Putting Customary Land on the Map

USAID is supporting small-scale, gender-responsive land documentation to secure farmers’ rights to customary land in Malawi.

“Here, men want to control everything and don’t allow women to talk. If we are aware of our land rights we can act and defend, and if we get divorced, we can still rely on the land to continue feeding our children.” -Margaret Dyson, landowner in TA Mwansambo

Margaret Dyson on her land in TA Mwansambo.
Margaret Dyson on her land in TA Mwansambo. Credit: Nico Parkinson

Margaret Dyson, a single mother of three, inherited her four-acre farm from her parents, who were granted the land by the village head person when they moved to the Traditional Land Management Area (TLMA) of Mwansambo 30 years ago.

Since then, her family has relied on natural boundary markers such as trees and streams to define their property and keep their land separate from adjacent farms. As local populations grow and land becomes increasingly scarce, these natural boundaries that have worked for decades may be removed or become less effective. As a result, formally documenting land ownership has become a critical part of the government’s strategy to promote inclusive sustainable development.

Margaret Dyson leads data collectors and CLC members on a walk around the boundaries of her land to map her parcel during the land documentation process.
Margaret Dyson leads data collectors and CLC members on a walk around the boundaries of her land to map her parcel during the land documentation process. Credit: Nico Parkinson.

In Malawi, 70 percent of the population lives on customary land, held by communities and administered by traditional leaders, as smallholder farmers. Less than 10 percent have some form of land documentation. These rates are significantly worse for women due to gender norms that view men as the default heads of households who wield decision-making power over valuable assets like land. Though many parts of the country are matrilineal, meaning that land is passed down from mother to daughter, male relatives often still control day-to-day decisions about land use. Furthermore, though TLMA Mwansambo is matrilineal, it does not follow the traditional custom where men who marry move to the land of their wives’ clan; instead, women typically move to their husband’s village after marriage. Since they are assumed to have land rights in their own village under the matrilineal tradition, they are given no rights to the land in their husband’s village.

Because navigating these customary land rights traditions can be challenging, documenting and formalizing these rights is important. Land documentation not only provides rural populations with greater tenure security, it creates incentives for them to invest in their farms and can provide a source of collateral for expanded access to finance. Land documentation can also reduce land conflict and promote gender equality.

Inclusive Land Documentation Process

Following the 2016 Customary Land Act, the Government of Malawi launched several land documentation pilots across the country, permitting customary landholders to formalize ownership. In TLMA Mwansambo, the USAID-funded Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program is partnering with the Ministry of Lands to roll out the country’s most ambitious customary land formalization campaign to date, with an explicit focus on women’s land rights. Using participatory methods and socially inclusive approach , the land documentation campaign is targeting outreach to approximately 40,000 people. The activity expects to document upward of 10,000 land parcels in under one year.

Margaret Dyson walks the boundaries of her land with data collector Alefa Kwenda and two CLC members from her community (in blue).
Margaret Dyson walks the boundaries of her land with data collector Alefa Kwenda and two CLC members from her community (in blue). Credit: Nico Parkinson.

The land demarcation process is gender-responsive, ensuring that both women and men are able to participate at each stage.

Following a comprehensive gender assessment in TLMA Mwansambo, ILRG sensitized all stakeholders on gender and social inclusion (GESI) issues before and during the land registration process and developed a series of tools to guide GESI integration across all steps of the process.

Over the course of eight months, teams of university graduates visit each village to carry out the land documentation work. After holding community sensitization events, they physically walk the boundaries of each parcel with landholders and use GPS enabled mobile devices to map the precise coordinates. Once the data are collected, a village map is produced and posted in a central area for community members to review and bring any corrections or objections forward. These sessions are held during times and locations that are accessible and safe for women to participate. Once maps are validated and finalized, the local government issues land titles to customary landholders.

“We know that we are gender focal points in the land documentation process,” says data collector Sylvia Kasiaya, 28. “When a man wants to only register his name to the land, we ask ‘What about your wife?’ They often say ‘No, she has her own land’, so we push back and inform them about the advantages of joint documentation, such as ‘What if you die, how will your wife and children survive?’ Sometimes it works and we see very little resistance.”

Margaret and her neighbor Phale Jabes agree on the boundary between their two parcels during the land documentation process in TA Mwansambo.
Margaret and her neighbor Phale Jabes agree on the boundary between their two parcels during the land documentation process in TA Mwansambo. Credit: Nico Parkinson.

ILRG is also promoting shifts in harmful gender norms that hinder women’s land rights through a series of workshops and dialogue sessions. Now, women and men have opportunities to sit together to reflect on harmful gender norms—such as local marriage traditions which give women no rights to land in their husband’s village—and discuss how to change them in order to promote equal land rights, equal decision-making over land, and equal sharing of benefits from land. ILRG is also holding gender norms dialogues with traditional leaders like village head persons, who tend to be men, to identify the harmful gender norms that might hinder women’s land rights and devise concrete strategies to initiate change.

Promoting Community Leadership in Land and Natural Resource Governance

Another way women can be empowered is through engagement in land institutions. The 2016 Customary Land Act creates Customary Land Committees (CLCs), a group of community members elected to help oversee and resolve disputes that occur within the local land documentation process. CLCs are critical to guide data collectors, land surveyors, and government officials in their villages. By law, the CLCs must be gender balanced. ILRG is improving leadership skills for women elected to these bodies so they can meaningfully participate.

Group Village Mwansambo CLC Member Rose Zuze participates in a boundary walk during the land documentation process in her community.
Group Village Mwansambo CLC Member Rose Zuze participates in a boundary walk during the land documentation process in her community. Credit: Nico Parkinson.

Rose Zuze has four children and was elected as a CLC member in Group Village Mwansambo. She accompanied Margaret and her neighbors to define the boundaries of her property.

“Single mothers have no power, so they need the CLC to defend their rights. Since I am a woman, I know their problems. In addition, women like Maragaret are empowered by the CLC. They see women in positions of leadership and believe that if I can be on the CLC, then they can also be in positions of power.”

These efforts help ensure that women’s names are included on land titles, which aligns with the joint objectives of the Government of Malawi and USAID to advance gender equality in land rights as a pathway for women’s empowerment.

“I put the farm in my name with the three children on the document,” said Margaret Dyson. “It is important because it gives us protection from eviction. With this document, I can prove this is my land.”

Margaret Dyson on her land in TA Mwansambo.
Margaret Dyson on her land in TA Mwansambo. Credit: Nico Parkinson.

The campaign in Mwansambo is establishing the precedent for a socially inclusive and gender-responsive approach to land registration. This scalable approach may influence how the government carries forward the important work of ensuring secure land tenure as a pathway for sustainable development, building on Malawi Vision 2063’s goal to fully harness the potential of land as a catalyst for economic self-reliance, and the USAID/Malawi Country Development Cooperation Strategy to support gender-equitable and accountable development.

Five Lessons from Using MAST to Advance Women’s Land and Resource Rights

Research shows that strengthening women’s land and resource rights has a striking and positive impact on women’s empowerment. And yet, across much of the world, formal and informal laws and customs hinder women’s access to land and resources, leaving them unable to fulfill their full potential as agents of economic and social change. 

