Online Discussion: Land Rights Implications of COVID-19 | Land Portal
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This discussion seeks to develop a set of actionable recommendations to policy makers, as well as practical recommendations based on what is happening on the ground, with regard to land rights and COVID-19. The discussion aims to identify both short term and longer term actions that can effectively contribute to supporting land governance stakeholders facing an ongoing pandemic, while looking forward to post-pandemic priorities.

The Land Rights and COVID-19 webinar and discussion series is presented by Land Portal, Landesa, the Global Protection Cluster HLP AOR and GIZ, with organizing support from Environmental Peacebuilding Association, LANDac, New America and the UK's Department for International Development (DFID). 

 

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Topics of discussion

The discussion will focus on key statements with guiding questions.

 
Rural women make up a quarter of the world’s population, but many face legal and social barriers that limit their ability to access, use and benefit from the land they tend and depend on for their livelihoods.  While women play an indispensable role in the rural economy, feeding families, conserving resources and contributing to community well-being, fewer than 15 percent of rural women have secure land rights, which impedes agricultural productivity and poverty alleviation and leaves women less empowered, economically and socially. Securing these rights is crucial to achieving a more equitable and sustainable world.
From large land acquisitions that displace communities without due compensation, to the encroachment of mining on indigenous lands, to the brunt of climate change and natural disasters, to everyday land and property deprivation by kin or state, women are typically more harshly impacted by land tenure insecurity due to discriminatory laws and lingering social bias. The covid-19 virus threatens to exacerbate a highly unequal situation.
 
Questions:
  1. How is COVID-19 affecting women in your country and community?
  2. Looking more specifically at land, how is the virus affecting women’s ability to access and use land?
  3. Are women likely to face added pressure on their land as a result of COVID-19 as people move back to rural areas OR as spouses, parents, children or siblings become sick or die?
  4. If women become ill or die, are their land rights likely to be compromised?
  5. In addition to illness and possible in-migration, how else is COVID-19 likely to impact women’s land rights, including the long-term impacts?
  6. What are you doing, in your organization, to address these threats? 
  7. What else should we be doing right now to address these concerns? What should we be doing in the medium to longer-term to address threats to women’s land rights?
  8. If you were able to pick one thing to do today to help protect women’s land rights that might be threatened as a result of the COVID-19 virus, what would it be?

 

 

 
Evictions have emerged as the most common housing, land and property risk globally associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in spite of the fact that access to adequate housing is essential to reduce the spread of the virus. These risks of evictions arise due to a combination of factors, the main one being the suspension and loss of livelihoods on a massive scale resulting from public health prescriptions resulting in an inability to pay rent. Opportunistic actors (governments, armed groups, and landlords) may also use this crisis to evict people from houses, camps and informal settlements. Lastly, evictions are also a major risk for public health workers and others who risk exposure as a result of their professions, people who have been infected by the disease, and other marginalized populations due to stigma and fear.

 

Even in non-pandemic times, evictions are humanitarian crises – with lasting effects on the health, well-being, education, and livelihoods of not only those who have been evicted, but communities as a whole.

Not all governments have enacted measures to secure housing tenure for tenants and occupants of camps and informal settlements in response to this crisis. Among those jurisdictions who have put in measures, most have moved to enact moratoriums on eviction and utilities shut-offs, and a minority have put in measures to reduce rents or offer rental subsidies to the most vulnerable households. However even these measures will expire in the coming weeks and months even when economies have not fully “reopened” and livelihoods revived, leaving renters with several months worth of unpaid rent. What happens then? And what is happening to vulnerable tenants and occupants in jurisdictions where no measures to mitigate these risks have been put into place, or governments do not have the capacity to implement the measures they pass?

 

Questions:

  1. Some jurisdictions are considering or have implemented measures to mitigate the risk of evictions, with the most common approach appearing to be the suspension of all formal eviction proceedings for the duration of the public health emergency.

    1. What are some of the advantages and limitations of this approach?

    2. How do we also protect landlords who rely on rent for their own subsistence?

    3. What happens when the moratoriums and other measures end and tenants have to pay several months of back rent?

  2. What is the situation for vulnerable tenants and occupants in jurisdictions where no measures have been put into place (or governments do not have the capacity to implement /enforce their moratoria) to secure their tenure?

  3. What are some practical tools and approaches that practitioners can advocate for or deploy on the ground to keep people housed? What are some of the limitations, risks, and challenges around these approaches?

  4. Evictions are a chronic risk for impoverished and marginalized populations (especially displaced populations), even in non-pandemic times. Anticipating that inequality in terms of livelihoods and housing is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, what would you like to see in terms of the evolution of law, policy and practice on this issue?

 

 

 

The COVID crisis has millions of people on the move, and tens of thousands stranded far from their homes. Most notably, as economies shut down and lockdowns proliferate, de-urbanization has emerged as a serious challenge throughout the developing world. As people leave cities they are leaving properties behind, which creates a range of challenges, such as how to ensure their properties are not taken over by others, whether they be developers, government agents or squatters.

Re-integrating this mass of people into rural communities presents another serious challenge and may lead to a rise in conflicts. What are the dispute resolution activities we should be thinking about today? Another emerging challenge is related to the question of remittances. People in rural areas, in LAC and also in Asia, for example, rely on remittances to build homes, maintain homes, and invest in local businesses. As levels of remittances drop, how can these investments be protected? Moreover, will this mass influx of people returning to rural areas be beneficial for food systems as increased rural laborers become available? What will be the impacts of de-urbanization and its impacts on access to land by youth.

Questions:

  1. As global lockdowns take effect, we see massive amounts of people moving from cities back to their hometowns. What are the broad property rights implications of this migration? What lessons can be drawn from other epidemics (ebola?) and natural disasters?

  2. How do we protect the properties people are leaving behind?  For example, from  developers or squatters? How do we ensure these people  can return once lockdowns lift, and how can we avoid inequalities resulting from the lockdown lift?

  3. How do we accommodate all of the people returning to  the countryside? How do we allocate housing and land to them, and how do we resolve disputes that will inevitably arise?  What should rural communities be doing now, to prepare?

  4. What will be the anticipated impact on food systems, health services and education of adding so many new residents into sparsely populated areas?

  5. Many people in rural areas rely on remittances from relatives in cities to build and maintain their homes. What will happen as these remittances  dry up? As levels of remittances drop, how can these investments be protected?

  6. We are also seeing increasing mobility restrictions that leave people stranded far from their homes. What are the property rights implications of this?

 

 

 

Where lockdown measures lead to the closing of land administration services, land rights may come under pressure, potentially squeezing out the poorer segments of the population. As people migrate out of the cities back to the countryside this generates pressures on land in the places they move to. Those returning from the city may have a comparative advantage both in terms of financial means and legal literacy. In this context, the need for responsible and responsive land governance is greater than ever, at a time that the land administration system seems least prepared to deliver this. The resulting gaps in land governance may lead to lack of transparency, lack of protection and increases the room for elite capture. People suffering a sudden loss of income may be at a greater risk of eviction, both in rural and in urban areas. 

 

Questions:

  1. What challenges do you see to land administration services under lockdown, at local, regional or national levels? Have they found ways to work around the lockdown?

  2. Who is jumping into the gap left by state services? Who is taking action when the official land service is not? Are the chiefs filling in the gaps? Are land agents attending the population informally (e.g. from their homes)?

  3. What can be done to prevent the lockdown from resulting in a lasting, irreversible erosion of capacity and legitimacy of land administration services?

  4. Given the fact that the crisis has allowed the government to restrict freedom on the basis of extraordinary circumstances, do you see any challenges in transparency in the way governments are responding to information requests or the ability to CSOs, media, academia, to put adequate pressure?

  5. With the increased appetite that people have for reliable and up to date information and data, how do we make sure we keep monitoring the amount of data that is made available in an open format? How can we propose solutions that increase the level of openness and we don’t forget lessons we learned in the past?

  6. What are the main challenges posed by publishing information and data in times of Covid-19 and in maintaining governments open when people are confined and locked down?

Comments

Welcome to this online debate on the Land Rights Implications of COVID-19, which builds upon a series of webinars on on Women’s Housing and Land Rights and COVID-19, Eviction Response During and After COVID-19 and Migration, Displacement, and De-urbanization in the Context of COVID-19 that took place last week as  result of a great collaboration effort.

The Land Portal is privileged to convene this online discussion and to collaborate with a wide range of partners from the land governance sector and beyond to ensure broad representation of stakeholders. We greatly appreciate your participation and value your contributions. 

Countries around the world are facing unprecedented challenges from COVID-19, and the need for openness, transparency, inclusion and accountability have rarely been greater.  

Access to accurate and timely information has become an essential service and it is our collective responsibility to make sure that information is kept out of lockdown during these difficult times, which threatens to undermine all of our combined efforts. COVID-19 can be used as an easy excuse to limit access and availability of key information necessary for communities to defend and secure their land rights. Cooperation now is more important than ever as the challenge is bringing clear messages to governments from different sectors in society.

Governments around the world are grappling with diminishing budgets due to contracting economies resulting from COVID-19 lockdowns. Governments from donor countries are evaluating whether or not it is worth continuing to support land governance programs, or if these precious resources should be dedicated to other efforts. In the land governance sector, we know that women’s land rights, community land rights, secure tenure and related issues are fundamental to an equitable, just and sustainable society, and we must provide clear evidence in the context of this pandemic of the relevance of this work.

We are counting on you, land governance stakeholders from around the world, so feel free to openly share your perspective here in this online debate.

Very useful and thought provoking speech. Bravo.

The world is currently facing far-reaching challenges. Millions of people around the world are experiencing massive income losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are restricted in their fundamental rights, have to leave their homes and thus face an uncertain future.

It is already apparent that the pandemic has a particularly negative impact on a sustainable rural development. Global and regional supply chains are breaking down, and curfews and restrictions to the right of assembly are making it difficult to work in agriculture or sell produce on the market. In addition, the services provided by state authorities must be reduced to a minimum. These challenges will have medium and long-term effects on secure access to land and the land sector in general.

Vulnerable population groups will be particularly hard hit by the effects of the pandemic. In addition to limited agricultural activity, women in particular are at risk of losing access to land if they lose their male relatives as a result of the pandemic. Migrant workers and residents of informal urban settlements are threatened with eviction and forced resettlement.

Restricted freedom of movement and assembly further weakens already fragile institutions and functions of land management and administration. International cooperation in the land sector is not spared from the constraints either.

The crisis will further expose the underlying weaknesses of the sector. It is therefore of particular importance that we analyze current developments in detail and use the lessons learnt for a long-term and more sustainable development of the land sector.

Christian Graefen and Felix Schilling

GIZ Sector Project Land Governance

It is extremely scarely that the world risks to  loose so much of the gains made because of this COVID19.  I think this is where increased capacity for  local communities to use technologies to access markets for their produce, to organise and advocate as well collect more and more real time data about their situation will help. But this data must be fully mainstreaimed in publc plans inorder to inform projects and programs to deal with the aftermath of covid. Unfortunately, this calls for hefty resource allocation  that shall need to be targgetd and I am not too sure if development actors are willing to invest here

Secure land rights are fundamental to sustainable development and to the prosperity of women, men, and families around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the attendant economic and social upheaval, underscore the importance of land rights.

Our homes, built on secure land, are not only a source of shelter, but a place of sanctuary from the coronavirus. But many are not so fortunate. From the favelas of Brazil to the slums of Mumbai, we know that millions are homeless or face the looming threat of eviction from their land and homes.

For women, COVID-19 is another risk factor on top of layers of gender discrimination. In many countries where women lack rights to own or inherit land, those losing their spouse to coronavirus risk losing their homes and land as well.

In periods of economic upheaval and uncertainty, land is quite the literally the foundation for stability, security, and opportunity. Without it, we witness millions of migrant workers caught between worlds – joblessness for those who remain in urban centers, landlessness for many who return to the villages they left behind.

Against these myriad threats to lives and livelihoods, secure land rights are an essential countermeasure – a stabilizing force that affords women and men the opportunity to invest in their land and in themselves, and an add-on accelerator improving outcomes in housing, food security, gender equity, and more.

 
Statement 1: COVID-19 poses an accelerated threat to the safety and security of women, and to their ability to exercise land and inheritance rights.​
 

 

Hello and welcome everyone to this first session of the online debate focus on  Women’s Housing and Land Rights and Covid-19.  The discussion statement for this week is “COVID-19 poses an accelerated threat to the safety and security of women, and to their ability to exercise land and inheritance rights.” 

What is your response to this statement?

This week the debate focuses on women's land rights and the implications of covid-19 on vulnerable communities and groups who may face additional burdens as a result of the virus. In many countries, women are hesitant to participate in activities and to make claims related to women’s land rights. There is a fear that a consequence of the virus will be that women will be even less likely to make claims (especially related to inheritance) or register their land rights. 

Our first question in this debate is How is COVID-19 affecting women in your country and community?  

 

It is affecting both women and men. What I have not yet seen is the gender disaggregated data. 

Just like with any pandemic, that the COVID-19 pandemic deeply affects women and men differently cannot be gainsaid. As such, the pandemic is affecting women in my country and community in several ways. Women are generally homemakers and perform a big fraction of the total hours of unpaid care work, more than men. While men are the majority of those who have succumbed to the virus, women and girls bear the brunt of care burdens. During this pandemic, they have had the added responsibility and burden of care to the sick, vulnerable elderly family members, and children who are now home due to closure of schools.  This not only exposes them to contracting the virus from infected family members, but also reduces time they would spend generating income, or farming within the limited circumstances, where the opportunity presents itself. There is also the risk of being dispossessed of land and property. For women already living in poverty, this affects their economic stability and their ability to purchase critical necessities, like medicine and food.

We are also witnessing a rise in gender based violence cases due to the pandemic, which has been brought about by increased stress levels. This has been characterized by rape/ defilement cases, sexual assault and early pregnancy which decrease women’s productivity, as they now mostly cede control over earnings to abusers.

In terms of the threat posed by Covid-19 to the safety and security of women, and to their ability to exercise land and inheritance rights, it may be significant to consider developing a constituency of support internationally. In the UK itself, there is a particular opportunity to develop links and support as many of our citizens are from all parts of the world. Our black and ethnic minority citizens identify with their countries of heritage, and are often in touch with their issues. Purposefully giving information and the role they can play in supporting change that benefits these countries that they relate to can become an important part of the picture.

Information on COVID-19 reminds some women living i n rural Kenya of the early stigmatization and struggles with HIV/AIDS. Lack of information - what is COVID-19? How will it affect me, my children, my livelihood, my community? The silence by the govenment to provide reassuring and not alarming messages created more confusion. The protocols related to survellience eg reporting to your local administration  about your travel, reinforced women's vulnerability to their security and that of their property. Hence, I agree with you about the need for supporting change that benefits countires and especially vulnerable rural communities.

In Nigeria, women forms the highest polpulation and indirectly this also implicated that in the labour market women forms a greater part. During this COVID -19 pandermic there has been a great migration of people from the urban to the rural areas, it is believed that moving to their origin it would make them more safer. However during the movement properties are left behind in the urban areas and due to the lockdown the idle ones in the society that has no source of daily income took to the street to start burgling and making properties left behind to be insecured. Also migrating to the rural areas has also created another problem because life in the rural area is less attractive. Women are faced with the challenge of going into the farm to source for food and while in the bush they are exposed to a lot of hazards. Some were raped, some were even killed. The issue of the herdsman killing has really made life in the rural areas less attractive. A woman is also faced with the fact that their land can be taken by the men without notice. Women righst on land is challenged daily especially where the woman is a widow without a male child. The case becomes worse where a widow dies without having a male child, in this case all the property are taken over by the family except on exceptional cases. However it is assumed that after COVID-19 land regulations must be revisited and women right and access to land need to be looked into critically. However it is expected that government should ensure that formulated laws should empower women and protected them in the society.

ELEGBEDE OLUFOLA

Chief Lecturer

The Polytechnic Ibadan.

Nigeria.

COVID numbers are fairly low in Liberia, with less than 150 active cases. However, the country is in a lockdown with restricted movements between counties and reduction of almost 70% of workforce to only essential personnel.  We do see a threat to women’s land rights particularly in rural areas.   There is a challenge of maintaining the momentum gained from the passage of the land rights act which includes significant protection for women’s land rights.

In Ghana, all attention is now on dealing with COVID 19. (programs, finances, experts, all resources are now geared toward fighting COVID 19). All efforts and interventions are now on hold for many reasons; the activities cannot be held, funds are not readily available etc. Women are the majority in informal businesses, operating SMEs. They have lost employment or are no longer able to engage in their business because of the restrictions. Stay at home orders places a lot of stress on women in caring for the household.  Information on COVID 19 and support packages are communicated in mediums that are not accessible to women. As with all other issues, the Task Force leading the management of COVID 19 in Ghana is almost an all-male team.  Dealing with toxic masculinity in husbands who flaunt daily precautionary protocols at home and put women and others at risk.  Women are also dealing with stigma.

I think we are still understanding the impacts.  But experience from other crises (natural disasters, conflicts) have shown that these types of situations can lead to further erosion of women’s land rights, particularly if they are already insecure either because of informality (such as in slums) or because they are held in customary or traditional systems - and in these situations women can lose their access and their rights if their spouse dies, if they can no longer afford to pay rent or if others take advantage of the situation to evict women and their families.  And this is on top of the health risk women will be dealing with as care-givers in their families and communities and as those most likely to be informally employed and therefore needing to work to survive.

Very very true.  Traditionaly the caregiving was mainly limited to supporting sick and needy in the families  besides usual daily household chores. Today many care givers are also engaged in unpaid work related to advancing local governance and accountibility. They are doing social audits and negotiating and holding  administrators and politicians accountable during planning,   budgetting and implementaion of projects.  . Yet,  majority  have no formal employment,  relying on stipends from CSOs whenever possible, they end up doing alot voluntarily. And its all good, but its an added burden. With COVID 19 and decreased individual source of income, it will become worse 

 

 

At risk of sticking my neck out controversially at the very start of this online discussion, I do take issue with the assumptions that lie in this opening statement to frame the discussion on potential impacts of Covid-19 on women’s land rights. This is two-fold. First, if we are assuming women (in general) as a vulnerable/discriminated group with respect to land rights, and that Covid-19 will aggravate that vulnerability/discrimination, then surely we must focus not just on women (in general / as a whole), but instead on particular groups of women in particular contexts whose tenure insecurity may be exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. And, relatedly, we must also look at all vulnerable groups – not just women, but some groups of men in some communities and contexts. The point being that if Covid-19 is going to exacerbate tenure insecurity for vulnerable people, then it will not just do so for women, and in fact may not do so for all women anyway – as wealthier and more powerful women may be able to take advantage of increasing tenure insecurity of more vulnerable people of both genders to strengthen their own tenure security instead.

Second, we must ask how exactly the Covid-19 pandemic can be assumed to aggravate tenure insecurity – and this is something that will come in the other 3 discussion sessions later on. So, my preference would be to look at the specific gender issues in relation to those other topics - (issues for people renting land and housing, impacts of urban-rural migration, and issues around land administration governance gaps) - as this discussion forum progresses, and without making any a priori assumptions that women’s tenure security in general will necessarily be made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.

These comments are intended as general/theoretical food for thought to help kick start what I anticipate will be a very interesting discussion over the next few weeks. I look forward to reading the contributions of those working directly with grassroots women’s groups in different countries across the world over the next few days, to see what light they can shed on this topic from a deeply contextual and specific analysis of the evidence as they are seeing it, without making an assumption that women’s situation as a whole will necessarily be made worse. Where might the opportunities be instead for positive change and strengthening of women’s rights and land rights of all vulnerable people out of this global pandemic?    

My research work is based in rural Bungoma County in Kenya. COVID-19 was first announced nationally in March 2020. At the end of May 2020, the changes brought about by the pandemic have been felt by everyone in the area. Whilst government services have decreased and in some instances non-existence , priority has shifted for all away from key land matters that require institutional administration support to immediate food and health concerns. Further, the linkage in knowledge generated by the 'locusts missing our County' discourses and the Corona 'missing our County' with regard to the need for food sustainability to avoid another calamity ahead cannot be ignored. The absence of the aniticipated locusts in the area plays into a COVID-19 'absence' as a way that the community rationalizes as fate (or a death knoll). Also, the extra surveillance by the local adminstration - nyumba kumi; sub-Chiefs, Chiefs - means that land matters that would elicit disputes have been put-aside for now. Thus far there has been no death in the sub-county related to COVID-19, hence isolating women's land rights concerns is important but when different discourses of calamity are posed as 'attacking' the area, the ubuntu spirit of togetherness seems to take centre place. In general there has been a drop in cases related to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women- but 3 months is still early. Probably from December 2020 then can I begin to note the impact of COVID-19 on women's land tenure rights.

Thanks so much for this thoughtful comment Liz.  I agree that it's important to look at all vulnerable peoples and not to approach women as a undifferentiated whole and to presume harms when, in fact, harms may be limited.  I do think some women may face some additional risks if, as in India, more city dwellers head back to rural areas and need access to lands for livelihoods or if women are less able to travel to defend contested land claims.  But, thanks so much for asking us to consider such linkages in more detail and more specifically!  Best, Karol

I think we need to develop two forms of strategies. The first covers vulnerable groups within households, such as women, the elderly, children, strangers who are at risk of eviction by powerful individuals and groups with the household or broader family. The second is vulnerable groups and groups of of households, such as  women, child-headed households, strangers, foreigners, foreign owned shops, and refugees. Tenants also need protection. However, in my field work I have also observed tenants using a conflict to grab the landlord's land by refusing to pay rent and later demanding title to that land. The landlord cannot pay the taxes and they lose their investment or family land which may have been passed on through a number of generations as a consequence.

 

 

In Indonesia, women have a high risk of contracting Covid-19 due to their role in taking care of old families and their families. Women also need to take care of the household, teach the children, and support the economy. Domestic violence is now more prevalent due to stress from job loss, economic instability, and excessive time at home, Indonesian women were already in a vulnerable position for being laid off from their job compared to men.

In rural areas, women are involved in all agricultural sectors' activities but have no control over land, labor, and new technologies. The Covid-19 pandemic raises the challenge gaps for equality due to a lack of gender-empowerment training or socialization.

Human rights defenders are key allies in addressing the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, they should be recognized and protected without discrimination. Reports of land rights defenders being arrested by the police during the lockdown, such as documented in Uganda and Cameroon are retrogressive and should be addressed immediately, especially given that these activists are going out of their way to protect the rights of the vulnerable despite the quarantine measures which make it difficult for the defenders facing threats to file complaints with police and access judicial remedies.

While we know that the widespread closure of the courtrooms due to public health safety concerns occasioned by the virus has brought to a halt court services resulting in delays in delivery of court judgment or cancellation of judgment for most vulnerable groups, it is my hope that actors will mobilize support to bring relief to the defenders across the continent who are wrongfully detained for speaking up for the rights of vulnerable groups such as women who may be subject to familial land grabbing as a result of the virus. The focus must shift to other noble mechanisms such as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), or the adoption of technology to expedite justice.

Great Graceananda that you have raised the issue about Human Rights Defenders. I would like to raise the concern that violent land evictions are still taking place in Central America despite Covid 19 and women are at a higher risk for the multiple reasons the different interventions have already highlighted.

The Honduran Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared (COFADEH), reported that on 2nd April 2020, the leadership of the Cerro Escondido Peasant Movement, based in Monjarás, Choluteca department (Southern Honduras) denounced before the Investigative Police Directorate (IPD) that agents of private security of the Sugar Company La Grecia, violently evicted a group of families who occupied a property using high calibre weapons. The IDP did not respond to the complaint under the argument that they had received a circular of no attending public matters due to the pandemic. During the attack, Human Rights Defender Iris Argentina Álvarez Chávez and six leaders were killed, including Jacinto Ávila, Iris’ husband. In this case there was total absence of the preventive action of imminent and irreparable violations, leaving the impression of complicity and direct acquiescence.

