Monthly Archives: November 2019

As We Turn Five, We Pause to Acknowledge Why We Do What We Do

Resource Equity (RE) turns five years old on December 1st. There’s something about those five year increments—five, ten, fifteen, twenty—they seem solid, meaningful, a moment to pause. So let’s pause then, and consider why this small organization with its singular focus matters.

RE works to protect the rights of rural women who depend on land but don’t have clear rights to it. Most of our work is legal, related to drafting new laws or amending old laws and regulations, but also in the implementation and enforcement of legal rights. We specifically focus on women because everywhere we work, around the globe, women face huge barriers to their economic and physical well-being. In May of next year, I will have been working on legal issues related to land rights for women and men for 25 years. And still, every time I go out to rural areas and interview women, I hear something that is difficult to take in. On my last trip to Lesotho, a small country in southern Africa, the model for Wakanda, the fictional kingdom in the Black Panther, it happened again.

Daughters have a difficult time inheriting land in Lesotho. Customary law is applied to daughters’ inheritance, and customary law says that the oldest son inherits. For daughters to inherit, they have to be able to prove that the person who died gave up all his “African ways” and lived as a European—nearly impossible to prove. This law is a holdover from the colonialists, who applied a “mode of life” test to inheritance—essentially Africans were exempt from European inheritance laws.

What do young girls with no rights to land do in Lesotho? They work in textile factories. What must they do to keep their job in the factory? Accept sexual abuse and harassment. In fact, whenever they have to depend on a man—for a ride to work or to borrow money, for example—they know that sexual favors may be required.

Here’s the stunning part. As awful as that is, the girls make a joke out of it. In their phone contacts, they refer to these men as the “Minister of Transportation,” or the “Minister of Finance.” For instance, “My daughter is sick and needs medicine, I need to get the Minister of Transportation to take me to the pharmacy,” or “I need to borrow money from the Minister of Finance again.” Each transaction requires them to give something—and very often—they have nothing to give but their bodies.

For our team there are two important lessons here. First, the human spirit is incredible. To find humor in horror is pretty impressive. And second, economic power isn’t just about moving up in the world, buying new stuff, or even affording good food. Economic power gives women the ability to say no to abuse of all kinds. Ensuring women and girls have rights to land is not always the answer and is not the only answer. But, we live in a transactional world, and land is a valuable asset that many women cannot acquire. Economic empowerment for women means that they have something other than their bodies to exchange for their basic needs.

I hear some version of this exchange every time I talk to women—women who stay with abusive men, girls who agree to marry older men at their families’ request, and women who negotiate with fishermen to be the ones to sell their fish. Until women and men have equal opportunity to use and control land and other resources, until women have real economic choices, Resource Equity will continue to have birthdays.

As we enter our sixth year, our team wants to thank you for supporting women’s land and resource rights. We truly believe empowered women change the world.

Renée Giovarelli


We at Resource Equity know that strengthening women’s rights to land and resources leads to positive changes for women, their families, and their communities. That is why we are focused on working with partners across the world to help ensure that laws relating to land benefit women and men equally, and that through having secure access to land, women are able to move towards increased prosperity and economic security.

This December our aim is to raise $30,000 to help continue this work. Any donation – small or large – will help us reach this goal.

Please give by clicking here and please share this post to help us get the word out! And, thank you for supporting us!

Do Certificates of Customary Ownership as Currently Issued & Delivered Translate into More Secure Land Rights for Women and Men

A Case Study of Nwoya Using Data Collected by the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development

This blog is a summary of a paper that assesses the effectiveness of a specific land tenure intervention to improve the lives of women, by asking new questions of available project data sets.

