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The Impact of Land Rights Reforms for Women in Kyrgyzstan

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With support of a grant from Resource Equity, Gulzat Namatbekova conducted research titled “The Impact Of Land Rights Reforms Within The Household, Especially For Women In Male Headed Households in Kyrgyrzstan”. This research was commissioned as part of Resource Equity’s initiative to support new research and evidence on the question of the effectiveness of land tenure reforms to improve women’s lives.

Post-Soviet reforms in Kyrgyzstan during the 1990s and early 2000s included the allocation of land for long time use and eventual ownership to residents. 75% of arable land, including over 1 million hectares of agriculture land was distributed during this period. Land certificates named all family members, including minor children, and over half of all shares were distributed to women. However, census data and survey reports since initial distributions reveal that land ownership by women, and especially rural women, has significantly declined.

The paper analyses a series of land rights reforms and traditional gendered social practices for their impact on households and women’s land rights. Researchers surveyed women, village leaders, and local government officials from land and social institutions from selected villages in both the northern and southern regions of the country.

Key Findings

Despite the initial gender equality of land distribution, traditional practices and women’s low legal literacy emerged as major contributors to the decline in women’s land rights. Land is viewed as an important family asset and is controlled by male family members. There are longstanding beliefs, which are shared by women, that men should hold and manage land because they are responsible for providing for the family. Upon marriage, women typically leave their family lands to their father or brothers and access land through her husband’s family. Further reductions in women owned land is due to inheritance practices to leave land only to sons. Women are also subject to losing land upon the death or divorce of a husband. There seems to be little appreciation of the value of maintaining legal title to land among women. Even when women retain legal title, they are seldom personally using or controlling their land due to lack of inclusion in decision making and low levels of agricultural knowledge.

Legislative restrictions on land plot size along with the small size of land held by families and individuals means most plots cannot be divided and shared for sale, divorce, or inheritance. The small size of rural plots also means land is not valuable or desirable as an asset to women, especially when associated with annual costs incurred for taxes and social payments.

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

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