Women’s access to land as a productive resource

Access to productive resources is a crucial factor in rural development all over the world, especially in developing countries. Land is the primary means for generating income in most rural communities. Land can be acquired through local kinship at the community level, direct transfer of ownership through sales or from the state.

Only 1% of the world’s women own land. Land tenure and titles seem to be a right exclusive to men. Women’s access to the use and property rights of land as a productive resource is essential to their economic empowerment.

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In many developing countries, cultural and institutional factors often limit women’s access to land ownership, labor, and capital. The patriarchal setting of most third world nations makes it difficult for women to access and own land in their own right. In the Middle East and North Africa, a woman’s inheritance will often be half that of a man in the same position, a practice justified by a man’s duties under Sharia (Islamic) law to support the women of their families. In some other parts of Africa, a woman cannot even hold title to land without her husband.

The right of enjoying all the advantages derivable from the use of someone else’s land as long as there is no destruction to it is usually the limit to women’s access to land in MENA. This implies that women cannot provide collateral for credit because they may not have legal ownership of tangible assets.

The legal rights to land that affect women include the traditional rights of women in marriage, inheritance rights and rights to women’s ownership of property.

Improving women’s access to land as a productive resource is key to a better quality of life for women in terms of adequate standard of living, food, housing, political participation and decent work.

If women’s access to land is to be improved, it is imperative to approach the issue from a multi-dimensional point of view to address the economic, legislative, social and cultural barriers to equal access, use and control of land.

In order to ensure women’s equal access to land, a gendered perspective is important to increase advocacy of the gender dynamics around land use and ownership. Dialogues on women’s land rights issues should be facilitated with a view to raising awareness on the importance of addressing related challenges that inhibit socio-economic development. Advocacy for women’s land rights with respect to land policy development and implementation, getting the support of partners towards complementary synergies and partnerships for addressing women’s land rights is a must-do.

Multi-lateral organisations should provide technical support and advisory services to countries in need of support to address women’s land rights issues. They may also support resource mobilization in research and advocacy as part of efforts to address women’s land rights. Holding countries accountable for ensuring women’s equal access to land will go a long way in ensuring that the policies are not just formulated but implemented up to the grassroots level while developing monitoring and evaluation tools to address women’s land rights land policy development and implementation.

Legislative action should be taken to repeal laws that negatively affect women’s right to land. These laws include but are not limited to anti-discrimination, traditional marriage and family law relating to marital property rights. The laws should be re-enacted to recognize the equal rights of both parties to use, obtain benefits from and manage joint property. Transfer of land ownership should be clearly documented, as well as equal land and property rights for men and women in the event of divorce.

Laws that grant land ownership to only one spouse being the head of household should be abolished to boost women’s access to the use of and control of land to improve women’s social, economic and political empowerment.

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