In 2016, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Land Tenure Project (LTP) in Burma undertook an assessment of the gender dimensions of land use and tenure in Let Maung Kway Village Tract, Nyaung Shwe Township, the second of the project’s three pilot sites. This assessment serves as a companion document to an overall land use and tenure assessment completed at the same site earlier in 2016 and is intended to inform continued programming.
The key points emerging from the Gender Assessment of Let Maung Kway Village Tract are as follows:
- All land in Let Maung Kway Village Tract is communally held and rights to land are customary. While it seems that the village residents have some formal rights to village settlement land and community forests, they have no formally recognized rights to the lands they use for taungya cultivation, grazing, and foraging outside of their formal community forests. If the communities continue to hold and use these lands without formal recognition, they risk losing this land as others may seek this land for other purposes.
- Each type of land has different rules of access and use. Rights to use settlement land and taungya land are primarily obtained through inheritance and marriage. Access to forests and grazing lands are based on residency within the village.
- A few households own individualized holdings of paddy land outside the village tract, near Inle Lake. These families bought these lands a few decades ago.
- Men and women seem to have equal rights to taungya land as well as paddy land outside the village, but in practice this seems to not always be the case. There are questions of matrilocal/patrilocal practices which determine access and exclusion. Settlement lands are usually inherited by the youngest child or the child that stays within the household to look after their parents.
- There is a gendered division of labor, with women and men using and accessing land in different ways. Women do agricultural tasks such as planting, weeding, and harvesting; collect firewood; forage in the forests for mushrooms and vegetables; and, do household work, such as cooking, cleaning, tending the vegetable garden, and caring for the children. Men do work such as land development and ploughing, and cutting and transporting wood and bamboo. Men, women, and children graze and care for large animals such as buffaloes, cows, and bullocks. Men earn more than women for agricultural wage work.
- Men, as heads of households, are the primary decision-makers for major decisions pertaining to all types of land and sale of produce. Women’s participation within decision-making varies at the household level. While respondents said that men and women usually make decisions together, they also said that many decisions, particularly around land and agriculture, are ultimately made by the man. Control over money in the household varied, but was more commonly held by men.
- Landlessness is generally low in the village tract. Villagers consider landless families to be those who have no access to taungya or paddy land. Landless households were reported to have been settlers in the area, and thus hold no customary rights to taungya land, or to have sold their rights to taungya land (although this is technically impermissible).
- Landless households can lease or borrow taungya land if they have the labor and resources to use it. Rates are lower for village inhabitants. In Kyaung Nar village, ten outsiders have leased land within the village.
- Landless women heads of households are less able to access land because they are considered unfit to cultivate land on their own and would need to rely on male relatives or hired labor to do the more physically difficult work on their plots, such as clearing or ploughing.
- Residents of this village tract rely heavily on their village leaders to liaise with government departments and to solve disputes within the community. All of the village leaders within this village tract are men.
- Women usually do not conduct land-related business, and are rarely involved in interactions with village heads, village tract administrators, and government officials.
- Women do not participate in public meetings, nor are they represented in official local or government positions. They would like to be more involved in consultations and see more women holding official positions.
- Practices around inheritance and division of land in case of separation, divorce, or abandonment are unclear and seem to be handled according to customary family practices within the community, but are taken on a case-by-case basis.
- Poor communication, access to markets, and water shortages are some of the most commonly reported problems reported by both men and women within the village tract. Water shortages have implications for an increased burden of work for women.
- Poor infrastructure (bad roads) may also negatively affect women in that it further curtails their mobility and opportunities for participation in community decisions and representation outside the village.