Inflammation and stories on land

Native American reservationsLow qualities of life exist in developing countries as well as developed countries, including the United States. Within the 326 Native American reservations in the U.S., Indigenous peoples experience unequal life conditions. Those on reservations face discrimination, violence, poverty and inadequate education.

Here are 5 facts about the Native American population and reservations.

1. Native Americans are the poorest ethnic group in the United States.

According to a study done by Northwestern University, one-third of Native Americans live in poverty. The population has a median income of $23,000 per year, and 20% of households make under $5,000 a year.

Due to the oppression of Indigenous peoples, reservations cannot provide adequate economic opportunity. As a result, a majority of adults are unemployed. Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota has better numbers than most reservations — 43.2% of the population is under the poverty line. However, this rate still is nearly three times the national average

2. Native Americans have the highest risk for health complications.

Across the board, Native American health is disproportionately worse than other racial groups in the United States. This population is 177%  more likely to die of diabetes, 500% more likely to die from tuberculosis and have a 60% higher infant mortality rate when compared to Caucasians.

Most Native American reservations rely on the Indian Health Service. It is a severely underfunded federal program that can only provide for approximately 60% of the needs of the insured. That does not account for a majority of those on the reservations. Only about 36% of Native Americans have private health care, and one-third of the non-elderly remain uninsured.

3. Native Americans, especially women, are frequently victims of violence.

A study from the National Institute of Justice concluded nearly 84% of American Indian and Native Alaskan women have experienced violence in their lifetimes. These women more likely to be victim to interracial perpetrators and are significantly more likely to suffer at the hands of intimate partners. The numbers are similarly high for men of this population. Over 80% of men admit to experiencing violence in their lifetimes. Most victims report feeling the need to reach out to legal services, but many severely lack the tools to get the help they need.

A few law practicing organizations have dedicated their existence to ensure Native American voices are heard in the legal world. Native American Rights Fund (NARF), for example, is a non-profit organization that uses legal action to ensure the rights of Native Americans are being upheld. Since their inception in 1970, NARF has helped tens of thousands of Native Americans from over 250 tribes all over the country.

4. Native students hold the highest national dropout rate.

Conditions on reservations leave schools severely underfunded, and many children are unable to attend. This delay in education leaves early childhood skills undeveloped. According to Native Hope, “Simple skills that many five-year-olds possess like holding a crayon, looking at a book and counting to 10 have not been developed.” Inadequate education is highly reflective of Native American graduation rates. Native students have a 30% dropout rate before graduating high school, which is twice the rate of the national average. This number is worse in universities — 75% to 93% of Native American students drop out before completing their degrees.

Such disparity between Native American students and their colleagues has inspired the increase in scholarships for this community. Colorado University of Boulder, for example, offers a multitude of scholarships and campus tours specifically for those of Indigenous descent. Further, they founded the CU Upward Bound Program which is dedicated to inspiring and encouraging the success of their Native American students. Third party scholarships also come from a multitude of organizations such as the Native American College Fund and the Point Foundation.

5. Quality of Life on Reservations is Extremely Poor.

Federal programs dedicated to housing on Native Americans reservations are severely inadequate. Waiting lists for spaces are years long, and such a wait doesn’t guarantee adequate housing. Often, three generations of a single family live in one cramped dwelling space. The packed households frequently take in tribe members in need as well.  Additionally, most residences lack adequate plumbing, cooking facilities, and air conditioning. The state of these Native American reservations is receiving increased attention.

Some reservations are taking matters into their own hands. Native Hope is a volunteer-based organization working to address the injustices brought upon the Native American community. Their commitment to the tribes has not stopped during the pandemic. One woman from Illinois handmade over 2,500 face masks so Indigenous children could still go to school in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. The organization also provided 33 households with necessary groceries and personal hygiene supplies.

How to Help

The marginalization of the Native American population has recently gained traction through the internet and social media. New and established charities alike are getting more attention, which allows them to have increased beneficial impacts on the Native American population.

Native American tribes have been around for hundreds of years and only recently have been getting the help and attention they require. With continued attention and advocacy, Native Americans can one day receive the justice and equality they deserve.

Amanda J Godfrey
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Nepal
To women in Nepal, the thought of gender equality and the solidification of women’s rights is difficult to imagine. In Nepal, people discriminate against women socially, legally, culturally and physically. In an interview with thinkEQUAL, a project by the World Bank, a woman in Nepal said that “Women have fewer rights. If there was equality, life would be easier for us.” Here is some information about women’s rights in Nepal.