USAID is helping to address this longstanding inequity through its Mobile Applications to Secure Tenure (MAST), a blend of participatory mapping approaches and flexible technology tools that allows communities to document and secure their land and resource rights using a smartphone. MAST’s participatory mapping methodology emphasizes on-the-ground engagement and extensive training to empower citizens as data collectors and administrators and build their capacity to maintain land information and manage their land and resources.  

MAST engages local communities—with specific focus to the inclusion of women and youth as trusted local community members—who are trained to use maps and mobile devices to identify and record individual and communal land boundaries, land use, and ownership information. Mapping and information gathering takes place in the presence of land rights’ holders and neighbors and also engages marginalized groups, such as pastoralists. 

Across several countries where it has been deployed, MAST has already been effective in strengthening women’s land tenure and promoting the empowerment of women in communities where it has been implemented. In Tanzania, for example, the Land Tenure Assistance (LTA) activity employed a MAST approach to help women register their rights at the same rate as their male counterparts during the issuance of more than 100,000 customary land certificates (CCROs). In Zambia, the Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) project used MAST to ensure that half of all land documents in the project area were issued to women. And in Mozambique, the ILRG project implemented activities to help shift attitudes to be more supportive of women’s ownership of land. 

In March, USAID convened a learning exchange with partners from Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia who are actively using a MAST approach to document community land rights. Participants attending the exchange discussed the role of MAST in strengthening women’s land tenure and resource rights and how MAST might be made an even more powerful tool for promoting women’s empowerment. Here are five things that we learned from the discussion:

Meaningfully and directly engage women as project implementers

MAST allows for the direct involvement of citizens to map and register their land. Implementers in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia have all found that including women in training, discussions, and mapping can help ensure that their rights are accounted for during the registration process. Recruiting women as para-surveyors and dispute adjudicators ensures that their perspectives and land claims are taken into account, while also providing them with short-term employment, transferable skills, and stronger feelings of confidence and empowerment. Although gender inequalities and gender norms that govern the behavior of girls and women (such as the division of household responsibilities) can make it difficult to recruit women to implement MAST, it is critical to encourage and promote their participation in these important community processes.

Intentionally cultivate women’s participation in meetings and training to promote their engagement

A key component of the MAST approach is training and actively engaging community members in discussions about community land resources, land use planning, land laws, and the importance of securing land rights. These trainings and discussions, which provide an important foundation for any mapping process, build important community awareness and buy-in to the process that is necessary for systematic land documentation. They also ensure greater participation and uptake by community members. Implementers have found that without employing specific means to intentionally engage women, these important, initial community sensitization meetings that seek to clarify land holdings and traditional rules are often dominated by men. Holding separate, female-only trainings can provide more space for women and youth to meaningfully engage with the MAST process and share their own thoughts, questions, and concerns. 

Tailor the engagement of women to the local context

Where MAST has been implemented in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia, local groups and communities maintain their own customs, matrilineal or patrilineal inheritance processes, familial structures, and class dynamics. Women often have responsibilities that are unique from men, which include childcare duties and domestic household management. Hence, it is important throughout the mapping process to engage women in ways that adequately account for their unique social roles, needs, and schedules. In addition, it is important to understand traditional customs and social rules that might prevent women from accessing and owning land. In some communities, for example, traditional customs and norms prohibit women from owning land in their own right. In these communities, encouraging joint registration between spouses (where both the husband and wife have their names listed on a land certificate) may be the best option to provide women with some level of tenure security.

Account for the time and effort required to change attitudes during project implementation 

Implementers across all three countries stressed that changing attitudes toward more positive perceptions of women’s land ownership takes time and effort. Since the laws and regulations governing women’s land ownership are not always known or well understood, it can take significant time to educate communities about these rules, which include the nuances of how strengthening women’s property rights can benefit entire households and communities. Multiple training sessions on the same topic might be required. Although this deliberate engagement can lengthen the time frame for land documentation using a MAST approach as compared to on-demand, targeted, and rapid land documentation, education is likely one of the most critical components to securing women’s land rights for the long-term. 

Engage men as champions of women’s participation and equality

It is well known that teaching men and boys to become champions for gender equality and women’s empowerment is essential to achieving gender-related development objectives and long-lasting social change. In fact, one of the eight operating principles listed in USAID’s Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy is to engage men and boys. Similarly, MAST implementers have found that cultivating male champions to support women’s participation in MAST, especially during early phases of the community mapping process, can help ensure greater and more meaningful participation by women. In addition, because MAST often challenges traditional gender norms around land ownership, there is a risk that women’s participation in the MAST process may encounter resistance in communities that might traditionally prevent women from accessing and owning land. Male champions, especially those in leadership positions, have been helpful in transforming traditional attitudes to promote more active participation of women and helping communities avoid pushback toward women and girls during and after the mapping process.

Five Ways Women Lead on Addressing Climate Change

And Three Ways We Can Empower them to Lead More

Climate change poses incredible challenges for women and girls in the developing world. The impacts of climate change disproportionately impact women and girls by barring them from accessing increasingly scarce natural resources, leaving them more vulnerable to extreme weather events and limiting their opportunities for education and income-generating activities, which harms their overall health and wellbeing. 

Research shows that women’s participation improves the efficacy of climate change adaptation and mitigation programs. Yet, women are often barred from participating in climate action; an unfortunate fact that USAID’s Climate Strategy 2022-2030 hopes to counteract by centering the role of women and other marginalized groups on climate action. 

Last month, I had the pleasure of moderating an event entitled “Frontiers: Women Leading Solutions to Climate Change” to discuss a critically important question: How can we empower women to continue to lead the fight against climate change? 

This webinar, co-hosted by USAID and New America on the sidelines of the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), hosted seven powerful women in conversation about how climate change poses unique threats to women, and the ways in which women are uniquely positioned to find and deliver solutions to this critical challenge. 

Here, in the event participants’ own words, are five ways women are already leading on climate change solutions, and five ways we can help them become an even stronger voice in this fight.

  1. Women uniquely understand the challenge, because they live it 

To quote American public interest attorney and author, Bryan Stevenson: “We cannot create justice without getting close to places where injustices prevail. We have to get proximate.” 

Women around the world are uniquely proximate to the impacts of climate change. Indeed, as USAID Chief Climate Officer Gillian Caldwell pointed out, climate change disproportionately impacts women and girls, limiting their opportunities for education and income-generating activities, harming their health and wellbeing, and increasing their exposure to gender-based violence and exploitation. Women and children are significantly more likely than men to die from climate disasters such as droughts and floods. 

But this inequity creates an opportunity: women understand from firsthand experience the impacts of climate change, and they see opportunities to address them on the ground. 

As an Agency, we are helping provide platforms and channels for women and girls to turn this proximity into power, by sharing their unique perspectives and the solutions they have developed. USAID’s new Climate Strategy prioritizes partnering with women and other marginalized groups on climate action and the U.S. Government’s new  Gender Equity and Equality Action (GEEA) Fund, is expanding resources for this work, helping advance women’s and girls’ leadership and participation to help tackle the climate crisis.  

2. Women see distinct signals, based on the role they play in the household

The division of responsibilities in a household gives women and men unique insights into opportunities to combat climate change. For example, Jamille Bigio, USAID’s Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, pointed out that women and girls often collect water and firewood for the household, and can therefore see changes to forests and water resources in a way that men do not. As they go about their lives, women frequent places within climate-vulnerable urban centers that men do not, and therefore have unique perspectives about infrastructure and affordable housing needs to make urban areas more resilient. And, women have distinct perspectives on green economic opportunities, based on the jobs they hold. 