Unfortunately this is just one example of the multiple land and human rights violations taking place in the region, which have exacerbated during the pandemic, as due to lockdown and strict curfews, HRDs are at home and easier to locate.

In Ethiopia land is owned by state. The people have only use right. In theory, even though, there is no discrimination between men and women the practice is totally different. Women have less access to use, administer, inherit, or do whatever they wanted on their own land. Even under normal circumstance women living in polygamous marriage arrangement are the most disadvantage ones. On top of that the pandemic of COVID -19 has been anticipated to complicate the situation more and more. For now, compared to other countries the prevalence of the COVID 19 is relatively low (of course the rate of test is also smaller per day).

For instance, most of the women headed households in urban areas are leading their families based on the low income they get from renting houses. In most of the cases the lessees are obtaining their income from petty trading and small business. However, due to COVID-19 this kind of business have been limited. This has deteriorated their daily income. They started failing to pay their rental fees. For now, government has decreed state of emergency obligating the landlords not to increase rental price and not evict lessees without their consent. For the last two months this has worked somehow positively to protect the lessee. Some landlords, who have alternative income have also exempted collection of rental fees. However, as the prevalence of the pandemic is mounting from time to time that this has deteriorated women headed households who have no other income other than the rental fee to support their family. Its effect has been started to be observed in some parts of urban areas. 

In most of the cases women will assume the responsibility of taking care of the family members infected by the virus. They will stay at home looking after the patient elderlies and other. They can not go out to work on their land. In the meantime, their land may be taken by someone. For instance, Prime Minister of Ethiopia has advised to cultivate any vacant land to produce more food to prepare for the expected shortage of food in the coming year. However, following the advice of the prime Minister some of the lands started to be farmed by land less urban youths are told to be lands owned by elderlies and women’s who are staying at home in fear of C-19 viral contamination. This has initiated some conflict in same areas.  

IOM Ethiopia is providing Cash for rent for some of the most vulnerable IDPs, returnees and host communities. Furthermore, we are also setting up help desk to counsel and advise on HLP issues encountering its beneficiaries in different response areas.

When the COVID- 19 guidelines, sanitizing and social-distancing rules were announced in Kenya for the widow Mideva living in rural Bungoma County on her 2 acres parcel of land, this announcement left a lot of questions in her mind. Mideva continued with her farm activities , knowing that she may not get any assistance from her children working in Nairobi. What causes her concern ARE her 3 grandchildren left to her by her late daughter.  She hopes that their health will not be compromised. Mideva felt that , the government was making little effort to contain the locust infestation that was ravaging nearby Counties and there was little to assist her in combating this infestation if locusts invaded to her County. Hence, the March 2020 , Covid- 19 annoucement felt to her as a 'Nairobi- urban' packed and packaged matter and didn't concern her directly. Of importance to her was: making use of the long rains, planting food crops,minding her health and continuing with her changaa [illicit brew] business to supplement her income. Only when the when Government offices were closed, schools , churches and public transport shut down and the local Chief requested her to stop her brewing business in late March, did it strike her that something terrible was happening. To date ( June 2020), there have been no COVID-19 related deaths in her village or any that she claims she knows of. The death of a Politician's brother who lived in Nairobi and no one attended his funeral was testament to her that COVID-19 originated in the City, yet they were poorly informed about it. Mideva desires to know more about the COVID-19 pandemic in a language she appreciates ( her local Lubukusu dialect) so that she can be one of the Community leaders taking charge of this matter and care of her 3 grandchildren. Mideva was happy that her grandchildren were able to assist her more during the planting and weeding seasons. Land matters are important for for now Health matters are a priority for Mideva. In her words, 'If I die or I am sick, will I till my land or go to buy seed, tawe (No! in local dialect)

My comment: My research project in a rural farming community in Bungoma County, where women account for 70% of the residents living and working on the farms. Any concerns women have in regard to their secure land tenure rights have temporarily stopped. It therefore is too soon to discuss about the 'impact of COVID-19' in an area where women like Mideva feel that the packaging of the pandemic was urban, of priviledged lifestyles and required it being transported to them by a relative living in Nairobi or one of the major urban centres. 

Extract- from on-going research work on land matters in rural Bungoma County Kenya. Mideva ( pseudo-name)

This is a great example from Fibian that shows the importance of looking carefully at context and not rushing to judgement about what the eventual impacts of Covid-19 on women's land tenure security in general might end up being. Particularly interesting to see Mideva's appreciation of her grandchildren (not in school) being able to help in the fields instead - if growing more crops could offset lost income from the brewing business that's negatively affected by Covid-19 lockdowns, Mideva may be no worse off net, and therefore no more at risk of tenure insecurity than her current level of (pre-pandemic) risk. Let's have more of this really valuable nuance to enrich this discussion over the coming few days.

I agree with you Dr Lukalo. I happened to have stayed in Bungoma and engage with the community more so widows and child headed household. land is a big issue that needs to be addresed. 

In Liberia, COVID-19 has affected mainly the livelihoods of women. Like many other countries around the world, Liberia declared a state of emergency and came out with restrictive measures: including quarantine (lockdown) in all 15 counties, strict prohibition on movements between counties, curfew (initially from 3pm to 6am but now relaxed a bit from 6am to 6pm) essential items sought from local areas. Generally, a lot of people are more worried about hunger than the virus itself due to restrictions on movements as majority of Liberians, especially women, earn a living on daily basis through selling at the various major markets. However, in the rural areas:

  • Productivity is affected 

    • Planting season where crops are planted begin from April and women are those who normally do the planting. The initial curfew restrictions from 3pm to 6am affected how women work on their farms as they have to close earlier than usual. Besides, women in rural Liberia plant crops in groups/association called “Kuu” and due to the restriction on social gathering, not more than 10 can go at a time for the planting. These restrictions have affected the normal planting routine and would eventually affect their productivity/yield even after coronavirus is contained and free movement is allowed again

  • Reduced Income: 

    • Farm produce are getting rotten as there are not available markets for them in the rural setting, reducing the income they would have get from selling these farm produce. Rural women usually go to nearby big markets to sell their produce on market days. On the other hand, market women from big cities usually travel to the rural women and buy their farm produce whilst at the same time supplying them with food essentials that rural women cannot get in their communities. However, due to the restriction on movements, these are not happening anymore.

    • Due to bad road networks, most of our women from communities bordering with neighboring countries Sierra leone. Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire get their food and other essentials from these neighboring towns other than in Monrovia. And due to the closed border, this is not happening anymore

  • Food scarcity in rural areas – Most of ingredient for cooking eg salt, seasoning, fish, etc are no longer reaching rural women due to closed border and restriction on movement. Besides, as productivity is affected, there will be reduced local food supply in the communities especially   after the Virus is contained.  

  • Possibility of land transactions without adequate consultation learning from Ebola epidemic

    • The Ebola epidemic in Liberia in 2014 taught us a lesson. For instance, a company was able to negotiate and signed 9 different agreements with communities whilst at the same time there were restrictions on gatherings and restrictions on movements which could not allow CSO to provide the advisory support that these communities essentially need during those time. 

    • There is therefore the possibility that land transactions would occur, again, without adequate consultation and usually leaving women out because this is what the traditions and culture says.  

Mina, you've outlined a number of practical impacts on women's livelihoods that are resulting from COVID, lockdowns and travel restrictions.  Thank you for sharing these experiences from Liberia. They track some of the comments Patricia shared and some that Nana Ama shared from Brazil and Ghana. Your final point resonates with me:  what transactions are happening today "under the cover of COVID?" and what should we be doing to try to shine a light on potentially harmful land transfers?  Is there something like an early warning system that we might use to direct attention to deals that aren't engaging all needed stakeholders.  Would love to hear what others think.  Thank you for sharing this!  Best, Karol

 

 

In Kenya, land and valuable properties is predominantly accessed through inheritance and largely passed through male figure of the family (father, son, uncle, nephew).  Additionally,  due to persistent   absence of women in decision making on matters governing land and assets, they are further marginalized when it comes to access, use, own, maintain and control related rights.  Furthermore, the gender inequality in access and control of other resources including capital negate women’s ability to buy land. No wonder in Kenya, like in many developing countries that are heavily weighed by patriarchal practices, less that 5% of women of the total population own land and their secure tenure rights is precarious.

Nonetheless, grassroots women in Kenya have  continued to innovate  ways to increase their security of land tenure. This includes:

  1. The use of Community Land Watch dog groups to safeguard their inheritance where legal processes are hard to reach.  This innovative community led dispute resolutions mechanism helped either through successfully mediating conflicts or facilitated community collective actions that helps to pursue legal or administrative interventions when conflicts arise. 
  2. To access more land women have found a way of pulling resources together to buy assets including land
  3. Women have been at the centre of social audits ensuring that real time data is collected and available for their use or to avail to others where there is potential threats towards women secure land and inheritance rights.   Thus possible redress action is taken.
  4. Women land rights continue to improve when families visibilise/recognize and acknowledge  contribution they make in the family economy.
  5. As educators, women have been instrumental in creating awareness on women’s legal right to land as well as organizing to challenge norms and practices that inhibits women to have secure land and inheritance rights

 

The emergence of COVID 19 has compounded problems of secure women land and inheritance rights.

 

  1. Women who live in rural and urban areas and in poverty have  limited opportunity to use online tools to organize . They have mostly  used face to face meetings. Thus vulnerable individuals who are threatened with disinheritance and eviction have no social supports during lockdowns
  2. In Kenya and perhaps in many countries land administration offices have been shut making it impossible to access related assistance
  3. Small farm holders especially women in deep rural areas are most affected by lack of markets for their produce,  and risks their claim for very basic rights on access to   land resources
  4. During this time of lockdown, escalating cases of gender based violence that is more targeted to women and girls further compound the threat for women to lose their secure tenure and inheritance rights. This is addition to bodily harm and destruction of hard earned modest accumulated wealth
  5. Informal settlements have experienced heightened evictions and most affected are women and children who risk losing ownership of the valuable assets.
  6. All over the world and Kenya is not different, there is danger of reported accelerated and grabbing of land and illegal utilization of natural resources due to low community surveillance capacities .  Women especially from indigenous communities and those that rely on forests resources for example will definitely be the biggest losers.
  7. Depending on how long the cessation on travel takes, land holders whose land that they till is not within the area that they live,  are likely to lose their land.

   Esther Mwaura Muiru

ILC, Women’s Land Right Manager,

 

 

Enforcement of COVID 19 Regulations poses a threat to safety and security of rural women farmers who sell their produce as informal traders in urban areas: law enforcement in Southern Africa used violence to clear cities of informal traders, including confiscating and burning their produce in countries like Zimbabwe.  In Lesotho, many women lost their produce to theft with these products being sold on the black market. This has led to serious socio-economic consequences for women who depend on their land to ensure schooling for their children as well as support their families.

Limited availability of legal services and civil society support makes the land inheritance rights of women tenuous: The lockdown rules made it difficult for people, including women from rural areas to reach the courts in urban areas in order to lodge cases of violations of their land rights. In addition civil society organisations that normally help women in enforcing their legal rights were unable to do their work, thereby leaving women vulnerable. Men took advantage of the hiatus in access to justice and availability of legal aid through NGOs to advance long standing land disputes in their favour. In eSwatini, the Swaziland Rural Women’s Assembly reported a case to ARISA of a brother in law took advantage of the lockdown to accelerate and assert his claim over land that was under his sister in law’s control following the death of his brother. 

Securing property rights: In many countries in the SADC region women and girls are often highly dependent on male relatives to access Housing Land and Property rights under the customary law. Should their male relatives succumb to the pandemic, women and girls’ tenure security may further weaken due to limited legal protection, lack of documentation, and restrictive social norms. They can be at particular risk of land grabbing by their husband’s relatives. Pandemics may reduce other economic assets, such as wages and savings, making Housing Land and Property an even more important part of overall household assets. This may increase competition and conflict over HLP. In such situations, women may lack the financial resources, information, or support to enforce their property rights.

Domestic violence as a result of lack of resources: Rural women often use the proceeds from the sale of farm produce to buy food and provide for other needs of their families. The COVID 19 pandemic interrupted that source of income. As a result women could no longer serve the kind of food that they normally provided for their families. In eSwatini, the Rural Women’s Assembly gave reports of domestic violence as men abused their wives for failing to give them food generally or the specific type that they were used to and therefore wanted despite the lack of income to buy the specific foods.     

Land rights and access to land are key to women’s empowerment. Land is at the core of so many things in rural areas. It provides food, a livelihood, even a business – individually or as a group. It also opens the door to access water or to finance. It gives women the power to make decisions at home. That’s why UN Women works to promote women’s land rights.

We are aware of the impact of COVID on women and girls in rural areas. COVID is a health, social and economic crisis, the impact of which is not distributed equally across gender lines. Pre-existing inequalities are making women more vulnerable to the crisis, and the crisis risks in turn widening gender gaps even more. Across rural areas of West and Central Africa, women producers are seeing the disruption of cropping schedules, are unable to do transformation of agricultural products because of social distancing measures or can’t access urban markets because of travel restrictions. The livelihoods of millions are at risk. 

UN Women supports women’s participation in climate resilient agriculture value chains across Africa. As part of this work, we promote legislation that recognizes the equal rights to land, and support Governments in making it happen where it already exists. To cushion the impact of COVID, UN Women is supporting women producers in different ways, such as linking women cooperatives to urban markets, through agreements with Governments to source from women producers for the provision of food transfers, or providing women producers with training and access to digital platforms to access markets. We’re also retraining women agricultural producers in the production of COVID response goods such as soap and hydroalcoholic gel.

But, most important, UN Women is engaging in a conversation with Governments, the private sector and civil society about Building Back Better. In the coming months and years, it will be essential to rebuild social and economic systems for the post COVID period which address, rather than reproduce gender inequalities. In that conversation, there is an important place for discussions about legal discrimination in land legislation or failures of implementation of existing laws that preclude effective equality in access to land in the region. Securing women’s rights to land is critical to build resilience, support women’s empowerment, and achieve gender equality in the post COVID era. Other important pieces of that conversation are reforms to address informality in agriculture, as well as building stronger social protection systems that work for those in vulnerable or informal employment, continue strengthening climate smart approaches to agriculture production, addressing gender gaps in access to finance in rural areas, and recognizing, reducing and redistributing unpaid care work.  

Elena, thanks for pointing out what UN Women is doing and how you are helping address women's land rights and COVID-related challenges.  And so exciting that in your Building Back Better work you are engaging governments to work directly with women to understand, address and meet their needs. I also wanted to point readers to the wealth of materials UN Women has on gender equality and COVID that can be found here:  https://asiapacific.unwomen.org/en/news-and-events/in-focus/gender-equal... The breadth of your work is an inspiration.  Best, Karol 

One of the entry-points to this discussion that I would like to put forward is the idea of justice and gender equality when it comes to the continuity of land ownership in certain cultures. My context is focused on Nigeria where there are various cultures that revert ownership of land back to the husband’s family when he dies. This leaves the widow with no significant inheritance. In most cases, the inheritance is forced back from the widow. This is even more complicated in polygamous structures. These inheritances primarily include land. Judging from the mortality rate in northern Nigeria from the Virus, the disproportionate impact of the virus on men can mean that more women are losing their spouses. This in turn mean more land being taken away from women. The lockdowns across have also restricted the access to land from the women who farm. Areas like North East and South West Nigeria may experience more of these problems.

Stephen thank you for raising concerns around inheritance and the problems some widows may face.  In the US it does seem that the mortality rate for men is higher than the rate for women.  I note this one article that raises these concerns:  https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/05/15/covid-19-much-more-fatal-for-men-especially-taking-age-into-account/.  What, practically, do you believe can be done to help women in Nigeria and elsewhere?  Do you think the Government is in a position to actively strengthen women's claims to land or, is this best left to community leaders, church leaders, etc?  Would be grateful to hear thoughts!  Best, Karol

 

Good Questions Karen. Solutions, I will imagine will vary spatially across various regions within countries and also across sub-Saharan Africa. As for Nigeria, the political structure is currently consciously or unconsciously gender-bias with a huge gap in female representation across policy reform levels. This does not make the government a forthcoming mechanism builder to effectively engage the issue of land inheritance with respect to gender. At the community level, the possibilities for change hold higher propensity as social institutional structures, conventions, and norms feed directly into the culture and religious structures very strongly. As you have rightly said, if the community-level cultural and religious leaders are made aware of the impact,  deeper discussions can be made to drive change. The agents for change, however, may have to be people or (and) organisations that the people find culturally, socially or (and) religiously compatible. These engagements will have to happen in phases and they may take time to effect change in the notion of how land and other properties are appropriated to women.

And for your suggestion to work with and through local people and organizations that are well respected and in a phased approach - very sensible. 

Information I have from the rural South-East & South-South of Nigeria points to scenarios where the lockdown has not only restricted physical access to land (especially farmland) for women, it is enabling the initiation and completion of land transactions with zero participation by women even where they were duly and legally deserved to have been involved.

My understanding is that the lockdown situation is breeding a conducive environment for the initiation and completion of transactions without prior and informed consent or adequate consultation of the poor and weak population (mostly women). Women are the main losers in the land-coronavirus situation. This is because of the intimidating atmosphere posed by lockdown rules. Under the lockdown situation, only those with strong political and social leverage break the lockdown rules without severe penalties or undue intimidation from both traditional and law enforcement agents. 

The wealthy and highly connected in communities are still able to complete transactions that were under dispute in the pre-pandemic period - mainly because the lockdown has allowed them to isolate the unempowered (mostly women) in the scheme of land deals and transactional matters.

For instance, Corporate bodies, especially firms seeking to buy off parcels in rural areas, are still able to initiate meetings and negotiate with their preferred land dealers (usually, the men) to signed off land agreements with landowning families communities. In most cases, this period is preferred because it provides an enabling environment to sideline women who are expected not to move freely around and visit the Chiefs' palaces under lockdown conditions.

Covid - 19 has affected global dynamics in ways that deepen existing vulnerabilities by class and gender.  Women's land access and inheritence rights have not been spared. 
 
In Africa  where women in rural and urban areas access land through patriarchal dominated systems, the women land rights have remained vulnerable.  In the last ten years work by national governments, grassroots movements, civil society organisations and development partners have resulted in the strengthening of women's  land rights. 
 
The Covid-19 related  disruptions have  undermined women's land rights in the following ways: 
 
  1. The restrictions on mobility undermined women's capacity to work and benefit from the land that they have access to. 
  2. The restrictions on movement has undermined women's access to Institutions of justice where they can  defend and depend on to uphold their land rights. 
  3. The massive company closures and attendant job losses induce the displacement of urban wage labourers. As these labourers cope by returning to and reclaiming their rural land rights-this will increase competition for the land that poor women rely on. 
  4. Women are the majority of lowly paid marginal workers  who rely on opportunistic employment. Covid-  related economic closures undermined these women's access to employment. These women face the risk of eviction from their residence as they struggle to pay the rent. 
  5. In South Africa the government initially closed down institutions like public markets and roadside markets that women patronise to generate income.  The government later reopened these markets and traders were allowed to work on condition that they submitted formal documentation and or secured permits. This development marginalised women who are migrants to the city and rely on informal and opportunistic niches.
  6. It has been reported that the Covid related stigma has negatively affected women and children's land rights. 
  7. The mobility limitations imposed by governments made it difficult for CSOs who are doing work to secure and monitor women's land rights to continue their work of monitoring and holding institutions to account.

Hi Gaynor, This is a wonderful summary of how COVID is impacting women in southern Africa; thanks so much. I have also seen reports of COVID stigma.  Here's a story about lessons learned by people who faced stigma associated with TB: https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinero/2020/04/01/the-need-to-avoid-co.... But what I really wanted to highlight from your comments is the myriad ways COVID impacts women's employment/livelihood opportunities - some related to land, many not - and to ask if you think land can provide a solution to the problem?  Is it possible to flip the situation and find ways to help women band together in a crisis and identify lands they might use to create different or new livelihoods or is it even more difficult today for women to work together to leverage skills and land?  Best, Karol

Tenure security is critical for women because owning land or having access to productive land provides them a way to generate higher income. Therefore, strengthening women land rights is critical and helps in reducing them being unfairly insubordinate into political and economic positions which increase the effects of marginalization and poverty. The measures, such as curfews, lockdowns, etc., imposed by governments to fight against the spread of the COVID 19 virus impacted strongly on the grassroots women groups with regards to protecting their rights to land and housing. In Kenya, cases of eviction of widows were reported to one of Huairou Commission member groups. In the early stage of the lockdown situation, a widow asked for support because her in-laws decided to throw her and her children from their home. The watchdog group was not able to assist them because even small gatherings were not permitted and local authorities not reachable. Protecting women’s land rights is becoming more challenging and groups are searching for innovative ways to ensure that women and orphans are not left behind. Also the lack of daily work caused by lockdown and social distancing is creating a situation where women living in slums are risking not only hunger but also losing their home. 

This is a really important point made about how lockdowns affect the watchdog groups ability to meet in person to carry out their work in tryign to help women protect their land rights, even as new cases of inheritance evictions come up during the lockdown - and of issues for inability to meet with local authorities to pursue cases. Thank you for drawing this out.

Here's an additional question to ponder:  If COVID is deepening vulnerabilities for some women (not all) and having a particularly strong negative impact on women's livelihoods, what actions can government and civil society take in the short-term to identify those most at-risk and provide targeted support AND how can women's land rights be part of the solution to reduce vulnerabilities? 

COVID-19 pandemic is one of the latest shocks that has hit people’s lives in various ways. It has far-reaching effects in the exercise of fundamental human rights such as freedom of association, freedom of movement, and the general right to access resources (both land-related and none land-related). So, it is a menace to everyone, not only women. However, it has a specific impact on women’s access to land and natural resources, most of which have been mentioned by other participants. If I were able to pick one thing to do today to help protect women’s land rights that might be threatened as a result of the COVID-19 virus, it will be to design a tenure focused systematic surveys of women’s experiences that can generate data for post-pandemic planning. This can be done through a co-production of baseline pandemic-responsive knowledge of the challenges women have encountered during this period. The outcome of such a survey could help provide information necessary for a post-Coronavirus policy that would enable better protection of women's land rights in the case of future pandemics.

Hi Eugene, this is a great idea and I think echoes an idea Chris Penrose-Buckley raised in one of the other webinars.  Is this something that can be done in conjuction with CSOs?  Espaco Feminista does some similiar work in Brazil so good to connect with Patricia Chaves!  Best, Karol

 

Great to see so many contributions to this important discussion. The pandemic has exposed deep-seated inequalities based on gender and on socio-economic factors (eg income, age) that influence gender relations. We need to document how these developments affect not just land relations but also the more overarching governance systems. Grace’s comment about land/human rights defenders is a case in point – and many defenders are themselves women facing gendered repression systems. It is early days, and impacts may take time to unfold and be documented. But this type of forum is a great way to “crowdsource” early insights so we can begin to understand the issues and chart next steps. The contributions from Nana Ama, Esther, Fibian, Patricia, Dagnachew, Mina and several others provide great examples of this. I also agree with Liz on not rushing to conclusions and instead seeking to understand these emerging stories in all their complexities.

Turkey reported its first positive case of COVID-19 on 11 March 2020 and the first loss of life on 17 March. Similar to other countries responding to the pandemic, the number of positive cases in Turkey has increased daily with an expansion in the number of tests conducted nation-wide.

 

  • Domestic violence rises in Turkey during COVID-19 pandemic, In Turkey, where isolation measures were imposed on 10 March, it is estimated that in Istanbul alone violence against women has spiked by 38 percent, according to the city’s Security Directorate.

  • In normal circumstances, Turkish women do almost five times as much unpaid care work at home as men. Today, caring for children who are staying at home and relatives if they fall ill, is increasing the burden on women significantly.

