March 22, 2013

Securing Women's Right to Land Ownership

By Renee Giovarelli and D. Hien Tran

Renee Giovarelli is Executive Director of the Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights and D. Hien Tran is Advocacy Director for Landesa.

Forty years after the green revolution dramatically increased agricultural output in much of the developing world a new revolution is taking place.

As Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food spotlighted in an op-ed in the New York Times earlier this month, men are leaving farms for work in the cities across much of the developing world and leaving management of the family farm to their wives.

De Schutter’s op-ed on the feminization of farming is correct on many levels. The women left behind on the family farms face “pervasive discrimination” that inhibits their climb out of poverty.  This further burdens women who are already bearing a disproportionate responsibility for uncompensated household chores.

But De Schutter’s outline of the challenges women face: “discrimination denies small-scale female farmers the same access men have to fertilizer, seeds, credit, membership in cooperatives and unions, and technical assistance,” misses one central issue: women very often have very limited rights even to the land they farm.

In many parts of the world, women do not enjoy the same rights to land that men do, and the overwhelming majority of women farmers lack legal control over the land they rely on to survive.  In many cases they do not have access to the critical items De Schutter mentions like credit and training because they lack legal or socially accepted rights over land.  For example, in India, women farmers tell us that they can’t access agricultural extension services without the benefit of a land document.  In Rwanda, women farmers tell us that before they had land titles in their names (the result of a government initiative launched five years ago), they could not buy the good quality, heavily subsidized fertilizer available through the government’s agricultural program.

Indeed, although the op-ed does not mention land, De Schutter’s report to the UN Human Rights Council points out that access to land is critical to women’s ability to fully participate in the economy and in society.  As he explains, “land is more than an economic asset that women should be allowed to use productively.  It is also a means of empowerment, as the greater economic independence that results from land ownership enhances the woman’s role in decision-making and allows her to garner more social, family and community support.”

In fact, without secure rights to the land they use, women have no greater decision-making power or control than farm laborers.  In contrast, research suggests that when women have secure access and control or ownership over land, they are less likely to be vulnerable to some forms of gender-based violence and exploitation; their children’s nutrition improves and a larger share of the household budget is allocated to food; and the land may be more sustainably managed. 

Yet around the world, women face various forms of discrimination in relation to land ownership, control, and access.  Women are less likely than men to have secure rights to land and the land they do have is often smaller in size and of poorer quality.  Certainly, as de Schutter’s report points out, removing the obstacles women face in multiple areas, including the barriers faced with respect to land, is critical to address women’s rights to food.

The UN System Task Team on Post-2015 pointed out that “discrimination against women and girls impairs progress in all other areas of development.”  Likewise, gender inequality in secure rights to land can impede progress to achieving any development agenda – including any new framework that follows the Millennium Development Goals – that seeks to eradicate poverty, ensure women’s rights, and build an equitable, secure, and sustainable world.  The post-2015 process represents a critical moment to ensure that women’s land rights receive the attention that they deserve on the international development agenda.

D. Hien Tran is Advocacy Director for Landesa and Renee Giovarelli is Executive Director of the Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights. Follow us @Landesa_Global

About

The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Blogroll

1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA

Archive

Commentary - Is Feed the Future delivering results? Yes – with some limitations.

Robai Nyongesa, a smallholder farmer in western Kenya, used to struggle to grow enough maize to feed her family. Last year, she was able to harvest 20 bags of maize from 1 acre of land, a fivefold increase over her previous poor harvests. Her large harvest enabled her to feed her three children, and to hire a tutor to give her children private lessons at home.



Photo of the Week

Farmers of the Faulu group in Bungoma South, Kenya, stand proudly in front of Beatrice Masila’s sorghum that has now grown taller than they are!



Call for Innovators: Bridging Dairy Data Gaps

Dairy, especially milk, can play an important role in providing essential nutrients to a woman of child-bearing age, a gestating or lactating mother, and children.



Commentary - Building a More Nutritious Future for All

A silent crisis is happening right now. It affects 165 million children globally, robbing them of the future they deserve and leading to more child deaths every year than any other disease. In a world of plentiful, nutritious foods and advanced science, this is unacceptable.


Commentary - Nourishing a Stronger Future

With less than two years until the end of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the health and development communities are looking back at what has been accomplished, and looking ahead to where we have opportunities to do more.


Commentary - Solvable problem

Whenever I have the privilege of spending time among the people that the World Food Programme (WFP) serves, I come away enriched with precious extra knowledge and inspired by the new ways in which governments are tackling the world’s greatest solvable problem – hunger.



The Chicago Council’s #GlobalAg summit in one word? Innovation.

With an introductory message from USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and keynote remarks from Helene Gayle, CEO of CARE; Lauren Bush Lauren, founder of FEED; and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, this year’s event was global agriculture’s version of the Oscars.



Commentary - Food Aid Reform: Making Every Dollar Count

Today, almost 1 billion people are hungry. By 2050, world population will top 9 billion, only increasing the demand for food, fuel, and natural resources and straining our ability – and the planet’s ability – to feed and nourish all.   


How the U.S. Can Lead on Food Security

Our national discourse is driven by a few topical issues with the occasional political scandal sprinkled in. With the economic recovery, immigration reform and the IRS controversy dominating today’s conversation, it’s no surprise that a monumental issue like food security gets lost in the shuffle.