These perspectives can serve as components of early warning systems for climate impacts and also allow us to spot opportunities for climate action. One example of compelling work at this nexus of gender and climate action is USAID’s partnership with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, called AGENT, which recognizes women as agents of environmental change.

Our challenge as an Agency is to learn how to share and amplify the climate threat signals picked up by women and girls, and the unique solutions they propose.

3. Female leaders help communities better manage their natural resources

Studies show that when women are engaged as decision-makers —not just on climate action but on any aspect of community planning—their communities do a better job at managing resources and protecting against climate shocks. 

Rights and Resources Initiative Coordinator Solange Bandiaky-Badji shared that when Indigenous women manage community forests, they step up to protect land more effectively. Bandiaky-Badji shared a recent experience in Nepal, where Indigenous women worked collaboratively through the 2021 monsoon season to plant lime trees on over 25 hectares of government and privately owned farmland, and restore degraded land through aquaculture. The combination of these women’s traditional knowledge of land and focus on collaboration allowed them to ensure a productive harvesting season in the midst of a drought and a pandemic. The Nepalese government was so impressed with this effort that it has since provided these women with grants and subsidies to scale up their efforts. 

To echo Bandiaky-Badji’s words: “When we support initiatives that are conceived and implemented by women themselves, we allow them to lead instead of just being bystanders in climate solutions.”

4. Women are on the climate activism front line

As New America CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter said: Women are often the ‘rule takers’, men are the ‘rule makers’ … but, women regularly become the ‘rule breakers.’  Indeed, women are often the ones speaking out against entrenched interests and large polluters, even when doing so subjects them to threats and gender-based violence, and imperils their livelihoods and lives. 

Many of the most outspoken climate activists and land and environmental defenders, from Berta Caceres to Greta Thunberg, are female. Women have formed grassroots organizations, like Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu in Colombia and the Mujeres Amazónicas in Ecuador, to mobilize against environmental threats, and have organized nonviolent protests on climate challenges ranging from deforestation in India to mining activities endangering water access for rural households in Latin America.

As Gillian Caldwell observed during the panel: “Many of these brave women are standing up against powerful companies that are threatening the survival of the planet and in many cases these companies are working in close coordination with governments.” 

5. Women don’t’ just speak up for themselves, they speak up for the vulnerable

Gillian Caldwell made the point that women are better equipped to speak to the justice and equity considerations of climate action, whether those relate to gender, or to the protection of other vulnerable groups. Tracy Farrell, Director, North American Region, International Union for Conservation of Nature, echoed this observation, pointing to a study of 300 forest groups across the world that found that groups run by women were more inclusive and just.

Women leaders don’t just promote people-centered policies; studies find that their decisions are more planet-centered. In her remarks Farrell pointed to USAID’s AGENT project, which found that female parliamentarians tend to make policies that are more inclusive of the environment. 

Three Ways We Can Empower the Leadership of Women on Climate Action

There is so much more we can do to support and amplify women’s leadership on climate, and help empower a new generation of climate leaders. As Jamille Bigio rightly pointed out: “There are women leaders on the ground already advancing solutions, and they just need our support to help amplify their work.”

Event participants shared three ways in which we can further empower women to become leaders in the fight against climate change. 

  1. Ensure the women’s tenure rights are secure 

Research shows that strengthening women’s land and resource rights has a striking and positive impact on women’s empowerment, allowing them to play a leading role in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Secure tenure rights also make women more resilient to climate shocks.

Yet, as Bandiaky-Badji explained, women legally own less than one fifth of the world’s agricultural land, and in Africa, fifty percent of legal frameworks governing land and forests do not contain community-level provisions specific to women. Farrell pointed out that this lack of land ownership limits women’s access to finance and other resources to implement climate change solutions.   

To equip women to lead on climate change, we must invest in ensuring women have equal and secure rights to land and natural resources within their communities. USAID is supporting work to strengthen women’s land rights in a number of countries, including new work in Cote d’Ivoire to help women exercise and protect legal rights to land and through its Mobile Applications to Secure Tenure (MAST) approach.  MAST is helping women in three countries register land rights at the same rate as their male counterparts. 

  1. Train women to be leaders, and build their decision-making capacity 

Rili Djohani, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Coral Triangle Center, stressed that if we want women to lead on climate change, we must provide them with leadership training and mentorship opportunities. These efforts give women the confidence to demand a seat at the table, and also help shift gender norms and normalize women’s participation and leadership in rooms typically dominated by men. 

For example, the Coral Triangle Initiative has created an intergenerational mentor program that links senior female leaders with up and coming leaders. 

And while leadership training is a critical component of building up women’s voices, so is job training and other support that empowers women economically. The Coral Triangle Initiative has engaged women in seaweed cultivation and trained them to make seaweed snacks to sell on the local market. Djohani shared that training women to make and sell these products not only helps them improve livelihoods and empower economically, but also gives them the skills to engage in other decisions in the village. 

USAID has also focused on building the leadership skills of women who work in industries at the front lines of climate change. For example, through the Engendering Industries program, USAID supports women’s meaningful participation in male-dominated water and power sectors to improve gender equity and improve business outcomes.

  1. Explicitly define the role of women in national and international climate policies 

Farrell pointed out that a critical piece of empowering women to lead on climate change is explicitly including them in national and international frameworks, policies and mechanisms aimed at curbing emissions, reducing deforestation, adapting to climate impacts and financing climate solutions. USAID’s AGENT initiative found that 80% of newly revised Nationally Determined Contributions include gender in some way. This is a significant stride that must be taken up by other climate frameworks and policies. 

Farrell recommended that countries adopt Climate Change Gender Action Plans to ensure women are included holistically in climate action, and that their participation is tracked with indicators. 

As this panel made clear, while women face disparate impacts from climate change, they bring unique solutions and the courageous leadership that we need. Supporting women with secure rights, training, funding, and opportunities to shape policy can in turn increase women’s engagement and empowerment to make the necessary progress we need to tackle the climate crisis. 

Growing a Wildlife Industry in Zambia

In partnership with USAID, community owned and managed game ranches are sharpening their skills in wildlife resource management

Zambia’s landscape is ideal for antelope. Between the rainy and dry seasons, over 25 species—from the fox-sized duiker to the 1,500-pound eland—graze across Zambia’s landscape. These unique scenes bring tourism revenues to the country from visitors, photographers, and hunters seeking out these animals in and around the national parks. But there is another way these animals can provide revenue for the population: through the sale of wild game meat.

Puku, a type of antelope, in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia. Photo: Matt Sommerville, ILRG

As the demand for legal game meat increases both locally and abroad, and as climate change puts increasing pressure on arable land, Zambia’s land managers are learning that some areas are better suited to raising antelope than cattle. Rather than clearing forests for crops or establishing pasture for cattle, antelope can live and thrive off the natural landscape. Better land and wildlife management can help reduce poaching, increase revenue, and protect valuable forests and watersheds.

In order for a community to have complete user rights of wildlife, a game ranch generally needs to be fenced, which is an extremely expensive undertaking. Animals need to be protected from poaching, and in many locations animals must be restocked or habitats need to be improved in order for animals to thrive. USAID partners with the Wildlife Producers Association of Zambia (WPAZ) to support the legal game meat value chain and increase the number of communities on private and customary land that raise game meat. WPAZ, with USAID support, can help fledgling community game ranches navigate this process, building on their work with over 60 successful wildlife game ranches in the country. Community game ranches offer communities the chance to earn additional revenue from better land and wildlife management, benefitting both community wellbeing and the country’s larger conservation and biodiversity goals.