  • COVID 19 pandemic made existing inequalities for women and girls and discrimination of other marginalized groups such as persons with disabilities and those in extreme poverty, worse.

  • Women working in the informal employment sector are hit by the crises first and lose their incomes. As they do not have any social security, they also cannot benefit from unemployment assistance.

Not only is the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) having serious health impacts around the world, it also has the potential to significantly affect the housing, land, and property (HLP) of women and girls. 

We know inequality between genders exists, that women, especially women who are poor, are vulnerable to shocks, and the pandemic is a massive shock. The pandemic's economic toll means fewer resources for all countries to address ever increasing problems. It is difficult to get governments and donors to make concrete changes to improve women's tenure security in the best of times. The specifics of what is needed and what is possible will be different from country to country and within countries, so in my view, the most immediate help we can offer is to support organizations and people working in-country with vulnerable women already. Learn what is needed from them, discuss what is doable in the short term, and support them in the best way we can.

The pandemic is exposing and exploiting existing gender and economic inequalities in food systems globally. The safety requirements to avoid the spread of the coronavirus including travel restrictions, quarantines, social distances have led to major disruptions in daily life. This means the daily lives of small scale farmers and workers are affected. Women are at the centre of food value chains forming part of the small holders, working in fields, plantations. They  comprise on average 43% of the agricultural workforce in developing countries and are estimated to account for two-thirds of the world’s 600 million poor livestock keepers . For women like Lydia a small scale coffee farmer in Zombo Uganda whose coffee prices has  gone as low as one dollar from 2dollars before the pandemic, her income level has reduced. She is  not able to prune her plantation due travel restrictions neither can she access the local coffee buyer  in her community who used to give her a good price.  Many women like Lydia are in the same boat not only in Uganda but also around the World. The pandemic is affecting their fair participation in the food system.

Access to land is essential to food production and income generation. It is also a key social and economic asset, crucial for cultural identity, political power and participation in decision making. Social and cultural beliefs often discriminate against people because of gender, social class or ethnic group. To reduce hunger and poverty and promote sustainable development, efforts must be made to address these inequalities. Ensuring equal land rights for men and women increases economic opportunities, encourages investment in land and food production, improves family security during economic and social transitions and leads to better land stewardship. The global covid19 pandemic is further entrenching these social norms around ownership of land.  Land is a livelihood commodity that impacts agriculture, production and is one key question that needs to be addressed in the campaign area. Due to lockdowns, quarantines  cases of land grabbing have been witnessed in some countries because now the women cannot access justice centers to secure their land rights.

Like all indigenous peoples, the Amazigh of Morocco, have been impacted by the covid-19 pandemic.  Dispossessed of their land, territory and natural resources, they are landlocked in regions with no opportunities for development and without proper school and university structures, but above all without hospitals.  A problematic situation in regions designated as "useless Morocco", even though they contain invaluable resources: water, forests, mines and land.  The marginalization of the Amazigh is doubly felt by women because they are penalized both by their autochthony and by their gender.    Indeed, the apartheid imposed by the state on the Amazigh is reinforced by patriarchal Islamic radicalism and macho pan-Arabist thinking, which have set out to destroy the matriarchal and matrilineal Amazigh social structure in which women have always played a central and predominant role.  
With covid-19, the situation of Amazigh women crystallized, highlighting consequences on two levels:
 
A- The "inactive" woman/housewife: housework is not considered as a job in itself because it does not generate direct income.  Yet domestic chores are time-consuming and women are generally the first to get up and the last to go to bed.  This work is unrecognized and can go beyond the confines of the house because in the companionship, in addition to cooking, cleaning and child rearing, the woman is also responsible for fetching water and wood and feeding the animals.  With the closure of schools and the cessation of activity in several sectors, entire families are confined to their homes.  A proximity that can strengthen the bonds between members but which generates more domestic tasks coupled with security measures pushed to the maximum to protect, feed and care for big and small.  Repetitive and additional tasks that overburden the mother, wife, sister or daughter of the family. 
 
B- The working woman: With the pandemic, many women have lost their jobs and all means of supporting their families, and those who continue to work, do so in increasingly difficult conditions generally, without protection, with the fear of bringing the coronavirus home and being "the one by whom death came".  The fact of being "productive" does not relieve the working woman of her domestic role, since housework remains her responsibility in addition to her work outside the home. 
 
Having lost access to their land, and having no resources, many Amazigh women have for some years now been a seasonal workforce sought after by European countries such as Spain or Italy because they are considered hard-working and resistant, and the fact that they have families to support in Morocco is a guarantee of returning home after the harvests.  With the confinement and closure of borders, these women are now deprived of any income and find it difficult to find a means of subsistence outside of community solidarity.  
 
Beyond the extra work it causes, confinement is sometimes experienced as hell and spatial isolation becomes a physical and psychological imprisonment for women who are victims of domestic violence.  It is a dramatic situation where the victim finds herself trapped with her tormentor night and day without any possibility of escaping the beatings and humiliation.  A torture that is usually witnessed by children who in many cases end up becoming objects of abuse as they are considered an extension of their mother who bore them and brought them up in her image. 
 
Marital rape is also a recurrent problem in this period of quarantine.  This violence is not condemned by macho Islamic thought and is not denounced because it is a religious taboo.
 
The Amazigh woman is active and has always been able to generate a substantial profit from the surplus of these achievements.  Weaving, pottery, food agriculture (vegetable garden), dairy, livestock (goats, chickens...), some of these products are intended to meet the needs of the household, but some of them are intended for sale in order to generate enough money to meet other needs.  Unfortunately, the closure of the "Souks" / weekly markets and travel bans have had a heavy impact on women's activities because of a lack of sales so they are unable to sell their goods, which are sometimes perishable, so they cannot keep them or obtain the basic necessities for their families.  

Home schooling and caring for the elderly and sick has fallen mainly to women. A survey showed 84% of women doing the household tasks while there has been a correlating increase in, say for example, men having more publications coming out during the lockdown than women. The gender pay gap becomes more noticeable as does the glass ceiling that women experience – especially women from minorities like Muslim, black or travellers, or women with disabilities, or the absence of (farm and consumer) women’s participation or representation in the agricultural sector (this adds in to many other issues which can be summarised as pre-existing vulnerabilities are exacerbated by or more noticeable in the crisis). Financial assistance (Pandemic Unemployment Payment) is more difficult for women to access. Women exiting maternity leave had to fight for the right to apply for the payment. 

Farmers are exempt from the lockdown restrictions that the public is bound by because we are ‘essential workers’ providing food for the nation. [The fact that this statement is inaccurate is ignored. Ireland imports most of its fruit and vegetables and exports over 90% of the milk and meat it produces. The industries which package or process the meat and milk are fraught with ‘hotspots’ due to awful labour practices.] We farmers are thus able to travel more (our land parcels are not contiguous and can be some distance from each other), and interact with more people (vets, marts, agricultural supply stores etc). As women are caring for the elderly and sick, and looking after the needs and schooling of children – we are less inclined to be out on the road or interacting with people who are in contact with many others (eg vets, livestock agents, supply stores). Widows, spinsters and vulnerable women at risk due to co-morbidities or with disabilities are similarly constrained by their need to cocoon.

Am also sharing insights from the LAC region where oxfam is working with the Indegenous people. " For over 500 years, indigenous peoples of the Amazon and across the Americas have faced invasions and loss of their ancestral territories, ethnic and socioeconomic discrimination, and the constant threat of physical and cultural extermination resulting in displacement, disease, and genocide. Now, indigenous peoples – particularly those living in voluntary isolation – are gravely threatened by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. "  read more on the impact of covid 19 in the Amazon https://amazonwatch.org/news/2020/0408-statement-in-solidarity-with-amaz...

True and a very important issue that we all should be concerned with and act in solidarity. The Covid-19 is spreading very fast among the indigenous population in the Amazonia region and  in other areas. But more than that there is a proposal of the law ammendment according to which illegal activities and land grabbing will be protected and able to regularize their land. The situation is really very serious and puts in risk many indigenous peoples living in the Amazon, but also the forest itself. There was an increase of 50% in the deforestation over the last months. The Brazilain Environmental minister propose to his colleagues that they should take advantage of the media coverage of the pandemic to pass deregulation measures in order to facilitate commercial exploration of the forest.

In the main, I would say that the already precarious land tenure situation for women in Ghana is only going to be worse because:

  • Fortunately, the rate of infection in Ghana is mainly in the regional capitals, especially, in Accra. Most rural areas have not recorded any cases yet. Additionally, there is also very little, if any, migration to the rural areas by family members except in very few instances where head porters (young women), who had travelled from the northern part of Ghana returned home. 

  • They have lost some of their champions because most of them are women themselves and are now juggling with a lot of other responsibilities.

  • The current trends in faulty land deals continues without anybody paying attention because of COVID 19. Women risk losing everything including the risk of no compensation. (There are examples of illegal mining operations being done under cover because nobody was watching, and large areas of cocoa farms are now existing on deep gullies.) 

  • However, it is also becoming evident that a stronger land rights affords women the opportunity to take the right action to protect themselves and their children against male partners who do not want to comply with preventive measures to minimize the risks of exposure to the disease.

Until last Friday, a total lockdown from 3pm to morning was in place nationwide, while monitoring was not as robust in the rural areas as in the cities, the shortened day impacted women’s ability to leave home, get to their farms, work and return home before 3pm. For the past 2 months many women have been unable to farm and this has resulted in additional threats to lands (their plots are being reclaimed), and a threat to livelihood creation and increase in food insecurity.

Lack of LLA’s presence in the rural areas, due to the suspension of land related services has given rise to increase encroachments, illegal occupation and a rise in land related disputes.

Without the ongoing M&E that the LLA was implementing, there is a threat that progress made in actualizing equitable access to land, again particularly in rural customary areas is likely to stifled.

In the rural area, Women are often highly dependent on male relatives to access the right of the land. Many widows and girls lost the right on their land due to limited legal protection, lack of documentation, and restrictive social norms. During the pandemic, the government does not allow the female heirs/widows to sign over their property or land's right.

This is extremely interesting.  Can you share thoughts on how the prohibition came about?  What coalition within and outside government supported this?  Did the experiences of addressing land issues after the Sumatra tsunami contribute to this approach?  Thanks, Karol

Thank you so much for your comment Karol,

Even though Indonesia's central government issued the same right for land' rights, the patriarchal legal system and culture in Indonesia mean that women still experience discrimination and are marginalized in terms of land ownership and control. Women do not have the autonomy to make decisions for land ownership, or land tenure, a male member of the family will accompany for administration procedure of land ownership.

Many NGOs work in women's right to collaborate with the ministry of women's empowerment and child protection to educate and advocate community, particularly in the rural area, for women's rights on land and manage agricultural land.

The land of the missing person or heir of post-tsunami disaster occurred in Aceh, Sumatera in 2004 causes serious concern in administering available ownership and the right of management, which mounts to enormous scale spread throughout the province of Aceh presumably. In Aceh, as an exclusive province in Indonesia, it applies customary law that adopts from Islam law in all daily activities, including lands right. The Treasury (Bayt al-mâl) role was to decide land ownership and management of the missing owner and heir imposed in Aceh since many documents destroyed after the tsunami disaster. The Treasury manages the property of the disappeared person or unknown heir as a quasi-authority for the interest of the community at large. As an acting agency, the Treasury may be subject to legal precept stipulated in the above regulations.

And thank you for taking time to explain the situation in Indonesia in more detail; I'm sure others have found this helpful!  Best, Karol

 

For Kenya, I believe that there will likely be added pressure on land as a result of COVID-19 in general because of the impact the disease has had on the economy and on livelihoods due to the lockdown of urban markets (particularly Nairobi and Mombasa) which has probably helped stem the transmission of the virus to rural areas, but has likely had a major impact on food markets. Fortunately, from a health perspective so far, the impact of COVID-19 has largely spared the rural population. A majority of deaths are However, the impact on productivity and farmgate sales are most certainly large, although not yet quantified and difficult to pin directly on COVID-19 because Kenya experienced extremely heavy rains in many parts of the country in April and May (killing over 200 persons, whereby there have been 69 deaths attributed to COVID-19 to date). Hence, the impact on women landowners will be greater in the sense that all smallholder farmers will be trying to eek out more production in the ensuing seasons (planting season for maize is ongoing), albeit with diminished access to inputs due to disruption in businesses, supply chains and diminished buying power of farmers. Added pressure on the land includes the unplanned migration of urban residents to rural homesteads, resulting possibly in newfound interest in taking over family lands, and perhaps the usurping women’s rightful inheritance and reverting to the customary practice of land from deceased males going to sons rather than to the wife.

More concerted efforts need to be made to 1) educate women of their rights around land and property, 2) educate local administrators of women’s lands rights, and 3) watchdogging local courts to ensure that they are upholding the Constitution and legal rights of women. More gains can also be made to add the names of spouses to land titles. The only way that women's rights to land are ultimately if their name is
on the title deed, linked to their ID number. There are too many cases of men selling family lands out from under their wives by hiring a proxy female to go to the land office with them to grant authorization.

A system has to be devised to be more savvy to prevent such widespread fraud.

All advocacy work is now on hold. Research in women’s land rights is now minimal or non-existent. Attention to funding is currently mostly directed to COVID 19. With no attention to women’s land rights during this time, the gains made in advancing women’s land rights might suffer some reversals. Ghana’s land bill is an example.

Thank you Nana for flagging this up. Particularly in the context of economic difficulties globally and more limited resources for development in general - it is indeed a worrying trend that attention to Covid-19 immediate impacts and then to post-pandemic planning are likely to put seemingly-less important advocacy and research initiatives onto the back burner. And as you say with this example from Ghana, it is already happening. We must see best how to keep advocacy for women's land rights alive in the coming months and years, as we have fought hard already to get this on the global development agenda. This discussion provides a great forum for brainstorming and networking to develop sound strategies for this as we go forward.

he Amazigh woman is active and has always been able to generate a substantial profit from the surplus of these achievements.  Weaving, pottery, food agriculture (vegetable garden), dairy, livestock (goats, chickens...), some of these products are intended to meet the needs of the household, but some of them are intended for sale in order to generate enough money to meet other needs.  Unfortunately, the closure of the "Souks" / weekly markets and travel bans have had a heavy impact on women's activities because of a lack of sales so they are unable to sell their goods, which are sometimes perishable, so they cannot keep them or obtain the basic necessities for their families.  

The Social Justice Coalition (SJC) works with communities in informal settlements to ensure that informal settlements in Cape Town have access to basic services. One of our campaigns is on ensuring that communities in informal settlements, who are often some of the most vulnerable and marginalised in South Africa, are safe from illegal evictions. At the beginning of the lockdown in South Africa, the Government Gazette No: 43167 dated 26 March 2020 declared that evictions are suspended during the lockdown. Despite this, and the amended Regulations issued in terms of section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act dated 16 April 2020, which also suspends evictions during lockdown; some communities in informal settlements still found themselves facing evictions. This has mostly affected women. The SJC, alongside other organisations, are working with these communities to ensure that these illegal evictions stop even beyond the lockdown and that informal settlements get access to basic services such as water and electricity. 

 

Hello Ntebaleng,

Thank you for sharing this experience from the informal settlements in South Africa - I was curious as to what were the drivers of these illegal evictions? And what approaches are SJC and other organizations using or did you use to respond to these illegal evictions? I hope you will also engage in this week's discussion on Evictions - during and after COVID 19!

Best regards,

 

Alex

COVID-19 IS A WIDOW MAKER. Global Fund for Widows estimates that of the 371,000 documented COVID-19 related deaths around the world as of 5.31.2020, approximately 70% have been men over the age of 50. In fact, the virus seems to be inexplicably killing twice as many men as it is women. GFW estimates that in the first 5 months of 2020, COVID-19 is responsible for the creation of approximately 250,000 widows.  If the novel COVID-19 virus ravages the global south as experts anticipate, we may tragically welcome an additional 3.25 million widows to the 285 million that currently exist around the world today.

 

LAND, INHERITANCE, AND WIDOWHOOD

The Global Fund for Widows believes that widows around the world endure 3 forms of human rights violations: Disinheritance, Discrimination, and Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs). Disinherited widows are evicted from their marital homes and denied their rightful inheritance to land, property, and valuable assets.  Kenya’s 2019 survey confirmed that 40% of widows were disinherited from their rightful land and property.  We believe the incident of disinheritance in Africa and Asia is similar if not worse. Deeply entrenched discriminatory practices perpetrated by patriarchy and institutions such as police forces, chiefs, and courts, prevent widows from accessing justice or reclaiming their rightful estate. 

The result of Disinheritance is that widows are left impoverished, food insecure, in poor health, and unable to educate their children.  As the majority of widows were actually widowed before the age of 39, they are invariably mothers of young children. Without access to their inheritance, land and resources, their daughters become vulnerable to child marriage and sons to radicalized indoctrination.  Their lack of access to justice and resources forces them to turn to informal, insecure, and oftentimes indecent work. 

 

LAND, LOCKDOWN, AND WIDOWS

COVID-19 is exacerbating widows’ vulnerability. Already on the periphery of decent/secure work, global lockdowns have resulted in widows’ sudden loss of employment. Deprived of an income, widows have been forced to live off of meager savings, to the extent that any exist at all. As widows have been disinherited from their land and property, they do not have any fiscal source of backstop or support. The absence of any form of government issued social protection for widows in most developing countries further exposes their immediate and acute financial vulnerability. 

 

LAND, INHERITANCE, AND HUNGER

Within two weeks of individual country lockdowns, GFW’s partners around the world began sounding the alarm, reporting that widows in their countries were calling for immediate hunger relief. Having been disinherited of land and property that could have been used for simple subsistence or to generate an income, widows have no buffer to manage the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns. Food insecurity was a problem for widows before COVID-19, now starvation is their reality. As mothers of young children, they bear the added burden of feeding their young.

 

LAND, INHERITANCE, AND EDUCATION

Unable to afford school fees after being disinherited, widows have always found educating their children to be a major challenge. Unable to send children to school exposes their daughters to child marriage while leaving sons vulnerable to a life of radicalized indoctrination and recruitment. Impoverished and disinherited, widows also lack access to internet resources. With COVID-19 school stoppage, children of widows are unable to access online school if it exists, disrupting their qualifications for sitting for annual exams, and having long-term implications on their path forward.  Furthermore, continued lockdown and loss of employment means widows may struggle to return to work in the post-COVID world, rendering them further weakened in addressing their children’s educational needs. Exposed in this crisis is governments’ absence of social protections such as school bursaries for widows and their children.

 

COVID-19 & WIDOWHOOD: EXPECT FURTHER DETERIORATION 

While the Global Fund for Widows has been able to identify some of the implications that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on widows and their children, there is much that needs yet to be revealed. We expect that impoverishment and desperation will exacerbate the incidents of property grabbing as COVID-19 claims the lives of more husbands. With certainty we believe that the pandemic will continue to expose government failures to address the plight of widows, especially as it pertains to securing widows’ inheritance, land, and ownership rights. Failure to offer widows with protections such unemployment insurance, cash transfers, food rations, and school bursaries will have multigenerational impact on their families. The implications of this will continue to exacerbate the current status of widows including their hunger, vulnerability to human trafficking, and inability to educate their children. 

CALL TO ACTION

Widows inheritance rights to land and property must be secured and protected.

I'm so pleased to see this contribution from the Global Fund for Widows, shining a strong light on the unique needs of many widows around the world. I also appreciate how the post links inheritance issues, education and food security concerns that are likely amplified as a result of the spread of COVID.  At Landesa we are seeing some of this.  In Tanzania, my colleague Monica Mhoja is helping widows whose land is at risk from wrongful sale by others (and who are not able to travel to protect their asset due to a COVID lockdown) enforce their rights and protect legitimate claims.  More rapid survey work of the type Eugene Chigbu mentions earlier in the thread could be one approach to tracking and supporting claims.  Thanks GFW for your contribution.  Best, Karol 

Women's organizations working on the ground need to act to protect women's land rights during the pandemic. Recognizing the huge gap in women's land rights that combines inequality, informality and a male dominant land administration, it is urgent and imperative to act during the pandemic to protect those in greater vulnerability.

Based on national statistics available in our country and on specific data analyzed from a gender perspective, the overall situation is of an immense and historical inequality that women face in terms of land ownership in Brazil. Therefore, the question we ask is what real threats women face to protect their land rights during the Covid-19 pandemic? First of all, we have to recognize and deal with a land administration and social norms that favors and reinforces the inequality. For instance, according to the National Agricultural Census - IBGE, in 2006 women counted for 12% of land owners but represented only 5,5% of agricultural land.

In 2018 our organization - Espaço Feminista - performed a survey interviewing directly 490 women. Our objective was to understand what the data collected through the national statistics were indicating and clarifying some aspects and nuances of the information collected. Thus, we learnt that the great majority of women in rural areas have access to land through inheritance, however it is all informal and land is transfered for many generations through informal systems. Additionally, we also found that among those who declared that they had a companion, 48% were not legally married.

Our research and data analysis puts light on a big issue that should be the focus of our work during the pandemic, informality affects women greatly - both in inheritance or in marriage or succession. Many women loose their land or house due to the combination of informality and a land administration that favors men as a consequence of a patriarchal society. We cannot ignore that during the pandemic we need to act to protect widows and daughters land rights. But also those who are suffering from another perverse consequence of the social isolation - domestic violence.

So, the answer is the Covid-19 is teaching us a lot, but above all we cannot ignore that many women are loosing their rights now, that many are suffering and need protection now and that as women's organizations and women's land rights defenders, our work is needed and we have to reinvent the way we work because we cannot wait for the post-pandemic, it will be too late for so many women!

Most rural areas in Liberia are more patriarchal and do not allow women to own land. This deeply rooted cultural practice and traditional norm is still in existence even after the passage of the 2018 Land right Act which placed women as equal as men. Hence, the probability that women will face eviction from the land they are cultivating as a result of the death of a husband due to COVID-19, is high. The eviction mostly happens at the discretion of the particular family she is married into.

Additionally, the likelihood that the size of farmland for women can be reduced to make way for a male relative who has returned home due to COVID-19 is high.

Without a private land, women in deeply rooted traditional settings in Liberia cannot pass on their portion of a customary land to their children or husband if anything happens to her because women do not own land. She is at the mercy of her male relatives (father, brother, or husband) for land for cultivation or a house spot or for anything else. The Land Rights Act document alone cannot fully gurantee a systemic change to the advantage of women in this kind of setting without its full implementation and enforcement.

Thank you for highlighting the need to focus on women's land and inheritance rights and the increased domestic violence they face during the time of COVID-19. I would like to highlight this issue in the context of India, where much like the rest of the world, the country has seen an increase in domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) during the time of COVID.

In India, inheritance rights for Hindus is governed by the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 and now the seemingly more gender equal Hindu Succession Amendment Act of 2005. Other religions are governed by their own set of inheritance rules, I only highlight the Hindu version since I have some knowledge of it.  The amendment allows for women to have equal rights as their male siblings over their natal ancestral property, which often is in the form of land. However, depsite these rules, documented evidence suggests that women continue to be discrimated against what is rightfully theirs. Work by Bina Agarwal has extensively highlighted these inequalities in access to ancestral property. A large part of this is entrenched in religious, social, and patriarchal norms. For example, a strong and persistent son-preference among households renders it difficult for women to claim their share of property since parents continue to favor sons over daughters when it comes to dividing the property. The patrilocal nature of marriages increases the exclusion of women from their natal household's property.

A lack of financial assets exacerbated by a lack of well-implemented property rights makes it harder for women to leave their marital households when faced with DV and IPV. Often, women in India themselves voluntarily relinquish their right to natal household property to continue to have access to their natal households in dire circumstances. However, a woman facing DV/IPV is not waived from social tabboo, rendering it difficult for her to go back to her natal household. So the issue becomes twofold - a woman now has no financial assets to fall back upon, neither does she have help from her families. COVID and the nationwide lockdown in India, causing large-scale loss of employment and increased financial stress, will only add to these problems.