Customary tenure is the predominant land tenure system in Uganda. About 80% of Uganda’s land is held under this tenure, which is administered according to customary rules and practices pertaining to a given geographical and/or culturally defined area. Customary tenure is recognized in law, but land held under customary tenure remains largely unregistered. Despite customary tenure being widespread, it is not homogeneous: land can be communal or individualized and, in some cases, even held by families, clans, or sub-clans. Article 237 of the Ugandan Constitution elevates customary tenure to be equal to other types of statutory land tenure (for example freehold, leasehold) where the bundle of rights in land are clear, absolute, and exist in perpetuity. Section 4 of the 1998 Land Act and Chapter 4.3 of the 2013 National Land Policy of Uganda endow customary tenure with the attributes of freehold tenure: the land being held in perpetuity and having the same legal protections and standing in law. These policies and legal provisions also provide a number of tools for the formalization of customary tenure, one of them being the certificate of customary ownership (CCO).

Proponents of CCOs contend that CCOs enhance tenure security for women and men, while critics argue that CCOs fall short of expectations, disenfranchise, and, at times, extinguish rights to land. The objective of this secondary data analysis was to assess changes in tenure security that are attributable to CCOs by focusing on the completeness of the bundle of rights using the Conceptual Framework on Women’s Land Tenure Security. The analysis focused particularly on the dimensions of: usus, abusus, fructus, transfer, and future interest bundles of rights as defined in the Conceptual Framework, and it used three existing data sets collected by the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development in April of 2018 with the support of Associates Research Trust-Uganda. The data was collected from the Nwoya district located in the Acholi sub region in Northern Uganda, an area where customary tenure is dominant and where many CCOs have been issued. The data sets included: an extractive data set from a quantitative census of all CCO applications of the Nwoya District Land Office; a quantitative survey data set of CCO beneficiary and non-beneficiary households; and a qualitative data set from established illustrative case narratives on the process of CCO delivery and effects of having CCOs.

Key Findings

Administrative data results suggest that the CCO application process is largely inclusive of women. The majority of land area (82%) for which CCOs were applied does include women among the applicants. However, the survey data results show limited completeness of rights, looking at the rights of usus, abusus, fructus, transfer, and future interest rights. For the areas under study, women’s bundles of rights tend to be less complete than men’s, but women in households with CCOs tend to have more complete rights than women in households without CCOs.

From the results, it is apparent that the CCO intervention did not, or is yet to, improve tenure security as defined by the Women’s Land Rights Conceptual Framework. Experience gained from using the Conceptual Framework for analysis suggests that the framework’s broad definitions of bundles of rights may allow for disparate or incomparable definitions and metrics. The process of constructing analytical specifications also shows that existing programmatic data sets may not contain sufficient information to measure the bundle of rights.

To read more about the research and outcomes, access the full paper here.

Mobilizing Change for Women Within Collective Tenure Regimes

Local communities manage a significant portion of the world’s remaining forests, pastures, and fisheries as common property resources, but they are rarely recognized as formal owners. Important progress has occurred during the last twenty years, as growing evidence suggests that devolving rights to communities can provide incentives for new forms of investment that facilitate sustainable outcomes as well as greater equity in the distribution of benefits. While much has been learned over recent decades from progress in tenure rights recognition worldwide, less is known about the reform processes that can lead to better outcomes for women and other marginalized groups. To respond to this challenge, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) analyzed data collected using quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze different reform processes in Uganda, Peru, and Indonesia. These reforms included several changes in laws, legal provisions, policies, and institutions that redefined the rights and responsibilities over who uses, manages, and controls forest resources and how.

Key Findings

The results show that there has been important progress for women’s tenure security in the three countries analyzed. Nevertheless, specific outcomes for women depend on the characteristics of implementation. For example. at the communal or group level, our research shows that whether women participate in forest tenure reforms depends on local governance structures and rules (e.g. local agreements of who is considered part of the collective), as well as by household dynamics. Therefore, identifying who is the subject of reforms and how women and men can be considered right holders is one of the different layers women need to go through to gain rights within collectives. Similarly, whether respondents perceived improved tenure security after the reforms depends on: gender (female), economic status (non-poor), being a member of an area subject to a reform, and being a member of a forest related organization; also, sources of tenure security include perception of clear boundaries, and perception that rights endure for the long term, and that the rights are not subject to conflict. Overall, positive perception of reforms is not only measured by the extent of rights granted but also the ability to protect these rights and benefit from them. This finding raises the importance of continued support for strengthening productive systems and building capacities to guarantee reform impacts even after issuing certificates, titles, or permits.

