A Neighbor Worth Trusting

Social leaders in Colombia are supporting rural women and promoting property formalization.

Yudy JiménezWhen Yudy Jiménez divorced her husband three years ago, she did not know the “rules of the game.” The couple, who was married for over 14 years, tried to divide their assets: her ex-husband kept the farm, and she kept the house.

But this year when she went to title her property with Colombia’s National Land Agency, her ex-husband tried to request a joint title. Yudy is a 33-year old mother with five children and lives in El Limón, a village of the municipality of Chaparral, in Tolima.

“The topographers came to measure my parcel, and he came to say this was also his. It was not fair, because he had kept the farm and had already sold it,” explained Yudy.

The land surveyors were working for a large-scale land formalization initiative being implemented across the municipality by USAID under direction from the National Land Agency. Fortunately for Yudy, the land surveyors were accompanied by experts in alternative dispute resolution (ADR), social workers who mediate land and property-related conflicts through arbitration, negotiation, and conciliation as an alternative to legal processes. The majority of these types of conflicts are between family members

a house with lots of plants hanging on the outside wall With the presence of social workers, Yudy felt supported as a single mother and as the owner of her parcel, and despite the pressure of her ex-husband, she completed the application to receive her property title in her name.

“Knowing that I will have a title to my property is a blessing. That I am a landowner and that I can continue building without being evicted is a legacy that I want to leave to my children,” she said.

Community Leaders

After that experience, Yudy wanted to play a more active role to make sure other women in Chaparral did not have to go through similar injustices. She found the opportunity to do it as a community volunteer supporting the implementation of the Rural Property and Land Administration Plan (POSPR), the official name of the government’s efforts to increase land formality in her municipality

Throughout the implementation of the POSPR in Chaparral, technical teams visited most of the 10,400 parcels in the municipality. In many cases, these visits involve talking with and collecting information from the owners of the parcel. In order to do this, a network of more than 230 community volunteers act as a liaison between the community and the team of professionals. Almost half of the volunteers were women.

The volunteers learned about conflicts related to land use and tenure, a differential approach to land ownership, as well as environmental and legal restrictions on land use and ownership.

a group of volunteers sit listening to their instructorIn her role as a community volunteer, Yudy helped to identify conflicts like the one she had with her ex-husband. “I remember when a couple fought because the husband wanted to apply for individual titling. I was there to teach them about the care economy and the women’s rights to joint land titling,” said Yudy.

USAID trained the volunteers on the POSPR methodology, land policies and the 2016 Peace Accord, as well as women’s land rights, and through community outreach activities. As a resident, people like Yudy can insert credibility into the activity and encourage an otherwise isolated community to formalize their property.

Inspiring Confidence

Volunteers are critical in strengthening the people’s confidence in land-related initiatives of the national government. Martha Leal also volunteered to work as the connection between her community and land formalization teams in Chaparral.

Thanks to the work of community volunteers such as Yudy and Martha, the government can achieve more community participation and social inclusion in rural land administration and formalization processes.

“It’s vital for rural people to be empowered on the topic of land tenure in order to understand the importance of having a registered land title. With a land title, they can access benefits such as loans or agriculture subsidies.”

-Martha Leal, community volunteer from the village of Betania in Chaparral.

Voices of the Social Leaders

Adela Méndez, smiling.“I am proof that women can also play this role. I have spread the message to the entire community, visited every farm, and ensured that everyone, including women, can participate and benefit from land formalization.” – Adela Méndez, Potrerito de Aguayo

“I became a community volunteer because I see that our rural community is vulnerable. They are not informed about the projects and the things happening outside of the countryside.” – Martha Leal, Betania.

Cross-posted from USAID Exposure


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