Large-scale mobilization to improve women's information about their rights is a first step in helping them recognize their options, women in India quite often lack the knowledge of what they are entitled to.

Thanks so much for highlighting the important connections between womens' abilities to accumulate and control assets, including land and housing, and the widespread problem of gender-based violence, pointing to how pre-existing social and economic stresses may be compounded by COVID. Do you have a sense of best approaches towards large-scale mobilization to raise awareness?  Is it best done through civil society? through government agencies or offices such as the State Livelihoods Missions? In partnership with the private sector? all of the above?  Helping more women understand what rights they hold under the law and supporting more families to talk about equitable land holding among family members is absolutely critical.  Best, Karol

 

One way I think this can be achieved is by expanding the scope of Self-Help Groups who are financial intermediaries. Approaching these groups to add some more responsibilities, including helping women understand their rights will be an efficient use of the already existing network they have. Given that land and inheritance rights have direct financial consequences, the SHGs would be the natural resource to target. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated some of the already existing challenges and inequalities faced by women. Land is central to our lives and its protection as a basic human right is key to ensuring human dignity. Because of its intrinsic link with many other aspects of our lives including food, health, housing and education, secure land rights serve as the premise upon which many other civil, political and socio-economic rights can be realised.

For many women, land is inherently linked with their position in the family and community. Access and control over land has a direct bearing on women’s decision-making power within the family and her social status. Often, access to land is dependent on women’s relationship with the male family members. Women are faced with further challenges under gender discriminatory land laws, inheritance rules, customs and community land tenure systems. When faced with displacement or forced evictions, the culmination of the above factors has devastating impacts on women.  Access to land and related natural resources such as forests and water sources is critical to guarantee sustainable livelihood options and opportunities, especially for women. The pandemic has aggravated some of these challenges that women face and it is important that their rights to land is secured during this difficult time enabling their participation in decision making processes relating to land, securing their access to justice and enabling their engagement in economic opportunities.

In these days of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, rural areas are experiencing a real rush into land sell-off as a result of a crippled economic system. The agricultural markets are confronted with a gloomy climate or nearly shut down in total chaos. Facing this challenge, and in order to meet their family needs, this poor population will just sell off their lands.

And unless African States tackle this issue right away, damages and land disputes likely to arise after the Covid-19 pandemic might be huge, while overburdening our courts and public land regulation institutions.

It is therefore critical to make provisions for securing land tracts falling under the State property and land parcels belonging to individuals. To this end, each African State must raise rural women and youth’s awareness of refraining from selling off  their lands, which will serve for intensive farming projects to bridge the possible gap that would be generated by the lockdown imposed by the  Covid-19 pandemic.

In short, the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically affects rural land in Africa and our countries must swiftly implement a contingency plan to address the situation.

What should the States do? 

–  Implement an awareness-raising plan for populations to refrain from selling off their land at this time of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic;          

– Implement a plan to secure private and public land properties to prevent their being sold off by the populations;          

– Implement a plan to reframe the land transaction costs during this pandemic period.        

In this regard, the Youth Initiative for land in Africa (Yilaa) is willing to support States in this noble cause during Covid-19 pandemic.

Coordinator of yilaa

www.yilaa.org  - contact@yilaa.org

Women’s ability to access and use land has been affected by the pandemic. Most laws, Kenya included, provide for equal legal protection of land rights, for instance on ownership and succession. However, the law in books paints a different picture from the law in action. The negative patriarchal norms are to blame for this state of affairs. With the increased number of deaths mostly among men as a result of COVID19, many widows and divorced women face challenges in claiming their ownership rights in the case of death or divorce. Social norms and harmful traditional practices around widowhood such as wife inheritance also impede transfer or ownership of land. The situation is exacerbated by the challenge in enforcing their land rights since courts are not operating optimally at this time. In places where court sessions are ongoing, it becomes challenging accessing the courts due to cessation of movement as part of restrictions by the government to reduce infection rates.

The likelihood of women facing added pressure on their land as a result of COVID-19 as people move back to rural areas or due to death or sickness of their spouses, parents, children or siblings become sick or die is high. Discriminative cultural norms will give priviledge of land to men as opposed to women. By being caregivers to their sick relatives, they run the risk of losing their land to grabbers, greedy in laws at the time their attention shifts to caregiving.

We are trying as much as we can to pay attention to women’s needs across our portfolio - not just in land projects but all projects. Because assets are intertwined with economic well-being.  If the pandemic is reducing opportunities for employment and income, then assets become even more important and that may increase competition and conflict.  So we really need to think holistically about this pandemic.  How can we continue our work to protect property rights but also how can other Bank operations support social safety nets and get money into the hands of women; or how can our various infrastructure operations support more land intensive public works and ensure women are part of that employee pool but that they are protected from workplace harassment and unfair wages.  So these are all things we are looking at as a Bank.  

I think things that govt’s can do are - moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures (and this applies here in the US as well) and broad measures to ensure no one loses their home.  And for inheritance, it is important to ensure that women do not sign over their property rights; and that informal marriages are recognized with regard to marital property in case of widowhood.

Your point about ensuring women not signing over their rights is an extremely important one. In times like this, women in patriarchal socieites may find themselves under undue pressure to give up on what is rightfully and legally theirs. Even with legal titles to their lands, they may end up in situations where families may push them to sign over their property to the main head of the household (usually male) or to their husbands, so that the assets could be better controlled due to financial uncertainty. Or for example, she does not even have access to the actual deed/title of her property - it is in the hands of other members of the family. This can worsen the situations that these women will find themselves in.

Even though we are not able to carry out much policy advocacy work, we have found ways to continue our connection with our stakeholders at all levels to learn what is happening and give advice. We are strengthening the capacity of Queen Mothers’ Platform, Ghana, to be the voice of women and be monitoring at the community level. 

We are documenting experiences for strategizing and informed programming in the coming months.

Women are the ones overburdened with the care of family women are the poor and poverty carries the face of a woman. Since women bear primary responsibility for domestic and farm work, child and elder care, and care for sick family and community members they are uniquely positioned to have an impact on a country’s economic development and success.

Due to pressure mounted on them by the need to produce more food for people back in rural areas, they are actually over worked and their care work is most likely to increase to 85%.

Biased laws, customs and practices play a large role in hindering the legal, socio-cultural and economic advancement of women in Uganda.  Furthermore, the suffering of women caused by discriminatory and/or violent behavior promoted through cultural values and beliefs affects more than the individual woman. Its highly unlikely that culture will let a woman transfer her land rights to another of her choice. Usually most cultures in Africa only give access rights to land/property and access rights are usually un transferable. So when she dies her rights end with her.

I like Victoria's comments but would like to add that land and territories are much more than economic assets and I am sure she agrees with that. It goes far beyond and especially for women in patriarchal societies in which women’s land rights are denied, or even if exists in law, does not exist in practice. Therefore, I would like to jump over another topic and look at what women's organizations and civil society groups are doing to protect women’s lives and rights during the pandemic. It is a way of looking at the pandemic from another angle, looking at what needs to be done immediately to protect lives, rights and to strengthen solidarity networks between different groups. Women's land rights needs to be highlighted in a broader context and concept to capture the many aspects in which grounded organizations are acting in so many countries. Recognizing women as food producers, territories defenders, ancestral knowledge guardians, and caregivers. On the other hand, looking at how they are in forefront of the pandemic battle, facing all the stigma and prejudice but also copying with injustice and cruelty of patriarchal societies that overload women with domestic care due to sexual division of labor and expose women to domestic violence due to social distance or isolation.

How are we organizing on the ground to cope with all this and build ties and networks of solidarity among different groups to cope with such difficult situation and also rethink the manner in which we deal with the so called  modern societies.  Am I jumping too much or too quick?

The COVID19 has brought to a total stand still of the Land Rights Act implementation process in Liberia. The previous plan by the CSOs working Group on Land Rights has come to a stand still due to the pandemic which is a major hinder to the land Rights Act implementation.
Due to the silent of the CSOs working Group, there are reported continue violence on Land by individuals which result into conflict that led people being wounded. The case of Lofa and River Gee Counties which two persons were reported being wounded over Land crisis in that part of Liberia.

Concerning question 1 in this discussion about impacts of COVID specifically on women. If women are dying from COVID in Tanzania there may be a drop in girls attending school as they stay home and takeover household responsibilities. From what we have learned in our WOLTS research, this would seem to be a more likely outcome than men or boys taking up greater domestic responsibilities, as the latter is still not very culturally acceptable within traditional Maasai communities like those in which we have been carrying out our research.

Concerning Question 2, again reflecting on Tanzania. In the case where men are dying and leaving behind widows, these women may face greater challenges to claiming their inheritance rights to their deceased husband’s land as both formal and informal justice systems are likely to be unable to operate at a normal capacity during the pandemic. The threat of land grabs in respect to rightful inheritance claims by widows may end up increasing as potential offenders exploit the suspension of legal processes in lockdowns. In the post-pandemic world, it will be interesting to see how different countries deal with the increased number of cases that will have built up, and particularly to see how that might impact differently for different women and men. This is something we would hope to look out for in communities as we continue our WOLTS activities when restrictions on fieldwork ease.

Important point about the vulnerabilities that girls might face. In addition to dropping out of school, we may also find that girls are married off earlier than normal, n increase in child marriage. Parents suffering from lack of employment due to the pandemic and other economic uncertainties may marry off their daughters earlier, contributing to an increase in dangerous livelihoods for these girls. We may also see a decrease in health outcomes for these girls. This is something that governments, NGOs, local organizations need to keep in their radar.  

Very interesting and important point about the potential for harmful impacts to younger women and girls, in relation to care burdens, household duties and schooling. Taking girls out of school has a notable negative impact on national economies as returns to schooling for women are so positive.  Sharing this USAID infographic that illustrates this point:  https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1869/usaid_lgl_poste... Thanks very much for raising this issue.  Best, Karol

 

CoViD 19 has meant a State of Emergency in Kenya. We are facing curfews countrywide as well as lockdowns in a number of regions (counties). These restrictions have restrained free movement of persons and goods. Yet, life dynamics aren’t static, awaiting for the pandemic to subside. We are still facing deaths, if not more. Our courts are still in session albeit slower. And prisoners are being released as others are incarcerated.

All these means that the often slow wheel of justice, are now on snail pace, if not static, as it regards women’s rights, including land rights and customary law as impacts wife-inheritance tradition. With or without deceased brother, son or husband’s will, sisters, mothers and wives are deprived of a right to land inheritance. 

Women depend on their husbands, sons and or brothers to facilitate their land tenure. That CoViD 19 came just at the planting season. Men faraway in cities weren’t well prepared to send their beloved money for farming. And thus, land remains bear. This was made worsse by locust invasion and the ever changing weather patterns that brought heavy rains, floods and landslides.

Still, last funeral rites to the dead aren’t carried out given the ‘new normal’. It’s in such burial ceremonies that separated couples are united in death. Without such arrangements, estranged wives aren’t reconciled with her in-laws. This means lost land.

With prosperity of marriage, re-marrying and wife inheritance, women, wife or daughter are rarely considered permanent residents at their marital home or maiden home. This is because widowhood in Africa was a rare phenomenon, not unless the widow was in her advance age. That way, she wouldn’t need land, for land was communal. A physically or mentally challenged daughter will be presumed to be a permanent resident to her fatherland, since her chances to marry are slim. Spinsters were really heard of, given our polygamous marriage presence. 

A husband’s death might mean a death-blow to the widow if at all she’s a mother of daughters or is childless. The latter scenario could as well mean, she got married to the deceased awhile having a child from another marriage or had adopted a child – not biological child to the deceased.

Boy-child is considered a permanent resident to the homestead. Even if he’s acquired large tracks of land elsewhere and desires to relocate, he’s often compelled to inherit a piece of his ancestral land. 

If a women passed on without a child or leaving behind daughters, with or without children, sadly that is traditionally considered ‘gone-case’, in as much as Kenyan Laws recognize every child’s right of inheritance, regardless of the sex or gender.

Sadly, women are seen as risk-factors in terms of selling their deceased husband’s land whenever they feel unwelcome in their marital home or if at all remarrying crosses their mind.

If a woman loses her son(s) during or even after this period and yet she’s past menopause, her fate is as good as sealed. The land is likely to be taken by her in-laws and shared amongst those with male heirs.

Worse still, if at all she’s in a polygamous marriage, the other wife or wives are to disposes her of her land. 

At the Single Mothers Association of Kenya (SMAK) where I am a paralegal, we offer free legal aid and advice women to ensure their husbands write a will. This plays a big role in curbing land clashes. Similarly, we encourage women to join Self-help groups that have co-operatives to purchase land.

This is meaningful in that, land fragmentation experienced in the rural Kenya, is an indicator of the shrinking farmlands and population explosion. Indeed these are factors that affect land rights and rights of inheritance.

Land, as in the past, should be communal-owned. This ensures all feel belonging to the community. Kenyans should adapt the Kibbutz system of land ownership. Or better still have the Communal Land Trust model that Bernie Sanders and other had implemented in Vermont.

In the short run or medium term, communities here should be encouraged to have community cemeteries, so that even the technocrats in the city, would be assured of a resting place in the ancestral home when their time comes. For indeed, these professionals are the ‘Mr. Jekyll and Dr. White’ in the form of absentee landlords. And all this is basically to have a resting place by their forefathers, not farming per se. 

We should ensure that ancestral land shouldn’t be for sale, thus communally-owned. This way, collective land ownership will discourage absentee landlords. Women and other rural folk will be encouraged to till the land with the surety that the harvest is those who toiled and sweated in the farm.  

 

COVID 19 is likely to lead to forced evictions which largely affect women and their children. Secondly, it can lead to loss of land to unscrupulous investors in the case of large scale land based acquisitions. Just like any other large-scale investment undertaking, these projects, if unchecked, could exacerbate the inequity they are meant to help reverse. Women have been the most disadvantaged due to the land deals since the negotiations tend to be masculine and thereby playing a leading role in undermining the land-based livelihoods of women. The pandemic will reinforce this.

As an organisation, we are engaged in continuous sensitisation of women on their land rights and encouraging them to report any violations. Ignorance on the part of women as to their land rights is to blame. We believe that access to information, awareness of rights, and knowing how to claim them is, indeed, the basis for a strong citizenship demanding transparency and accountability in land governance.

We should promote peaceful resolution of disputes within families, including mediation, to further reduce instances of family break ups and consequently, the threats to women land rights.

In the medium to longer-term, there is need to encourage strict implementation of land laws that safeguard women’s land rights to the latter.

I would encourage inclusion of women in decision making processes in as far as land is concerned. This is because there is a connection between women’s land rights and socio-economic development, peace and security. This will be a starting point towards challenging models of land ownership dominated by cultural norms and practices that are heavily patriarchal, rigid and subconsciously enforced within communities. 

Women in both rural and informal settlement urban poor dwellers are affected by COVID-19, but mainly the urban poor in informal settlements, are hit harder.  A common factor is more family disputes, given that men are spending longer hours at home, which is not common in both settings.  Although men own everything, but it is women who are responsible for children, homes and even production in agriculture.  Culturally, most African men spend many hours out side their homes.  With COVID-19, where they spend more time at home, and want to be in charge with limited contribution, apart from demanding for attention of their wives.   This has added stress on women both in rural and urban informal settlement poor.

Specific for women in the urban informal settlement poor.  Over 86% of families depend on women income for livelihood.  Common businesses for women in urban informal settlement is informal job like fruits, fresh food, cleaning jobs in the up class neighborhood, tailoring, saloon, etc.   with COVID-19 which brought about lock-down, all these informal jobs ceased to exist.   Family disputes are normally linked to poverty …. this is what is happening in most of these areas.   Securing of the required masks is not possible because they are not affordable.  Hence, health remain a big threat in urban poor.  

Because of diminished sources of income, families are entering informal transaction of land either through leasing or sales at speculated and very small values, which will affected many families in terms of landless and in terms of increased land related disputes.

Developing and circulating awareness messages,  However, there are also limitations of reaching the rural because of the lock down.  As NGOs, we also lack resources during the COVID-19 to develop and use the right tools that would effectively reach the population especially the grassroots.   Field staff who are normally employed at the grassroots/field to reach the population have been recalled because of lack of financial resources and uncertain situation ahead.

Focus more at the grassroots; invest more resources in the local organization to domestic legal instruments to protect the rights of women, while influencing the policy makers; mobilize financial resources to support women’s small business for food security and smart agriculture; invest in ICT at the for women and local organizations.

ICT and financial support for small businesses can help women to confront problems arising from COVID-19. 

Annie you raise a really important point here about cases where men's roles normally have them more outside the home, while women have more responsibilities inside the home - with lockdowns and curfews, men are 'encroaching' in women's space ahd sphere of responsibility. and this doesn't just have implications for domestic violence, which as many others have commented seems to be increasing as a result of Covid-19. But it has implications too for women's role in the household, and particularly their ability to retain control of household income and budgeting, and proceeds from the use of household property. It would also be harder for women to manage these things without men's knowing, for example in cases where women have their own sources of income that they might have used for household needs - now with their husbands around at home more, women's control here could be threatened. so it is not just women's land rights that could be threatened here but property rights more broadly including the control and decision-making aspects over the incomes arising.

The media is under financial pressure as a result of effects of COVID-19 on media businesses and is not covering stories that are not in the vicinity or urban areas. For rural women, this will mean less attention will be paid to violations occurring in outlying areas such as evictions. The media in a time of COVID-19 is also giving much space to government voices and little to minority groups to voice what the effects of the pandemic are. The voices of minority groups such as rural women, persons with disability, indigenous persons are not being found in media.

Vulnerable women will be the ones most likely to have their land rights. CAP assumes that men and women are equal and thus there is no need to provide specifically for the vulnerabilities experienced by women (and some men) who are widows or single parents, especially those with young children requiring home schooling. In every other sector, a single parent is seen as working or running a household with disadvantage or at least constraints. This is especially so in relation to accessing resources, grants or schemes that require farmers to access credit through formal institutions. The bank will not give a single parent on a low farm payment a loan or mortgage. 

Thus, a single parent farmer or woman who finds herself farming whilst looking after children of school age and needing to cocoon with frail or elderly parents will certainly find her land at risk – bringing in an income to keep the farm is put in second place to raising and caring for her family.

As an individual, I am engaging with women on the ground to clearly understand the causes, scale and solutions to the problems experienced by the women farmer. [It is important to note that all farmers are not in the same boat. We may be at the mercies of the same sea, but we are not in the same vessels – some of us are on yachts, others on cruise liners and then there are those of us on rafts which are held together with baling twine.] We need to generate the numbers / statistics and the research to be able to do or influence anything for women in farming at National or EU level. Our established farm representative organisations have next to no women in leadership and our issues are either invisible to men in leadership or ignored. Women tend to be the seed savers in communities, and women tend to focus on food security whilst men tend to focus on bringing in the cash. With no women at the national and EU policy tables, issues like seed saving and food security do not get raised or fought for.

We need to challenge the gender composition of our agricultural representation organisations and state bodies. Obviously, we are not saying women for the sake of women – anyone can be a Snow White and most women do very well in a man’s world. The litmus paper should be about women’s issues appearing on the agenda and being spoken to, and fought for, by women. The legitimacy of an all-male delegation lobbying or meeting and interacting with government departments and EU officials or donors and funding agencies – especially on the future of agriculture in the context of climate, biodiversity, pandemics, antimicrobial resistance and other crises - needs to be called out as lacking the diversity of insight that women bring to the mix and the issues that only women know about. Once again, we need to rally the call Not About Us, Without Us!
 

In the light of my rant above, I would say that women, armed with good research and statistics, need to be at the tables discussing how / what the future of feeding the planet is going to look like. We are all saying we cannot go back to ‘normal’. We are talking about green deals (some new and some not so). We need women to speak for ourselves on the issues, including land rights, that hold us back from delivering food security to our families and communities.

My organization is focused on enforcement and implementation of the Land Rights Act (LRA) of 2018.  This is because the Act dedicated a whole chapter on customary land rights which recognizes, protects and guarantees the security of tenure for customary land owners. Most importantly, the LRA, included stronger protections for women’s land rights through the inclusion of provisions for women’s equal participation in local land governance, as well as provisions for spouses with equal rights to be members of land-owning communities. Irrespective of this legal victory mentioned, women will not be able to realize the full bundle of rights given them under the LRA if customary land owners particularly women, are not aware of these rights and how to realize them;  customary norms and practices still pose barriers to women’s rights to land; and land rights actors do not have the required capacity to advance women’s land rights. My organization is mobilizing women land rights actors (those who provided a gender lens and advocated for inclusion of women protection in LRA) to initiate “The Stand For Her Land campaign” in Liberia, to advance a systemic change in how women gain equal access, ownership, and control to land, economic growth, and opportunities.

Where there are no laws, advocacy for a legislation that will provide legal safeguards for women land rights should be embarked on; and afterwards ensures that the legislation is implemented and enforced. Where there is an existing legislation that already gives legal protection for women land rights, attention should be focused on implementation and enforcement of such laws. 

Additionally, legal and technical support need to be given to women whose land rights have been threatened such that can have remedy.

One thing I will do today to help protect women’s land rights that might be threatened as a result of the COVID-19 virus is to increase awareness, in rural communities, on women’s equal rights as men when it comes to land ownership, access and control as enshrined in the 2018 Land Rights Law. In addition to this, I will also provide on the phone technical advisory support to rural women who might face threats to their land rights.

Land rights, generally titled men (65%), only 10-20% of landholders are women. In times of pandemic, when the husband sick or die, the pressure to lose their land's right higher due to the social/traditional norm. 

No, they still have the same right. If the women die, the land right will give to her heirs. 

If the Covid-19 pandemic continues and lockdown imposed, many public land administration offices remain close, so the service to provide women's right to land registration and ownership will be decreased. This situation causes many land grabbing, particularly in the rural area.

The Covid-19 pandemic impact on migration due to lockdown caused many farmers to lose their customers in the urban area and lead to the consequences of poverty.

We need to work together with local NGOs to reach women community in the rural area and provide some information about their rights particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

We should conduct more discussion/webinar with multi-stakeholders to work together in land's right equality during the Covid-19 pandemic to reach more international awareness. 

For the medium-term: work together with local government to improve the rural economy by support with cash transfer program, particularly for vulnerable groups such as a single mother with children and widow.

In the long term: Supporting the government for commitments made on gender equality and women's economic empowerment 

We need to support women's groups and organizations of rural women to participate in the formulation of land policy and land reforms through financial support, dialogue with the government, and providing space/forum for dialogue.

Due to economic pressure as mentioned earlier most women in Africa only have access and user rights to land but do not have ownership rights. So COVID is going to force men or family heads to sell off land cheaply in order to afford basic needs for their extended families. This in turn is going to affect production of food, utilization rights of women and hunger may increase as a result.

Participation: Women need to participate in the  decision-making on community, national and global health preparedness and response. This means their  issues in food systems  are   represented in the most practical, safe and meaningful ways possible. Most Governments task forces, small scale farmers groups, civil society organisations are missing out. Prioritize the safe and meaningful involvement of women, girls, and other marginalized populations in decision-making processes related to COVID-19 responses, relief delivery, and recovery at all levels

Influencing governments to keep Stability in price- To ensure that  the women are not exploited, Governments to ensure that the prices of food are stabilized

Encourage preparedness and response plans to be informed by the Gender impact analysis this will be guidance for gender responsive interventions informed The response work done by Governments and the private sector needs to be guided by  gender analysis and all data must be disaggregated by sex and the implications of covid on different categories ought  to be established so that there is targeted response Government and the private sector to prioritise women in response mechanisms for instance for cash distributions, food we should prioritize small scale female farmers,  women-headed households where women might have had to leave work (formal/informal) to care of relatives in quarantine/isolation

Right now, we need to push for women’s  priorities for equitable access,  ownership and control of land and property in a quest to achieve equality. Mobilize women and raise active citizenry to demand for the recognition and realization of their land rights by the government and Local governments during the pandemic. We need to encourage governments to come up with directives that protect sell of land, and deter massive evictions during this pandemic

The one thing that needs to be done today is to encourage integration of access rights, user rights and ownership rights of land for women.

