By Jennifer Duncan
Secure land and resource rights are critical for household wellbeing and livelihoods in many developing countries, where land is the principal asset for the rural poor. Despite women’s vital role in food production, they are less likely than men to own and control land. Forty percent of the world’s economies limit women’s property rights, and 44 of 191 countries do not provide female and male surviving spouses with equal rights to inherit assets.
In 2020 one in five women globally–upward of 480 million women–felt insecure about their land and property rights, and in some regions like Sub-Saharan Africa nearly one in every two women feared losing her land in the event of divorce or death of a spouse.
The same gender biases that prevent women from holding secure land rights also exclude them from having an equal voice in decision-making about land at all levels. When women’s and men’s voices are both well-represented, on the other hand, strategies for land and resource use reflect the needs and collective wisdom of the whole community. This is especially important in the face of growing resource scarcity, and the kinds of crises spurred by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
WHY WOMEN’S LAND RIGHTS MATTER
Ownership and control over assets that support income are central to women’s economic and social empowerment and their ability to contribute to their communities and countries. For many women, the most valuable of these assets are the land and natural resources they depend on to make a living, provide for their families, and invest in their communities. If women had the same access to productive resources as men, farm output would increase by 20 to 30 percent.
USAID, through the Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program and the Communications, Evidence and Learning (CEL) project, is strengthening women’s rights to land and resources so that women may leverage these rights toward concrete economic, social, and political opportunities.
In honor of International Women’s Day, here are six ways USAID is moving forward with our partners to strengthen women’s land and resource rights:
- SUPPORTING LAW AND POLICY REFORMS. Reforming legal frameworks to establish women’s rights to land and natural resources is one of the most effective ways to empower women at scale. USAID is working with governments and customary leaders at the national and local levels to adopt and implement laws and policies that promote women’s land rights. USAID is also raising awareness and providing legal literacy and access to justice for women, so they are better able to claim and benefit from existing rights.
- GENDER INTEGRATION IN LAND DOCUMENTATION. USAID is promoting gender integration in systematic land documentation processes led by governments, civil society, and private sector actors, ensuring that women’s land rights are considered in all steps, from planning to final documentation of individual or community land. Awareness-raising and communications activities are encouraging women to register their rights.
- GENDER NORMS CHANGE. USAID is providing training and promoting dialogues with customary leaders and communities on harmful gender norms and biases that hinder women from gaining rights and control over land and natural resources. USAID is also promoting gender norms change within households to enhance women’s participation in decision-making, promote collaboration within families, and reduce gender-based violence.
- AGENCY-BASED EMPOWERMENT FOR WOMEN. USAID is providing women with the skills, knowledge, and resources to meaningfully participate in decision-making and governance related to land and natural resources and to engage in agricultural value chains. Increased agency enables women to leverage secure land rights to access financing, agricultural extension, and employment in the wildlife and forestry sectors.
- PRIVATE SECTOR ENGAGEMENT. USAID is partnering with national and multinational companies to develop policies for gender-responsive land-based investment and business practices that reach, benefit, and empower women in different agricultural value chains. USAID is contributing to the growing evidence base on the business case for women’s economic empowerment, which shows that including women in value chains has positive impacts not only for women, their families, and communities, but also for key business performance indicators like agricultural yield, productivity, and quality of production.
- GATHERING AND DISSEMINATING EVIDENCE, BEST PRACTICES, AND LESSONS LEARNED. USAID’s extensive impact and performance evaluations of past and ongoing projects are producing a rich body of evidence to inform governments, donors, and other stakeholders in developing new policies and programs to effectively strengthen women’s rights and translate them into sustainable social and economic empowerment. USAID will continue to share its research widely through new communications and learnings platforms, so as to be readily accessible by partners and stakeholders working toward better land and resource rights for women.
For more information about USAID’s work on women’s land rights, check out these key resources and more at https://www.land-links.org/issue/gender-equality/
- Women’s Land Rights and Women’s Economic Empowerment overview
- Women’s Land Rights and Women’s Economic Empowerment activities in Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia
- For more information on the positive impact of access to land and natural resources on women’s economic empowerment, see: USAID (2016) Fact Sheet: Land Tenure and Women’s Empowerment; PRINDEX (2019) Women’s Perceptions of Tenure Security: Evidence from 33 Countries; UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs/Relief Web (2019) Gender Inequalities and Food Insecurity: Ten Years after the Food Price Crisis, Why are Women Farmers Still Food Insecure?; Landesa (2014) Women’s Land Rights Infographic.
About the author: Jennifer Duncan is the Senior Land Tenure Specialist on the USAID Land Evidence for Economic Rights, Gender and Empowerment (LEVERAGE) Activity.