As the number of commercial game ranches increases across Zambia’s countryside, several rural communities are attempting to secure their forested land and manage it for wildlife production rather than converting it to cropland. These community game ranches are typically located in areas outside of national parks, but in locations where wildlife are present. WPAZ helps these communities increase management capacity and navigate regulatory processes related to using wildlife in a sustainable way.

2 impala
The game ranching industry is well developed in South Africa and Namibia, but has long been nascent in Zambia. Impala, a type of antelope, in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia. Photo: Matt Sommerville, ILRG

Nyalugwe Community Game Ranch is located in the Luangwa Valley in Eastern Province and operates with help from Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO), a WPAZ supported social enterprise that supports wildlife conservation and small-scale farmers in Eastern Zambia. Communities in the area have registered as a Community Forest Management Group to secure community rights over 45,000 hectares of land, which will be utilized to protect forests, promote the return of wildlife to the area, and support a community game ranch. The chance to diversify how it uses land, including by raising wildlife, could bring opportunities for Nyalugwe’s community, which is already well versed in sustainable agriculture practices. Nyalugwe game ranch leaders recently participated in a weeklong peer-to-peer exchange visit where WPAZ members and existing commercial and community game ranch operators shared information and lessons learned with newcomers about how to develop a sustainable game ranching model.

people with sign at launch event
Launch of of Nyalugwe Community Game Ranch with COMACO, ILRG, and Chief Nyalugwe. Photo: Russell Ndumba

“Nyalugwe has great potential considering their location and habitat,” explained Thawanda Masiye, Projects and Administration officer at Wildlife Producers Association of Zambia (WPAZ). “Until now, what they knew about game ranching, they learned by word of mouth and trial and error. Now, Nyalugwe would like to see continued support from WPAZ, but first we would like to see the chief’s buy-in to the community game ranch project.”

The week-long workshop included three days of intensive seminars dealing with topics like wildlife management, animal welfare, on-farm income generation activities and alternative land use diversification potential. The seminars were led by WPAZ members, WPAZ Secretariat, and their Livestock Services team. In order to reinforce messaging, after each seminar, summaries were made in the Lunda and Chewa local languages.

Thawanda Masiye is the Projects & Admin Officer at WPAZ.

“The creation of a community game ranch can be slow, and there are no returns for at least five years. That is why it is important to think about what you are doing with your land and consider alternative land uses to provide income during those initial set-up years,” said Masiye.

Participants also visited Kushiya Game Farm, a private wildlife estate, and the Simahala Community Conservancy, a 23,000+ hectare preserve home to water buffalo, wildebeest, waterbuck, impala, and zebra, to learn from the experience of others.

cape buffalo
Cape buffalo are part of the species mix in Simalaha Community Conservancy Photo: Matt Sommerville, ILRG

“It is clear that at Simalaha, the community understands the value of wildlife, not just as a commodity that can be grown and eaten, but as an investment. They have a sense of community, ownership, and responsibility,” explained Masiye.

The exchange visit was the final push the community needed to convince them that game ranching can be a viable business undertaking and a good use for land in their community.

Elisa Daka from Nyalugwe Community Game Ranch attended the WPAZ training, which helped them learn from the experiences of others and assess the viability of their new game ranch operation.

According to Elisa Daka from the Nyalugwe Community Game Ranch who attended the training, “The training was good as it imparted new knowledge that we needed for us to run our new community game ranch and we are grateful to WPAZ for organizing the training and hope it can be extended to all community game ranches in the country.”

With the help of WPAZ and USAID, Zambia’s natural resources can be preserved while empowering the local communities.

Women’s Land Rights Champion: Corinne Hart

This series features Women’s Land Rights Champions within USAID to learn more about their work. We’re pleased to share this interview with Corinne Hart, USAID’s Senior Gender Advisor for Energy, Environment, and Climate.

Corinne Hart, USAID
Corinne Hart, USAID

Tell us about yourself

I am the Senior Gender Advisor for Energy, Environment, and Climate in USAID’s Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Hub within the Development, Democracy, and Innovation (DDI) Bureau. I lead a team of gender advisors tasked with providing technical assistance across the Agency to support gender integration in a range of environmental sectors, including land and resource governance. I also oversee Gender Equity and Equality Action (GEEA) Fund resources available to advance women’s land rights in partnership with the Land and Resource Governance division in DDI. 

Why are women’s land rights and resource governance important to your work? And to other USAID development work?

As one of the Agency’s advisors responsible for gender integration in environment and climate sectors, I’ve seen firsthand that women’s land rights and their secure land tenure is a critical component to achieving the Agency’s overall goals on gender equality, women’s empowerment, climate change, the environment, and natural resource management. When women have secure rights to land, including by law and in customary systems, they have a critical asset that they can rely on for their livelihoods, and it can increase their decision-making power and agency. 

What are some of the biggest challenges in helping women secure land rights and what are some things being done to overcome them?

While there is a strong body of evidence connecting women’s secure land rights to many different development outcomes, such as food security, climate change, and natural resource management, it is still necessary to make the case to a range of stakeholders that advancing women’s land rights must be a key part of their approaches. Partnering with governments at the local and national levels, private sector actors, local implementing partners, and women and men in communities is one strategy that we use to ensure that women’s land rights interventions are woven into a range of sectors and approaches, including in policies, customary tenure arrangements, agriculture, and economic growth. USAID has also created the Resilient, Inclusive, Sustainable Environments (RISE) Challenge to provide small grants to environment, gender, and development organizations to address gender-based violence (GBV) related to natural resource management, including land. These grants enable our partners to apply best practices in GBV mitigation and response related to women’s land rights and to share the learnings across a large network of practitioners through the USAID-funded GBV-Environment Linkages Center hosted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Together with our partners from all sectors around the world, we are building the evidence, testing promising practices, providing technical assistance, and working directly with communities to ensure that women are able to access and control the land that is so critical for their overall health, wellbeing, and economic stability. 

What are some of USAID’s successes in the area of women’s land rights?

USAID is on the forefront of implementing gender-transformative women’s land rights programs that are addressing a wide range of issues that can impede equal rights to land. For example, our activities not only focus on land laws, but they also work to increase women’s meaningful participation and leadership in community natural resource management bodies, address gender-based violence concerns connected to land rights, change harmful gender norms, engage men and boys as gender equality champions, and increase women’s personal agency and empowerment. This robust approach ensures that USAID’s women’s land rights activities tackle the broad range of challenges that women face when accessing and controlling land. 


​​Building a Healthy Land Market in Colombia

A capacity building strategy is guiding budding professionals towards careers in land administration

When the Colombian government and USAID teamed up to formalize more than 3,000 parcels in the municipality of Ovejas, sourcing qualified professionals figured high on the list of challenges. Unable to fill vacant positions from the local workforce, the campaign had to field more than 50 professionals from around the country to support the endeavor.

woman holding out cell phonePositions included land surveyors, legal experts, knowledge management specialists, and social workers with a unique set of skills related to land rights. Ten teams made up of four diverse professionals used their skills and tools to reach rural communities, effectively communicate, formalize a property, and register a land title. The pilot employed some 60 qualified professionals, but only 6 of them were actually from Ovejas.