What we need to do now in the context of this pandemic is to:

  • Declare access to land as an essential service and allow movement within counties and across border lines to address land dispute.

  • Increase communications and awareness. 

  • Increase monitoring within customary areas and particularly where threats to WLR continues to rise.

  • Liberia learned many lessons from the Ebola epidemic that ravaged our nation 5 years ago. One key lesson was the importance of a gender equal response team with a bottom-up approach with interventions participatory and community driven. Revisit this approach and develop a strategy with a strong community led focus to not only mitigate the spread of COVID but reduce ongoing land conflicts and disputes.

We should realign interventions to fall within the local context, developing a system that both responds to customary dispute resolution mechanisms while incorporating statutory means as required.

Experience has shown that gender-neutral laws are not enough.  Women need to be supported proactively and it can be done. And we need to listen to women as they often know what they need.  Organizations such as Colandef and Espacio Feminista have instituted special measure and pathways for women, including those with informal marriages (or unregistered) for their land restitution programs.  And in Aceh, Indonesia after the tsunami, special measures were taken to ensure women were part of the cadsater reconstruction and that their property rights were recognized and secured.  And I want to take this opportunity to mention the Stand for Her Land campaign which is focused on exactly this topic of protecting women’s land rights around the world and you can find out more on standforherland.org.  But I think there is a role for all of us in this and we can only achieve success together.

I agree with both Victoria here (re Aceh after the tsunami) and Ellen above (re Liberia after ebola). These are both good cases to look to in seeing how to incorporate attention to gender in general and to women's property rights in particular in all post-pandemic planning and recovery processes. Even though Covid-19 is a different situation, we are not starting from scratch and there are many important lessons we can learn from these models.

Land rights should be mainstreamed in all development interventions in agriculture, climate change, afforestation, etc.  This will help enlarge the land rights portfolio and get it focused on all issues, both on a broad scale and on a localized scale. This will make the issues the real to many of our donor partners and will help expand the attention given to it. 

Zimbabwe recorded its first case on 20/03/2020 and went on to impose a lockdown, which started on the 30th of March to last for 21 days. Women Peasant farmers in horticulture production survive on selling their produce to buyers from all over the country at big markets in the country (Harare – Mbare; Mutare – Sakubva). These open markets offer a readily available vegetable and fruit produce for the working class in urban areas. These fresh produce markets are ideal for the peasantry that has oftentimes limited access to storage facilities.

Peasant livelihoods in Zimbabwe have been largely been characterized by precarity in the last three decades beginning with the adoption of the IMF sponsored Economic Structural Adjustment Programs imposed on developing countries since the late 1980s. The emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant State reaction has worsened the plight of the peasantry who relies on agriculture and produce sales. Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 imposing a 21-day national lockdown coupled with a weak social welfare system greatly affects the peasantry whose livelihoods depend on daily produce sales. As correctly stated by the World Health Organization (WHO) Director Tedros Adhanom, there is a need for Governments to consider the impacts of restriction of movement on such people. The Zimbabwean Government has however been confiscating and destroying peasants’ produce ostensibly to enforce the lockdown, restrict public gatherings and curb the spread of the coronavirus. These acts by the State have been widely condemned by the citizenry as the state’s actions adversely affect, not only peasant livelihoods but the economy and political stability in general. 

Allowing peasants to continue operating during the lockdown would help in the maintenance of social and economic stability and support “social distancing” as it assures people of a constant supply of food during the lockdown. If peasants were to stop the supply of fruits, vegetables as well as other products, citizens would find it difficult to remain under lockdown as they are forced to go out of their homes to seek adequate food supply. It should be noted that people were given a 2 days’ notice on the lockdown, which time was inadequate to stock sufficient food requirements for 21 days. Farm produce cannot be expedited to mature and be ready for sale within a period determined by law – it follows a natural process. If left out in the field and not harvested, farm produce would get spoiled, leading to huge losses for the peasantry. However, it is interesting to note that the State allowed large retail outlets to operate, labeling them as an essential service. Thus, the State deliberately gave a blind eye to the fact that the generality of Zimbabweans relies on the informal economy for survival.

Upon noting its mistake and gross violation of human rights, the State relaxed its lockdown policy and allowed peasants to trade. However, there has been silence on the amount of compensation to be given to those whose produce was confiscated by the state. Also, the modalities of how the peasants and their customers are to meet and transact at designated points have not been publicly stated. Important to note that most of the affected peasants come from the Chimanimani and Chipinge areas which were recently affected by Cyclone Idai. The state’s action invokes questions on the government’s policy towards the peasantry. However, interestingly, the state has been pushing for the peasantry to participate in the tobacco marketing season that is likely to commence in the next few days. Pushing for the opening of the tobacco auction floors, the state has not offered any plausible explanation. However, it is evident that the state is keen to participate in tobacco marketing in which the state has direct monetary benefits.

We argue that the lockdown due to covid-19 has negatively impacted the peasantry who are left with virtually nowhere to sell their produce. Mbare Musika in Harare and Sakubva in Mutare are the largest market-places in the country that distribute fresh produce to other markets in the country. The closure of the markets has adversely impacted the peasantry who are left with rotting fruits and vegetables. Buyers from other provinces cannot travel due to restrictions, which leaves the peasantry at a great loss. This does not only affect their livelihoods but also have a long-run impact on the production patterns.  

Way Forward

This state’s approach in the COVID -19 times demonstrates the underlying problems that the peasantry face in Zimbabwe where market access has become a huge challenge. The open markets act as a buffer and protect fresh produce producers. The measures are taken to combat the coronavirus not only expose the struggles of the peasant producer but also necessitate a rethinking of marketing strategies for fresh produce. We, therefore, propose value addition of the farm produce, which helps in times of uncertainty or disaster (like Covid-19). Value addition allows the peasants not to rush to sell the produce while adding more value to the products.

Nested markets which have been instrumental in product marketing in the Netherlands also offer a good approach to improve and diversify from the open markets that have proven to be fragile in the event of pandemics. Therefore, there need for the State to come up with modalities for compensating the affected peasants as well to ensure that they have access to the market. It is also within the State’s responsibility to ensure that these same peasants are protected from the coronavirus as they conduct their business of feeding the nation. Other countries have come up with methods to ensure that people queue orderly, observing physical distancing in the market place.  Some societies have enhanced peasants and potential clients’ access to the Internet to encourage online shopping and reduce the number of people on the street. It would thus be prudent for the Government of Zimbabwe to consider these and other options to ensure the viability of peasant agriculture.

At this point I would like to bring in the urban-rural land connection and the kind of insecurity it has generated during the pandemic. In India the loss of income and uncertainty of resumption of work caused by the nation-wide lock down has created a new class of the poor, who had incomes but have lost their jobs and are now impoverished. Most of these were migrants in cities, both men and women, engaged in informal work. Hundreds of thousands have had to go back to the village under extreme hardship. Studies in Indian cities - Delhi, Ludhiana, Surat, Bangalore and others- have shown that a majority of such migrants practiced a frugal lifestyle in the city so that they could save money for remittances to the family in the village and investment in housing and agriculture land. Sometimes they even borrowed money for these investments. For most migrants, working in the city is perceived as a temporary hardship for a better future back in the village– the transition from landlessness to land ownership, or bigger and more productive land. The investment in land invariably takes place in instalments based on informal agreements, which are honoured. But loss of regular income streams means that many of these deals are incomplete and face uncertainty. A dialogue with women returnees who worked as domestic help in Delhi show that many have invested significant amounts for buying land, and they still have to pay more to get ownership. They have invested all their savings and even borrowed money from employers for land and house improvements. Some of them did continue to get paid by their employers, but their husbands had no income for the last two months, making survival in the city difficult in spite of access to subsidised rations. One of the women commented, “ We are neither here nor there. We have no savings to survive till work starts and we have no land to till in the village until the land becomes ours”.

The pandemic has drawn attention to the urban-rural interconnectedness of income, investment and land, which needs to be addressed in public policy for poverty reduction. But how is that going to happen with ministries working in silos?  

Very important point raised by Banashree and I totally agree with her to look at the urban-rural interconnections of income, investment and land but also how we organize to work and analyze the many and different issues and their connections. 

The only difference that I have or question that I raise is that the dialogue or advocacy effort has to be driven by civil society and women's organization in order to break the silos that governments create. Once again, advocacy and monitoring of public policies have to be made with good evidence and therefore a key investment need to be made in capacity-building and strenghtening of women's organizations and at different levels - from local to national and global.

Great points. One of the resources at the community level can be women's Self-Help Groups (SHGs) who could be equipped with more knowledge, information on their rights and could be tasked to disseminating this information to other women in the community. Providing with them the right resources could be a step forward in capacity building and increasing the reach of these SHGs.

INTRODUCTION

Masvingo Centre for Research Advocacy and Community Development (MACRAD) embarked on a fact-finding mission regarding government’s proposed eviction of thousands of Shangaan people to pave way for lucerne grass farming in Chiredzi District. Focus group discussions were conducted with some of the community leaders within the affected district. In this position paper, MACRAD commence by giving a brief summary background of the issue at hand and goes on to outline the agricultural, religious and cultural set up within the affected area. The paper looks into relevant domestic and international legislation and concludes with some recommendations.  

Download the full story on the link below

https://macradtrust.org.zw/projects/macrad-enquiry-with-the-xhangaan-spe...

Thank you team at MACRAD for sharing this case study on evictions in Chiredzi.  You have also been doing a great job with your regular COVID updates from the field!  Much appreciated all around. Best, Karol

 

South Africa went into a hard  Level 5 lock down on 27 March 2020 in response to the corona virus. This was relaxed slightly to Level 4 on 1st May and again to Level 3 on 1st June. The hard lock down has impacted severely on millions of poor and food insecure households in urban and rural areas. Food insecurity has emerged as the most serious policy blindspot in South Africa's corona virus response. The networks of hawkers and bakkie (mobile) traders who make a living purchasing fresh produce at markets and the farm gate and selling it on to township greengrocers and spaza shops were fundamentally disrupted by the lockdown regulations. Initially the regulations did not recognise how the majority of South Africans live, and how many many household live with high levels of food insecurity which was deepened as a consequence of lock down in Stage 5. This was aggravated by the closure of school feeding schemes which reach 9 million children. 

The lockdown regulations impacted heavily on small scale producers - both men and women who were unable to sell their produce.  Government relief available for smallholder farmers proved to be difficult to obtain, as many people did not have the required documentation to qualify for relief. In the agricultural sector, particularly in the food and wine value chains many workers are seasonal and increasing live off farm.  Increasing numbers of landless women work seasonally on farms. In the off season they depend on Unemployment Insurance to stay alive. The closure of government labour centres has created major hardships for seasonal agricultural workers.

With regard to access to land and land rights more generally, evictions have been prohibited during lockdown, but several muncipalities and some land owners have disregarded the regulations. Overall Covid-19 has pulled the handbrake up on South Africa's already problematic and faltering land reform programme. As the economy takes serious strain and unemployment rises steeply there have been government budget cuts in the sector where it can be argued there is a need for more resources to address stark land inequalities and provide access to land and support services for women and landless households. Land reform in South Africa is increasingly recognising the need for urban land reform to address South Africa's deep legacy of spatial inequality and to ensure that households headed by women have access to well located land for settlement.

For more on land issues in South Africa visit knowledgebase.land where we as Phuhlisani NPC cover all aspects of the South African land question and now provide land news for Southern, Central and Eastern Africa.  

Hi Rick, Thanks for these thoughts and for pointing to the serious problems of food insecurity that arose when lockdowns went into place. I also appreciate your point on the need for women-headed households (and other vulnerable households, such as orphan-headed) to have access to lands that are better connected to livelihood opportunities.  I also appreciate you sharing the link to the work of Phuhlisani NPC!  Best, Karol

 

To all those who participated in this on-line discussion and to those who joined us for our webinar last week:  Thank You!  It was really inspiring to see the depth and breadth of comments, questions, ideas and approaches related to the issue of women's land rights and COVID-19.  

I wanted to offer a few words to sum up our discussion.  I note that there were several issues raised in terms of the impacts that women (and their families) may be seeing today as a result of the spread of the disease.  A quick list would include the following:  

  • Loss of livelihood opportunities - especially for women as farmers and traders but certainly for others as well 
  • Exposure to gender-based violence and to the stigma of having or being exposed to COVID
  • Increased food insecurity, tied either to loss of income or, potentially, loss of lands
  • Increased care burdens which can make it difficult to pursue livelihoods 
  • Reduced emphasis of governments on women's land rights issues, given that attention is focused on stopping the spread of the disease
  • Increased risks related to eviction and
  • Some increased risk of loss of property or burglary due to lockdowns

It may be too early, as some in the discussion noted, to identify if there are substantial changes to women's land rights as a result of losing lands to migrants and/or returnees OR if women are experiencing extra hardships associated with problems of inheritance. Thus, the list above is not exhaustive but does point to the many ways the disease may affect women. 

I also note that many people offered ideas about what to do to address the problems that some women and other vulnerable groups face when it comes to securing or enforcing land rights in a time of crisis.  Ideas included:

  • Designating land administration staff as "essential workers" so that registration, transfer or updating services can continue to the extent possible
  • Enabling more on-line service delivery so that people may not need to travel to protect lands (recognizing that a continuing digital divide may make this a less feasible option for the poor and those in some more remote areas)
  • Developing rapid response surveys to track impacts in real-time or near real-time and better target responses
  • Working to find ways to enabling grassroots organizations to continue providing critical services when and where possible 
  • Placing a moratorium on evictions and other resettlement actions and
  • Recognizing the needs of human rights defenders 

These were just a few of the ideas you shared through the discussion.  I want to end by underscoring the need for some patience and time to gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of impacts that may be felt quickly in some cases, but may take time to manifest in others.  We may be able to identify short-term impacts in some contexts but we also need to be careful not to assume harms that may be attributable to other factors, and we may only see some impacts (such as the potential harms to girls if they are pulled out of school to attend to those at home or to provide field labor) much later.

Overall, our on-line discussion is off to a terrific start thanks to your contributions.

Best to all, Karol 


 

 
Statement 2: The Tenure Security of Renters is at Risk: Impending evictions around the world will result in a large scale crisis.​​
 

 

Hello! I am thrilled that we are able to continue the discussion from the Webinar on Evictions Response During and After COVID 19 held on May 27th! If you were unable to attend, I encourage you to check out that exchange.

This week, I hope we can draw from a wider range of experiences and contexts to examine the risks of eviction for vulnerable communities (e.g. renters, to residents of informal settlements, to Indigenous Peoples, to IDPs and refugees, among others) which are being affected by the broader social, political and economic context of the pandemic.  

I also encourage participants to make links to the other two discussions within this series – notably the unique challenges that women face in terms of claiming, exercising, and defending their housing and land rights – and how COVID-driven migration, displacement, and de-urbanization may be driven by/or drive new waves of evictions.

To kick off the discussion, a few questions:

  • Some jurisdictions are considering or have implemented measures to mitigate the risk of evictions, with the most common approach appearing to be the suspension of all formal eviction proceedings for the duration of the public health emergency. What are some of the advantages and limitations of this approach? How do we also protect landlords who rely on rent for their own subsistence? What happens when the moratoriums and other measures end and tenants have to pay several months of back rent?
  • What is the situation for vulnerable tenants and occupants in jurisdictions where no measures have been put into place (or governments do not have the capacity to implement /enforce their moratoria) to secure their tenure? 
  • What are some practical tools and approaches that practitioners can advocate for or deploy on the ground to keep people housed? What are some of the limitations, risks, and challenges around these approaches?
  • Evictions are a chronic risk for impoverished and marginalized populations (especially displaced populations), even in non-pandemic times. Anticipating that inequality in terms of livelihoods and housing is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, what would you like to see in terms of the evolution of law, policy and practice on this issue?

Very quickly, this global health emergency has become a housing emergency. “Stay at home, save lives” has emerged as a mantra in the fight against COVID-19 worldwide, underscoring how central the home is to public health during a pandemic. Where for many “shelter in place” means adjusting routines and mindsets, for others it is exacerbating the conditions with which they have struggled for too long. The fast-moving challenge posed by the COVID-19  pandemic adds another urgent reason to ensure that the housing needs of diverse communities, including women, children, persons with disabilities, migrants and refugees, the homeless, the elderly and indigenous people, can shelter with safety and stability to protect their health and their families. In their own global guidance, UN-Habitat has called on governors, mayors and local governments to support the most vulnerable and to work with these communities as a priority.

Many residents do not possess security of tenure, including a lack of title or inadequate rental agreements, which means many live in constant fear of eviction. While incomes decrease and health is impacted by COVID-19, rent and mortgage payments are still due, adding stress and duress to families seeking to make ends meet as livelihoods vanish, schools close, and community members fall ill. Home is taking on a new meaning as simultaneous workplace, school, daycare, and safety net. It is essential that all levels of government consider contextually appropriate solutions to protect the homes of those living formally and informally as we all try to flatten the curve and reduce transmission of this disease.

While banking protections vary greatly around the globe, it is essential that developing economies address the needs of even the smallest borrower, especially individuals, as debts will become increasingly difficult to bear as the economic impacts will affect communities at different times throughout this crisis. Moreover, ninety-three percent of adults globally do not have access to housing finance options, as formal financial services are ineffective in reaching people in the world’s poorest places. Individuals that are unable to engage in the formal commercial banking system rely on a range of other types of financial institutions including cooperatives, microfinance institutions, and housing finance companies. These individuals must continue to be able to access these services to meet their economic needs during this crisis.

In Hungary, Habitat for Humanity, recognized the increased risk of facing evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic and pushed for extending a moratorium on evictions. A national law has places a moratorium on evictions during their winter season. Advocacy efforts to address threats of eviction were driven from assessing the immediate threats to housing security. "We came to the conclusion to prioritize those who are likely to face evictions after the end of the [winter] moratorium, as losing thir homes may also result in stretching the capacities of the social welfare and health care systems alike. Hence, such interventions makes sense for government officials considering financial constraints as well." By pulling on media and social media channels, they popularized their policy change. Keeping families in their homes means that families will have a safe place to social distance and keep their risk of transmission low, face less financial burden and provide stability during an already challenging time, as well as contribute to the overall public health of communities they reside in.

While the Solid Ground global advoacy campaign, focused on access to land for housing, ended in March 2020, I'll share our issue brief on secure tenure. This is created prior to COVID-19, but much why tenure security is so critical, and we are seeing that highlighted even greater in light of COVID-19, is captured in this brief. 

 

Hello - thank you so much for this rich contribution - would you be interested in updating this crowd-sourced map with the example from Hungary?

 

 

The advantages of such a move is that the vulnerable are protected from risk of homelessness. Given that we have a restriction of movement in and out of Nairobi and Mombasa cities amongst a few other counties, the displaced and unemployed that might need to go back to the rural areas, are locked here. Thus, not accessing their rural homes, it’s only fair that their removal from their current dwellings awaits.

The demerits of suspension of such lawful evictions is that land-grabbers will have time to compromise or coerce the system from evicting them. Even with such suspension, no lasting solution is being made to the decent affordable housing crisis countrywide. We are merely postponing a problem that needs urgent addressing. Two housing estates had already been demolished prior the CoViD -19 pandemic. Pangani and Jevanjee estates tenants were already displaced. Accessing school and workplace has been an on-going problem to them given the ungodly hour evictions and impromptu eviction notices respectively.

As alluded to above, this is the perfect timing for evicting a people without much resistance. It has worked here in Kenya with the evictions from two sewer plants in Nairobi's Eastlands. Ironically, it was the second and not the first which was a major target. This second one had been claimed to have been grabbed by the sitting Vice President. His seemingly fallout with the President is believed to be the cause. The 1st, Dandora Sewer plant, had already been deserted by its dwellers, obeying City hall’s directives to leave. Developers, mostly well connected at City Hall, do grab public land and have their renters masquerade as squatters. When the real renters don’t fall to this ploy, hired goons step in masquerading as the evicted squatters.

With the CoViD 19 stimulus from the World health Organisation (WHO) and government savings from minimum expenditures during this ‘lay-back’ period, the monies could cushion the tenants' rents. Sadly, how the government has its priority wrong and we are all suspicious of their misusing of such a stimulus package. There was an uproar on how much of the contribution they had used on snacks and other unnecessary projects.

The government asking private landlords to be benevolent yet City Halls who are the major landlords, not following suit, means not much can be achieved here. Social housing renters, majorly the poor neighbourhoods in Nairobi, keep gnashing their teeth with the failure of city hall to carry out basic repairs to their leaking roofs, dry water taps and dangerous footpaths. Such negligence is equivalent to paying rents to slumlords for ‘basic upkeep’. Therefore, this ought to be more than just affordable rent but clean, green and safer neighbourhoods. Needs which are foreign to many of our landlords, public or private.

Good relationships between lords and renters ought prevail here. One such good-samaritan landlord did isolate a room as a sanatorium for his renters. Going further than that, he even had a stock of provisions for them during the first months of the pandemic. This means that, not the government but citizens themselves can organise, do deal better with this pandemic.

Suspension of rent-payment augurs not well with people whose incomes are cut into half due to them not being active at work. Life remains expensive, with mouths to feed and education ongoing remotely – cost of online education. Rent arrears keep piling and so is the anxiety of pending evictions.

Kenya has no capacity to cover for rent payment. And if it does, many informal settlement renters cannot be cushioned given the illegalities of the structures or land occupation.
Foreclosure is a vocabulary rarely used by banks here. Hence those on mortgage, caught off guard by the ‘new normal’ are to be severely affected.

The government here is the major threat to poor people with its Urban Renewal and regeneration Program. This Affordable Housing Project (AHP) is already being dogged with scandals. Already a highrise slum has been put up at formerly Nairobi’s Park Road government staff quarters. Coincidentally they take shape at Sars Cov 2 pandemic and show how an unplanned housing project is just as dangerous as informal settlement.

In about four acres of land that had 80 houses, the government is putting up 1,370 housing units. 228 housing units on the lower six storey project are now done. These are squeezed and high. Poor lighting and limited recreation spacing is already exhibited. Likewise, a major cause of traffic jams proves to be. Sadly this project is to be carried throughout the eastlands of nairobi. Thanks to CoVid 19, the rapidity of this gentrification practise has been reduced.

 

As a housing rights advocate, my experience is that we are newly introduced to the Housing Rights defending unlike with age-long Land Rights defence. Much of the colonial crown land is in government hands. This also means any undocumented land. In short, the government still calls the shots in terms of land and thus housing rights. We need capacity building in Housing rights defending. This will also be an opportunity for government entities to learn on city planning and fair distribution of population through regional balance development.

Government’s goodwill will truly enhance such progressive realisation of the human right to adequate housing. UN-habitat being homed here, should take a leading role in this endeavour. A mere guide to residential tenants’ and landlords’ rights and responsibilities are not good enough if they cannot be respected or implemented. Homes are the haven to humanity and if unsafe, unhealthy and dirty, we are as good as being homeless. Housing stock increase minus improved infrastructure means vicious cycle of filth, in overflowing sewer discharge, inadequate water supply and uncollected garbage from our doorsteps and communal dumpsites.