Across the three countries analyzed, there is no single type of reform that performs consistently better for men or for women. Nonetheless, processes of rights devolution can influence internal debates on how existing rules affect men and women differently and allow new forms of organizing that could empower women at the local level. The results in this study show that there is a need to establish clearer guidelines on how women should be accounted for in drafting and implementing reform processes. This requires clearly identifying women as subjects of reform and including specific targets in reform goals that specify how they will benefit. Interventions related to legal reforms, such as convening processes or mapping exercises, which do not involve women may risk formalizing or perpetuating existing inequities and may worsen tenure insecurity conditions.

To read more about the research and outcomes, access the full paper here.

Protecting the Land Tenure Security of Women in Ethiopia

Using data collected from over seven million land records, this study examines the extent to which a systematic registration and certification program has contributed to women’s land tenure security. The Land Investment for Transformation (LIFT) program is a six-year DFID-funded program that aims to improve incomes of the rural poor and enhance economic growth in Ethiopia. A major program component involves securing land rights of households through the Second Level Land Certification (SLLC) of 14 million parcels in the four highland regional states of Ethiopia.

Key Findings

The research used a mixed-method approach integrating quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative information was analyzed from a dataset of more than seven million land parcels to understand how the program had incorporated gender considerations into the SLLC process. The approach used three recognized quantitative indicators that use land as a unit of analysis: 1) distribution of parcel holding by form of land holding by gender, 2) the mean size of parcel by gender, and 3) distribution of land area by form of landholding by gender. Qualitative data was also examined from a range of LIFT field studies and also from narrative records relating to the LIFT team’s interactions with landholders, including case study examples of restituted parcels.

Using being named on a land certificate as a proxy for more complete and more robust rights (as defined in the Women’s Land Tenure Security Conceptual Framework), this report shows that the processes used by the LIFT program contributed to more secure land tenure for women. Despite numerous threats to the land rights of women in Ethiopia (identified in qualitative research), evidence from the LIFT program shows that:

  • Out of the 7.1 million certified parcels considered for this study, 77% of the parcels list women either as joint (55%) or as individual (22%) land holders on the land certificate.
  • Comparing the land area held as a percentage of the total owned land area of 3.4 million hectares, 62% is held jointly by women and men, while 16% and 21% of the registered lands are held individually by male and female landholders, respectively.
  • There is no statistically significant difference in mean parcel size allocated for men and women.

This demonstrates that, at the point of certification, parcels are being distributed evenly between women and men, and that land area is also allocated equitably between women and men. The qualitative data suggests that these results might in part be explained by specific effort that was made to ensure that women participate in the SLLC process, ensuring women are more aware of their rights, are better able to report threats to their land rights, and can get the required support to resolve outstanding disputes. The intervention specifically engaged women through specialist staff members on the field registration teams – Social Development Officers (SDOs). SDOs undertake public awareness activities with a focus on women, including: conducting women-only meetings, identifying women involved in land disputes, connecting those women to available support to address issues, and subsequently following up to support the resolution of the disputes, and helping to restore encroached-upon boundaries, on and restitute parcels which were illegally occupied or claimed.

The report finds that the approach taken to second level land certification by the LIFT program has shown that fair and equitable outcomes in land registration are achievable at scale. By demonstrating what is possible, LIFT makes an encouraging and positive contribution to the African Union’s goal that 30% of all registered land should be in the name of women by 2025. Land remains a critical resource in Ethiopia, and the likelihood of women facing land rights violations does not stop with certification; To help ensure the sustainability of the improved tenure security for women, the program advocates for institutionalization of the SDO role into the ongoing rural land administration through the proactive engagement of dedicated staff within the current government structure.

To read more about the research and outcomes, access the full paper here.