Promoting women's access to land and property

Improving women's rights to land credit
Reducing women's disadvantage in securing land
Improving women's access to land
Throughout the world, laws, customs and economics all inhibit or prevent women owning, inheriting and using land. This in turn adversely affects their access to shelter and credit and their contribution to economic productivity. In many customary-law situations, women may have no right to own land except through fathers, husbands, sons or other male relatives. This can make the situation of widows with no sons, or of unmarried women, very difficult; for married women with sons, access is dependent on their being on good terms with the concerned males. Even in traditional and modern societies where women have the right to own and inherit land, the introduction of cash economies and the growing importance of land as a commodity results in women have little chance of owning land. This is due to the high cost of land, as well as women being unaware of their rights, where they exist.

Apart from the legal, economic and policy constraints to women's access to land, the systems for land delivery in many countries pose problems to any citizen trying to acquire land. The situation is more difficult for the poor, and even more so for women, who may not have the necessary money and information.

Lack of access to land serious implications for the poor. For women in the rural subsistence economy, land means a place to live, to work, to grow food and to get building materials. In rural areas where population pressure, wide-scale cultivation of cash crops or commercial exploitation are eroding traditional lands, the burden on women to maintain shelters and feed families is increasing. In urban areas, women-headed households predominate among low-income and informal settlements. These settlements tend to located on marginal land precisely because it is the least attractive to land developers. However, settlements on such land tend to be crowded, dangerous, lacking space on which to grow food or too polluted for growing food. Evictions, when they come, affect entire families.

This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities. Agenda 21 recommends that governments and others protect, recognize and formalize women's access to tenure and use of land, as well as rights to land, access to credit, technology, inputs and training.

In Papua New Guinea, where many men work away from the villages leaving women to defend the land, women are fighting not only against the logging companies but also against a system that only allows land transfers among men. Women residents in the squatter settlements of Villa El Salvador (Lima, Peru), Mexico City and Sao Paulo have gained non-legal recognition of their right as residents to stay on and use the land they have been occupying. In Bangkok, 'land-sharing' has emerged as one way of accommodating the needs of both the occupants and the legal landowners. Self-help savings groups have evolved in parallel in many areas, variously known as 'tontines', merry-go-rounds' and 'sou-sou' (penny-by-penny), the name for a venture originating from the need to enable squatters in Trinidad and Tobago to buy land. The popular names of Kenyan women's groups which struggle to gain access to land very obtain contain the ideas of courage, trying hard, standing up for oneself, emerging from oblivion, and doing it bit by bit. In Lusaka, a group of grassroots women managed to convince the local authority not to destroy an informal settlement without providing an alternative for the residents.
Type Classification:
G: Very Specific strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal