Land Rights in India

Rajesh Prabhakar Patil of the Impatient Optimists agrees with Melinda Gates that data is generally sexist, meaning there is often more research about men than women. He also believes that there is an urban bias — individuals living in rural areas are often excluded from studies.

This means that it can be especially difficult to find information about the plight of rural women. Patil, along with the nonprofit Landesa, seeks to change and gather more information about women’s land rights in India.

The Plight for Women’s Rights

Patil’s passion for women’s land rights in India stems from his personal belief that “land can provide [women] with a powerful tool to fight poverty — [the ability] to create opportunity.”

In rural India, one in 10 families includes a “dispossessed woman” who cannot own property. This could be a woman who is disabled, divorced, widowed or otherwise unable to live independently due to the stipulations regarding land rights for women.

Sometimes, women who are dependent upon their family, but are caught in dysfunctional relationships, cannot escape abuse due to their inability to purchase land and property that could serve as a refuge.

The lack of data regarding rural women in India can have a negative impact on women and their families. The government of the state of Odisha introduced a policy to give government-owned land to rural families in 2005. Unfortunately, due to a lack of documentation, many rural women were not considered as recipients for the program.


Landesa, a nonprofit supported by the Gates Foundation, aims to find and assist women in India and other parts of the world who seek land ownership.

The organization conducts field research and works with local government officials to identify women and families in need of land. In India alone, 1,105,000 families have benefited from Landesa’s work.

According to Landesa’s website, an estimated 18 million families are both poor and landless in India. Their goal is to provide land to these women and lift their families out of poverty. The organization has been working with government leaders from various Indian states since 2000.

“What women do need is to be counted and to have programs responsive to their existence and their needs,” said Patil in a June 2016 post.

Patil appears optimistic about Landesa’s work on increasing women’s land rights in India. Rural women’s quality of life and access to opportunity may see an increase if they’re given the right to own land.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr

A bill on marriage introduced in the Kenyan parliament has generated outrage amongst Kenyan men. The marriage bill is intended to unify the many and various local marriage laws and customs in the country to a single code. However, in doing so, the bill also strengthens some aspects of women’s rights in the country.

The bill allows for polygamy in Kenya under Islamic and customary traditions. However, the code will stipulate that men disclose the possibility of polygamy to his future spouse prior to marriage. All marriages will also be issued a certificate, even those performed under traditional laws. Issuing this certificate is intended to provide a legal proof of the union. Many marriages performed under traditional customs are not currently issued certificates, leaving spouses without a legal proof of the marriage.

Many wives are unaware that their husband has additional spouses and children until he passes away leaving behind a custody battle for assets. Polygamy is not permitted in Christian or civil marriages.

The majority of negative reactions seem to be caused by a clause stating “damages may be recoverable by a party that suffers a loss when the other party refuses to honor a promise to marry.” This clause seems to imply a man making a promise of marriage is required to follow through or pay for any monetary loss. In Kenya, a dowry is often paid from the prospective husband’s family to his intended wife’s family. The bill limits these payments to “token amounts” in the hope to dissuade poor families from selling daughters into marriage. The bill also sets the minimum age for marriage at 18.

Under Kenya’s 2010 constitution women gained the right to own and inherit land, unprecedented in the country’s history. While the constitution provides additional rights for women, these are often unknown or ignored in more traditional rural areas of the country.

A program launched in 2011 by Landesa and USAID in Kenya engages rural tribal leaders and elders in a discussion about women’s rights and the new constitution. Through this the program has seen progress in male acceptance of women’s rights provided in the constitution. As a result, some areas served by the program have seen increased female enrollment in schools and engagement of women in the community. Engaging community members in a frank conversation about the benefits of women’s rights and their impact is an essential element to gaining widespread acceptance. While many constitutions in sub-Saharan Africa include women’s rights they remain largely ineffective if many rural villages ignore them.

Callie D. Coleman

Sources: Thomas Reuters Foundation, The Huffington Post
Photo: Thomas Reuters Foundation

Landesa Helps People Gain Property Rights

Landesa is a rural development institute devoted to securing land for the world’s poor.  The company “partners with developing country governments to design and implement laws, policies, and programs.”  These various partnerships work to provide opportunities for economic growth and social justice.

Landesa’s ultimate goal is to live in a world free of poverty.  There are many facets of poverty.  The institute focuses on property rights.  According to Landesa, “Three-quarters of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas where land is a key asset.”  Poverty cycles persist because people lack legal rights to land they use.

The company was the world’s first non-governmental organization designed specifically for land rights disputes.  Then known as the Rural Development Institute (RDI), the institute was the first to focus exclusively on the world’s poor.

Roy Prosterman founded the company out of a deep passion for global development.  Prosterman is a law professor at the University of Washington and a renown land-rights advocate.  He began his lifelong devotion to property rights after stumbling upon a troublesome article.  In 1966, he read a law review article “that promoted land confiscation as a tool for land reform in Latin America.”  Prosterman recognized the policy’s ills immediately.   He quickly authored his own articles on how land acquisitions must involve full compensation.

These articles led him to the floor of Congress and eventually the fields of Vietnam.  Prosterman helped provide land rights to one million Vietnamese farmers during the later part of the Vietnam War.  The New York Times claimed that his land reform law was “probably the most ambitious and progressive non-Communist land reform of the 20th century.”

Prosterman traveled the world to deliver pro-poor land laws and programs.  His most notable work was in Latin America, the Philippines, and Pakistan before founding the institute.  Today, Landesa focuses mostly on China, India, and Uganda.

He aims to “elevate the world’s poorest people without instigating violence.”  The company negotiates land deals with the government and landowners who received market rates.  Landesa helps people gain property rights, so people can focus on health and education efforts instead.

Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: The Seattle Times

Women's Property Rights Success in Rural KenyaLandesa’s Kenya Justice Project has successfully negotiated women’s property rights in rural Kenya. Landesa, actively fights to attain and provide land property for those in global poverty and has successfully worked with USAID to target the progress of women’s rights in Kenya.

Recently, the Kenyan constitution was amended to grant more freedoms and political access to women. Property rights (in the form of access to land), is often taken for granted in most developed countries. But many developing countries, like Kenya, have not guaranteed rights for women. Additionally, the majority of those denied secure access to land rights are rural women farmers. Therefore, the heavy advocacy for the inclusion of women in state practices and formal constitutions is necessary for successful development and in this case, development of Kenya.

Landesa’s program in Kenya has seen success in marriage disputes as women’s written consent is necessary before property transactions are approved. Women are also increasingly able to acquire their own land to live on and farm independently of men. Another vital aspect to the progress is that women are now eligible to become elected as an elder and make larger impacting decisions, a role that was previously male dominated. More girls also attend school, which has now balanced the gender ratio of students.

Women’s access to property rights allows greater individual and political security and is a forward step in progress. Gender equality is vital to development as it “has the potential to end the cycle of poverty by enabling women to contribute to community decisions and govern family resources and money wisely.”

Evan Walker

Source: ONE