Corruption is a major challenge for Kenya, and the corrupt being in authority, are prone to misuse the police in quashing any resistance in calling for land and housing rights. Closely related is our overly valuing of land needs. In as much as land is essential a commodity, our quest to own land and remain absentee landlords also suffers our economy. A call to those that need land to own land and those than need but just a house to own an abode, is prudent.

 

Funding of such major projects that lead to massive displacement of the poor cannot be done without Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and loopholes in Direct Tax Agreements (DTA). We see the hands of the World Bank and UN Office of Projects Services in the so-called Affordable Housing Project in Kenya. UK and France are amongst the European countries who have been courted in offering billions to this housing scheme. Such entities must do due dilienence in the scope of outcomes from such grand projects. How affordable is a one bedroom house going for 1.5 million Kenya shillings when the government agrees that unemployment is a major problem in the country? www.bomayangu.go.ke

Housing projects must be to a standard level; with adequate space for recreation, rooms well ventilated and good lighting, besides being big enough rooms. Densification of the working class through displacement of the unemployed is equivalent to soving a problem by another problem. Ideally, we vouch for Community Land Trusts (CLTs) where houses are privately owned but land remains a communal property.

COVID is a Widow Maker. In the last several months alone, the COVID pandemic has produced some 250,000 widows, adding to the 285 million widows around the world today. COVID widows, similar to other widows, are systematically disinherited. Such disinheritance - the institutionalized or culturally condoned prevention of a widow from accessing her rightful estate, usually her LAND and HOME – impacts a minimum of 40% of widows around the world. Importantly, the majority of widows are under the age of 39, meaning they are also responsible for young children. 

 

Having been separated from their land or valuable assets, widows struggle for survival. Marginalized and ostracized, widows are pushed into the periphery of safe and secure work. The combined impact of widowhood and COVID has several implications on Tenure Security of Renters. 

 

LOSS OF INCOME

As a result of COVID lockdowns and curfews across the world, such unsecure employment was among the first to disappear, resulting in immediate loss of income for the widows. Having no income, meager savings, and disinherited from a backstop of land or property, COVID widows have been unabile to feed their families, much less pay their rent. GFW in in receipt of testimony from widows around the world indicating financial distress and inability to honor rent obligations as a result of work interruptions.

 

VULNERABILITY

Inability of widows to honor rent obligations at this time significantly increases their vulnerability.  Landlords can prey on this vulnerability forcing widows who have no protections or advocates into further vulnerable states. This can lead to various risks and implications, below are just a few:

 

RISKS

Indebtedness - The risk to widows of missed rent payments could be devastating. Indebtedness to landlords can ultimately result in financial entrapment. Permanent, mounting, and insurmountable burden of rent debt can result in devastating legal action and in some instances imprisonment.

Homelessness – Widows, already vulnerable to discriminatory practices, and without any male protection, may find themselves among the first to be evicted, rendering them, and their children, homeless.

Human Trafficking – Increased vulnerability, indebtedness and even homelessness can push widows into the underworld of human trafficking. Debt burdens may lead to debt bondage. Homelessness could force widows into high risk work, forced organized crime, or other forms of human trafficking.  Their children are no less vulnerable.

 

CALL TO ACTION

Without security of land tenure through inheritance, widows are rendered vulnerable.  It is critical that widows rights to land, property, and valuable assets be secured, protected and enforced.

This is such an important topic and is often overlooked by policy-makers. Even in jurisdictions where inheritance laws attempt to protect the rights of widows, local practices continue to exclude women from succession entitlements, particularly over land and property. 

Thank you for capturing this essential dimension related to growing debt - even if tenant's rights are temporarily assured through moratoria, the most vulnerable households will fall deeper into poverty and will have to increasingly rely on negative coping mechanisms, or be exposed to predatory actors who will exploit their vulnerablility. 

 

 

This is a very important topic.  I am curious if anyone has looked at this from a legal perspective.  Many countries have constitutional protections ensuring women have equal rights to land and property, but in practice traditional norms often prevail -- and put women at more risk of eviction.  Has there been any discussion of changing traditional norms governing women's rights to land and property in light of COVID-19?

Black Lives Matter has concentrated our minds on race equality. But, the principle extends to every person across all issues of equality. Ultimately all strands of equality must constantly be in the forefront of all our minds. We must use the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement to work towards lasting outcomes for all disadvantaged and excluded groups. Too often, lack of resources cause disadvantaged groups to fight each other for what they desperately need. Racism and prejudice plays a big part in policy and strategy making. Negative stereotyping continues to damage the cause of actions for equality. In London, temporarily, during the Covid lockdown, the homeless were all taken off the streets and put into hotels etc. Research into homelessness lags behind other themes and lack of evidence undermines policy making. Now with the lockdown easing, it looks like the homeless are to be thrown back on the streets, without adequately addressing why they ended up on the streets in the first place. It is also expected that the entire Covid situation will continue to push more people into homelessness. We must all pull together more effectively to push for research and policies that improve lives for everyone. 

Thank you Judy for this thought-provoking input. The impacts of COVID-19 on homelessness is multilayered and must be met with a comprehensive response. This issue has been raised by the Special Rapporteur on Housing Rights in a specific guidance note, where States are urged to “immediately provide accommodation to all homeless people living ‘rough’ or on the streets with a view to transitioning them to permanent housing so that they do not return to a situation of homelessness once the pandemic is over.”

 

The note can be found at https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Housing/SR_housing_COVID-19_guidance_homeless.pdf

Hello Judy - thank you for bringing attention to the fact that many people started out this crisis without adequate housing - it is a basic human right that we are collectively failing to ensure. The Homeless Hub has some wonderful guidance resources on this theme - especially related to COVID 19. https://homelesshub.ca/ Please share any resources that you think could contribute to participant's further learning on this topic!

Until a few weeks ago, my son Joost had a part-time job as bartender/cook in an Amsterdam café. When all restaurants, bars etc. had to close because of lockdown measures, the place was unable to pay the rent (a high one, in inner-city Amsterdam!) and had to declare bankruptcy, letting go all employees. There was income loss for all parties concerned, sometimes compensated by third parties (fathers, for instance), sometimes not. 

In other words, it is clear COVID-related evictions and decisions to leave rented premises are a fact and come at a cost. But it is precisely these two phrases, ‘are a fact’ and ‘come at a cost’ that I think are worth further clarification during this dialogue. 

First the facts. In the announcement for this session, it is stated that “Evictions have emerged as the most common housing, land and property risk globally associated with the COVID-19 pandemic”. Not only would I like to see some corroboration for this claim (what does ‘most common’ mean in this context? How is that measured? What are the figures? In other words, what are we exactly talking about?), but I am also interested in the regional variation of the eviction phenomenon and its (proposed) solutions. Where (what continent; rural or urban areas) is the problem most acute? How do solutions differ? 

For instance, in Costa Rica, where I live, in all likelihood a law (nr. 21.927) will be approvedthat suspends evictions and imposes a compulsory (unless tenant and lord come to an agreement of their own) three-months moratorium (no waiver!) for rent payments, with accountsto be settled in 2021. I have no idea how the problem is dealt with elsewhere and wonder whether there is a global overview. 

And then the costs. With this Costa Rica law, it is clear that it is the tenant who bears the lion’s share of the burden: landlords will not be allowed to raise the rent, but that’s about it. The rent payment is only postponed but its total remains the same, while it is unlikely that the loss of income will be made up for at some later point in time. In other words, the tenants stand to lose most. 

So why not share the burden? If the authorities can devise a moratorium, they can also think of generalized proposals in which the costs are borne more equitably by tenants and landlords. Again, I am curious to know whether in other countries policies are being discussed that also put on the table the option of some financial sacrifice being made by landlords, and consider public spending to attenuate income losses for bothparties.  

To clarify: the above is not meant as a harsh criticism. Costa Rica is one of the few Latin American countries that is a welfare state of sorts, with an excellent universal healthcare system and preventive measures that have effectively limited, as of 5 June, the number of infections (slightly over 1,200) and deaths (a mere 10, with a 5M population). In other words, its COVID statistics are among the best in the world. Part of this has been made possible by the existence of relatively high taxes (in the Central American context) that pay for good public healthcare – just as is recommended by the OECD, of which Costa Rica is, precisely, the newest member state. 

But the country must make do with what it has, and spending discipline is a central tenet of the present government. Perhaps this explains the reticence to make available (more) public funds for the impending rental crisis – but still, they could look into it. I can only fear that in other developing countries, with even more regressive tax systems and less spending room for the governments, the option to use public funds for the eviction problem is a non-starter, but I’ll be happy to be proven wrong!

Thank you Jur for your contribution and personal experience illustrating the impact of COVID-19.

 

Your point on sharing the costs is extremely pertinent. We all agree that, when the economy is put on hold, someone will need to bear the costs. If the cost is solely undertaken by tenants, there would be grim consequences: evictions. But pushing the costs entirely to landlords also have undesirable consequences: indebtedness and mortgage defaults. Relieving landlords from debt would put a strain on financial institutions, with potentially devastating effects on the economy. Saving the banks leaves the burden to Governments, which means that the burden is pushed back onto society – particularly on future generations.

 

Governments – such as the Costa Rica one that you mention -  have been trying to spare tenants from paying rent and avoid evictions for the moment – a critical measure, especially considering the stay-at-home prescriptions by health authorities. But perhaps a more granular approach may be needed in order to re-balance cost-sharing in the medium to long term.

Thank you, Jur, for your thoughtful post.

 

The example from Costa Rica is very interesting.  

 

Many jurisdictions (national and subnational) are adopting legislation to protect renters from eviction.  In the case  you cite, rent payments are not "forgiven" or "waived", they may be delayed, though.  Some other jurisdictions, though, seem to be adopting legislation to prohibit eviction for failure to pay rent (without the express provision that the payment is simply delayed).

 

Do you (or anyone else) know whether there are any protections for landowners who have mortgages?  If they depend on rent to pay the mortgage, and people are not paying rent, are they protected from foreclosure or forfeiture for not being able to pay their mortgage?

Thank you for your question, Carl.

For house owners and landowners, a similar measure is being prepared as I described for for tenants.  A law is being drafted that allows the borrowers to suspend their monthly mortgage payments (principal and interest) for a maximum of four months - but eventually they will have to pay, nothing is waived.  

In Kenya, banks put out a public statement saying there were willing to come to some agreement.  It was entirely left to the bank and principal to negotiate.  Ultimately a moritarium of sort leading to an extension of the payment period.

In some of the informal settlement, we have seen landlord remove roofing materials (iron sheets) or literally take away doors from those who have defaulted.  Most have been women who have been affected.  In other areas, Landlord have offered discounts of close to 40% in rent.  In one surprising case, the landlady went out and shopped for all her tenants and provided all with a food package....what a gesture

In South Africa, the State imposed a blanket moratorium on evictions, after considerable advocacy by civil society organisation. Even though the South African government introduced regulations to prohibit all evictions, some communities in informal settlements still found themselves facing evictions. The Social Justice Coalition’s (SJC), advocacy and campaign on eviction are focus on ensuring that communities in informal settlements, are safe from illegal evictions.

In South Africa the government and other organs of state will obtain an interdict against occupiers and then destroy any shelters built in violation of the interdict, while also confiscating the materials used by the occupiers. The Government also utilises the services of private companies to conduct the evictions or internal units focused on land invasions. When the government conducts such evictions and/or demolitions in informal settlements, the occupiers have nowhere to go and often simply endeavour to rebuild on the same property. This is especially true in the context of the restrictions on travel under lockdown and COVID -19.

There have been no clear plans by the South African government at a provincial, local and national level how to deal with social distancing in informal settlements. There are still a lot of unclarity how the process of de-densification or temporary relocation will work within informal settlements in order to address the issue of social distancing. Residents in informal settlements has been struggling with social distancing during this pandemic, for example some households in informal settlements have as many as 8 -10 people living together, making social distancing difficult.

See the links below containing articles and videos that demonstrate the situation of eviction in informal settlements during COVID – 19:

https://www.newframe.com/municipalities-defy-covid-19-eviction-moratorium/ [article]

https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/khayelitsha-residents-win... [ article]

https://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/western-cape/evicted-empolweni-r... [ article and videos]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foVMUqRwv2k

The SJC are advocating together with other civil society organisation (that focus on eviction and land issues) to prevent widespread eviction during and after COVID – 19 and the national lockdown. Some of our advocacy strategies focus on:

To monitor the conduct of law enforcement officers that demolished homes and structures in informal settlements during COVID – 19 and the national lockdown in South Africa.

  • Effort to ensure people at least know the extent and limitations of their legal protections/options regarding eviction.
  • Integrating organisational platforms working on evictions affected by lockdown and COVID-19.
  • We are advocating for a blanket moratorium on all evictions for the duration of the national lockdown.
  • We still seeking clarity from government how the process of de-densification or temporary relocation for residents in informal settlements will work in order to address the issue of social distancing.

Hi Justin

Thanks for an important submission and valuable links. For those in search of additional resources Phuhlisani NPC has been tracking a wide range of news items and reports on informal settlements, evictions and Covid-19. Developments across the whole land sector in South Africa are summarised weekly.

Regards

Rick

Thank you for this extremely rich contribution on the local context in South africa, Justin. Mass evictions of informal settlements are a key concern and has been highlighted by the Special Rapporteur on Housing Rights in a targeted Guidance Note, which recommends that States "declare an end to all forced evictions of informal settlements and encampments. Ensure the necessary resources are available to implement this order effectively, including resources to monitor and prevent extrajudicial evictions". 

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Housing/SR_housing_COVID-19_Guidance_informal_settlements.pdf

Rather than address the specific questions on this topic at the outset of this part of the discussion, I would like to make a couple of more general global points from economics. And, in spirit of openness, I declare myself as someone who is both a tenant and a landlord in countries where governments have put in place moratoria on evictions and other tenancy-protection measures. So, as a tenant, I appreciate the protections and it is good to have reduced uncertainty over my housing in a globally economically uncertain situation. As a landlord – in a time when housing markets (both sale and rental markets) are liable to stagnate – I also appreciate the protections in place for existing tenants, as it is better to have a house occupied and being looked after than empty and unable to be rented out due to lack of demand. The reason to make this point is to highlight, from the economic perspective, that where the questions guiding this discussion assume that evictions will become more likely with Covid-19 as landlords get rid of tenants who may be no longer able to pay their rent due to sickness etc, we must also consider what would be the interest of the landlord in doing that when they might not easily find new tenants any more able to pay the rent. Where evictions would be a bigger concern then, is where the land use would be changed as a result of the potential eviction, rather than where the property being rented out (whether a house or a farm) would continue to be rented out by the landlord but to a new tenant. Because in the overall and very likely longer-term global economic crises we are facing as a result of the pandemic, there is most likely to be a shortage of ‘good’ tenants to occupy all the currently leased houses and farms worldwide. So it therefore becomes in the landlord’s own economic interest in the medium-to-longer term to be cautious in evicting tenants just because they are having short-term difficulties in paying their rent.

As a final comment from the gender perspective, we could then also not assume that women in general would be more likely to be evicted as a result of the pandemic, as who is affected will depend entirely on the individual tenants’ economic circumstances in different contexts, including who in the renting family is affected in what ways by the Covid-19 virus ie who may be sick, who may die, who may have been ill but recovered in slower time, who may have lost their job, who may have changed their job etc etc.

Hi Elizabeth,

 

Thank you for your post, broadening the discussion by bringing in the landlord perspective.

 

There are many reports of people in countries ranging from the United States to Kenya to India of people depopulating urban centers.  And this depopulation is for an indeterminate time.  I wonder to what extent the urban centers that were formally areas of high liquidity for renters have become less liquid.   

Thank you, Elizabeth, for this thoughtful reflection. It is true that the assumption that evicitons will increase as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns does not fit all scenarios. In fact, as you mention, landlords in markets with high demand for rental properties would be more likely to evict a defaulting tenant and swap him/her for a solvent one (civil servants, essential workers and others whose income have not yet been severely impacted). Rental markets with high liquidity are rare and mostly found in weathy urban centres. Like you, I wonder if in areas where the demand for rental properties is weak (structuraly or due to Covid), landlords will prefer to keep/negotiate with existing tenants rather than try their luck finding a solvent one in the market. 

Your point highlights the importance of gathering reliable data on COVID-19 related evictions to test these assumptions outside of western societies' big cities. 

Latin America is facing a migratory crisis as more than 4.2 million persons have left Venezuela as a result of the political turmoil, socio-economic instability and the ongoing humanitarian crisis. The Venezuelan refugees and migrants are widespread mainly in Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Brazil where they have arrived on foot without any specific destination. 

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis, thousands of Venezuelans compelled by the lockdowns have lost their jobs and other informal ways to get money to afford food, hygiene items and to pay rent, which worsened their conditions to stay in the host nations. Many have been evicted by landlords, basically because the governments have not allowed the moratoria on eviction for non-payment of rent. Such are the cases of Bogotá and Cúcuta in Colombia, whose Mayors argue that Venezuelans cannot stay in the cities, as well as in Perú and Ecuador. Moreover, the governments have failed to provided effective public assistance to Venezuelans and instead have implemented law enforcement actions to remove temporary camps and gatherings, pushing out elders, children, pregnant women and others to leave their nations. Hence the Venezuelan officials only coordinated a few flights to pick up hundreds of migrants, and several governments have closed the borders, the majority of them are being forced to return to Venezuela by walking throughout main and hidden routes, where several have been attacked and rolled down by xenophobic drivers.

In early March the Venezuelan officials welcomed and offered assistance to migrants. Then, as the flow increased, they imposed a rigorous migratory check up to deny entry, and deployed armed Venezuelan agents on the ground to capture and relocate migrants in camps along the borders. Currently, there are camps in both sides of the borders, ones contained with Venezuelan migrants awaiting to return, and others managed by the Venezuela Bolivarian National Guard, the militia and law enforcement agencies. Thousands of returned migrants are COVID-19 tested and then allocated in tents without the standard rules to avoid contagion i.e. without physical distancing/wearing face masks, and in many cases under water, energy and food shortages. Additionally, they are being stigmatized as ‘biological weapons’ by Venezuelan officials, who periodically insist on reporting the new COVID-19 cases and morbidity by blaming them as a threat and stressing that they are “imported” from Colombia and Brazil. 

The Venezuelan Constitution allows every national to leave and return to the country at anytime, as well as having the right to get a national ID and to access any public institution and shelter. It is unknown how many of those +60.000 returned Venezuelans still have any livelihood asset. The actual collapse of the public services, and particularly the health system, undermines the chances to receive a fast-effective help and increase COVID-19 vulnerability, whilst only the officials are providing access to and controlling the virus testing for civilians. 

 

 

Hello Lucia!

Thank you for sharing this important case for Venezuelan refugees and migrants. What actions are being taken by NGOs to reduce the risk of evictions for these populations - especially in what seems to be an absence of government action to secure their housing? 

 

Hello Alexandre, thank you for your question.

Many Venezuelan refugees and migrants do not have a job-contract and a formal lease agreement in the host nation due to their migratory status, as many persons have no ID or no qualify for the requirements. Therefore, they depend on daily informal economic activities and are not protected by the umbrella of any law, moratory (to pay rent) or tenant measure in place by the COVID-19 emergency. In other cases, they have been evicted by local governments, as happened in Bogotá-Colombia, where the Mayor implemented eviction orders arguing safety issues in urban areas (barrios).  After eviction, some migrants gather in the streets and parks, and request public assistance, but the governments argue that they are overwhelmed by the amount of migrants and their demands, and enact law enforcement to clear the streets. Several NGOs disseminated through the borders Colombia-Venezuela and Brazil-Venezuela provide temporary support (water, food) but are not capable of sheltering thousands of migrants, and the UNHCR's camps are full. 

These migrants are allowed to cross the border to Venezuela only three days a week for now, to get retained and isolated in tents for weeks, and supervised only by Venezuelan officials. The NGO's allocated in Venezuela have poor access to the tents, thus the security and info are controlled by the Venezuelan officials who report the national diagnosed new cases daily, and only them manage the statistical data, testing, and so on. The hospitals and clinics are not allowed to release information, and the scientific community is under threat. The rest of the Venezuelan population is still under COVID-19 lockdown. The returned people also face difficulties to get transportation to other destinations such as towns and cities, due to the gas scarcity.

 

 

In discussions like this, it is very easy to over-generalise and perhaps adopt somewhat stereotyped pictures of who the landlords and the tenants are and how the COVID-19 crisis will exacerbate evictions. While I don't disagree that are certainly risks of evictions increasing and in some places this is happening, it is not necessarily the case everywhere. Not all landlords are Scrooge-like rent-seekers who are exploiting their tenants. In many of the cities of low and middle-income countries where I have worked, landlords and tenants often share the same structures, and room or house rental forms a major part of their livelihoods. This is particularly so in informal/unplanned settlements. These are not institutional landlords, and they should not be treated as such. 

What this crisis and its associated measures have made very clear is that there are huge gaps in the understanding of the intricacies and complexities of modern urban life, lifestyles and relationships amongst policy makers. Blanket measures, whether a moratorium on rents or some other measure, will never fully reduce all of the impacts of crisis measures. But policy makers should recognise the need to adjust their measures or supplement them to deal with unanticipated emerging phenomena, especially those which affect the most vulnerable. Those persons and households which rely on flexible work arrangements or informal street traders and workers are perhaps the most vulnerable to lockdown measures which restrict normal mobility and economic life. As we have seen in the mass exodus of day-workers and their families from Indian cities when the lockdown was announced, their interests and needs were clearly overlooked.

Hello Richard,

Thank you for this nuanced perspective on landowner-migrant relationships. Indeed there are many places I have witnessed where landowners often allow their tenants to live without requiring rent - often for months - out of solidarity. However, even in these situations, landowners often have a limit. 

What kinds of situations do you have in mind when you say:  "But policy makers should recognise the need to adjust their measures or supplement them to deal with unanticipated emerging phenomena, especially those which affect the most vulnerable." What kind of adjustments do you have in mind - are there examples of this being done in practice? 

Also your point about informal street traders and day labourers is well noted - what policy and programming options are available to governments and NGOs hoping to support these populations?

 

 

Hello Alexandre, thank you for your response and your challenging questions. There is great uncertainty about responses and their impacts across the world. Living in the Netherlands, I am also confronted with a lack of direct insight into local practices though some stories do filter through via various platforms of course, so most of what I contribute is not first-hand information. My gut feeling, and it is no more than that at this stage, is that where landlords and tenants who occupy parts of the same house or neighbouring houses, there may be less eviction pressure due to rent defaults.  They are in the same boat as it were and both are confronted with similar problems of income loss, food and water shortages etc. Via some contacts at SDI Kenya in Nairobi I am aware of programmes that try to address food shortages of highly vulnerable elderly residents in slum areas. But I am unaware of whether there is support for rents and possible eviction pressure.

The problem of potential evictions exists also in the USA . This article (https://sf.curbed.com/2020/4/20/21224360/covid-19-evictions-eviction-ren... ) illustrates many of the issues surrounding rent defaults, rent waiving and other issues. Some key emerging problems related to the eligibility for rent waivers, subsidies or interest-free loans, and privacy concerns on the information requested by some landlords to assess eligibility for rent waivers. Moreover, the article highlights that evictions threaten not only housing but also small businesses - those who have lost their daily turnover are also at risk of eviction. And the owners of commercial properties are often institutional landlords.

In a survey related to flood risk perception amongst business owners carried out in 2017 in 2 informal and 1 formal neighbourhood of Kampala one of my PhD students, Simba Chereni, found that most (70%) of the business activities were mico-enterprises with less than 4 employees, and that most of these were tenants. As many such micro-business owners reside in the same are they face multiple challenges due to the lockdown measures: loss of income, inability to pay rent for business and inability to pay rent for housing. To my knowledge, measures that can address these multiple challenges are lacking.

In terms of emerging phenomena, I am thinking in terms of supplementary food services (such as the one I mentioned earlier in Nairobi above), and given that hand-hygiene is so important in the COVID-19 crisis, extra water supplies may be needed in many communities.

