Source: All Africa

In every corner of the globe, the significance of land as the bedrock of shelter, security, and livelihood is undeniable.

Yet, almost 50% of the world's population - women - are denied equal rights to land, and often lack the legal rights to own or inherit land.

A long-standing issue in Africa is the lack of land rights for women, and their exclusion from land ownership decision-making processes. Land is essential for the livelihoods and well-being of many women and their families, and in addition to hindering gender equality and social progress, this major barrier also impedes economic empowerment and food security, despite women's essential role in agricultural production.

"Women in developing countries are the backbone of agriculture, producing 60-80% of the food grown in these regions," according to the United Nations. "However, they own less than one-fifth of all land worldwide. This disparity in land ownership is a major obstacle to women's empowerment and food security."

UN reports that land ownership and access is typically held by men or kinship groups controlled by men. This has resulted in many women losing access to land and being forced to rely on male relatives for access. The marginal nature of women's land rights is a historical problem in Africa, with male leaders exercising day-to-day control over land ownership and access. When desertification, drought, land degradation, and other resources such as water become scarce, it can lead to hunger, displacement, poverty, and violence. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to these effects, as they are often the primary food producers and caregivers in their communities.

However, there is growing awareness of the need to strengthen land rights for women and men across Africa. Leaders and gender equality champions advocating for women's full land rights. In a shared call to action, they're calling for a solution to women's land rights, advocating for legal barriers to women owning and inheriting land removed, and recognizing the importance of securing land rights for women in achieving sustainable development.

Activists and organizations from around the world took center stage at the Women Deliver Conference in Kigali, Rwanda, calling for women's land rights. The Stand for Her Land (S4HL) campaign aims to bridge the gap between global commitments and local practice to achieve gender equality by promoting women's land rights. The campaign seeks to drive real change on the ground by channeling resources, tools, and support for national and local advocacy efforts in focal countries. It promotes key "enablers" of positive change, including improved access to legal services for women and an enhanced understanding of land laws within communities and households. The campaign is the first of its kind to merge global and local efforts to radically accelerate land rights for women from the ground up.

The call is clear - we must come together to act to ensure women's rights are protected.

In recent years, there has been a growing movement to promote women's land rights in Africa.

Esther Mwaura-Muriu, Global Advocacy Director for Stand For Her Land, said: "Our campaign focuses on securing women's land rights, as we believe it is crucial for gender equality and sustainable development."

Mwaura-Muriu's work is to ensure the presence of the Stand for Her Land campaign in global and regional decision-making platforms that discuss sustainable development and emphasise the importance of women's land rights. "When women have secure land rights, they can control and use land in ways that promote activities resilient to climate change and contribute to biodiversity conservation. Additionally, secure land rights empower women economically, promoting economic justice and women's rights," she said.

"Securing women's land rights is closely linked to sustainable food production, food security, and climate resilience. When women have secure land rights, they can make decisions about how to use their land in ways that are beneficial to the environment, resilient to the negative impact of climate change and their families. We know that women who have secured land rights are able to improve their economic strength."

The Stand for Her Land director said it's "important to recognize that securing women's land rights is not only essential for sustainable development but also a human rights issue. Unfortunately, many discussions around sustainable development fail to understand the connection between securing women's land rights and various sectors such as climate change, energy, water, and food security."

"We call on policymakers and leaders in sustainable development to prioritize and integrate the issue of securing women's land rights into their policies and legal frameworks. We also call for increased financing for gender equality in land governance," she said.

"While progress has been made on issues like gender-based violence and climate financing, there has been limited engagement with land governance and securing women's land rights. This is often perceived as a technical and emotive issue, deterring many from addressing it. However, it is important to address this issue, as very few countries have more than 10% of women owning and controlling land, both in developing and developed nations. Increased financing and gender-responsive land governance systems will help advance women's land rights."

Closing the Gender Gap in Land Ownership in Africa

To change the culture of land ownership in Africa and promote more equal access for women, Mwaura-Muiru used an example of what the Stand for Her Land campaign is doing.

