Blog Crossroads | 15 Juin, 2023

Land rights for her, NOW!

Fewer than 13% of agricultural landholders are women, and the lack of rights to land exposes women to poverty, hunger and gender-based violence. As the world marks Desertification and Drought Day, we must ensure women’s equal right to own, use, access and control land and to participate in decision-making. Only then can we secure a just and sustainable future - writes Ana Di Pangracio, IUCN Councillor and Deputy Director of IUCN Member organisation Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales.

We are amidst a severe, global interconnected crisis of biodiversity loss, climate change, land degradation and desertification, pollution and inequality. Those most affected are sectors of society in situations of vulnerability, including Indigenous peoples, local communities, women and girls. The rampant destruction of nature endangers human well-being and the realisation of fundamental rights, ultimately risking our chance to achieve a just and sustainable world.

Despite the key role women play in climate resilience, biodiversity conservation, combatting desertification, land degradation and drought, preserving seeds and promoting agroecology, most rural women do not own land and their activity is not considered productive. This exposes them to poverty, hunger, gender-based violence and displacement. It is a clear obstacle to the sustainable use of natural resources and rural development.

In agriculture, it is mostly still men who speak for women.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, almost one third of employed women globally work in agriculture, including forestry and fishing, yet less than 13% of agricultural landholders are women. Numbers vary widely. In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), women account for over 30% of agricultural landholders in just a handful of countries, and well below 15% in most of them. Women own less land, and they also receive less financial support and technical assistance. Rural women in LAC for instance, receive approximately 10% of the credit and 5% of the technical assistance.

Though many countries have acknowledged this issue and reformed legislation on land, civil and family codes to recognise legal equality including for property rights, important gaps in land tenure persist. There is formal equality, but culturally men are still often considered as ‘in charge’ of a family’s goods. It is mostly still men, especially in agriculture, who speak for women.

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Wenchi Crater Lake, Ethiopia

In LAC, there is also a worryingly high concentration of land ownership in the hands of a few. Those in control of the land are the ones who decide on its use and who profits from the benefits of its exploitation. Industrial agriculture takes over forests, wetlands and grasslands; the use of transgenics and agrochemicals pollutes the environment and affects people's health, with differentiated impacts on women and girls. Small and medium-sized producers and family farmers are displaced. The more extractivism advances, the higher the level of conflict over land and territories, and the more evictions increase.

Law provides a crucial foundation for mainstreaming gender equality, and we must increase women's awareness of their rights to land and their ability to enforce sustainable land management.

However, there are a series of levers that can help us reverse these trends. Law provides a crucial foundation for mainstreaming gender equality. It cannot in itself generate gender‐equitable land tenure, but it provides tools and an integral framework for its realisation. Capacity building is essential to increase women's awareness of their rights to land and their ability to enforce sustainable land management. This includes strengthening the capacity of institutions to address gender issues in a responsive manner. Communication and awareness can change values, attitudes and cultural norms. And alliances of organisations and socio-environmental movements will promote joint and strategic work to secure women's land rights.

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Ausangate mountain, Cordillera Vilcanota range, Peru

Women protect, restore and care for the land. Therefore, as stated by UN Women, realising women’s land rights supports gender equality, the independence and autonomy of women, and provides for their daily needs and those of their families and communities. It ultimately is an integral part of the gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the three Rio Conventions, each of which has a Gender Plan of Action.

All IUCN Members must support the Global Biodiversity Framework’s gender-responsive approach, in which all women and girls have equal opportunities. This includes recognition of their equal rights and access to land and natural resources.

In this light, all IUCN Members must help make the most of the opportunities arising from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). State Parties to the CBD recently adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to 2030 that embeds a human rights-based and gender-responsive approach in which all women and girls have equal opportunities and capacity to contribute to the Framework’s objectives. This includes recognition of their equal rights and access to land and natural resources, and their full, equal, meaningful and informed participation and leadership at all levels of action, involvement, decision-making and policy-making related to biodiversity. Additionally, Target 22 of the Framework calls for the full protection of environmental human rights defenders many of whom are women, working on the frontline of nature protection. Hundreds are attacked and killed every year. Their rights, including access to justice, have to be respected.

Women continue to fight for the recognition of their work, and for respect for family agriculture, agroecology and food sovereignty. Women's needs, contributions and priorities for a healthy planet have to be addressed for them to fully enjoy their environmental and human rights. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) recognises this too. This year’s Desertification and Drought Day, marked worldwide on 17 June, is held under the theme Her Land. Her Rights. The UNCCD’s campaign provides a global platform to help advance the full integration of half the world’s population in land management decisions, and builds on: its own landmark COP decision on land rights (which was opportunely promoted by civil society organisations); its Gender Plan of Action and diverse relevant initiatives; alignment with sister conventions; and collaboration with global organisations with key expertise, such as IUCN.

Together we must ensure women’s equal right to own, use, access and control land and related resources, to secure land tenure, and to meaningful participation in decision-making on land legislation, policies and programmes including planning, design, budgeting and financing. This must be the cornerstone of action to combat desertification, land degradation and drought and, ultimately our collective work towards environmental and social justice.

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