Writing about the situation in Medellin, Baum and Sanchez Medina state that the "..measures taken to contain the Corona virus are extremely selective and many sharpen the existing patterns of discrimination." https://blog.prif.org/2020/05/07/it-is-about-structures-not-aid-informal.... They rightly point to the multiple structural inequalities present in many cities and societies that help to shape the spread and the severity of the pandemic locally and globally. Acknowledging this and redesigning the pandemic responses as well as those that will follow the pandemic is vital for structurally reducing inequities.

In terms of supporting the informal traders and day labourers I can see that there could be opportunities, at least in the food sector if not others, to include local store owners and engage day labourers in local food distribution networks. I have no idea to what extent this is being done, however. From what I understand of the situation in India, many day labourers have been returning to the village homes, many even on foot travelling as far as 1500 km. This urban exodus is troubling in many ways: the potential spreading of the virus while on-route, loss of income and urban-rural financial remittances, increased pressure on rural communities for housing, food and water, etc.

W. Gyude Moore, former Minister of Public Works in Liberia has suggested several measures in a recent online article on Quartz Africa (https://qz.com/africa/1836458/curfews-not-lockdowns-will-slow-covid-19-s... ). Two of his suggestions are to impose curfews rather than total lockdowns and to also expand the definition of essential services to include farmers, motorcycle and tricycle taxi riders, food vendors in local markets, farmers, and mobile phone company employees. Typical activities which figure prominently in largely informal economies.

The Advantages of suspending the possible evictions of tenants during this period ensures that all Kenyans enjoy the right of living a life with dignity as provided for under Article 28 of the Constitution of Kenya. Article 43 of the Constitution, also guarantees that every Kenya shall enjoy the right to accessible and adequate housing and to reasonable standards of sanitation. In instances of forced evictions, property is either lost or destroyed. This deprives the evictee of their right to own property as provided for in Article 40 of the said Constitution. However, despite the fact that these rights are enshrined in the Constitution, many rental agreements lack clauses that provide for suspension of payment of rent by tenants in cases of national calamities like the one we currently experiencing.  Another limitation, is that, there is no legal provision that makes Landlords suspend collection of rent during such times and in most instances, it’s only personal discretion of the Landlords.  

Furthermore, landlords can be protected by: Waiving of land rates for Landlords by the County Government so that they can go easy on rental demands; Parastatals to waive Landlords Power Bills and Water Bills; Government to come up with a compensation package for the Landlords for the time tenants failed to pay rent. Government to assist Landlords servicing loans to get a six- month moratorium from lending commercial banks. 

What happens when the moratoriums and other measures end and tenants have to pay several months of back rent? Rent will accrue which will be due after the Period. Therefore, both residential and commercial tenants are still responsible for paying their rent and performing any other obligations set forth in their leases. Tenants will be forced to dig deeper into their pockets, accrue more loans to pay the pending rent arrears.  In instances where tenants cannot pay the rent after due notices are given, there are going to be instances of forced evictions. 

Hello MasieMemo,

Thank you so much for this rich contribution from Kenya! It is interesting that the government is passing measures to ease the bruden on landlords - I was wondering if there were any efforts to ensure that landlords are also passing down this relief to their tenants by waiving or reducing rental fees? Otherwise, it seems like they are protecting the capital of the wealthiest while continuing to ensure the extraction of rent from the poorest!?

 

In Brazil, evictions are currently not the primary issue being faced by the communities we work with. With regard to land rights, the first thing is that at the federal level we've seen attacks on the quilombola communities, historically black communities that go back to slavery and have stayed on their land and have land rights that are constitutionally guaranteed. The federal government has been using this moment to threaten these communities and, in some cases, take away land rights.

At the same time, land-grabbing leading to deforestation in the Amazon is reaching new highs, with an increase of nearly 64% in April 2020 over April of last year. 

But let's focus on housing. There have been housing activists and housing rights movements across the country promoting eviction moratoria but there are actually very few jurisdictions in Brazil that have instituted them. And here in Rio we don't have a moratorium, but at the same time it's a very different circumstance.

So most people in Rio who are vulnerable in this pandemic, economically, in terms of their housing and health, are residents of the city's favelas. So nearly a quarter of the population lives in favelas. And in a typical favela over 70% of people own their homes. It might be informal, they might not have title, but adverse possession and Brazil's constitution give them some level of security, nonetheless. They essentially own their homes. So rent is not their primary concern, nor is being expelled by a landlord. Their big concerns right now are around survival, lost income, food, health, and being able to stay isolated.

This is what we're living with right now. Our big concerns with regard to eviction are actually down the road. After the pandemic has wreaked its havoc, we're expecting a wave of what you might call "hygienization" or "sanitization" eviction policies where governments, city, state or federal, will try to institute evictions on scale using the fact that some of the poor infrastructure and conditions of these communities have led to such devastation. But what we're seeing right now is actually, the government look the other way, and, to be honest, actively promote the deaths of favela residents through a combination of minimal reporting on Covid deaths, insufficient health services, encouraging low-income workers people to break quarantine, inadequate sanitation infrastructure, bureaucratic impediments to income transfers, and even a historic increase in deadly police operations. Favela-based organizations are the ones doing the heavy lifting developing their own relief, information, mobilization, prevention and mitigation efforts. But they are working against huge odds and pressures.

So what we expect to see in the end is that the pandemic has killed many, many people in favelas, with Rio's favela perhaps being the worldwide epicenter of deaths. After the pandemic we're expecting a wave of attempts at evictions using "sanitation" arguments as justification. Even though this is a government responsibility and it is widely understood that, in Rio, upgrading the existing favela built environment is cheaper, less intrusive and more empowering than relocation.

It is important to highlight that amongst the vulnerable population, you won’t always find formalized agreements - registered signed contracts - between landlords and tenants. What our team at the Norwegian Refugee Council in Jordan has experienced during the implementation of our projects is that commonly, the agreement might be verbal - and so might be the threat of eviction. It means that although at government level there could be measures implemented to reduce the risk of eviction, such measures might not be effective or helpful to the most vulnerable populations. The suspension of formal evictions doesn’t solve the social cohesion of refugees and host communities. It might actually worsen the relationship between tenants and landlords.

Nathalia, you raise a great point.  While this is a risk, it also creates opportunities for a "living" agreement that can adapt to unexpected realities.  Do you (or anyone else) know of any examples where people have renegotiated informal tenancy agreements to allow for delays?  Or, maybe a better question is whether there are any analyses of when, how, and under what circumstances informal tenancy agreements are being amended to reflect inability to pay rent.

Reports show that insecurity of tenure is being experienced and anticipated in a number of different ways in India because of the pandemic. Realising that the first to get affected would be renters, the national as well as state governments gave directives that tenants cannot be evicted and rents should be waived off for the month of April. Unfortunately, these well-intentioned directives are not enforceable as nearly 90% of rent agreements in the country have no written contracts. In spite of this limitation, there were no mass evictions of renters. For example, in Delhi’s urban villages, which house a large population of migrant workers and students, there were negotiations between the two parties to reduce rent or to pay later; many with regular jobs got help from employers and others moved to places with lower rents. True, there were threats of eviction, but not carried out most of the time. After all, landlords had little prospect of finding new renters in the situation of dried up earnings and mass exodus of migrant workers back to their villages. Landlords in urban villages have taken to renting as a means of livelihood after their agricultural lands were expropriated for urban expansion and are equally threatened economically by their tenants’ inability to pay rent. In the industrial city of Ludhiana, workers associations as well as the police were active in preventing eviction of informal industrial labour, who rent rooms from private landlords. However, the perception of a rental housing crisis has prompted the national government to now announce a social rental housing scheme for migrant workers in cities, which will surely benefit some.  

More worrying is the change in attitude towards informal settlements. They are high risk areas for the spread of COVID 19. Social distancing is hardly possible with high densities, small dwellings, narrow lanes and community toilets. Water is not available all the time for hand washing. Mumbai’s Dharavi slum, reputedly the largest informal settlement in Asia, has regular media coverage these days for the large number of positive cases. The result is that there is heightened sense of insecurity towards informal settlements among the middle class, which is translating into a demand for doing away with slums. This brings a threat to places like Dharavi, in which almost a million people live and work and which has so far resisted attempts at redevelopment in the PPP mode, with private businesses reaping the benefits of its central location. In Chennai there has been an acceleration of relocation of people from informal settlements to the city’s periphery. So, the aftermath of the pandemic might bring in a new era of insecurity and marginalisation of the poor in cities.

Further down, India has a post-COVID economic recovery plan. One of the main features of this plan is to create land banks on public lands to attract industries. The inventory of public land is leading to waste lands but also informal settlements on public land and village commons. The implications are eviction or resettlement and loss of commons used for grazing and other collective use. Civil society organisations are already flagging up these issues and getting ready for awareness campaigns and action.

Hello!

Thank you for this excellent contribution on the various dynamics emerging from different parts of India. Would you be willing to add the moratoria to the crowd-sourced map on measures to protect tenure during COVID -19?

Considering the dynamics you shared about the risks to informal settlements, I was wondering if there are efforts to establish land trusts to secure their collective tenure - a solution currently being explored in Brazil and effectively executed in Puerto Rico? https://nonprofitquarterly.org/the-function-of-land-trusts-in-puerto-ric...

I am also curious to learn more about social housing schemes being planned for migrants - this may be a solution that the colleagues in Colombia and Jordan may find interesting!

Building on what Banashree has said about the situation in India, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking direction for the Centre to ensure compliance with the order of the Ministry of Home Affairs directing landlords to neither ask students and labourers to vacate the premises nor to seek rent for a month during the COVID-19 lockdown. However, the Indian apex court dismissed the plea and said it could not implement the orders of the government. Furthermore, the Delhi High Court has held in a case that tenants can't stay indefinitely without paying rent. As a result, many tenants have found themselves in a dire situation, particularly since administrative enforcement mechanisms are weak in India. Plus, most urban property markets are landlord markets, making it difficult for tenants to renegotiate rents or make alternative arrangements during the lockdown. According to legal experts, tenants cannot refuse to pay or reduce the rent unless there is a clause in the agreement between tenant and landlord, exempting either one of them to not perform their obligation under special circumstances. For, even during the lockdown, the usage of the property remains the same and the tenant continues to avail the service, so he cannot seek relief under the 'force majeure clause'. But most contracts don't have any such provision. Besides, as Banashree has mentioned, nearly 90% of rent agreements in the country have no written contracts. So tenants in any case have very little legal protection. 

A possible solution could have been the government announcing some sort of fiscal package for landlords to cushion their loss of rent and prevent evictions during the lockdown. However, much like land registry, property registry in India is a mess with most landlords not having complete set of property papers. Again, add to this weaknesses in administrative enforcement mechanisms, and it is a dire situation indeed. This is precisely one of the reasons why we have witnessed a huge exodus of migrant workers from the cities back to their rural villages. 

The Federal Government of Somalia, through the National Commission for Refugees Internally Displaced Persons, issued a moratorium in early April this year, effectively prohibiting eviction of any kind.  A few weeks later, the Regional Administration of South West State also announced a moratorium on evictions.  These actions were influenced by joint advocacy efforts by the Protection Cluster and the HLP Sub Cluster.  

The first advantage included reduction in incidents.  Based on analysis data for April, a significant reduction in the number of eviction incidents was observed in regions where the moratoriums were issued. On the other hand, a spike was recorded in non-moratorium locations across the country.  The second of these advantages include moral responsibility.  Public prohibition creates a degree of pressure and moral obligations on property owners, whether it is a moratorium, decree or any other legally appropriate term. A final advantage included a framework for localized interventions.  Evictions will still occur regardless of the moratorium, and people at different levels will try to intervene. Having a moratorium provides a framework to facilitate and advance such efforts.

The limitations of this included enforceability, meaning lack of operational capacity and the legal infrastructure to enforce the moratorium and to punish those who violate.  They also included corruption, as in most contexts, land is not owned by ordinary citizens.  In Somalia, properties are owned by powerful and highly influential individuals with connections at higher levels of society and government.  Finally, these measures also have an economic impact on property owners. While it is true landowners are in a slightly better position, they do depend on the income from the rent of their properties.  Moratorium automatically cuts off this income stream, and this could ignite a situation where landowners defy government and engage in widespread evictions.

We can protect landlords who rely on rent for their own subsistence by issuing tax waivers on properties for the period of the crisis, and potentially additional months.  Furthermore, Limited direct financial contributions to landowners by aid agencies will be expensive and could be abused, but it remains an option to be explored and considered on a case by case basis.

When the moratoriums and other measures end and tenants have to pay several months of back rent, this will impact tenants ability to pursue recovery and durable solutions.  Furthermore, Internally Displaced Persons should be prioritized as the most vulnerable sub stratum of the population and the ones disproportionately affected by evictions.

UN-Habitat has maintained, and in important aspects extended, its longstanding position on evictions. We remain of the opinion that forced evictions must be avoided unless absolutely necessary and, where found necessary and proportionate, they must be subject to all of the requirements and protections set out in international law and guidelines. In response to the COVID crisis, we believe that this approach should be extended to all evictions and relocations. A point raised in your question is of central importance: “public health emergency”. Public responses need to consider the usual obligations under the right to adequate housing and the fact that housing is central to addressing the public health emergency. People without homes cannot stay at home. So, the most important advantage of a suspension of all formal eviction proceedings is that it allows those who might have been evicted to protect their most basic right - the right to life - by finding sanctuary in their homes. In terms of limitations, we have observed some cases of opportunistic land invasions but these have been managed reasonably well. Yes, there is also an issue that a suspension is effectively a shifting of the burden of the impacts of COVID from tenants to their landlords. Given that the burden on the landlord is an economic one, whereas the risk to the tenant is to their right to life, this might be considered proportionate. However, we would also recommend that member states seek to limit the burden on landlords as well, provided that this does not come at the expense of meeting basic needs. Cash transfers to tenants may help, although we recognise that these can be challenging in the context of a wider threat to basic needs. Where mortgages and other forms of credit are available, public guarantees and subsidies might be used to help small scale landlords. More creative options, such as the mutualisation of housing or other forms of cooperative solutions, might also be considered, albeit that they might be more complex or time consuming to establish. Concerns about accrued rents may require similar consideration. This could include legal or financial support to extended repayment periods for those with some financial capacity and either cash payments or a mutualisation of debt for the most vulnerable. Ultimately though, we have to face the fact that there will be a burden and it will eventually have to land somewhere. Politics and public policy are about choices, and these are usually hard. 

Robert,

 

I wonder if you might be able to elaborate a little on the international legal provisions bearing on eviction.  Is this exclusively from International Human Rights Law, or are there other bodies of international law that apply here?  And what provisions?

 

Many thanks!

Carl

The discussion on Covid-19 and eviction of renters probably proceeds on the assumption that renters are losing their sources of income but have to pay monthly rent. A second perspective  however is how the eviction dynamics is working out in countries where people pay upfront rent advance for one or two years. In Ghana for instance the Rent Act clearly states that a landlord is not allowed to receive rent in advance for more than 6 months. The practice however is that almost all private landlords require one or in some cases two years rent advance before renting out their property, and yet the government have not been able to enforce the law. Thus, many renters in Ghana at the onset of Covid-19, would already still be holding rental contracts that they had made one or two years rent advance payments. In the short-term, whiles Covid-19 subsists, rental evictions may not be very pronounced in such cases as there would be some level of tenure security. On the contrary, the Ghanaian case also presents a high risk of insecurity and threats of evictions for persons whose rental agreements expired recently or who are now seeking new rentals. In such cases, the expectation is that people would have to pay one or two years rent upfront. It would be interesting for a study, to probe the eviction dynamics in the Ghanaian rental market while paying attention to reasons for evictions which may be unrelated to failure to observe rent obligations such as stigmatization, owner-occupied  self-protection against infections and decongestion.

Hello!

Thank you so much for this fascinating contribution! It seems like this informal practice is in some way giving tenants more secure tenure during these difficult times. However, the question therefore remains - for those who do not have access to a lot of capital, providing 2 years of advance rent does not seem feasible - how are the poorest and most vulnerable able to access this level of cash to pay in advance? Are there informal credit schemes in operation that these people access? What kind of interest rates do these credit schemes have - and what consequences does this have in terms of creating unsustainable debt burdens?

Tanzania did have in-country lockdown but there were no International travels until 27th May 2020 where the government announces to open doors for international travels. Despite that, there was no lockdown we experienced a lot of challenges from the lockdown of neighboring countries Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia. The effects on farmers who are landowners or renters affected by COVID-19 as their products cannot access regional markets. The discussion where whether each country is doing better on controlling the spread of COVID-19 to other countries and control measure within each nation.

Neighboring countries are markets of Tanzania’s farm and manufactured products and port of landlocked countries like Zambia, Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda mention few.  Tanzania’s government used a different approach with other countries in releasing information about affected people with COVID-19 and not doing total country lockdown. Tanzania perceived by other countries as failures to control the spread.  The use of the mentioned approach leads to trade within East Africa Region in an unsettled condition. Farmers and agribusiness enterprises affected to a large extent especially for perishable products and their no measure that the government has taken to compensate the damages or subsidize their products that affected by borders misunderstanding.

House renters (hotels and lodges) affected by outbreaks of COVID-19. The effects of the international lockdown and gathering restrictions lead to more effects to renters as no more use of these houses. Many employees have lost their jobs and government revenues collected from the industry. Due to these, I see the need to reviewed laws and policies for the government to compensate damages from the outbreak of COVID-19 to producers and to employees.  Some of the complaints arise are whether social security funds can pay some money to their subscribers who their jobs affected. Social security funds by considering their laws there is no form of pension to help affected employees.

Tanzania did have in-country lockdown but there were no International travels until 27th May 2020 where the government announces to open doors for international travels. Despite that, there was no lockdown we experienced a lot of challenges from the lockdown of neighboring countries Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia. The effects on farmers who are landowners or renters affected by COVID-19 as their products cannot access regional markets. The discussion where whether each country is doing better on controlling the spread of COVID-19 to other countries and control measure within each nation.

Neighboring countries are markets of Tanzania’s farm and manufactured products and port of landlocked countries like Zambia, Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda mention few.  Tanzania’s government used a different approach with other countries in releasing information on affected people with COVID-19 and not doing total country lockdown. Tanzania perceived by other countries as failures to control the spread.  The use of the mentioned approach leads to trade within East Africa Region in an unsettled condition. Farmers and agribusiness enterprises affected to a large extent especially for perishable products and their no measure that the government has taken to compensate the damages or subsidize their products that affected by borders misunderstanding.

House renters (hotels and lodges) affected by outbreaks of COVID-19. The effects of the international lockdown and gathering restrictions lead to more effects to renters as no more use of these houses. Many employees have lost their jobs and government revenues collected from the industry. Due to these, I see the need to reviewed laws and policies for the government to compensate damages from the outbreak of COVID-19 to producers and to employees.  Some of the complaints arise are whether social security funds can pay some money to their subscribers who their jobs affected. Social security funds by considering their laws there is no form of pension to help affected employees.

When asking what practical tools and approaches that practitioners can use on the ground to advocate for or deploy to keep people housed, a few things come to mind.  There are genuine challenges and contexts and dynamics tend to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, moratorium or other forms of public temporary suspension on evictions remains one of the most practical and cost-effective approaches to reducing the impact of eviction during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  These challenges include the systematic monitoring and reporting of eviction incidents to inform continuous advocacy, planning and response efforts.  Furthermore, the donor community should encourage governments through diplomatic channels to take concrete actions aimed at preventing evictions. We should enhance and expand collaboration and support to local municipalities to integrate eviction prevention as a strategic objective in national plans. Finally, possible initiatives include the establishment of eviction units and identifying and putting in place dedicated focal points to lead eviction prevention efforts.

 

In Rio our primary fear with regard to evictions is about what will happen to favelas just around the corner, once the pandemic has mostly passed. We expect certain government officials will use the high death count to push evictions, arguing it was these communities' unhygienic conditions that produced the deaths from Covid, rather than recognizing its own neglect of sanitation and health.

It's important to pull back and be clear. We are not ignoring the fact that these communities have conditions that can and do encourage Covid spread. At the same time the people who live in these communities have been there, mostly, for generations. Favelas in Rio are really established neighborhoods with deep histories. Some of them are over 100-year-old communities. The average resident wants to stay in their community and see it improved, even now. Favelas are not slums. They are much more consolidated than outsiders realize. And widespread evictions would have a devastating effect on this city, as they have during the three waves of eviction that have taken place since the first favela was settled 123 years ago. 

However, certain current government officials would like nothing more than to have the opportunity to permanently evict these neighborhoods. And they are currently in power at all levels: municipal, state and federal.

We are balancing the threat of eviction with the reality of poor or limited infrastructure and sanitation, and dense housing, on the one hand. And on the other, the fact that favelas house 1.4 million people in this city and most of them care about their communities, have invested heavily in their housing and solidarity networks, and want to stay and see them improve.

So how to solve this? Well, when we think about how to solve this, actually, this Working Group that has been working on Favela Community Land Trusts is really well-situated. This model involves, rather than regularizing land through individual rights, it involves regularizing the land through some sort of association or organization that would own the land and that is run by the community. The community owns the land. The housing is owned by individuals through surface rights. They can buy and sell their homes, they own their gardens, shops etc.  Because the land is collectively owned, not only does that keep it from being of interest to speculators—it protects these areas not only from eviction but also from gentrification—but then on top of that the community controls the land so they can control its development. They can plan its development. They can decide who really should be relocated and identify suitable plots and attractive alternatives for residents within the community, as has been done so effectively in the Caño Martín Peña in Puerto Rico, the leading example of a Favela Community Land Trust. Because they are now are a large property owner instead of isolated individuals, they have bargaining power to get access to public resources and investments.

The Community Land Trust Working Group includes Rio's Architecture and Urbanism Council, technical allies in critical state agencies, urban planners and lawyers from all of Rio's universities, housing movement NGOs, and several dozens of favela leaders and associations. We have many people who are on board with this strategy. And this is what we're really developing now in the coming months as a strategy.

We have also been developing a Favela Community Land Trust legislative proposal to provide support to this and streamline this process. The idea is to say that we actually do have to do something about the sanitation, we've been saying that for a long time. But that doesn't require eviction. It could be much more effectively addressed through land rights that are quite robust, maintain the community fabric, and empower residents to further realize the agency they've already shown historically and even more now during the pandemic, to plan and implement the infrastructure improvements they are entitled to.

We need to move fast and provide the assistance needed to keep everyone home. Refugees in Jordan are 81% in urban communities and the lockdown has been one of the strictest in the world.  In Jordan we quickly coordinated a standard Multi-Purpose Cash Assistance package with more than 30 humanitarian organizations and agencies who teamed up and agreed on a coordinated response. The collaboration between these diverse group members allowed us to respond strategically and systematically and with a clear the assistance criteria and operation. As part of the developed package, we also designed an exit strategy to ensure that these previously resilient populations would be able to recover to their status pre-COVID19. At sector coordination level, we have been discussing a referral pathway from unconditional Multi-Purpose Cash Assistance (basic needs) to conditional cash for rent assistance (shelter), which would allow continued assistance for the most impacted families in the mid/long term.

Nathalia,

 

Good points!  In Jordan, are you seeing differences in patterns and rates of evictions of (relatively recent) Syrian refugees and of (more established) Palestinian refugees?

 

Carl

What is the situation for vulnerable tenants and occupants in jurisdictions where no measures have been put into place, or governments do not have the capacity to implement and enforce their moratoria, to secure their tenure?  My response is that they risk possible evictions as there are no procedures that guide for non-payments of rent for instances like this.  Some landlords have gone to an extent of ripping of roofs to force tenants out.  The vulnerable are left with little or no choice.  