Poverty and Land Ownership for Women in Nepal

Nepal, home of Mount Everest, is a small country landlocked between China and India. In Nepal, gender inequality exists in marriages, property, menstruation and occupations. It also dramatically contributes to the number of impoverished women living in the country. The number of impoverished people in Nepal has steadily decreased from 25.2% in 2011 to 21.6% in 2018. However, women and men are nowhere near equal in terms of poverty.

The Nepalese constitution provides some protection for female citizens. However, the country has not fully enforced this protection. For instance, in Nepal, only 19.7% of women own land, and of that percentage, only 11% have control over their land. Thus, many Nepalese women’s lives fall into the hands of their husbands or fathers. The concept of owning land is essential to provide and promote women’s rights in Nepal. This is because it encourages men to see women as equals rather than a sexual or monetary object.

Marriage and Labor for Women in Nepal

Oftentimes, because women have little autonomy, their families arrange marriages for them. In Nepal, child marriage is extremely common, with 37% of girls merrying before 18 years of age. The pervasiveness of child marriage further diminishes women’s rights in Nepal. Child marriage reinforces traditionally domestic practices like staying home and taking care of young children. This is because these adolescents are often quick to become pregnant.

Since these young women are busy at home with their children, this leads to great disparities in the workplace. This further contributes to women’s poverty and, at times, a lack of respect and dignity from their male counterparts. In Nepal, the female labor force is less than half of the male labor force. Only 26.3% of women are in the workforce. Additionally, the national gross domestic product leaves out a woman’s unpaid domestic work. This further devalues the work that women perform, and further entrenching the patriarchal ideal Nepal runs on.

Menstruation in Nepal

Perhaps the most common instance of gender inequality in Nepal is the surplus of period poverty. Chhaupadi, a menstrual taboo custom in Nepal and other Asian countries, still exists despite its criminalization in 2017 by the Nepalese government. Chhapaudi occurs during menstruation and has existed for hundreds of years, despite many attempts for the practice to dissolve. The word Chhaupadi comes from a Nepali word that translates to some type of impurity. The practice of Chhaupadi forbids women and girls from staying in their homes. It also forbids them from participating in family or daily activities because they are menstruating.

While they are menstruating, people consider these women toxic. Therefore, they must stay in small huts, sometimes smaller than a closet, far from family members and friends. Rocks and mud typically make up the walls of these huts. The women essentially cannot leave until menstruation is over. Yet, due to the construction of these huts and environmental circumstances, at least one female dies every year from Chhaupadi. Oftentimes, it is due to the cold temperatures, animal attacks or smoke inhalation. During menstruation, women cannot return to their homes. This is because the tradition has made them and their families fear that bad fortune will come to them. Despite the efforts for ending Chhaupadi, the tradition is deeply ingrained in the minds of Nepalese people. As many as 89% of menstruating girls face discrimination.

Organizations Helping Nepalese Women

Despite the traditions and societal structure that dampen women’s rights in Nepal, nonprofit organizations based in the U.S. and abroad are hard at work to save, support and uplift Nepalese women. Organizations like the Women’s Foundation Nepal and Womankind Worldwide are making strides for women in Nepal. As a result of the work Womankind Worldwide has done with other Nepalese-based organizations, the Nepali Congress Party has shifted its focus to female leadership, reserving two seats for Dalit (oppressed) women. Additionally, Womankind Worldwide partnered with the Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO). As a result, three Dalit women trained by FEDO joined the Nepalese Dalit Movement.

Through the Women’s Foundation Nepal, community programs have emerged. These programs provide safe shelter and psychological and legal help to victimized women and children. Since 1995, the Women’s Foundation Nepal has run a women’s shelter that currently houses over 70 women and children.

Nepalese women need more changes to ensure their success and welfare. Until then, several organizations have taken a stand. They will continue to foster a safe, comfortable and liveable environment for Nepalese women.

– Caitlin Calfo
Photo: Flickr

Gender Inequality in MalawiWhile the idea of women being denied property may seem antiquated, it is a modern norm furthering gender inequality in Malawi. In the central and southern regions of Malawi, land is intended to be passed down to women through generations; however, Bridget Matinga-Katunda, a researcher at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, explained that this matrilineal system is not as good as it may sound. She stated, “Even under matrilineal systems, decision-making power on land ownership usually lies with male clan leaders who decide who gets a piece of land.”