The Stand for Her Land campaign is working to close the gap between strong legal frameworks and policies on women's land rights, and the reality on the ground. The campaign is working in six countries: Tanzania, Uganda, Senegal, Ethiopia, Colombia, and Bangladesh. The campaign's approach is to build a movement of grassroots women who can advocate for the implementation of these laws and policies. They do this by first conducting a detailed background analysis in each country to understand the specific challenges that women face in accessing and owning land. They then use this information to train grassroots women on how to advocate effectively with their governments.

"The goal is to bring together diverse groups, such as rural women, indigenous women, pastoralist women, and marginalized women, who are directly affected by insecure land rights," she said.

"The campaign conducts detailed background analyses in each country, empowering grassroots women, local communities, religious leaders, and traditional institutions with information about land rights issues. They share their stories and experiences with the government, working directly with them. The campaign also works to collect and analyze data on land governance and women's land rights. This data is used to advocate for the inclusion of women's voices in decision-making processes and to ensure that development programs are designed with women's needs in mind, she said."

Mwaura-Muiru believes that by "showcasing the results achieved in Uganda, Senegal, and other countries, the campaign can prove the effectiveness of its approach".

"However, the lack of data on land governance, especially regarding secure women's land rights, is a major problem," she said. "The campaign calls on national statistical organizations and development agencies to prioritize data collection on this issue. The campaign also invests in community organizations to collect and analyze community-led data and ensures that this data is stored appropriately for advocacy purposes. The campaign urges national statistical organizations and development agencies to accept this data, as it will help to inform evidence-based programming and planning."

"The S4HL campaign works to amplify the voices of grassroots women by sharing their stories and experiences. This helps to raise awareness of the challenges that women face, and to build support for the campaign's work," she said.

Challenges of Promoting Women's Land Rights

Mwaura-Muriu shared some of the challenges she has encountered in her work to promote women's land rights.

"Land governance issues are often seen as too complex for grassroots women to understand. This is because people think of land as a technical issue, rather than a social and political one. As a result, women are often excluded from planning, evaluation, and implementation of land governance initiatives."

"Dealing with land governance issues and securing women's rights requires a lot of power shifting."

"Another challenge is that land governance requires a shift in power. This means that some people who currently have power will have to give it up. This is a difficult change for many people to accept, and it can lead to resistance," she said.

"Corruption is very much alive in issues of land governance," she added. "This is because land is often a valuable asset, and people are willing to pay bribes to get what they want. Corruption can prevent women from accessing land, and it can also lead to the loss of land that they already own."

She added that "traditional norms and practices can also be a barrier to women's land rights. In many cultures, women are not seen as equal to men when it comes to land ownership. This can make it difficult for women to challenge land grabbing or other forms of land injustice."

Despite these challenges, there are opportunities to improve land governance for women.

"By working closely with traditional leaders, religious leaders, communities, and power holders, we can start to change the way that land is seen and governed. This will help to ensure that women have equal rights to land and that they can benefit from the economic and social opportunities that land ownership can provide," she said.

How to Translate Advocacy Efforts into Tangible Changes in Women's Land Rights

Mwaura-Muiru discussed how the Stand for Her Land campaign is working to close the implementation gap for women's land rights by advocating for changes in policies and laws at both the national and international levels.

"We are working with very little resources, but we are utilizing them to make a significant impact."

"The Stand for Her Land campaign is doing its best to ensure that rural women, pastoralist women, Indigenous women, and women living in informal settlements are represented in policy decision-making at the international level," she said. "However, we are working with very limited resources. The resources we have been provided by BM Zed for Africa and the U.S. Department of State initiative for Bangladesh and Colombia are typically used to target one country. However, we are using these resources to work in five countries, which means we are making a significant impact with very little funding."

She added that "if we were to receive additional resources, we would be able to expand the campaign to 15 countries. This would allow us to reach more women and make a greater impact on their lives. We have a critical mass of skilled professionals working on the campaign, and we have institutions that support our work. However, we need more investment to be able to reach our full potential."

Women Deliver 2023 - A Gathering for Gender Equality

Mwaura-Muiru said that the S4HL campaign is hoping to achieve gender equality by closing the implementation gap for women's land rights.