The lessons are manifold. In a region with an already weak land market, students and young professionals do not consider careers in land administration. In places like Ovejas, the national cadaster—the plot map of land ownership—is out of date and does not reflect the reality of who is occupying what parcel. Instead of registering land titles and paying property taxes, land is bought and sold informally with a paper receipt and a handshake. Few, if any, land titles exist.

Thanks to these lessons gained through the Ovejas land formalization campaign, the USAID-funded Land for Prosperity Activity is targeting young professionals in rural municipalities with the skills and knowledge to select career paths related to land formalization, restitution, and administration.

In its first two years of implementation, Land for Prosperity has held over 200 workshops and trained more than 8,000 people on skills and knowledge related to land formalization. Among them are 80 law students in their final year at the Corporación Universitaria Remington, located in Montería, Córdoba.

group of people standing

Under the USAID partnership, the law students have reviewed academic material about Colombia’s land policies and land formalization processes. The students then have the option to select an internship at the regional offices of land entities, like the National Registry Superintendence–SNR, the land cadaster entity IGAC, or they can work with municipal administrations at one of the USAID-supported municipal land offices. In Córdoba, there are currently three Municipal Land Offices in the towns of Puerto Libertador, Tierralta, and Valencia. The internship is a requirement for graduation and must be related to legal services for their communities.

“In Southern Córdoba the public sector is in need of skilled workers and funding. We need more social workers and lawyers,” explains María Angélica Sakr, coordinator of Remington University’s legal clinic in Montería. “USAID is filling a need by creating a skilled workforce and motivating professionals towards these niche areas.”

Community Mediator

“Universities do not reach small towns like Puerto Libertador and accessing quality education is something that only certain families can manage. I have always dreamed of a law degree and I have made many sacrifices to reach this point.” -Andris Salgado, Law student (Remington University), Puerto Libertador, Córdoba

Andris Salgado, 38, plans to graduate with a law degree from Remington next year. He’s currently fulfilling his internship duties at the legal clinic in his hometown of Puerto Libertador. Since 2015, Salgado has worked as a community mediator and conciliator with support from USAID’s Access to Justice Program and the Ministry of Justice. This year, he participated in USAID-supported land administration workshops to learn more about current land policies and goals related to the 2016 Peace Accords.

“Knowing Colombia’s land laws can support rural communities with all kinds of services, from land conflicts to assigning parcels to farmers who have been in possession of their farms for over ten years,” says Salgado.

A legal expert with experience moderating many types of conflicts among families and neighbors, Salgado can now provide the people of Puerto Libertador with counsel and legal advice related to land formalization and access to land.

Following graduation, Salgado hopes to continue working with vulnerable populations as an advocate.

“There are lawyers in Puerto Libertador, but none have this kind of experience. I have always wanted to help the community and aimed my support at young people who cannot afford higher education.”

Land Market = Job Market

woman wearing hat holding tape measure
Photo by USAID Land for Prosperity

By this time next year, there will be two major massive land formalization campaigns underway in the Montes de María region, located just over 100 kilometers north of Córdoba. The two campaigns, which are taking place in San Jacinto and Carmen de Bolívar, will create at least 100 skilled jobs for legal land experts, social workers, and land surveyors.

In one of the regional capitals, Sincelejo, USAID is partnering with the Corporación Universitaria del Caribe, known as CECAR. Over the last 6 months, the program has reached more than 200 law students and 80 future social workers with workshops related to land policies and land formalization and restitution processes. All the students are in their final years of university.

“The learning spaces created by USAID are enriching for students who don’t have much experience with topics on land. They have generated curiosity and motivation for students to continue with these topics. Students benefit, the region benefits, and the university benefits,” explains Ana Claudia Castro, the workshop coordinator, who runs the CECAR’s Victim’s Justice Center in Sincelejo.

Over the next year, each semester the academic partnership will provide the students with new material. Topics include formalizing urban parcels in the name of the municipality, legal analysis of land parcels, land restitution policies, and conflict mediation related to land ownership.

The land formalization campaigns and the local land offices represent a significant part of USAID’s strategy to help the government untangle land conflicts that persisted for several generations.

In the Caribbean departments of Córdoba, Sucre, and Bolívar, thousands of victims of the conflict will benefit from land formalization services. If enough new professionals are trained, the jobs of land administration will be in the hands of the next generation.

USAID is supporting 11 municipal-wide land titling campaigns across Colombia. Each campaign depends on a variety of factors and is expected to require an average of two years to complete implementation. By 2025, the government will have updated more than 115,000 parcels in the national cadaster with the possibility of delivering up to 40,000 land titles.

“Having a home doesn’t make you rich, but not having one makes you very poor”

Q&A with Patricia Castro, Tumaco’s Secretary of Women’s Affairs

In January 2021, the municipal administration of Tumaco created its first Secretary of Women and Gender Equality. The entity represents a new view of equality and the strengthening of women’s rights. In this interview the Secretary, Patricia Castro, talks about the entity’s strategy and the challenges that women in Tumaco face when accessing property due to gender violence.

Why was the Secretary of Women created in Tumaco?

Patricia Castro, Tumaco's Secretary of Women's Affairs
Patricia Castro, Tumaco’s Secretary of Women’s Affairs

The Secretary was created last year with the aim of working on five pillars: equality, education, health (both promotion and prevention), entrepreneurship, and the last one where we have worked with the Land for Prosperity Activity, housing. It is called the Secretary of Women, but we work on different processes that promote gender equality and the rights of the LGBTI community. It is essential that we work with a very diverse group of people.

What is patrimonial and economic violence?

We call it patrimonial violence, but women do not call it that. When we are with women in our workshops and we hear a woman say, “I have to put up with so much from him because I depend economically on him” or “if I report him, who will sustain me?” or “I can’t separate from him because he is the owner of the house or the parcel where the house is, and I won’t get my part”. When they tell us about these situations, we explain to them that these are examples of patrimonial and economic violence.

What challenges do the women that go to these workshops face?

The women that go to these workshops do not have this information. For example, when it comes to land and property, the best way to overcome these barriers is motivating women to participate in formalization processes, and that is what we are doing with the Municipal Land Office and with USAID’s support.

What should women understand about land titling and their rights?

Titling in favor of women is decreasing the uncertainties they have. They ask themselves what would happen if they separated from their husbands. We explain to them that under the law, even under de facto marital unions (uniones maritales de hecho), women have the right to split all property in half because they have the same rights as formal unions. But there are other types of unions, and we explain that there are successive unions and multiple unions. There are a lot of multiple unions in Tumaco, when the man has parallel relationships with several women.

How do you reach women with these campaigns?

This is done with open calls, focused on certain neighborhoods, and with female leaders that know the communities. We train them on how to get their property title and we connect them to the Municipal Land Office. And because a lot of neighborhoods were built over landfills or are under the jurisdiction of the General Maritime Directorate (DIMAR), the Municipal Land Office guides them on which parcels can or cannot be titled. Thanks to this support, a lot of women that have been waiting for 30 or 40 years to be owners now have the opportunity.

What benefits does a title bring to women? 