Excluded from Ownership

Ministry of Hope Malawi, a nonprofit helping orphans and other at-risk communities, spoke to The Borgen Project on this issue. The Program Director for this organization, Daniel Moyo, recalls his personal experience with gendered land laws in Malawi. He describes a “patrilineal culture” where “men own the land and women have no access to land.” According to U.N. Women, around 70% of women work in agriculture. Therefore, despite taking care of the land, they are still not entitled to its ownership.

Additionally, the United Nations states that Malawian legal codes do “not provide for the division of matrimonial property upon dissolution of the marriage. This matter has been left entirely to the courts to decide.” Even if modern legal codes attempt to address the gender inequality in Malawi regarding land ownership, societal trends – often discriminatory – determine who inherits the land. This is especially true if the woman in question is not in a position of power in the community.

Moyo commented, “Personally, after the death of my Dad, all the land we had was confiscated by people we did not even know, leaving us and mum with no land.” His situation is not unusual. Reuters News uncovered that only around 17% of Malawian females are landowners. This parallels the lack of power and representation, as the World Bank reports that in 2019, only 23% of parliamentary seats in Malawai were held by women.

Advocating for a Cultural Shift

While there are legal protections in place for women, the land delegation and nuptial divisions are vague. Groups within the culture are open to interpret them and often adhere to sexist traditions and thought processes. Furthermore, less than one percent of land in Malawi is purchased. Almost all of it is inherited or acquired through marriage. Women report deep insecurity on their land ownership especially if something were to happen to their husbands. Malawian society’s cultural attitude toward women as more inferior to men is often used to justify the sexist land laws.

In order to correct these injustices, a policy shift is necessary to help widows survive and take care of children. Updating the territorial legislation in Malawi could vastly improve its gender equality and the overall economy. Moyo explains that “decision making in the homes is often left to the men. This is one key issue [and at] Ministry of Hope we have been championing women leadership and helping the women to have a voice and not just take everything that the man says…how to use money, how many children to have…they say women in Malawi produce seventy percent of the food but they consume only thirty percent of the same.”

Similarly, organizations such as the Malawi Law Society are fighting for a legal system that is more modern and just. However, an all-encompassing solution must go beyond legality and address the nuances of Malawian agriculture and its connection to gender. Providing social, economic and ownership protections for these laborers is crucial for correcting sexist land laws in Malawi.

Moving Forward

Organizations such as the Ministry of Hope are fighting the discriminatory land laws and working toward ending gender inequality in Malawi by shifting cultural perception. Individuals can help by funding nonprofits based in southern Africa that provide guidance along with financial assistance. Moving forward, continued work by these groups will hopefully help end discriminatory practices.

– Annie Bennett
Photo: Flickr

Coffin Homes in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Estimates determine that its population could grow to 7,249,907 people in 2020. While Hong Kong’s recent protests against the Chinese government receives extensive coverage, the high housing prices of Hong Kong precedes the current news. According to a 2019 report by CBRE, Hong Kong had the highest housing prices in the world, surpassing the housing prices of other cities such as Singapore, Shanghai, London, Los Angeles and New York. The report also showed that the average housing prices in Hong Kong were more than $1.2 million. Unsurprisingly, many people in Hong Kong find it hard to afford housing. This gave rise to coffin homes in Hong Kong which are small, partitioned apartment homes. Have the conditions improved in Hong Kong’s coffin homes? What kind of projects is the Hong Kong government participating in to improve the housing conditions in its city?

Inside a Hong Kong Coffin Home

According to some estimates, there are 200,000 people, including 40,000 children, living in these coffin homes in Hong Kong. Most of these coffin homes are smaller than 180 square feet. To put this size into perspective, this is only slightly bigger than an average parking spot in New York City. The inhabitants of these coffin homes range from retirees with little to no pension, the working poor, drug addicts and people with mental illnesses. These small spaces and unsanitary conditions sometimes lead to bed bug infestation. Yeung, a coffin home resident who the South China Morning Post interviewed, said that he often spent the night at McDonald’s or at internet cafes in order to avoid bed bugs.

A Possible Solution?

