of sex, yet women around the world are disproportionately affected by human rights violations, which keeps them trapped in poverty. Women have fewer benefits and protections under legal systems than men and are largely excluded from decision-making structures. Women also lack control of financial resources, have larger work burdens, and are more likely to suffer from social isolation and threats or acts of violence.
- Women’s key role in food security and natural resource management is not recognised
Women are primary agricultural producers, cultivating between 60 and 80 per cent of the food in most developing countries, and ensure household food security. Studies have found that agricultural productivity increases when women are given the same inputs as men. Yet frequently women access land through male relatives only, and not in their own right. Women’s lack of access to and control over land is a key factor contributing to their poverty, with devastating results for households and communities, and needs to be addressed if poverty and hunger are to be reduced.
What can be done?
Women’s access to and control over resources is shaped by complex systems of common and civil law as well as customary and religious laws and practices. International law and conventions such as CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women) protect women’s human rights in signatory states, but are often at odds with national legislation, the actual enforcement of legislation, or local practices. Furthermore, the practise and perception of a woman’s position in the household, family and community affects to what extent women can exercise their land rights.
The ability to access land and to claim, use and defend rights to natural resources is contingent on processes of empowerment. Women face additional hurdles to empowerment, ranging from their status within household and community to discriminatory customary or statutory laws – such hurdles need to be addressed to contribute to women’s empowerment, political, legal and economic, and to transforming gender roles so that women participate in society on an equal footing.
A frequent criticism of efforts for women’s empowerment and gender equality is that “western feminism” is a form of cultural imperialism lacking respect for local tradition and culture. On the contrary, a feminist approach challenges inequality between the sexes – much like inequality of wealth – as an obstacle to people-centred development.
For ILC, the goal of working together on women’s land rights is to influence global, regional and national processes to enable women’s secure and equitable access to land.