With the property titles they can access housing credits or can apply for bank loans to adapt and improve their home now that they are sure it is theirs. When it comes to their heritage, we tell them a lot about inheritance and that they can leave their home to their children. Finally, these women are being empowered and have a feeling of belonging. One of the women once told me that ‘having a home doesn’t make you rich, but not having one makes you very poor.’

How does land ownership favor men over women?

In my own family you have an example. My grandfather had a lot of land, and before he died, he left a clause in his will that stated that only his male children with the same last name, Castro, could inherit the land. So my dad inherited the land, but if he separated from my mum, she would not get any property. And that is what happened, they separated, and the family house was left to my dad only. My mum had to leave. That is why we are working to raise awareness among women and to promote land titling.

woman in kitchen
Gloria Criollo, 53, is a single mother of three who works for a government program supporting pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children under the age of two. She received a land title last year.

With what other topics is the Secretary of Women involved, to support women in Tumaco?

From the Secretary of Women we are working with women on entrepreneurship, to gradually eliminate economic dependence and in this way mitigate violence. We are strengthening women associations in tourism and gastronomy. Because there are a lot of women that have restaurants and can cook the delicious typical food of Tumaco, but they tell me that apart from cooking they do not have any other tools. We are also looking at creating a tourist trail in El Morro so that tourists and visitors can enjoy regional food.

What did the Secretary do for the Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25?

With support from the Women’s Committee (Mesa de la Mujer) and USAID, we coordinated several institutional actors to launch the Week for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. There were activities to commemorate victims of gender violence and remind everyone that we cannot normalize violence. We also organized a street theater installation on the main road to Tumaco, in an area called Tigre, where several women were taken to be killed. We also had a symbolic act where we planted trees to remove the stigma around the victims. Finally, we also held various neighborhood film screenings and painted a mural overlooking the beach at El Bajito, paying homage to a young woman that was raped and killed when she was eight months pregnant.

Photos of activities from the Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25

Cross posted from Land for Prosperity Exposure site

Using land rights to promote gender equality and fight gender-based violence

Secure land rights for women are a crucial part of a USAID gender responsive strategy to strengthen land tenure, and is making an impact on promoting gender equality and protecting one’s patrimony.

Tumaco, whose population is overwhelmingly Afro-Colombian, is one of Colombia’s most dangerous areas with high levels of gender-based violence (GBV). Due to a complex web of narco mafia groups in its territory and deep-seated, toxic gender norms, Tumaco is often the municipality with the highest number of crimes against sexual integrity, many of which target young women, according to Colombia’s Victims’ Registry.

Before the onset of the pandemic, GBV—including crimes of rape and sexual abuse—was on the rise in the department of Nariño, where Tumaco is located. And then in 2020 the number of cases dropped sharply, but so did the government services to assist victims.

In 2021, the number of GBV cases in Nariño again increased by 51% compared to 2020, reaching more than 2,000 cases in one year, according to Colombian human rights advocate, Fundapaz. Tumaco registered 260 cases, or 13% of the total.

The Secretary of Women’s Affairs was created in January 2021 to take gender-based violence head on, and represents a bold step put forward by Tumaco’s first woman mayor. Patricia Castro’s job as the Secretary leader is to move women’s initiatives into the forefront.

In reality, the Secretary is helping to do the work of the Mesa de la Mujer, or Women’s Committee, which is a Tumaco-based victim’s advocate group that has worked over 10 years to raise awareness around gender equality and promote Afro-Colombian culture.

Gender violence in the context of an ongoing conflict causes widespread damage to women in a number of ways. Fear and intimidation reduce access to government services, including education and healthcare, and chronic violence weakens family relationships, disconnecting people from their cultural traditions.

GBV is also used as a tool for displacement and disproportionately affects Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. In Colombia, an estimated 40% of women have experienced some form of gender-based violence. Since the 2016 Peace Accords, thousands of rural and urban families in Tumaco have been forced to leave their homes. Studies show that displaced women are at higher risks of abuse by their partners, and the risk for violence is compounded by the inability to escape situations of displacement.

Secure land rights for women are a crucial part of a gender responsive strategy to strengthen land tenure, and can have an outstanding impact on promoting gender equality and protecting one’s patrimony. When women have access to land and property, studies show they are more likely to earn higher incomes, enjoy increased decision-making power, and feel more protected in marital conflicts.

Land Rights are Women’s Rights

In Tumaco, the USAID Land for Prosperity Activity works closely with the municipal government to streamline gender equality and social inclusion in local land policies and activities. The USAID-supported Municipal Land Office developed an articulated gender and land titling strategy to target women-headed households in urban settings. Every month, small teams of land experts visit neighborhoods around Tumaco to explain the benefits of land titling and the rights of the women who live there.

“Thanks to USAID, housing is one of the main pillars of the Secretary of Women’s Affairs’ mandate.” –  Patricia Castro, Tumaco’s Women’s Affairs Secretary

Since 2020, the Tumaco Municipal Land Office has delivered 137 land titles. Of the total, approximately 75%, or 101 land titles, are either women-headed households or joint-titled with a spouse.

“We are motivating our women to participate in land formalization workshops that are visiting their neighborhoods. Many women have the same questions about what happens if they separate from their husbands. The best way to share this information is through the workshops,” explains Patricia Castro, the Women’s Affairs Secretary.

Over the last two years, dozens of municipalities throughout Colombia have adopted effective strategies, such as Municipal Land Offices, that advance gender equality and social inclusion. In matters related to land formalization and restitution, USAID and local leaders are implementing training for staff, sub-contractors, and residents.

USAID-supported municipal land offices across Colombia have delivered approximately 800 land titles since 2020, and over 600 of those land titles are in the name of women-headed households or joint titles.

Adapted from the Land for Prosperity Exposure site.

Groundbreakers: Women overcome bias and lead sustainable use of land and resources

USAID supports women leaders towards gender equality and women’s empowerment in land tenure, resource governance, and agroforestry value chains

By: Sarah Lowery, USAID LRG/DDI and Corinne Hart, USAID GenDev/DDI

In many countries men control who gets to use, own, and make decisions about land.

“We used to stay in a corner, quiet. If someone came to take our land or exploit our forests, we did not have the courage to try to stop them.” These words from a woman in Mecoburi, Mozambique reflect how women across the world often feel powerless to defend their rights to land and natural resources. For rural communities, land means everything, from the ability to produce crops for food and income to leveraging financial assets.

Although women play critical roles in agriculture and food production, they are less likely to access agricultural inputs and other productive resources and have fewer opportunities to engage in commercial agroforestry value chains. Even when laws and policy provide for gender equality, women face many other barriers to secure land rights, including weak implementation, gender norms that prevent women from owning property, unequal inheritance practices, limited knowledge about their land rights, time constraints to participate in land registration and governance activities, and increased vulnerability to gender-based violence.

Empowering women in land and natural resources

Since 2018, the USAID Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program has been implementing innovative and ambitious partnerships with communities, governments, traditional leaders, civil society organizations, and the private sector to promote gender equality and women’s economic empowerment by improving land tenure, resource governance, and making agroforestry value chains more inclusive across six countries. The program has impacted the lives of over 143,000 women who have benefited from documented land rights, participation in land and natural resource governance, and access to related benefits such as credit, agricultural extension, and livelihoods opportunities. Across Ghana, India, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, USAID supports the adoption of laws and policies that strengthen women’s land rights; ensures women’s participation in systematic land documentation processes; increases women’s participation in value chains; promotes changes in discriminatory gender norms; and minimizes risk of gender-based violence. In each of these countries, women have overcome harmful gender biases, stereotypes, and discrimination and are leading their communities toward more inclusive, environmentally sustainable land and natural resource management that brings economic benefits to all.

