The Word on Women: Why Land Rights Matter

Linked on our blogs with SocialEarth. – Published on SocialEarth, by Renee, March 10, 2011.

… Rural women in particular are at the strategic center of reducing hunger, malnutrition, and poverty because they produce 60%–80% of food in the developing world.1 The FAO estimates that globally, almost one billion people are undernourished and that more than three million children die each year from under-nutrition before their fifth birthdays. Women play a central role in household food security, dietary diversity, and children’s health.

When considering household well-being, it is important to consider who within the household manages the family’s resources, including land, as women are much more likely than men to spend income from these resources on their children’s nutritional and educational needs (Quisumbing 1996).  

Data from Central America indicate that an increase in female landholdings is associated with increases in household food expenditure and levels of child educational attainment (Katz and Chamorro 2002). Similarly, a study in Nepal suggests that children of mothers who own land are significantly less likely to be severely underweight because those women are more likely to have control over household decisions (Allendorf 2006).

Another study indicates a positive relationship between the amount of assets, including land, that a woman possesses at the time of marriage and the share of household expenditures devoted to food, education, health care, and children’s clothing (Quisumbing and Maluccio 2002).

Secure rights to land—including the right to manage it and control the income from it—go beyond mere access. For a majority of women, access to land and property essential for food production and sustainable livelihoods is dependent on natal and marital affiliations. Thus, women can lose rights to land when there is a change in marital status due to marriage, divorce, or death of a spouse. Interventions must focus not only on women’s rights to access land but on the cultural and social factors that prevent women from obtaining secure rights to land, which are not dependent on their marital status (FAO 2007). This issue paper presents challenges and approaches for strengthening women’s land tenure and property rights and provides recommendations for policy formulation and implementation. (full text).

(Renée is the Director of the Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights based in Seattle. She is one of the world’s foremost experts on women and land rights with more than 13 years of legal experience in the areas of land tenure and property rights (LTPR). Her areas of specialization are intra-household and gender issues and customary land law. Renée has designed and conducted fieldwork on women and their access and rights to land throughout Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. She has designed interventions to ensure that women are included in the governance and implementation of LTPR projects for USAID, MCC, and the World Bank).

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