In my line of work I think a good deal about women’s land rights—every day in fact. After working for over 20 years on helping women gain legal and social rights to the land they use, I am frustrated by the slow progress of the work being done. There has been progress, of course, but I am impatient—even a little bit exasperated. I know others in the field feel the same way and we all wonder why progress seems to happen so slowly.
There are many complicating factors, and I could write a book on the nuances of the truly difficult issues facing rural women. But the thing that really bothers me is this: after all the great gender strategies written up and approved by foreign aid organizations around the world, after all the important people finally taking notice that supporting rural women’s right to land and their economic empowerment is “smart economics,” and after all the grants that require gender be considered when implementing land projects, we still get it wrong over and over again, and women, whose livelihoods depend on us getting it right, lose.
So what is it going to take to change the rate of progress? I have a few suggestions.
We are excited to announce the newly updated LandWise Library website. LandWise is Resource Equity’s online library for primary legal materials, articles, and other practical resources. These resources are organized by country, topic, language, and document type. To see a quick overview of the library’s contents you can visit the browse page.
In addition, LandWise houses a number of women’s land rights and land tenure security practice guides and tools that were created specifically to assist practitioners working in the field of women’s land rights. These guides include general frameworks for understanding land rights and inheritance and country-specific guides for Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
LandWise was initially launched in 2013. Over the years we continued to maintain and populate the library as new research was published and new laws were passed. However, as with any digital tool, the need for site maintenance increased as time went by. We recognized that LandWise was long due for a larger overhaul!
A bit of good women’s rights news has greeted us to end 2018. The Tunisian Cabinet recently approved a bill that will require male and female heirs be given equal inheritance shares. This is a first for the country, and is one of the first proposed bills of its kind in the Arab world. While the bill must now go to the Tunisian parliament for debate, this is still a victory for women’s land rights.
We have seen in our work that equal inheritance rights on paper do not always translate to equal rights in practice, but good laws in support of women’s rights are an important first step. Tunisia has a way to go on both fronts, but may be headed in a good direction even though there is still opposition. In fact, a survey conducted last year showed that 63% of Tunisians, including 52% of Tunisian women, oppose equal inheritance shares. Many Muslim clerics in Tunisia oppose equal inheritance rights as well. Vocal opposition remains a reality.
However, the Tunisian Feminist Association, some local NGOs, and secular activists all support the bill. We see an effort to eradicate discrimination against women, to reduce barriers to the equal exercise of rights, and to increase economic independence for women. We see a bill being introduced for debate when five or ten years ago such legislation would never have been crafted.
These victories might seem small, but these incremental changes lead, ultimately, to greater empowerment of women. We applaud the Tunisian Cabinet for taking this step in the fight for women to gain equal rights to land, resources, and inheritance.
As Resource Equity turns four, we are reflecting on what motivated us to begin, and why we continue: ensuring women’s rights to land and natural resources are at the center of our work.
We founded Resource Equity four years ago in order to center women in our work, and to ensure that women’s experiences, needs, and desires drive what we do. We know that secure land and resource rights are a critical building block that provide women, and their families and communities, the opportunity to prosper. However, for a long time, women’s voices have been excluded from land and resource rights reforms. We believe that many of the solutions to the challenges women face are found by starting with women, and by truly listening to them and including their perspective in everything that we do.
When economic development projects start with women, they benefit both women and men, but the reverse is not always true. In fact, development work often has unintended consequences. A project which gives money to households might see that money used to purchase alcohol instead of food. A change in a law to ensure that families get titles to land may result in women’s rights to land being extinguished in the process. Livestock given to women can be taken and sold by husbands who say that they own the land that was used to grow the fodder. Land given to landless women may not be used, because it is too far from home and the duties they have there, too barren, without water, or in an insecure place.
One way to foresee and forestall these consequences is to view people as people, not as projects, and to trust that they are normally the best judges of what is best for them. Even when we are constrained by funding and resources, we work to make sure that we talk to the people we are working with first, and that we work with partners in-country who know and care about women’s challenges and strengths.
Part of our work is to recognize and address the needs we can fulfill, then work to connect the communities we have committed to helping with other resources, and, most importantly, to ensure the women and men we are working with know that they are heard and that we are prioritizing their articulated needs.
C’est avec plaisir que nous accueillons notre blogueuse invitée, Philippine Sutz. Outre à nous avoir aidé à traduire notre Cadre Conceptuel, Philippine est basée à Londres où elle travaille en tant que ‘Senior Researcher’ auprès de l’International Institute for Environment and Development. Ses domaines de recherche principaux sont l’émancipation des femmes et l’accès des femmes au foncier.
