women's land rightsThe 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

Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights, a capacity building organization, has recently launched LandWise, a free online searchable database and tool. LandWise provides important information and practical applications that may be used for capacity building and technological assistance for strengthening women’s land rights across the globe.

In many places across the world, women’s land tenure is not recognized or is consistently undermined. Without rights to their land, women lack the ability to use, control, and transfer this asset. In some areas, men may have sole control of land that is owned by their wife. The absence of legal land ownership by women is recognized as a constraint for overcoming rural poverty. Without legal ownership of this valuable asset, women are placed in a precarious position where they may lose their family’s only form of income.

There are many facets to women’s rights to land that must be addressed. The country’s legal codes, cultural norms, and administration all play a part in this problem, since these factors can often be very complex and difficult to determine. Landesa’s LandWise seeks to organize this information in an easily searchable database that practitioners may access. While LandWise is not intended to take the place of field work, it will help with the initial research, since the legal codes that govern land rights are often difficult to uncover. The issue of land rights is often bound up with family and marriage law as well as property law. LandWise organizes these laws in an easily searchable database.

Sometimes, rural women are unaware of the rights they have under law. In these cases, practitioners can use the research gathered to engage women in clinics or information sessions. In areas where women’s land rights are not legally codified practitioners may use advocacy to engage civil society and government officials and promote policy recommendations.

LandWise also provides Practice Guides. The Practice Guides help practitioners use the information provided on the database. The Guides include checklists that help analyze the issues that may affect women and men differently in regards to property rights. In addition to the legal codes provided on LandWise, users also receive information regarding how the law is in fact carried out and cultural norms that may affect its implementation.

LandWise is overseen by a full-time librarian. Practitioners in the field are encouraged to submit information that they may come across to LandWise in order to help expand its database.

Callie D. Coleman

Sources: IFAD, LandWise, Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights
Photo: Landesa