Co-Ownership Rights for Women in Uttarakhand, IndiaUttarakhand is the first state in India to provide women with co-ownership rights of their husband’s ancestral property. While much more work remains to be done to achieve gender equality, it is important to look at how far India has come in granting equality to women to get to this moment in history.

A History of India’s Struggle with Gender Equality

Much of India’s struggle for equal rights stems from cultural and social developments throughout history. In ancient Hindu and Indian culture, specifically during the Vedic period, families would strive to have sons over daughters. Sons were thought to provide more for their families and were valued for their strength, fighting abilities and because their marital status kept them within the family.

The influx of different religions throughout India did have an impact on women to an extent. Since there were many representations of religious cultures, this impact tended to fluctuate. For example, the Hindu and Islamic teachings both had competing views when it came to the status of women. In both, women were not to be objectified but their roles were to remain subordinate to men. An alternative teaching existed in Buddhist practices where women had the opportunity to elevate their role in a religious setting because they had the option to be nuns and study the sacred texts. Currently, India has personal laws that allow various religious groups to instate rules and regulations to control the everyday lives of those who live under them. This has a negative impact on women when it is used by radicalized groups to perpetuate gender inequality.

An Indian State Decides to Make a Change

Uttarakhand, a Himalayan state in India, is the first (and hopefully not the last) Indian state to grant married women co-ownership of their husband’s ancestral property. The Act in question, the Uttarakhand Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, has forevermore changed the lives of 350,000 women. Much of the “ancestral property” consists of farms that have historically been passed down by patriarchal family lineage.

Migration has been a substantial issue in Uttarakhand for nearly 10 years now. About 456,000 people have moved out of the state, with nearly 50% of them in search of work. This left villages to mostly consist of mostly elderly couples and women. Due to many husbands being forced to migrate away from home in search of employment, women were often left alone to work the farms — agriculture being a crutch of Uttarakhand’s economy — but with no claim to them. Thus, the government stepped in to grant women access to co-ownership rights. These rights extend to divorcees as well. Until a divorced wife remarries, she can remain a co-owner of their ex-husband’s land, and this can even persist if that same ex-husband files for bankruptcy. In addition, if the divorced wife never had children with her ex-husband, she could become a co-owner of her father’s land.

Looking Ahead

Although this is only the first step, it is the first step in gender equality. “It is a pragmatic move. There is no point bringing in a scheme or a loan when people who need it cannot apply or avail it,” said Rashmi Jungwan, a citizen of the village Chandrapuri in the Rudraprayag district, to The Times of India. The rest of the state is hopeful that the rest of India will soon follow in Uttarakhand’s footsteps in granting married women co-ownership rights of property. The former Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat himself is confident in that.

Samantha Fazio
Photo: Flickr

BACE API:Charlette N’Guessan, a 26-year-old Ivorian and CEO of the BACE Group based in Ghana, is the first woman to win the United Kingdom’s Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. N’Guessan and her team earned £25,000 ($32,000) with the 2020 award for their BACE API digital verification software.

BACE API Facial Recognition Software

BACE API verifies identities remotely and instantaneously using artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition by matching the live photo of the user to the image on their official documents. This use of live images and video rather than still images is unique to BACE API and improves the success rate in matching faces and verifying that the images are of real people rather than preexisting photos. Judges for the Africa Prize stated that facial recognition software in Africa is becoming increasingly important and BACE API is just the beginning.

Issues in Identity Verification for Africans

Most facial recognition tools on the market use white faces in their dataset, which leads to higher rates of misidentification of black faces. BACE API, however, was designed with the express intention of improving the design of facial recognition software in Africa. The algorithm of BACE API is designed to draw from a more diverse data set to address racial bias and bolster its accuracy.

Moreover, N’Guessan stated that she created the BACE API tool to address high rates of identity fraud and cybercrime in Ghanian banks. Financial institutions in Ghana spend approximately $400 million per year identifying their users. Not only is BACE API more functionally accurate but it is also convenient as no special hardware is needed and the software can be combined with existing identification apps. So far, the software is being used in two financial institutions for identity verification and one event platform to manage attendee registration.

