Land Portal at CFS46: Empowering Advocates for Women's Land Rights Through Open Data | Land Portal

At CFS 46, the Land Portal had the opportunity to be the co-organizer of the side event How the VGGT have changed rural women’s lives:  Key strategies and innovations towards gender equality together with GLTN Unit UN-Habitat, the Cadasta Foundation and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). This side event brought together a range of experts who illustrated efforts aimed at ensuring women’s land rights through both formal institutions and customary systems. A consensus emerged during the discussion that there is an urgent need to eliminate the gender data gap on land rights.

My presentation highlighted the effectiveness of empowering advocates for women’s land rights by making data accessible to grassroots initiatives, which they can in turn use as a powerful tool for advocating their own interests.

I highlighted that despite the fact that women officially have equal property rights in 115 countries and have equal inheritance rights in 93 countries, the Social Institutions and Gender Index of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has found that in 79 of these countries, discriminatory practices keep women from enjoying their rights. In India, almost a third of all cultivators are women, but women own and manage less than 12 percent of land.  In Brazil, less than 15% of all land is registered to women. 

In early 2018, Espaco Feminista, Landesa and the Land Alliance worked to develop a model centered on strengthening women’s land rights through a bottom-up, data driven, participatory and empowering approach to guide policy change and monitor progress within the SDG framework. The project took place in two municipalities of Pernambuco, Brazil.  469 questionnaires were administered to women, which resulted in a rich database as well as a basis for the project. Besides the local questionnaires the project also had project leaders reviewing official data from Brazil’s national statistical office and used this as a basis for a series of discussions with grassroots women.  What emerged from these discussions and both sources of data was the fact that an immense amount of land remains concentrated in the hands of a very select group of people, white males being the majority and the fact that women have often never held documents for their land or housing.  This was a great opportunity to further discuss the gendered relations of power. 

Building a process of systematization of local knowledge based on the experiences and perceptions of the communities, in a gradual manner, and comparing them with official statistics, allowed the researchers to better connect their local realities with more structural issues. The data worked as a crucial tool to support their community leaders demands, so that they could formulate their request in a stronger way and sit in the negotiation table, be heard and their knowledge and voices recognized by institutional powers. 

The reason I am mentioned this story is because the Theory of Change we advocate at the Land Portal proved to be true in real and concrete terms here. When people have the opportunity to use data (whether or not the data was generated by them or extracted from official sources), and are able to understand what the data tells them and can compare the reality they are living with the reality described by the data, as well as use the data to back up their advocacy messages, they got empowered.  Whenever data gives people the raw materials they need to advocate for their rights they feel they can have a seat at the table, engage their governments and ask for the changes they wish to see.  This generates a very powerful accountability mechanism.

In general, people are encouraged to use the data when data is made available to them in ways that are open, accessible and easier to understand. Since most of the time government data is closed, put under paywalls, or inaccessible to people, people are unable to use them. Also, data scientists are not the only ones who can have a say on the meaning of specific data.  There are plenty of cases where well organized civil society groups collect their own data to have raw material to use in their advocacy or to hold their governments accountable. But as I am sure many of you are aware, these are extremely time consuming and demanding processes.

The Land Portal believes that strong accountability and transparency is generated when data becomes available and accessible to people in the broadest sense. So, not to meet the needs o data scientists only, but to serve the needs of everyone to reach their goals. Storifying the data is a possible way to channel the meaning of the data to those who are no data experts for instance. This is the Land Portal, and because this case spoke so powerfully to our main mission, in early 2019, one year after the implementation of the mentioned project, the Land Portal team worked closely with the teams at Espaco Feminista and Landesa, to create a data story around this initiative

Using the data to tell stories in the way we did, using language and tone that speaks to non-expert audiences, telling stories that capture attention and present data in an easier to understand and engaging ways, using photos, maps, infographics and other means to convey the data has proven to be really powerful and goes into the direction of generating more transparency and accountability. The story was written directly by women involved in the project, passing the proverbial microphone over to them and allowing them to speak for themselves.   

During a webinar on Realizing women’s land rights in Africa, Fridah Githuku, Executive Director of Groots Kenya, said that “Women’s land rights is a legal problem and a social problem. In Kenya we paused our reforms at the legal level and turned a blind eye to the social-cultural discrimination aided by patriarchy. We refuse to acknowledge this gap and address it and that’s why the policy-practice gap is so huge.” This is a problem that exists in many countries.

The fight for women’s land rights in particular, is unfortunately still a matter of changing perceptions and social norms, in addition to changing policy and legislation.  Many countries actually have legislation protecting women's rights, the key is changing social perceptions and norms so that these can realize themselves.  

GROOTS Kenya in partnership with Equal Measures 2030 is another local organization that does great work with women leaders in Kenya using Gender Equality Champions training them to lead community-based monitoring initiatives using an agreed set of indicators, including an SDGs Monitoring Framework to equip grassroots women and their communities with the capacity and evidence to monitor progress on the 2030 agenda with a key focus on gender equality. The data they collect is the basis on which the advocacy begins.

As you can see, both of these initiatives are women led. 

When women interact with data proactively, it allows them to hold their leaders accountable and promote transparency in decision making processes.  It is very much a bottom up process.

In both cases, access to data and information through different means has enhanced people's awareness of the structural problems and therefore made them more powerful and inclined to get their own institutions accountable. These are the kind of stores we love to promote, because they are stories of empowerment.

Along these same lines, we organize data conversations, discussions, webinars and help institutions to enrich their metadata, so that data becomes more accessible.  We work with big and small organizations alike to open up data legally and technically in order to increase transparency. Open data is only a tool, not a panacea, but if properly supported, can become a strong enabler of transparency and accountability.

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