Meet the Groundbreakers

people standing in a row
Patricia Geh (third from right) with the other elected members of the Zor Yolowee community land development and management committee. As vice-president of the committee, she is leading decision-making on how land and other resources are managed in her community. Photo credit: Green Advocates International.

In Liberia, community land development and management committees are responsible for making decisions about the administration and use of customary land. In five communities surrounding the Blei Community Forest, USAID is raising awareness about customary land tenure rights. The project uses gender-balanced facilitation teams to teach the importance of women’s participation in the committees and provides women with technical knowledge on land governance. In the pilot communities, today women account for 43 percent of committee members, and many have been nominated to serve in leadership positions. Patricia Geh was elected vice-president of the Zor Yolowee Committee in a region with important forest resources, which are managed by the community. Because of this work, she explained, women now understand their rights and are actively participating in meetings, making decisions alongside men and elders. Patricia feels confident that she can help lead the community to use the resources in a sustainable way, saying, “We will ‘use some and keep some,’ so the future generations can enjoy them too.”

Deribe Kanjauke was elected a member of her village’s customary land committee in Malawi and will lead land governance in the community during the systematic land documentation process supported by USAID. Photo credit: Vincent Moses/ILRG.

Similarly, customary land committees are responsible for documenting and administering land in Malawi. Despite laws that ensure women’s representation in the committees, many women have little to no information about their land rights, including their right to run for leadership positions. USAID is working with the Ministry of Lands in Malawi to document customary land in the Traditional Area of Mwansambo in Nkhotakota district and raise awareness about the importance of women’s participation in the documentation process, which aims to benefit at least 10,000 people by 2023. Deribe Kanjauke says that because of USAID’s gender equality efforts in her community, she is eager to actively participate and lead land governance initiatives in her community. Although at first people doubted that women could fulfill this important role, she was determined to overcome this barrier and represent women’s voices. Now elected to her village committee, Deribe said, “I want to see that the land documentation process goes according to the law, the way it is supposed to be. I want to make sure that women are not discriminated against or get their land grabbed and that when parents die, neither boys nor girls lose their land.”

After attending USAID-funded training on women’s leadership and empowerment, Community Liaison Assistant Nancy Mutemba increased her community outreach to increase women’s participation in natural resource management in Zambia. Photo: Muswema Chanda.

In Zambia, USAID is working with 16 governmental and non-governmental organizations to increase awareness about women’s role in the sustainable and transparent management of natural resources that are critical to the livelihoods of rural communities. Nancy Mutemba, 26, works as a Community Liaison Assistant with USAID partner Frankfurt Zoological Society. She received USAID-funded training on women’s leadership and empowerment in natural resource governance, and explained that the training opened her eyes about her own abilities and the prevalence of deep-rooted gender norms that prevent most women in her community from controlling critical resources. “I understood that poverty was so real because our important resources and sources of income were being mismanaged and women had no say nor benefit. I decided to start including messages on women’s participation in decision-making at household and community levels during my community facilitation work.” Working with community facilitators like Nancy, USAID has helped increase women’s participation in wildlife law enforcement and in community governance. In Mukungule Chiefdom, where Nancy works, women’s representation in community resource boards increased from 25 percent in 2016 to 62 percent in 2020.

Sujata Pramanick is a smallholder farmer and community agronomist in West Bengal, India, where she is leading other women and farming families in the PepsiCo potato supply chain to adopt sustainable farming practices that increase their productivity while conserving soil health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Photo credit: Subarna Maitra/ILRG

Secure land tenure is pivotal for rural women’s economic empowerment, leading to greater influence in household decision-making and the ability to enter and benefit from commercial value chains. In India, USAID is partnering with PepsiCo to increase women’s participation in PepsiCo’s supply chains. Since 2019, over 1,000 women have benefitted from training to learn the technical skills needed to enter the PepsiCo potato supply chain. In addition, these women farmers are guiding their farming families and communities to adopt sustainable farming practices that both increase productivity and meet climate change mitigation and adaptation goals. Sujata Pramanick is a 34-year-old potato farmer and women’s group leader from Barasat in West Bengal. Although she manages all activities on the family’s small farm that supplies potatoes to PepsiCo, only her husband’s name is listed on their land title and therefore his is the only name included on PepsiCo’s suppliers’ list. Over the past two years, however, Sujata attended several trainings on women’s empowerment and agricultural practices and was selected as a part-time Community Agronomist, responsible for disseminating information and supporting other farmers in her village. Receiving targeted technical knowledge for the first time enabled her to increase production on her family farm and encourage others to wear protective equipment and manage waste responsibly, so farmers and the environment are healthier. She feels valued not only in the community, but also in her household: she now actively participates in decision-making about household investments and expenditures, and this year Sujata’s husband asked PepsiCo to list her name as the PepsiCo supplier.

Odete Pereira with the women from the producers’ club she leads in Zambezia, Mozambique. With USAID support, over 1,300 smallholder farmers received long term use rights of land belonging to Grupo Madal and are now able to produce crops for subsistence and for sale to Madal and other companies. Photo credit: Thais Bessa/ILRG.

USAID is working with private sector partner Grupo Madal in Mozambique to solve potential land conflicts with communities in ways that benefit both smallholder farmers and the company. Due to scarce arable land and a growing population, farmers have encroached upon Madal’s lands for subsistence farming, creating conflict not only with Madal, but between farming families. Rather than evicting them, Madal worked with USAID to create a program that allows 1,300 farmers – 85 percent of whom are women – to secure long term use rights to the land. With these rights, the farmers can grow crops to feed their families and for profit in partnership with Madal. Odete Pereira, a 54-year-old mother of six, is one of the farmers working with Madal under this new program. She was recently elected president of her local producers’ club, a group of 20 women who work together to organize their production and engagement with the company and other potential buyers. The delimitation of land for smallholders under the USAID-Madal partnership decreased conflict between communities and the company and within communities. Farmers feel safer and more confident to use the land and engage in commercial value chains that can significantly improve their income-earning potential. USAID also supported trainings for the newly formed producers’ clubs, including a 12-week women’s empowerment and leadership training. Odete said the trainings changed how women see themselves and taught them to understand and recognize gender norms within their households. “I never knew women were allowed to participate in decisions with men. I saw a difference in my relationship with my husband. He realized I deserve respect. He used to go out and leave me with all the housework. Now he is back home when I need to attend training or meetings. Before, if we earned 100 meticais [USD 1.50] he said it was all his, even though I was the one who worked the land. Now we plan things together, and we know we need to save 20 meticais to make repairs in our house and spend 80 to buy food and school uniforms for the children,” she said.

Women like Patricia, Delibe, Nancy, Sujata, and Odete are paving the way toward equal land and natural resource rights, leading to social, economic, and environmental benefits for their families, communities, and other stakeholders. With greater participation by women in land and natural resource governance, women and their families are able to access a wider variety of income opportunities and overcome traditional barriers that prevent women from having equal rights to land. In addition, expanding leadership opportunities for women in land and natural resource governance gives women greater recognition and stature in their households and communities, which can lead to more responsible and equitable household expenditures, greater food security, more sustainable management of natural resources, and increased adoption of farming practices that mitigate climate change risks.

