SEATTLE, Washington — Land rights are a legal framework for who can have access to property, how long they have access to it, etc. In many state constitutions, such as the United States, property is defined as a human right; all people have, or should have, access to property. This framework is much harder to follow in practice because of societal, economic, and political institutions at work, which is why land rights for women must ensured around the world.
Why are Women More Affected by Lack of Land Rights?
In countries where there may be discrepancies in gender equality, women typically have weaker land rights relative to men. This means that many women do not have the ability to own property on their own; it is their husband or a family member that owns the land rather than the women.
Without legal rights, it is much easier for individuals or organizations to seize land owned primarily by women. It is also common for women and their children to become landless if their husband leaves or dies. Access to property is an important stepping stone to getting out of poverty. Primarily, women need land rights because it they are a human right. They should have the right to access land and live freely and securely.
Why Land Rights for Women are so Important
Land rights for women are important because of the issue of land grabbing. Land grabbing is defined by the European Coordination Via Campesina as the control of large-scale amounts of land by individuals or corporations, illegally or legally, to utilize the resources. In most places where land grabbing is a frequent occurrence, women are the primary farmers and caretakers of the home. Losing land is of major importance for women because it takes away land they need for subsistence farming and can hurt their access to food.
Many land grabbing cases also involve the introduction of cash crops. Cash crops are crops grown to sell rather than to be consumed by the farmer. Growing cash crops may not only lead to extra labor for women but also the destruction of land used for subsistence farming, which can lead to a lack of resources. Furthermore, because women do not have the same legal and title rights over land, typically any monetary benefits to land seizure do not go into the pockets of women but men.
Land rights for Women is essential since access to land rights strengthens families and communities and foster a rich sense of membership in society for women. Property may also empower women to use their voices more and to feel as though their vote has a say and that their desires can be seen.
How Women Fight Back: Odisha, India
In the early 2000s, the government of Odisha in India introduced a new law called Vasundhara. This law aimed to give small plots of land to landless families, but it fell short in how it identified women. Landless women were assumed to be taken care of by their family, but for many women who are abandoned by their husbands or widowed, a family was not always available or did not step in. A great program with a difficult problem.
The solution was found through The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and their support a global nonprofit called Landesa. This nonprofit’s goal was to find the landless single women who needed Vasundhara more than anyone and ensure their access to it. This sustainable method was carried out by local health workers who identified landless women in their community without any familial support and, in turn, gave this list to the government. Landesa has helped over 5,000 women access this entitlement, with many more being recognized.
How Women Fight Back: Kenitra, Morocco
Rkia Bellot is a Moroccan woman who is determined to win land rights for women in Kenitra. As a member of the Soulaliyate tribe, Bellot understood the tradition that land was only to be passed down from father to son. As a daughter, Bellot has experienced first hand how easily women could be kicked off of land and rendered landless, due to the selling of the land to outside developers. Her fight truly began when she discovered the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM).
The ADFM helped Bellot found the Soulaliyate Women’s Movement, a public group that gained a lot of momentum in her community and led to protests, and ultimately, wins for women. Bellot helped earn women the right to receive an equal percentage of a sale of collective lands, and married women were able to receive part of the land for farming. Furthermore, women were also allowed to speak and act as representatives in community meetings. Bellot believes that her work is not done, but she has done work that no one else has in shifting gender perspectives and closing the gender gap in Morocco.
These two examples do not cover all the ways women are fighting back, nor do they highlight all the ways in which women are still be excluded from land rights. These two movements do show, however, that progress can and should be made for the rights of women everywhere. Ensuring land rights for women around the world is one way to alleviate poverty and also close the gender gap.