Identity Verification and Poverty

Facial recognition software in Africa has recently become an important tool to address poverty. There are approximately 1.1 billion people worldwide who lack an official ID, 500 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa and 40% of whom are under the age of 18. Women are disproportionately more likely to lack identity documents compared to men. The population of people without an official ID are unable to access basic socio-economic and legal rights, including healthcare, education, voting and legal protection in court. Moreover, people without identity documents are barred from entering the formal economy, for example, starting a business or gaining official employment. The widespread lack of official identification is largely due to the difficulties, inconveniences and expense of registering for an ID, including the common requirement for multiple forms of ID for different functions.

Digital technology, however, is leading the charge to address unequal access to ID’s and basic services, and BACE API is a unique solution to this issue by serving as a one-stop-shop for remote identification. After verifying their identity through the program, users gain access to necessary financial services, education and voting rights.

BACE API’s Benefits During COVID-19

During COVID-19, BACE API is a viable alternative to the in-person verification processes used by most such as fingerprints or personal appearances. Companies and organizations can now remotely authenticate and onboard people without ever meeting them.

Moreover, the demand for healthcare and welfare programs has skyrocketed in the wake of the widespread economic downturn. With BACE API, governments are relieved of the burden of identity verification and can operate more efficiently to provide essential services to people struggling during COVID-19.

– Neval Mulaomerovic
Photo: Flickr

Property Rights for the World’s Poor
In poor nations like Ghana, it can be incredibly difficult for citizens to attain property rights. The lack of services to provide landowners with deeds and official paperwork poses a challenge in providing proof of ownership for the land they occupy. Bitland is an innovative nonprofit company that uses blockchain technology to help secure property rights for the world’s poor.

Land Rights in Ghana

Ghana uses largely informal land distribution processes. People inherit land from extended family, through membership of a certain clan or through traditional authority. These landowners do not typically keep written documentation of land transactions and ownership. Therefore, tracking proper ownership of land becomes difficult. A lack of adequate formal documentation of land ownership and previous transactions creates an informal land market, which in turn creates land conflict, lawsuits and multiple ownership claims of a plot of land.

Bitland in Ghana

African startup Bitland uses blockchain technology to help Ghanaians attain property rights and secure more financially stable futures. The startup launched its pilot service in Ghana due to a local need for autonomy through improved land rights. The CEO and founder of the company, Naringamba Mwinssubo, is also a resident of Ghana. Bitland’s main goal is to provide land registry services where they are functioning poorly, or where no land registry and title services available to locals.

Bitland operates in three key phases: land survey, preparation of titles and land registry and land tokenization. During the land survey phase, the company leaves approximately 30 markers with members of the local community. The community members then place the markers in agreed-upon spots to mark boundaries between individual plots of land. Survey markers placed during this phase serve as landmarks of property boundaries.

In the second phase, land registry, blockchain creates titles for the land. The titles are prepared by verifying the GPS coordinates of the land with the owners of the land. Once the coordinates are verified, the company creates a land title contract that includes owner names, GPS coordinates, map references, block numbers and addresses. This information then receives a timestamp and stored in a database.

In the land tokenization phase, the land titles and accompanying files are turned into a token that is both tradeable and traceable. Various parties use these tokens when making land transactions such as renting and buying/selling. The traceable nature of these tokens makes them an ideal choice for ensuring security and transparency between potential buyers, sellers and renters.

Impact on the Ground

Bitland’s services provide consumers with greater security and transparency when it comes to property rights for the world’s poor. The service also helps document marriages, birth certificates, escrow accounts and mutual savings. As of 2018, Bitland had plans to expand its land registry services to Kenya and Nigeria. The unalterable nature of blockchain records is key to building credit for users and helping them secure a more financially stable future. By allowing landowners to rely on digital traceable records rather than verbal customary agreements, Bitland is establishing strong property rights for the world’s poor and improving their economic outlook for the future.

Maddi Miller
Photo: Flickr