USAID is working to build the capacity of women leaders in developing countries by strengthening women’s land and resource rights, helping women run for elected bodies, and training them to meaningfully contribute to community governance. Increasing rural women’s access to land and natural resources is a core element in advancing gender equality, as land is the main asset of the rural poor. This International Women’s Day, USAID invites other organizations working towards gender equality to join them in advocating for women’s land and resource rights in developing countries, to help equip and empower the women leaders in other communities to be agents of change.

Q&A: Working with PepsiCo to Build the Business Case for Private Sector Investment in Women’s Empowerment

Cross-posted from AgriLinks

Since 2019, PepsiCo and USAID have been working together to empower female farmers in West Bengal where they have PepsiCo local staff and agronomists providing trainings to women in the potato supply chain, equipping them to take on the role of community agronomists, and supporting women’s self-help groups access land leases to grow PepsiCo potatoes. As a result, women in the PepsiCo potato supply chain are producing higher quality and quantity of potatoes, expressing feelings of increased empowerment and finding support from their families and communities. Given their success in West Bengal, USAID and PepsiCo have expanded their work in India and to three more countries — Pakistan, Vietnam and Colombia — through a new Global Development Alliance funded through USAID’s women’s economic empowerment funding.

Sarah Lowery, economist and public-private finance specialist in USAID’s Land and Resource Governance Division, and Corinne Hart, senior gender advisor for energy, environment and climate at USAID’s Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Hub, share how PepsiCo is helping USAID make the business case for women’s empowerment.

Why did USAID partner with PepsiCo?

Sarah: The partnership began as a conversation between PepsiCo and USAID about the impediments of insecure land rights to achieving PepsiCo’s sustainability goals, and it developed into a collaboration to strengthen land rights and empower women in PepsiCo’s supply chains. We began working through our existing Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) activity in West Bengal to understand the myriad roles women already play in potato production, provide them with support, training and access to land, and shift harmful gender norms that limit their opportunities.

Corinne: Following the successes with ILRG, USAID hosted a cocreation workshop with PepsiCo, where we discussed strategies to make the case that women’s empowerment and gender equality in their agriculture supply chains can be a core part of their business; critical to advancing their sustainable agriculture goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). This partnership also has the overall goal of making the business case for women’s empowerment in the food and beverage industry as a whole. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) is a key partner providing a robust, evidence-based, gender-sensitive approach to the activity. We’re looking at shifting power dynamics, harmful gender norms, supporting women in gaining access to productive assets like land and also increasing their personal empowerment. Our strategic approach includes involving men to increase their understanding and enthusiasm about the benefits that accrue to the family when women in their households have a more recognized relationship with PepsiCo.

What are some of the results for women that you’ve seen?

Corinne: The data shows that women who are participating in this activity report that they feel seen and respected as farmers for the first time. We are tracking data on women participants’ perceptions of their own self-worth and how others in the community see them. These qualitative metrics are critical to understanding women’s empowerment, alongside quantitative indicators such as income earned and access to training and skills building. Measuring changes in perceptions of self-worth and personal empowerment are incredibly important components of women’s economic empowerment.

Sarah: Women are seeing their husbands become more supportive of them and their role as farmers. For example, we are working to create new roles for women as community agronomists. Initially, maybe their husbands or families did not believe they could or should do the job, but they have transformed these perceptions either by the influence of gender equality champions in the community, or seeing their wives be successful in these roles. We hear stories where women say “my husband didn’t think I could do it, and now he is taking my agronomic advice.” Women have persevered and continued to advocate for themselves and have become sources of information both for women in the community and for men as well. We’ve seen some of the biggest skeptics of our work become the most adamant champions.

Have there been any surprising results of this partnership?

Sarah: During this partnership, PepsiCo announced its 2030 Goal to Scale Regenerative Farming Practices Across 7 Million Acres, by “improving the livelihoods of more than 250,000 people in its agricultural supply chain and communities, including economically empowering women.” Our USAID-PepsiCo partnership has played a pivotal role in demonstrating that empowering women is possible and is good for business. And to measure progress against its livelihoods and other goals, PepsiCo is developing its Livelihoods Measurement Framework. Critically, the framework includes measurement of gender equality. This is really important because if you’re not being asked to measure your progress on something, you may not think about it.

Corinne: PepsiCo is building its capacity at all levels to understand and see their business activities through a gender lens. This activity and its initial successes are attracting interest from other companies, as well as other local PepsiCo teams. Other industry actors are now reaching out to see how we can partner and share our approaches. PepsiCo has already been showcasing what they are doing and working to get other companies in the sustainable agriculture industry to think about how women’s empowerment and gender equality is linked to their ability to achieve their sustainable agriculture goals.

Sarah: Another unexpected impact we have found is that some communities are associating the gender equality interventions — like assisting women’s groups access land to lease, providing agronomic trainings for women, installing a local community agronomist in the area, providing gender norms workshops, etc.  — with PepsiCo in such a positive way that they have said, “We want to be a PepsiCo village.” Due to this initial success, PepsiCo is now seeing women’s empowerment as a part of a broader farmer loyalty strategy.

What are some of the lessons learned in working with the private sector?

Corinne: One of the big lessons has been that stakeholders across the company are motivated by different things and come with varying levels of interest. The local PepsiCo teams sometimes have additional, locally-specific priorities and pressures than the PepsiCo global sustainable agriculture team, and local company leaders have a huge amount of pressure and demand on resources and meeting their business targets. We have learned to tailor our messaging to different stakeholders across the company so that we can demonstrate the value-add of these activities to them, as well as making sure we are really clear about what would be expected of them.

Sarah: Particularly for the local business leaders who are focused on achieving their business targets, addressing gender inequality seems like an extra responsibility, at least at first. One of the interesting things is that as local teams are starting to see the value of women’s empowerment, we’re finding that they have begun taking on their own women’s empowerment initiatives. For example, at least one aggregator has begun working with a group of women to help them get access to land.

What are some important inclusive approaches that you’ve woven into the partnership?

Corinne: One important lesson we have learned has been to not be afraid to advocate for a gender-transformative approach. We want women to have access to land and to be farmers in the supply chain; we want men to recognize women as farmers and for women to identify as farmers. PepsiCo has been very receptive to testing a transformative approach. Additionally, preventing and responding to gender-based violence [GBV] is a central tenet of this activity. Some of the GBV interventions in West Bengal have included partnering with local organizations that provide survivor-centric support. [The United Nations defines a survivor-centered approach as one which seeks to empower the survivor by prioritizing their rights, needs and wishes.] We trained the local PepsiCo teams on what to do when they encounter GBV and gave them concrete steps to take.

Sarah: PepsiCo was very responsive to the inclusion of GBV prevention and response initiatives. As this was the first time focusing on gender equality and women’s empowerment as a business performance driver, some of our partners at PepsiCo were surprised that we’d have to be careful of any potential backlash against women from a program that is focused on women’s empowerment. As we’ve developed the partnership, however, PepsiCo has been very attentive and at times has worried we weren’t doing enough on GBV. Seeing PepsiCo global and local staff take on the responsibility to think about and program for GBV has been inspiring.

What makes a partnership with a private sector actor successful?

Sarah: Keeping clear lines of communication open to be able to discuss any issues transparently and collaboratively, particularly around any tension points that arise, has been really important. That has also been very effective for learning.