Breaking Down Barriers to Womens Land Rights Starts in Our Homes — Global Issues

  • Opinion by Shihana Mohamed (new york)
  • Inter Press Service

Today one in every 10 women in the world lives in extreme poverty. Among the 690 million people who are food insecure in the world right now, 60 percent are women and girls. The UN report on “Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The gender snapshot 2023” highlights poverty and lack of economic opportunities as one of the major challenges remaining for global gender equality. Over 340 million women and girls may still live in extreme poverty by 2030.

Land is an important asset for reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity at the country, community, and family levels. Thus, the significance of women’s land rights is recognized as a catalyst to ending poverty (Goal 1); seeking to achieve food security and improved nutrition (Goal 2); and achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment (Goal 5) by the global goals set by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Women’s equal rights to land and property are grounded in core human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As established by international standards, women have the right to equality in the enjoyment of all their rights, including the right to access, use, inherit, control, and own land.

Women own less than 20% of the world’s land while half of the world’s population is women,. Women do not have equal ownership rights to property in 15 countries and customs inhibit women’s access to land in 90 countries. Approximately 100 million women live in countries where they can’t own, inherit, or manage land. Nearly half of the global agricultural workforce is female but less than one in five landholders worldwide are women.

For women who are living in poverty, land is not just property; it is their home, survival and income and a chance to feed, clothe, house, and educate their children. When women farmers have access to their own land, they grow more and so do their communities and countries. Hence, strengthening women’s land and property rights increases food security and reduces malnourishment. If more women owned land, more people might be fed.

Throughout history, land has been a primary source of wealth, social status, and power. Owning land is a powerful pathway for women towards improving social and economic stability, increasing autonomy from their husbands/partners and other relatives, and fostering dignity and improved wellbeing. Ownership of land and property empowers women, providing income and security.

Without resources like land, women have limited say in household decision-making and no recourse during emergencies and crises. Land is also a source of fostering self-reliance for women as secure land rights provide women with an asset base that can be used to obtain credit for business investments and home mortgages, avoiding risky loans with higher interest rates and debts.

At the Global Land Forum in Jordan on May 24, 2022, Sima Bouse, Executive Director of UN Women, the agency promoting gender equality and women’s rights, said, “We must address the barriers to women’s land rights across the life cycle. Young, working age, and older women face particular discrimination. Laws alone are not enough to solve this. Deeply rooted traditional and social norms strongly affect women’s access to and ownership of land and property, including being denied rightful inheritance.”

Much of the land in Africa is still under customary tenure agreements, in which men are considered the owners and custodians of land while much of the contributions made in terms of labour, and knowledge comes from women. All countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and most countries in South Asia (i.e. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Maldives) do not provide for equal inheritance rights for sons and daughters.

In Bangladesh, strict religion-based personal laws prevent women from owning land and property. Women who are single, divorced, or household heads are deprived of inheritance property, and in addition, there is a strong tendency for households not to put women’s names on the land deed. In India, land ownership is highly skewed in favour of men, with women constituting barely 14 per cent of all landowners.

With 73 percent of women in the agriculture sector, Nepal managed to increase the number of female landowners in the country through discounts on land registration fees for women and joint land registration fees for husbands and wives. However, their husbands make the major property decisions due to cultural norms.

In Sri Lanka, only 16% of all privately owned land belongs to women despite constitutional provisions that are non-discriminatory regarding land ownership. It is because there is no uniform law governing women’s land rights as the complex legal framework of Sri Lanka is a mix of Roman-Dutch civil law, English common law, and customary laws based on region, ethnicity, and religion (Kandyan, Thesawalamai, and Muslim laws).

In order for women to be able to enjoy their land rights in practice, countries must eliminate those laws which impose barriers to women’s land rights in more than half the world. However, eliminating legal barriers is only a starting point towards guaranteeing women’s land rights.

Even when women have legal rights to land, social norms and patriarchal attitudes embedded in many cultures and societies supported by customary practices and inequitable gender norms often limit their ability to own, access, inherit, control and dispose land. In some countries, women face opposition from within their own families, including from men and women, when exercising their land rights.

Nearly 30 years ago, in 1990s, I became a landowner for the first time in Sri Lanka when my father transferred his share of the land that he co-owned with my mother. At that time, I was not aware of the status of land ownership by women in Sri Lanka or the significance of my father’s decision. Looking back, I now realize that I was exceptionally fortunate to have a father with a progressive mindset who immensely empowered me from my childhood.

The gender gap in land ownership can only be closed by changing the mindsets of men and women in our families and communities. While it is important to educate women about their own rights, men must be an essential part of this change process. It begins with recognizing the inherent and incalculable value of a woman and her limitless contribution to her family, children, community, country, and the overall growth of humankind.

This change starts from our homes.

Our grandfathers, fathers, uncles, brothers, and sons have bigger roles to play in reversing the gender gap in land ownership rights. We also need the support and solidarity of our grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, and friends to fully enjoy women’s right to land ownership as equally as any man.

Together we must inspire inclusion and break down traditional, social, cultural and gender barriers to women’s land rights.

Shihana Mohamed, a Sri Lankan national, is one of the Coordinators of the United Nations Asia Network for Diversity and Inclusion (UN-ANDI) and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project and Equality Now on Advancing the Rights of Women and Girls. She is an international gender expert and has been contributing to the cause of gender equality and advancement of women for over 20 years.

IPS UN Bureau

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© Inter Press Service (2024) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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