Le Consortium de Recherche, par Resource Equity, vient de publier la version française de ‘Sécurité Foncière des Femmes : un Cadre Conceptuel. Ce document, co-écrit par Cheryl Doss et Ruth Meinzen-Dick, est le premier outil du genre permettant une analyse systématique et cohérente de l’ensemble des facteurs pouvant influencer la sécurité foncière des femmes et à fournir des définitions et concepts communs.
La sécurité foncière est un moyen pour les femmes de pérenniser leurs moyens de subsistance et de contribuer au bien-être de leurs familles et de leurs communautés. Aujourd’hui, un nombre toujours plus important d’organisations entreprennent des études et interventions visant à renforcer la sécurité foncière des femmes. Ceci est une excellente nouvelle ! Cependant, il peut être parfois difficile de tirer des enseignements généraux de ces interventions – et donc de les appliquer ailleurs par la suite – dans la mesure où les éléments clés du contexte ne sont pas toujours clairement identifiés. Les concepts auxquels ces études font référence tels que ‘sécurité foncière’ ou ‘droits fonciers’ ne sont également pas toujours explicitement définis, ce qui peut prêter à confusion.
There is not just one story for rural women—whether they are farmers, miners, mothers, or daughters. On October 15th it was the International Day of Rural Women, a day to reflect on the diversity of rural women, and to shine a spotlight on women who are part of the agrarian community.
Talking with female miners in Uganda recently, I learned how the lives of women who live in rural areas are impacted by so many different factors beyond their control—climate, weather, health, men, local markets, outside investors and speculators, laws, and government programs. These women, facing insecurity in their rights and their lives, must be resilient and inventive to survive.
In Mubende, for example, women were traveling great distances with their partners, their children, and their belongings to do petty trading in a gold rush town, offering local beer and food to the small scale miners that flooded the area in their thousands to benefit from the minerals in the soil. However, they were soon evicted, along with their families, by the landowners who had made a deal with a mining company giving them exclusive rights.
In Busiya, women were panning for gold where the takings were so slight that the landholders did not mind when the women came with their “pans,” because they knew that it would be no threat to their profit. Though these women were thankful for the gold because it allowed them to pay for school fees and clothing for their children, it came at a price. Some lost their rights to use land for cultivation because once gold was found their husbands, who were customary land owners, believed the potential of a lucrative gold find to have more value than what the women were earning by selling produces. To strengthen their rights, these women formed an association so that they could try to pool their funds and their labor to try to get by financially.
There were also the women who were from the semi-nomadic Karamoja region who were leading teams of laborers to break marble and limestone and fill huge trucks. They fed the workers, gave them refreshments, took care of their children, made deals with the buyers, and negotiated with truck drivers. Then these same women had to navigate a home situation in order to try and retain a share of their earnings from mining so they could pay for their family’s food, schooling, and healthcare.
We’ve written on the links between land, gender, and extractives and we have written about the importance of land rights for rural women who rely on agriculture to survive and meet their responsibilities as a mother, wife, sister, or head of household. In all of this, it can be easy to lose sight of the industry, the strategic thinking, the endurance, and strength that rural women draw from every day to make their life work. As shown elsewhere, there is no one story for rural women; perhaps the greatest tribute we can make to rural women every day is to truly recognize their ability to overcome endless obstacles and their daily struggles, and to learn from them.
I have talked to women in at least 15 countries—in their homes, their gardens, their fields, their pastures, their universities, their community organizations, their government and executive offices, and their courtrooms. When asked about rural women’s land use or rights or ownership or livelihood, the thing that usually stands out to me is that most women say, in one form or another, that rural women are generally able to use land, and sometimes even control land, when they are in an intact family. But when the family breaks down—because of divorce, death, abuse, or even polygamy—women often are the ones who are forced to leave, taking nothing with them. In much of the rural world, when women marry, they move to their husband’s home and land. And because land is often the most important asset for a rural household, women who lose their right to use land lose much more than just the land.
This is what I have heard in 15 countries, which is valuable information, but rather broad and not that useful for policy making or program design. But the just published Prindex report now confirms this information with systematic data from their first wave of data collection in 15 countries (10 from Sub-Saharan Africa, four from Latin America and one— Thailand—from Southeast Asia). Prindex collects robust data on people’s perceptions of their property rights. Only two of the 15 countries where I have worked overlap with the 15 countries in the Prindex report, and Prindex collects data in both rural and urban areas, but this first report provides us with some useful data regarding women and men’s perception of their land tenure security in the event of two major family events—divorce and death.
As I reflect back on my eight years of experience working in the field of women’s land rights, I am struck most by the similarities I’ve found—not just among the women I’ve worked with and spoken to in the developing world, but among all the women I have met, everywhere.
In my work, I have the opportunity and privilege to speak with women, mostly from rural areas, in groups and individually. Whether in Kenya, India, or Ghana, women want basic, simple things: good nutrition, education, healthcare, and peace, for their families and for themselves. Frequently that means they need help securing their rights to the land they use, to ensure they will have a place to raise food and their children.