"Women Deliver is a platform where women's human rights organizations, development partners, and government participants come together on equal footing. This is unlike the Commission on Status of Women, where the UN Women has control of the space and it is primarily controlled by governments," she added.

"At Women Deliver, we will be having several side events, participating in other side events, and engaging with feminists, gender activists, and gender advocates, both in government and non-state actors. We hope to convince them to make securing women's land rights a priority for their work. We are also part of the planners for the climate day pre-conference event. We will be promoting and clearly explaining how we will not be able to deal with the climate crisis if we do not secure women's land rights. We will have a grassroots woman from Senegal speak at the opening of the climate day event. She is a leader in the National Association of Grass Rural Women in Senegal. We will also be speaking on the technical understanding of the nexus between land, climate justice, and the prevention of conflict," Mwaura-Muiru added.

"We have a standalone event during the mainstream part of the conference. The session is on the nexus between land and climate justice. We have a number of excellent speakers, including Dr. Jemima Juki, a senior person from the UN Women's Peking office who is leading the Generation Equality Forum. We also have grassroots women from Tana River in Kenya, a young woman from Bangladesh, grassroots women from Uganda, and civil society actors from India."

"During the conference, we will be launching the Women's Land Rights Platform. This is a storytelling platform where we want to share the stories of women all over the world who have secured their land rights. We want to show the barriers that women face in securing their land rights, but we also want to share the stories of change."

Women Key to Solving Climate Crisis

Mwaura-Muriu believes that the most important role that women can play in addressing the climate crisis is to lead the way in building a more just and equitable world.

Women have been disproportionately impacted by the climate emergency. They are more likely to be displaced by disasters, suffer from its health impacts, and lose their livelihoods.

"However, women have also come up with solutions to climate change," she said. "They have demonstrated that they can deal with climate change, especially when they own land or have control over land. Women have come up with solutions over the years. And we need to really acknowledge these solutions, that women who have owned land, who have had the opportunity to control that whether it's really public lands or its individual lands, it doesn't matter."

"The harsh impacts of climate change have actually disproportionately impacted women who are already living in poverty."

In addition to their contributions to climate crisis mitigation, she "emphasised the need to recognise that women living in poverty are disproportionately affected by the harsh impacts of climate change. This is a crisis in itself, and it is essential to focus on empowering these women to survive the crisis and to ensure that they are protected from the long-term effects of climate change."

Mwaura-Muriu argues for change in the way climate crisis solutions are approached in order to ensure that women are included and benefit from them. Stand for Her Lamd calls for a focus on empowering women and ensuring they have a say in how resources are allocated. It's essential to ensure a more just and equitable world in the face of the climate crisis. Discussions about the climate emergency are not just limited to talking about it, there is also a lot of work being done to establish financial mechanisms to address climate change, at the global, regional, and national levels.

"Financial mechanisms for climate change need to be changed so that resources are shared and utilized in a way that benefits women," she said. "The priorities of women, particularly those who are living the crisis, must be taken into account when investing in climate change solutions."

What's Next for Women's Land Rights in Africa

"Well, I think we have made lots of progress, a lot of progress. And so my hope is that we can sustain this progress. And we can sustain the good things that we are doing. And that it becomes everyone's responsibility, whether you are a young boy or a young man or a young girl, to actually uphold women's human rights. That's my hope," she said. "The other thing is that I do hope that even as our governments do a lot of call on mega in external financing for our development, that the government becomes conscious in upholding women's human rights, because there is a danger there, especially when you talk about large scale investments on our lab, the most people that end up suffering are women. So I am hoping that as we even attract external law, large scale investments that women human rights will be at the centre on the kind of projects that we are going to be allowed in Africa."

"Definitely I see a continent in the future where women and men have equal authority in terms of shaping this continent and where it's going, but also the enjoyment of what we have. We are endowed with enormous resources. And then resources need to be shared equally between men and women, whether it's when we talk about education, whether when we talk about blood governance, whether when we talk about political participation, that is where we need to be where men and women are in equal standing," Mwaura-Muriu said.

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