The Hong Kong government is making efforts to improve the current state of housing in Hong Kong. The government’s main focus seems to be in providing more housing units for the general public. For example, the Hong Kong government proposed an ambitious project to reclaim 1,000 hectares of land near Lantau, which will create an artificial island near Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government plans to create 40,000 homes in this reclaimed land. The project should begin in 2025 with the aim of having residents move in by 2032, and has an estimated cost of $80 billion. However, there are many critics who worry about the long-term impact of this ambitious project.

What the Critics are Saying

Critics have claimed that building this artificial island is the equivalent to “pouring money into the sea.” Critics have furthermore pointed out that the project could lead to the destabilization of the city government’s fiscal reserves. Environmentalists in Hong Kong are also afraid that the project will distort the hydrology near Lantau Island. These environmentalists are encouraging the Hong Kong government to adopt a “brownfield first” policy. This policy entails developing the 1,000 hectares of land in the New Territories area that is located at the northern part of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government is also conversing with Hong Kong Disneyland to release a tract of land, that is supposed to be part of Disneyland’s future expansion, to the government so that it can utilize it as a residential district.

The housing crisis in Hong Kong is a complicated issue. The squalid and cramped conditions that many people in Hong Kong live in reflect its current housing crisis. The high housing prices have given rise to coffin homes in Hong Kong. The current socio-political instability in Hong Kong, while having some of its roots in Hong Kong society’s innate inequality, certainly is not remedying the current housing crisis. The Hong Kong government seems to be very conscious of this crisis. Its efforts to provide housing for its populace, however, still face many challenges. Its ambitious project for creating an artificial island is especially notable. With all this effort, many hope that coffin homes in Hong Kong will become a story of the past.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Land Grabbing and PovertyLand grabbing is not a new concept and it is not an isolated event. However, land grabbing and poverty have recently been linked together. While companies around the globe participate in this harmful process that drives farmers off their lands, farmers in industrial countries are especially susceptible to losing their lands, and therefore, their source of income. The act of industrial companies land grabbing not only costs a person their home but also their food and money. In countries such as Africa and South America, many people have fallen below the poverty line and suffer from displacement.

The Actions of Large Companies

The link between land grabbing and poverty is growing and has become a big issue. Major companies, such as the Teacher’s Insurance and Annuity Association of America College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF or TIAA), are buying multiple acres of land at exceedingly high prices. This, in turn, raises the prices of rent above what nearby family farmers can afford to pay. In Brazil, the TIAA has ownership of over 600,000 acres of land. The company also has a stake of over $400 million in Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil, which has displaced established communities of indigenous people in addition to several endangered species.

Who Owns the Land?

Land grabbing hugely contributes to the loss of property which advances poverty levels. Indigenous people claim and manage about 50 percent of the world’s land. However, of that 50 percent, people who depend on it only legally own 10 percent. Big companies can easily buy out the remaining 40 percent of the land and repurpose it to maximize industrial gains. Most of this land goes towards fossil-fuels projects, tourism and even conservation. Because of this, many families become displaced and left without a source of income and experience a lack of food security. Companies, such as TIAA, have led directly to malnutrition in industrial countries where they held land.

Initiating Change

There have been many demonstrations to try and combat the act of land grabbing. Grassroots International has started a petition to end land grabbing. There are also The Tenure Guidelines that have the intention of ending global poverty through tenure rights and land access. Policies within these guidelines would give land rights to the person who has owned the land the longest, ensuring that those who depend on the land for their livelihoods can continue to use it. In Africa, 29 women farmers climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the country’s tallest mountain, to raise awareness about the issue. The climbers met 400 fellow women farmers at the base of the mountain to help raise awareness about secure land rights and guarantee the farmers access to local and global markets.

Land grabbing and poverty reduction will give the people of the land a place to live as well as a food source and a dependable income. Crop sales will increase and farmers will have a more reliable income if others do not drive them from their land. The decrease of land grabbing will also increase access to both local and global markets, providing farmers with more ways to sell their food. Overall, restricting land grabbing, honoring tenure and giving land access to those who need it will lead to a decline in global poverty.

– Destinee Smethers
Photo: Flickr

Land Seizures in EthiopiaEthiopia is one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, with a growth rate of nearly 10.4% from 2004 to 2018. Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II) has focused on public infrastructure and economic modernizations. The Ethiopian government has encouraged foreign investment in recent years and the construction of industrial parks throughout the country, though land seizures in Ethiopia, especially in Oromia and Tigray, have become common for acquiring space for the developments.

