This year’s theme for the International Day,"Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world", celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also aligned with the priority theme of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, "Women in public life, equal participation in decision making."
International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.
Secure land rights for women contributes to the realization of fundamental human rights, improves food and nutrition security, and reduces poverty in rural areas. Women’s equal access to land is vital in guaranteeing the human right to adequate food, shelter, non-discrimination and equality, as well as other fundamental human rights. Moreover, women’s right to land is central to their economic empowerment, as the basis for food production and income generation, as collateral for credit, and as a means of holding savings for the future. Women’s control over land extends their capabilities, expands their negotiating power, and enhances their ability to address vulnerability.
Organizations around the world are using International Women's Day 2021 to showcase efforts to fight for women's land rights and to underscore the great deal of work yet to be done.
Thursday, 11 March 2021 from 13:00–14:00 (CAT)
On the International Women’s Day – and every day – we must call out gender bias wherever we see it. The trouble is, when it comes to land and property rights, much is hidden behind closed doors. But now, a new survey is giving voice to women around the world, letting them share their perceptions of their property rights.
Across the world, women are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. One of the most dramatic effects is the rise in gender-based violence. Traditional and patriarchal systems for addressing abuse, often housed in police and court services, have failed to adequately respond to women’s needs.
Across East and West Africa, IIED and partners have been developing and testing approaches to strengthen women’s voices in local land governance. Philippine Sutz reflects on the role and impact of local governance frameworks as these approaches are implemented in different contexts.
Since 2016, IIED has been working with local partners across East and West Africa to strengthen rural women’s voices in local land governance.
The assumption underpinning this work is that when local women actively participate in land governance, related structures are more likely to recognise and defend women’s interests. This leads to fairer land relations and women having greater control over their livelihood options.
In each country where the project has been implemented – Tanzania, Ghana and Senegal – local partners have developed, strengthened or scaled up approaches to support local women to enter the political space and participate meaningfully in local decision-making processes on land allocation and use.
While tailored to address local contexts and needs, the approaches developed in each country share similarities: None of them ‘reinvent the wheel’ but build on existing governance arrangements; they are bottom-up and participatory, involving community dialogue and capacity building exercises; and they all seek to ensure that decision-making bodies on land include a minimum number of active women members and promote local dialogue.
But the approach design was different to recognise the opportunities and gaps associated with each country’s land governance framework.
Tanzania and Ghana: local level governance fosters local ownership
In Tanzania, the law establishes local authorities with power to administer land at the lowest administrative level: the village. The village council and village assembly play a key role in local land governance – they have the power to allocate land and make decisions on land use.
In Ghana, land is governed customarily by traditional authorities, and land governance rules vary from one area to another. In the area where our project was implemented – the Nanton Traditional Area – community chiefs are given power to administer land.
In both countries, the local governance systems enabled our partners to embed their approaches directly at the community level and ensure local ownership.
In Tanzania, the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA) worked directly with village authorities to support the adoption of gender-sensitive village by-laws promoting the participation of women in village level decision-making processes. The process received good support from local communities.
In Ghana, NETRIGHT and the Grassroot Sisterhood Foundation (GSF) worked with local community chiefs – the lowest traditional administrative unit – to establish Community Land Development Committees (CLDCs). These committees are designed to support chiefs in making decisions on land and ensure that such committees had women members.
Senegal: challenges at municipal level
In Senegal, meanwhile, public land is managed by the local governments of municipalities – and community land is allocated at the local level through the municipality. A ‘municipality’ includes between around 30 and 60 villages; this is a higher ‘administrative level’ compared with land governance in Tanzania or Ghana.
The authorities administering land are the municipal council through the land commission – a local body supporting the council’s decision-making process.
Our partner IED Afrique worked in Darou Khoudoss to support the inclusion of women in the land commission and the adoption of a local land charter promoting women’s participation in land governance.
Working at the municipal level – rather than directly in villages – has proved more challenging in terms of local ownership. IED Afrique developed additional activities to ensure buy-in at village level. In particular, they collaborated with local women’ groups to make sure that the project was reaching women in villages.
In Tanzania and Senegal, land being governed by national laws makes it easier to replicate and scale up approaches. In Tanzania, TAWLA was able to reach all 64 villages in the Kisarawe District. Replicating the approach across different regions in Ghana would have meant adapting it to each regional context, which would have been cumbersome and resource intensive.
Takeaways for policymakers
Comparing land governance frameworks (PDF) in the three countries shows how their nature – and in particular the existence (or lack) of heavily decentralised power on land – determines, to a degree, the administrative level where the intervention takes place. This impacts how easily participatory and inclusive bottom-up approaches can be implemented.
Local authorities having power over land at the village or community level – as in Tanzania and Ghana – is a real advantage, as it allows approaches to be embedded in the very communities they’re trying to support. When land is governed at a higher administrative level – as in Senegal – additional efforts and resources are often needed to ensure local ownership of the approach.
In wider terms, my sense is that the more decentralised a land governance framework, the better for democratic, participatory processes to take place and ultimately, for how local women’s voices can be reflected in decisions made on land administration. This should be kept in mind by governments undertaking land governance reforms.
This blog was originally posted on the IIED website and is the fourth blog in a series looking at ways to strengthen women’s access to and control over land in Africa.
Documented as part of the World Bank study Land Policy Reform for Agricultural Transformation in India by NRMC Centre for Land Governance, this series of case studies analyzes recent interventions by government and non-government organizations to secure land tenure rights for poor farmers—especially the landless, tenants and women, resulting in increased access to agricultural land, ma
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.
In Jharkhand, eastern India, women are not entitled to own land and accusations of witchcraft are wielded against them to silence their claims to land
When Talabitti’s husband died in 2016, her claim to the family land seemed to die with him. Though her husband had worked the family land by himself, upon his death his male cousins laid their claim. If Talabitti attempted to make a competing claim, they threatened to drive her away – with violence, if necessary. Sadly, this threat materialized.
National datasets differ on women's land rights because they use different criteria in their calculations.
Bhubaneswar: There are wide variations in national datasets on women's land ownership in India depending on which agency made the estimate, frustrating efforts to design and implement gender-balanced policies, our analysis shows.
Closing the gender gap worldwide could reduce hunger for 100 million people and yet Zambian women have unequal rights to land, a fundamental building block of food security and poverty reduction. Women face multiple challenges that limit their ability to realise secure land rights, including social, cultural, economic, and political factors. Inequality and uncertainty in accessing, controlling, and owning property for women deprives them of the opportunity to participate in national economic development, and negatively impacts our country as a whole.
Proportion of countries where the legal framework (including customary law) guarantees women’s equal rights to land ownership and/or control
Last updated on 1 February 2022
This indicator is currently classified as Tier II. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is the main Custodian agency. UN Women and the World Bank are partner agencies.