Collective Lands: Making Progress for Women and Men

We at Resource Equity have seen the ways securing and protecting people’s land rights leads to benefits for societies. The ongoing work being done to secure the collective land rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities is therefore much needed.

However, it is vital that this work be done in a way that is gender sensitive. We know that protecting women’s rights to land is good for women, for their families, and for their communities. This is why we produced the report for Landesa, Gender and Collectively Held Lands: Good Practices and Lessons Learned from Six Global Case Studies, aimed at helping people who are trying to protect collective rights to land in a way that’s gender sensitive. To be gender sensitive is to recognize that in many cultures, men and women have different rights, obligations, roles, and responsibilities regarding land. Most important of all, they often have different access to power and decision-making. This is very important in collective tenure systems, where individual rights can be less important than the right to be involved in governance of the group’s land.

One recommendation we made is that protecting collective land tenure systems in a gender sensitive way must include work on adapting cultural norms regarding gender. Although gender dynamics are everywhere in society, they’re largely invisible. They’re embedded in the norms, behavior, and attitudes that influence the behaviors of both men and women.

In the Kyrgyz Republic, for example, women did not think that getting involved in pasture management was worth their time because they believed management was solely about men’s work (i.e. fixing bridges and roads) and took them away from their work of tending to animals, selling dairy and wool products, and feeding their families. For this reason, women were not joining pasture management committees, despite a quota for 33% women. It took extra time and effort to convince women that pasture management decisions could serve their interests as well as those of men.

“Although gender dynamics are everywhere in society, they’re largely invisible. They’re embedded in the norms, behavior, and attitudes that influence the behaviors of both men and women.”

In Peru, similarly, the community leadership had not noticed that their by-laws on who from their community could be included in land governance decisions inadvertently excluded women. This was a particularly glaring omission in the face of significant male labor out-migration in the area. In these communities, women remain, working on the community’s land for food and for income. However, they were not included in decision-making on how community land was managed. In a slow and highly deliberative process, a number of communities chose to change their membership by-laws to be more inclusive of women.

These are just two of the many examples of good strategies to both promote gender equity and promote protection of collective tenure that came out of the report. My hope is that this report will help provide concrete strategies for integrating gender dynamics into our understanding of collective land systems work. If we recognize this, we can make real progress in ensuring that women and men can both benefit from positive reforms.

Photo by Pedro Szekely


Elisa Scalise

Elisa has over 10 years of experience working on analysis and reform on property rights to land for women and men, including formal and customary land tenure regimes, land administration, land tenure regularization, land institutions, dispute resolution mechanisms, forest land tenure, and communal property.