Displacement of Farmers

In order to realize its economic goals, the government has appropriated vast amounts of highly fertile land in the southern region of Oromia and converted it for foreign agribusiness. Dutch, Israeli and Indian companies have gravitated to Ethiopia because of cheap and fertile land. This has created tension in the region as local farmers have been forcibly displaced from their lands in favor of these foreign agribusinesses, many of which sell decorative flowers or pharmaceutical plants. These companies have generally taken the best, the most fertile and the most easily irrigated land in the Oromia region, displacing many farmers.

Most of these farmers, belonging to the Amhara and Oromo ethnic groups, which make up more than 50% of the population and are the largest ethnicities in Ethiopia, claim that they were forcibly dispossessed of their land by the local government, even as the government claims that it followed all necessary protocols. These land seizures in Ethiopia have led to numerous protests and demonstrations throughout Ethiopia where development has occurred, largely because few of the jobs that were created went to locals. The focus on non-food agribusiness instead of crop production has exacerbated the food crisis in the country, which originally stemmed in part from droughts plaguing eastern Africa since 2015, as well as the 2018 floods.

In Oromia, at the Adama Industrial Park, heavy machinery and textiles are produced for export. This industrial park was one of the first to be opened in the fall of 2018, and it began its first exports in December 2018.

Land Seizures in Ethiopia Aren’t Confined to Oromia

In the north of the country, there is widespread industrialization, and the government has also been pushing for industrial projects, such as the mine established by the Chinese company Tibet Huayu Mining in association with Canada’s East Africa Metals Inc., meant to prospect and mine for gold in Tigray’s largely untapped mineral fields. Pepsi has also heavily invested in the Tigray region, with a bottling factory near the capital of Mekele. Garment factories, as well as a Turkish industrial manufacturer, have also agreed to set up facilities in and around Tigray as well.

Besides the Adama and Mekelle industrial parks, seven others, including two near Addis Ababa, have opened or are under construction as part of the government’s economic policies.

Evictions are not limited to agricultural areas. In several areas, particularly around Addis Ababa, long-standing towns are being declared as illegal settlements, and the government has described this policy as an attempt to regularize development and bring urban planning and local infrastructure up to international standards.

Why Is This a Problem?

Ethiopia’s industrialization is highly focused on foreign investment. The Ethiopian government has sacrificed long-term growth prospects for the much more lucrative but short-term opportunities of foreign investors, largely ignoring indigenous industrial and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Currently, the government does little for those displaced by industrial development. Land tenure and property rights laws are inadequately and unevenly enforced. Whenever there is a legal framework in place, often it is neither easy nor advantageous for the dispossessed. The average farmer in Ethiopia holds only about 1.2 hectares of land, and just over half of Ethiopia’s farmers subside on less than 1 hectare. Currently, there are plans to develop over 100,000 hectares of land through 2025. Nationally, this will displace hundreds of thousands of farmers and their families, many of whom will be poorly compensated through irregular processes.

As it currently stands, the Ethiopian constitution protects the nominal right of the citizen to private property, while simultaneously permitting the uncompensated land seizures in Ethiopia for the purpose of resource exploitation because these lands “shall not be subject to sale or to other means of exchange” in Article 40(3). This creates a situation in which the government can forcibly relocate a landowner from his property if it so desires while being obligated to pay only a token price.

What is Being Done?

There is international aid that has been helping to ensure that Ethiopians are able to take advantage of the opportunities that the GTP is designed to provide. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization has a program to combat high youth unemployment rates in rural populations.

The World Bank has also identified that greater educational opportunities need to be available in rural communities in order to help people transition away from agricultural sectors while increasing the productivity of those that remain economically sustainable levels. The World Bank’s plans include increasing agricultural efficiency and crop yields while steering those it can toward education and training to ensure they can participate in a modern workforce.

The high growth of Ethiopia’s economy, particularly in regard to foreign investment, has led to greater economic scrutiny of the country. The International Trade Unions Confederation has criticized the low wages that make Ethiopia so appealing to many foreign investors.

There is also a possibility of reform, as Ethiopia’s Prime Minister has expressed an interest in democratizing and liberalizing the country. It is possible that this could lead to constitutional reforms that fight land seizures in Ethiopia and provide more equitable compensation to any who are still relocated. Of course, this will take time.