Women sometimes laugh at their struggles with their husbands or recalcitrant children. One group of women in Kenya told me that they’d like all of the men to be sent away for a year. That way, they said, they could get everything running smoothly without interference. The men could come back after a year if they promised to behave.
But, of course, at their root, these humorous conversations are not funny at all. Women can be held back by the men in their communities, and, more specifically, by long-standing patriarchal customs that prevent them from doing things like owning land or making financial decisions.
In our group conversations, women turn to me and say “you don’t have these issues in America,” or “in America, it’s different. You don’t have the same customs and traditions.”
In fact, historically, most countries had laws that not only kept women from owning property, but that effectively made them property themselves. It wasn’t until various Married Women’s Property Acts were passed in the nineteenth century that most married women in much of the English-speaking world were allowed to own property in their own names. And as the “Me Too” movement has shown, although laws have changed, women in the U.S. still fight to be heard, and believed, and respected as they do in the rest of the world.
So many men that were perceived as “good guys” have been exposed in the last few years as anything but good. It is easy to despair, and to feel negative about men in general. I have grappled with this in my years in this field as I regularly hear stories from women of beatings, of sexual assaults, of being chased off of land—almost always by men, and almost always told as if the stories are a routine part of life.
But, of course, there are many good men. In my work, I also see champions all the time. Male leaders who work to make sure women are included on leadership councils. Male politicians who work to make laws more equitable. Male community members who make space for women’s voices to be heard.
So, what does “Me Too” have to do with land rights? Plenty. At Resource Equity we are championing women’s land rights, and saying women need to be able to control their work and their income and their lives. We partner with men and women who believe that empowered women can change the world and we are creating meaningful change for women, men, and societies everywhere. It is only by acknowledging that there is an issue and by working together, regardless of gender, that we can create a more equitable society, for ourselves and for our children.
Six studies have been curated and added to the Titling and Registration topic section of the Research Consortium website. The studies are from 2017 and 2018 and look at titling and registration interventions in Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda. The outcomes measured are agricultural investment (one new study); inclusivity (three new studies); and increased bargaining power (two new studies). These additional studies add to our knowledge of the benefit of ensuring that women’s names as well as men’s names are included on land documents. They also indicate that even with positive law and sincere effort, women within male-headed households do not always have their rights documented.
To access all of the studies on the Research Consortium website click here.
Resource Equity acaba de publicar el marco conceptual sobre la seguridad a la tenencia de la tierra de las mujeres en español. El documento escrito por Cheryl Doos y Ruth Meinzen-Dick, plantea los factores que afectan la seguridad en la tenencia de la tierra de las mujeres, es una valiosa contribución a los desafíos y debates sobre la tierra que enfrentan los países hispanohablantes, particularmente en Latino América.
Latino América es la región más desigual en el acceso y control de la tierra en el mundo. La desigualdad en el acceso y control de la tierra ha fomentado conflictos y guerras civiles en varios países. Igualmente, la reciente expansión de un modelo económico extractivista que apuesta por la extracción y explotación de recursos naturales para obtener grandes volúmenes de materias primas como el principal motor de la economía ha intensificado la competencia por la tierra y fomentado la concentración de poder entorno a esta.
En este contexto, la tierra, como principal activo de millones de hogares rurales que derivan su sustento de las actividades agrícolas se encuentra en constante amenaza. Dentro de los hogares, son las mujeres quienes enfrentan mayores desventajas e inseguridad en su relación con la tierra. A pesar de que la legislación de todos los países de la región reconoce la igualdad de derechos entre hombres y mujeres, las sociedades latinoamericanas siguen siendo extremadamente patriarcales y mantienen a las mujeres en una posición de subordinación respecto de los hombres. Las preferencias masculinas en la herencia, los privilegios masculinos en el matrimonio, los sesgos masculinos en los programas estatales para la distribución de la tierra, y los obstáculos que enfrentan las mujeres para participar en el mercado inmobiliario como compradoras impiden el acceso y limitan la seguridad de las mujeres en la tenencia de las tierras. Además, las mujeres encuentran restringida su participación en espacios de negociación y concertación de las políticas y programas para la distribución de la propiedad rural y la destinación los recursos naturales.
Ante este panorama y tras el reconocimiento al acceso igualitario a la tierra como presupuesto para la disminución de la pobreza, combatir el hambre y alcanzar la igualdad de género, se requieren acciones decididas que prioricen el acceso y control de la tierra para las personas y comunidades que dependen de ella. Igualmente, adoptar medidas especificas con enfoque de genero para vencer los obstáculos que impiden a las mujeres ejercer su derecho sobre la tierra.