– John Dolan
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Access to Land in Namibia
Since becoming independent in 1990, Namibia has seen steady economic growth, increasing at an average rate of 4.3 percent in the past five years.

However, the country suffers from steep income inequality and poverty rates. Currently, 29.9 percent of Namibians are unemployed, 27.6 percent of households live in poverty and another 13.8 percent live in extreme poverty.

Of a population of 2.2 million, 70 percent are estimated to live in rural areas with limited access to health care, electricity, food and other resources.

According to Focus on Land in Africa, a research group that studies development in the continent, these economic and social imbalances are consequences of more than a century of German colonization and South African apartheid occupation.

Another lasting effect is the unequal access to land in Namibia for those who are not considered elite. Although the country has 820,000 square kilometers of land and a small population for its size, the region’s weather patterns and topography make for some uninhabitable parts, concentrating the population into certain areas.

In 1990, the white minority which made up less than 0.5 percent of the population owned almost all commercial land in Namibia. Shortly after becoming a sovereign state, the government of Namibia introduced comprehensive land reform to alleviate land access inequalities.

Decades later, unequal access to land in Namibia continues to be an issue, Brigadier General Paul Nathinge of the Namibian Defense Forces warns could be a security risk for the country.

“Namibia is experiencing a serious problem associated with land in terms of housing and resettlement,” Nathinge told New Era. “The majority of the population are for the expropriation of the white-owned farms, which are believed to have been forcefully acquired by the colonisers […].” Nathinge added the government has thus far been unable to resolve the housing crisis for the middle and lower class in urban regions.

Individuals and groups alike have called for the government to prioritize poverty and housing relief in legislation. Nathinge warns of the dangers of public uprisings, class conflicts and racial wars in the name of equality.

He says such extreme measures make Namibians more vulnerable to manmade disasters, both internal and external. A main concern for the country is foreign aggression from developed countries in the form of an economic and military takeover to take advantage of Namibia’s abundant natural resources and geographical features.

Current land reform in Namibia centers around the redistribution of farmland, land rights registration on communal land and land title provisions in urban areas. The Namibian government is working towards redistributing at least 15 million hectares of commercial farmland to previously disadvantaged Namibians by 2020.

Ashley Leon

Photo: Flickr

Property Rights Reduce PovertyGranting formal property rights to the world’s poor, especially in developing countries, may be the key to reducing global poverty. Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto, believes property rights reduce poverty by empowering the disadvantaged with valuable assets which could add up to an estimated $9.3 trillion in currently “dead capital.”

Promoting property rights is particularly important throughout Africa where more than 90 percent of the land remains outside the legal system. People living in developing countries would benefit from stable, long-term property rights as they are more likely to invest time and energy into cultivating their land or exchange it with someone who would make better use of it.

Stable land ownership would also increase revenue for local governments through property taxes, but land taxes are currently non-existent in the developing world. With an increased demand for land and public investment in roads and other infrastructure, revenue from property taxes would help decentralize and empower previously impoverished residents in developing regions.

In Uganda, land constitutes 50-60 percent of asset endowment and is a valuable asset that may be the key to household wealth. As a primary vehicle for investing, cultivating and transferring between generations, secure property rights help to generate livelihoods centered on local investment. Lack of property rights disproportionately affects women in developing countries.

Traditionally, women are disadvantaged when it comes to land access, but they also have the most to gain from secure property rights. According to the OECD, increasing property rights has been shown to positively affect spending on girls’ education.

Studies also show that promoting equitable access to education could increase GDP growth by an estimated 0.2 percent each year in developing countries. If executed correctly, providing property rights would also increase the purchasing power of the world’s poor and stimulate economic growth in developing countries.

Slate magazine critiques de Soto’s theory that property rights reduce poverty by pointing out, “titling is more useful to the elite and middle-income groups who can afford to bother with financial leverage, risk, and the real estate market.” Increasing property rights in Turkey, Mexico, South Africa and Columbia have not created a healthy housing market and “wealthy land-grubbers” may be to blame.

De Soto believes that the wealthy, who don’t realize that it’s in their best interest to allow the productive power of the poor brought into the economy, are an obstacle to realizing the full impact that property rights can have on the world’s poor. For those who have doubts, property rights reduce poverty, which bolsters economic development when the poor can contribute to the economy.

Rampant socioeconomic inequality weakens economies by increasing the burden on taxpayers to cover the costs of poverty-related illnesses, which can cost billions per year, perpetuates a cycle of low academic achievement and negatively impacts the demand for a skilled labor force.

Securing property rights in the developing world is one step in the right direction toward reducing global poverty, but educating the public on why uplifting the world’s poor is beneficial for everyone is even more crucial.

Daniela Sarabia

Photo: Flickr

women's land rights

The nonprofit organization Landesa is taking an important step in the battle against global poverty. Its goal is to increase female land rights in rural areas.

Though women make up about 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in the poorest regions of the world, they are often denied rights to own, control or inherit land. The lack of land rights can cause difficulties for women living in poverty who are “dispossessed,” meaning unmarried, widowed, divorced or disabled. These women are often forced to rely on extended family members for shelter, food and other necessities.

In Odisha, India alone, an estimated 500,000 single and landless women live in rural areas. Without access to land, they have few methods to adequately support themselves or lift themselves out of poverty.

Programs that aim to alleviate poverty by distributing land often fall into the trap of ignoring the ways in which experiences of land ownership and poverty are gendered. Odisha launched a government program called Vasundhara in 2005. The program allocated plots of government land to landless, rural families. However, due to government policies that overlooked the needs of rural, dispossessed women, many women were ineligible for the program.

Landesa, with support from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is working to rectify these oversights with a new woman-centric program that will help identify women in need through local health workers. They are working to create an inventory of single women in need of government land and social security entitlements. They are then served through Women Support Centers that help them apply for government services.

Over 5,000 dispossessed  women have been the beneficiaries of homestead land, and another 15,000 cases are currently being verified. The land rights project, though relatively new, is experiencing much success and is set to establish female land rights for thousands worldwide.

Jordan Little

Photo: Flickr

Communal land rights
The Nature Conservancy, the Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT) and the Northern Tanzania Rangelands Initiative (NTRI) have teamed up to find a solution for tackling communal land rights in Tanzania. They have come up with an initiative called the Certificate of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCRO).

The Nature Conservancy states that the “CCRO is a form of customary land tenure within a larger village holding. This is an effective tool for strengthening community land rights and securing communal lands.”

However, UCRT has updated the concept of land grants to a more secure communal forum where the land can be used by the community for several other purposes such as farming, grazing and foresting to name a few.

Historically, assigning land rights has been a topic of major concern throughout the world. According to the Nature Conservancy, 2.5 billion people “depend on land and natural resources that are held, used or managed collectively.”

This number includes 370 million indigenous peoples. These communities live on half the world’s surface but have recognized rights to only 10 percent of the land.

When the people who need this land lack any legal right to them, they are extremely susceptible to losing access to the very thing they need to survive.

Edward Loure, a program director at UCRT, has been working to give the people of northern Tanzania a voice in the communal community and to help reduce conflict. The main solution that has been put into place is the CCRO.

In its first year, the CCROs secured approximately 22,000 hectares of collective lands. By the end of 2015, the amount had reached 90,000 hectares with 200,000 more hectares hoped to be acquired by the end of 2017.

According to UCRT, “most traditional pastoralist and hunter-gatherer communities are currently at great risk of loosing (sic) their land and resources due to progressive land encroachment and lack of representation in modern Tanzania.” UCRT works to empower these communities.

Land acquired by hunter-gatherers or pastoralists often seems to be unused because the group is moving with the seasons or with the grazing patterns of the herd. This makes them particularly vulnerable to losing their land.

CCRO not only promotes equality in these communities but it also protects the rights of vulnerable people “who share and depend on communal land and its resources.”

Another problem in Tanzania that the CCRO works on solving is wildlife migration as 60 percent of African wildlife drift throughout the year. To that end, the NTRI has partnered with the Community Wildlife Management Area (CWMA) to help set up the corridors where livestock is not allowed during migration seasons.

As a result, the villages who are CWMA compliant are in a good position to negotiate with tourists during the migration seasons.

Recently, Edward Loure won The Goldman Environmental Prize for 2016 for Africa. The prize honors grassroots heroes who “take extraordinary actions to protect the natural world.”

The winners of the prize encourage sustainability, protect endangered ecosystems or species, combat destructive development and fight for environmental justice and policies.

Rhonda Marrone

Photo: Flickr