What are some practical tools and approaches that practitioners can advocate for or deploy on the ground to keep people housed? What are some of the limitations, risks, and challenges around these approaches? My answer to this question is that practitioners can call upon landlords to employ personal discretion to waive the amount of payable rent until the situation stabilizes; to rewrite the land-tenant agreements to include moratorium clauses. This will pose a threat, as in Kenya there is no database to show the number of tenants in a particular locality and the landlords may face a challenge of enforcing the agreements in cases where tenants give wrong information or they skip jurisdiction for whatever reason, hence leaving the landlord with a huge sum of unpaid debt. Banks can also waive interest loans on the loans taken by Landlords. 

Hi MasieMemo,

Thank you for this additional input. I think the questions you ask are exceptionnaly pertinent. I wonder what leverage practitioners might have to be able to convince landlord to introduce these new clauses into their rental agreements?

What are some practical tools and approaches that practitioners can advocate for or deploy on the ground to keep people housed? What are some of the limitations, risks, and challenges around these approaches?In the short term, we have seen many governments adopting creative solutions including the identification of land for self-building, the re-purposing of buildings and the provision of emergency shelter for isolation or re-housing. In many instances, even some of the poorest communities have sought to develop their own adaptations of these solutions, such as the use of schools and support to particularly vulnerable households or individuals. Each solution, and each context, will present opportunities and challenges but we must remain focused on the point that the right to life is the most basic of all rights.

 

It would be great if the governments of the Latin American nations most affected by the Venezuelan displaced and refugees could discuss any of those creative solutions on the table, such as implementing the use of schools for sheltering the homeless and taking into account the people who are at highest risk for COVID-19. But, unfortunately, several nations have faced severe health public issues by the COVID-19 in which even the streets became place to release cadavers. On another hand, the initiative of creating an unconditional Multi-Purpose Cash Assistance is very good, and it would be very useful to mitigate the crisis. However, it requires a lot of political input, as the conflict is centred on the legitimacy of the Venezuelan government, and that undermines the effort to bring inclusive solutions to the displaced and refugees. Perhaps the Lima Group meeting can be the arena to introduce a proposal to the extent of the humanitarian aid to the provision of emergency shelter or to protect households and individuals who do not have a signed tenant-contract.

The UNHCR have been set up tents as part of a new refugee camp at the Tienditas bridge on the Colombian side for Venezuelan refugees!

Displaced communities directly or indirectly depend on humanitarian assistance for subsistence, including but not limited to payment of rent. A reduction in humanitarian operations, combined with health-related restrictions, means that they will be unable to pay rent. As a result, they will remain at the highest risk of eviction, and exposure to the virus should that happen. Possible scenarios include: violence from members of host communities, discrimination based on unfounded suspicion, and the risk of evicted populations being unable to secure alternative space, and being left homeless.

In situations where vulnerable tenants and occupants in jurisdictions where no measures have been put in place to secure their tenure, we have been advocating for unconditional multi-purpose cash assistance with my colleagues from Basic Needs Sector. We have identified a pool of more than 48,000 families that until the COVID-19 response were not receiving basic needs assistance as these were identified as families with potential of income generation. The multi-purpose cash assistance calculation takes into consideration costs related to rent, utility bills, water consumption and food and family size. 

These are families that were impacted by the lockdown imposed at country level - which strict measures aimed at restricting movements within the country -, and as consequence have prevented previously resilient families from having any chance of income generation. 

In terms of approaches to tackle the issue of inequality in livelihood and housing being exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, one of these is applying moratorium. We must consider the potential abuse of moratorium with the deliberate refusal by tenants with capacity to pay rent. Furthermore, we must take adequate consideration for the economic impact on property owners. One of the most urgent risks remains the lack of post-moratorium strategies to deal with accumulated rent. Other approaches include advocacy through diplomatic channels, as well as monitoring and reporting of evictions. 

What we really need here in Brazil is to go back to some of the protective legislation that was passed in the early 2000s. We have the largest conditional cash transfer program in history, the Bolsa Família program, it still exists but has been hit at several points in recent years. The return of investment to our national healthcare system. Brazil actually has the largest public healthcare system in the world, but it's been deeply underinvested  inthese last few years, with sharp and permanent impacts from a 2016 provision banning new investments in health and education for 20 years.

Some is going back to what we know reduced inequality: a basic safety net and quality health care. Brazil went from being something like 3rd most unequal income in the world, on the Gini index, to about 21st in a matter of a bit more than a decade. And now we are back down to 8.This is all a process. Brazil went off the World Hunger Map but it is likely to be heading back on.  This was happening before the pandemic, and now with the pandemic it is exacerbated. We would like to see a return to those policies. At the same time, these policies weren’t enough. We cannot only have these federal cash transfers without the complementary investments that should have been made by states and municipalities responsible in education. We have a very poor public education system that has kept people precarious and has kept inequality there, despite everything else.

The Community Land Trust law or legislation opens new horizons and looks at this differently. In the example I mentioned briefly in Puerto Rico, the Caño Martín Peña, where they implemented the Community Land Trust so effectively and its an important institution today. They were able to relocate residents and as a community decide what are the areas, where is it unsafe to be next to the canal, who wants to go to certain houses or areas that were available in the community? They did their own relocation. And it was a win-win situation for the community. They got more public space, they were safer, they got better housing, and no one was evicted. And so the Community Land Trust model, it allows for communities to self-organize. 

There's a community in São Paulo, the largest favela called Paraisópolis. In response to the pandemic they've been incredibly effective at mobilizing and showing how these communities can self-organize so well at scale. They actually separated out units for people who needed to self-isolate within the communities as well as getting the government to keep ambulances on site, etc.

We need to be able to, especially in informal settlements that aren't going to go away because they are established and consolidated, especially in Latin America, I think we need to find ways to actually improve their quality of organizing and empower them. We need to recognize the development they've been able to do historically and how we can actually support that process.

Anticipating that inequality in terms of livelihoods and housing is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, what should we encourage in terms of the evolution of law, policy and practice on this issue both in the immediate term and the long term? In the long term, there needs to be a more inclusive approach to access to land and shelter in many countries. That should also be linked to stronger approaches to public finance, particularly at the local level. Every tax or fee that isn’t collected, or that is under-rated, is money taken away from public services, including housing and basic services such as water and sanitation. This applies as much in low income countries as in wealthier ones. As such, while we have to accept that the right to an adequate standard of living will remain a right that can only be progressively realised, we must also accept that housing is central to the achievement of many other social, economic and public health objectives. As such it has to be prioritised.

Great question, Robert!  And I think there are some synergies between what you are asking/saying and Theresa's comments re inequality in Brazil.

 

I don't have a good answer, but I wonder if this might be something that the OHCHR Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing might pick up.  This seems like a very important issue.  And we will probably be struggling with it not only for the duration of the pandemic, but also for some years after.  As the pandemic forces people to spend their savings and sell assets to survive, there will be enduring effects.  Are there principles of international law that could be developed to provide normative guidance (or even protections)?   

Hello Everyone,

Thank you for your rich contributions to this week’s discussion about Evictions during and after COVID – 19. Reaching through these contributions, the following themes seem to emerge: 

The need for better data– much of the conversation around the risk of evictions in the era of COVID remains anecdotal – with some exceptions like Somalia. These assumptions about evictions being a major risk are attributed to the following:

  • that vulnerable populations all over the world were chronically facing threats of eviction before this crisis hit. 
  • with the economic crisis compounding the health crisis, the concern is that not only are vulnerable households who faced chronic tenure insecurity at higher risk, but the pool of vulnerable populations will expand because of the economic crisis. 
  • Previous economic shocks have often led to evictions and land consolidation by the wealthiest.

However, these assumptions do not necessarily take into account the full range of calculations being made by landlords, tenants, and potential solidarities that already exist or might emerge through this health crisis. Some landlords rely on rent for their subsistence so the loss of rent may be devastating to them. Others may prefer to keep properties occupied with a formerly reliable tenant rather than evict in a situation where there may not be a renter to replace them. Policies and initiatives should take into account these local dynamics– and where possible, to not harm healthy relationships between landlords and tenants where they exist.

Limits of government policies where relationships are informal– in many countries relationships between landowners and tenants are informal, which often render them invisible to the state. While a moratorium may be a point of leverage for advocacy (or even used as a threat to punish landlords who continue evictions), they will remain largely ineffective without a community-based strategy.

People who make wages from daily labor (the majority of whom are women) and with micro-enterprises are exceptionally vulnerable to increased and unsustainable debt burdens as their opportunities to generate income are curtailed by government restrictions on different kinds of work. Many of these day-laborers are renters for their homes, and even if their tenure is currently ensured by a moratorium on evictions, there is the looming problem of increased and unsustainable debt. Without some form of debt relief, debt can have devastating legal consequences and force households to adopt negative coping mechanisms such as child labor and sex work, and expose them to predatory actors who will extract debt payments through debt bondage, and/or sexual violence. Owners of micro-enterprises are also at high risk of eviction – with that coming the loss of potentially reviving their livelihoods once lockdown measures ease. 

Forced relocations: For camps and informal settlements, one of the rising risks is that landowners and governments will use the health crisis as a justification to deconcentrate & relocate populations – often without consulting these communities nor seeking their consent.

That being said, there are solutions emerging across the world which seem to be able to remake the landscape for the most vulnerable populations post-COVID-19 – these include creating social housing for migrant workers, to land trusts for informal settlements in Brazil. On the emergency front, solutions have emerged in Somalia and Jordan to monitor evictions and to attempt to keep the most vulnerable tenants housed.

For those who are interested, here are some resources for guidance on this:  

Evictions & Relocations Toolkit

Model decree/edict to secure tenure during COVID-19

Mapping of initiatives to secure tenure during COVID -19

If there are additional resources that you would like to contribute to the toolkit, please email me at alexandre.bourque(at)nrc.no.

Best regards,

Alex

 
Statement 3: Mass urban-rural migration threatens rural stability Increasing land conflicts are inevitable, which may overwhelm rural communities.​
 

 

Hello and welcome everyone to this third session of the online debate focus on  Migration, Displacement, and De-urbanization in the Context of COVID-19.  The discussion statement for this week is “Mass urban-rural migration threatens rural stability Increasing land conflicts are inevitable, which may overwhelm rural communities.” 

What is your response to this statement?

The COVID crisis has millions of people on the move, and tens of thousands stranded far from their homes. Most notably, as economies shut down and lockdowns proliferate, de-urbanization has emerged as a serious challenge throughout the developing world. As people leave cities they are leaving properties behind, and they must also be integrated into rural communities which may not have the resources to accommodate them. Another emerging challenge  is the dropping levels of remittances, which people in rural areas, in LAC and also in Asia rely on to build homes, maintain homes, and invest in local businesses.

As we just have a few days for this session, allow me to pose the first questions:

  1. As global lockdowns take effect, we see massive amounts of people moving from cities back to their hometowns. What are the broad property rights implications of this migration? What lessons can be drawn from other epidemics (ebola?) and natural disasters?

  2. How do we protect the properties people are leaving behind?  For example, from  developers or squatters? How do we ensure these people  can return once lockdowns lift, and how can we avoid inequalities resulting from the lockdown lift?

 

Of course, if you have general responses to the overall statement you are welcome to post those as well. We look forward to an engaging discussion!

Not unlike what I experienced in the second session of this online discussion (on evictions), I have a hard time finding ‘hard’ information – this time on the (estimated) magnitude of the COVID-19-induced urban-rural migration. In particular, I would have liked to have seen a concrete source or statistic backing up the statement (in question #1) that “As global lockdowns take effect, we see massive amounts of people moving from cities back to their hometowns.” How massive is this phenomenon in actual fact? And where is it most acute? 

Perhaps it is my regional bias, but I have the impression that the return to the countryside is less of an issue in Latin America (I live in Costa Rica) than elsewhere, particularly in Asia, and even more particularly in India, if I have to go by the results of a (very) quick and dirty search on the internet. 

Anyway, it figures that urban-rural migration of the kind we are discussing is most acute in countries where the virus has hit hardest. In Latin America, Peru is a case in point. An exodus from Lima is underway: according to a sociologist at the Universidad de San Marcos, more than 160,000 families have moved back to their hometowns and families or are planning to do so shortly. And perhaps ‘families’ is the key concept here. 

While the risk of losing their Lima dwellings is evident, it is not clear whether these migrants will cause many land disputes in the areas that they are going back to. Families are important networks in Latin America and it is hard to imagine that the ‘returners’ will arrive and start claiming portions of land. Other, not land-related consequences may be more serious: food scarcity in communities that are not very prosperous to begin with, and the spread of the disease. Regarding the latter, many a rural community in Peru had taken their precautions in an early phase, closing bridges and roads that led to their villages and succeeding in keeping the virus out. Similar steps have been taken by indigenous communities in the isolated Talamanca region in Costa Rica. One could say that these steps do generate disputes about access to land, but in another sense than envisaged in this session: people simply cannot get in certain jurisdictions. 

Thus, said communities will have, at best, mixed feelings about the return of their prodigal children, and this is a potential source of serious conflict. In a broader sense, we see this everywhere: inhabitants in Spanish towns on the Mediterranean coast were extremely unhappy with the throngs of well-to-do people from Madrid seeking refuge from the virus in their holiday homes, and the same goes for the people in the Costa Rican province of Guanacaste, who would like nothing more than banning people from San José from their towns, at least for the time being. 

In a deeper sense, the latter examples also speak of a land governance problem (huge coastal areas being converted in holiday resorts, with all consequences – positive and negative - this can have for the ‘locals’), but not, I believe, in the sense of this session – which I will be following attentively because, coming back to what I wrote at the beginning, I am eager to learn the facts and figures concerning this issue: the dimensions of both the urban-rural migration and of the (land) disputes in the areas that people go back to.

Jur, you make an excellent point regarding the availability of data to support theories about COVID-related migration and displacement. As panelist Chris Penrose Buckley pointed out during the webinar, it's difficult to know exactly what is happening with urban-rural migration because the data is missing. One interesting organization to look at in this regard is flowminder (https://covid19.flowminder.org/). In the past, flowminder has used mobile phone data to map population movements after natural disasters, and now it is applying the same model to map population movement in response to COVID. 

Thanks for the reference to Flowminder, Yuliya. However, I have not been able to find on their site any acual information on population movements, only on the methodology to generate that information. Besides, the whole thing still is under construction. But perhaps I have overlooked a obvious step, or the link to the data... or am I right and is nothing available (yet)? 

Hi Jur, I have contacted Flowminder to see what they have by way of data, and have not heard back yet. I too could not find anything by way of actual data, so perhaps it is still under construction. 

 

The result of the lockdown has seen the loss of jobs and income for day earners or informal workers.  With a shutdown that has now been in place since March, the mounting debts, inability to put food on the table and cater for basic needs has gotten more people rethinking about what/where they want to call home.  In Kenya there is a fear that once the lockdown is lifted there will be a mass exodus to the rural areas where most people have a first or second home.  We may witness tension and communal conflict arising from the emergence of absentee family members, whose land may have been taken over/sold/reduced.  With survival being at the top most of everyones's mind and the mental challenges that most have had to bear, the disruption to family is real.  It means that the structure of ADR must be established/strengthened and prepared for what may be the biggest threat to the community networks as we have known it.  Likewise the issue around credibility and legitimacy of these structures need to be addressed as well as their power for enforement.  The role of the state and the Judiciary in recognizing any outcomes as a result of any arbitration will have to be reviewed.  COVID-19 may ultimately give countries an opportunity to strengthen Alternative dispute resolution mechanism to handle land dispute in a way that it recognizes rights, access and control to land. 

To present day, June 13, 2020, Mali have had 1776 cases of COVID19, 1058 healed, and  104 death ( Source: Statement number 103 of 13 June 2020 of the Ministry of Health of Mali). Related to our Session 3 discussion statement, before , during and after the ongoing pandemic of COVID19 Malian population are experiencing an unprecedent rural-urban migration. This shows the reverse of reality in other countries or continents as the discussion statement reveals. 

The issue here, is the people are leaving the rural area for the cities creating pression on urban and peri-urban areas and land because of the lack of basic social services(school, healthcare center, road, communication services etc.) in rural area  people are moving to cities. For instance, people are buying plots of construction land in neighbor cities to move their parents or relatives meaning to them leaving hell, village, to Paradis, cities. To give an example, I will take the case of my home locality, the Rural Commune of Oualia, in Kayes Region, where all emigrants  and other well financial resourced people are trying to buy housing land in the main village, capital-city of the Commune, Oualia, to move their parents to.In other words, emigrant , outside the country are and other who have some financial resources are building houses in cities, towns or bigger closest villages with some basic commodities . 

A key concern is the availability of basic public services in rural area and the lack of jobs for people leaving their rural home area. In sum , the instability is for both rural an urban areas. It is an harm for urban stability because they are not qualify for urban jobs without no professional qualification and the bearing capacity of the public services are also limited . The other harm is related to the rural instability. These rural residents who are changing their attached environment without guarantee to have land to borrow to produce for the living in the context of land scarcity. If they borrow this year and produce well , next year the owners will retake their land. And the land there are leaving behind are cultivated by relatives who are staying in the villages because the land is communitarian in case they want to return it can be source of conflicts with the one using the land after they have left. It means if they want to go back home they do not have land anymore, raising a risk of conflict amongst family members. And in Oualia, they have to borrow land from founding lineage families’ member. To avoid subsequent land conflicts, some concerned people are sharing their time between city and village. During raining season the come back to their home village to produce crops and during the dry season they will move to the city. This is not sustainable and during a pandemic, like COVID 19 context, it is dangerous as wide spreading factor.

 As post-pandemic, COVID19, priority to support land governance stakeholders, to my view, the recommendation is to bring some basic social services in rural areas and do more researches on the topic of land and pandemic and the capitalization of the results in rural and urban logic. Putting accent on rural development and rural-urban related land studies can inverse the orientation of urban-rural migration and factor of stability for urban and rural areas.

Thank you for this detailed contribution, Founemakan. I agree, there are a multitude of factors that rural and urban centers must consider when faced with this sort of movement. One important question, that we have not seen answered, is: do we anticipate that most of the migrants will return to the cities once the pandemic has passed, or do we anticipate that this movement out to rural areas will be somewhat permanent? This will have large implications on the solutions proposed. 

Dear Yuliya Panfil. Thank you so much for your insightful comment on Mali experiences unprecendent rural-urban migration! To answer your question I can say that in Mali, rural-urban migration is key current concern and the trend will continue until we will have some basic public falicities in rural areas. For sure, this trend will maitain in Malian context. For example for the diagnosis of COVID19 patients or suspected cases have to move into cities to know their status. In most cases even the cities' hospital have to send the blooth in the Capital-city to be cheched.  According to general census of the population in Mali of 2009, 10% of Malian citizen are living in Bamako, the Capital-city. I tooked just the case of Oualia to show the small scale where people are migrating from neighboring villages to the biggest one.People who have money in Oualia want to move also in Bamako.  In fact, most of people  want to live in the Capital-city, Bamako, if they have thre possibility because of the lack public commodities eslwhere in the country. People said, Mali is only Bamako. For instance, all of the civil servants in Mali want to stay in Bamako.And those who did not managed to stay in Bamako are doing their best to buy house for their family to stay .The pandemic is now a good reason for people to migrate into the cities because of the lack of health care facilities.To sum up, the migrants will not return to rural area . We have some neighborhoods in Bamako Ditrict where the people suffiring from one illness have setled near the hospital by occopying illegaly before the regularization.

Our evidence sees a mixed picture on urban-rural migration. In Uganda and Kenya it is negligible as lockdowns have precluded significant exit from cities. This has meant food security challenges more for the urban poor than the rural poor. On the other hand, we are seeing significant return of young women and adolescent girls from Accra, Ghana – to their northern homeland. This is posing risks of exploitation and abuse and causing strain on already resource-poor households in the north.

With a sudden lockdown in late March In India, we saw migrant workers in urban centers run out of work, out of cash, and without a safety net. The relief services that were offered in the form of food and shelter were highly insufficient in comparison to the distress that was caused and many workers were desperate to return to their villages, The pictures of large groups of migrants walking on feet were noted globally. And even after two months, the exodus continues.

This desperation is an expression of extreme distress but also one of people’s connection with the land where they are born and grow up. That land gives a sense of security, safety, and belonging. They wanted to be there in the adverse times and believed that they can face all difficulties if they are in their own land, surrounded by their own people.

 A lesson within this experience in India is from the state of Kerala that has emerged the leader in providing a better system to manage COVID and flatten the curve relatively early, and with less damage. This has been possible owing to strong village-level governance, a healthy civil society, and women’s active participation in governance in the State. 

Kerala’s Kudumbashree program encourages rural women to form self-help groups and their federations acts as an organised civil society counterpoint to village panchayats. Nearly 65% of all women elected to the panchayats are Kudumbashree members. It’s no coincidence that Kerala happens to be the first state to usher in pro-women land reforms.

These measures were not put in place to fight coronavirus, but rather are a legacy of good state policies that prioritize gender equity and empowerment. As countries begin to rebuild their economies, one of the critical elements- I think -should be to strengthen local institutions and ensure women’s participation - not just in numbers but in spirit.

This is a really interesting case Shipra, and I would be interested to get your view on how the strong gender equity you mention would be affected by the coronavirus returns of all the (mostly male?) migrant workers from the urban areas? Will it challenge the strong participation of women in Kerala if there is a big influx of men, who might expect to take up their place as heads of families?

Firstly, I don’t think this necessarily the case across all countries. From what I have seen and contacts I have spoken to this seems to be more the case in South Asia, in particular, and less so in Africa, for example. There has also been a significant return of migrants in some countries, e.g. in Myanmar, whereas in others they seem to be largely unable to return. So what we are lacking at present is a more nuanced and differentiated overview of how the pandemic is playing out in different countries so we can predict and then hopefully validate what is happening in practice.

But where this is occurring, we could of course expect to see increased pressure on land in rural areas with greater intra-household tension if not conflict over how land is managed (raising particular concerns for women’s rights and negotiating power within the HH) and rising disputes between households and within communities, e.g. over the use of communal land. Another risk or dimension to this is how these pressures combined with a roll-back in governance and oversight can lead to unlawful land acquisitions or seizures or people taking advantage of distress sales of land. So far, I have not heard of any anecdotal evidence of these kinds of things occurring but it would take time for this kind of localised pressure and conflict to erupt or become more visible. What we do have is reports of private land grabs in cities as well as reports of unscrupulous companies seizing land or pushing through concessions without due process in forests and rural lands.

Anthropologist Leslie Bank has written about how Covid-19 reveals the migration links in the South African human economy.  Bank uses the analogy of adding dye to water to reveal the circularity of migrant flows in South Africa and to tracks the reverse flows from urban to rural triggered by Covid 19. He observes that:

The spread of Covid 19 thus tells a great deal about the hidden human economy of South Africa and the persistence of circular migration in the country. The evidence of the dye in the water suggest that, while the lives and livelihoods of the rich are territorially enclosed in a middle-class suburbs those of the poor are inherently unstable, mobile and trans-local.

 My own research with informal settlement and hostel dwellers in Langa, Cape Town reveals how migrant visits home provide relief from the dismissive and often hostile social attitudes which continue to be projected onto informal settlement dwellers within the township who many of those born in the city associate with crime land invasion. (This of course is also true for the hundreds of thousands of migrants from neghbouring countries who confront a double alienation.)

For many of the migrants, the rural village continues to represent a place of meaning whether social value, essential dignity and belonging of the individual are reaffirmed; where family members are buried and fundamental continuities between past and present are maintained and expressed through rites of passage and acts of ritual. While the narratives of rural migrants confirm the general collapse and the deagrarianisation of rural livelihoods and the widespread dependence on social grants and urban remittances, rural homesteads continue for many as repositories for intergenerational investment. Such investment is not simply material but is a marker of the continuing construction of meaning and identity. Interview transcripts draw important distinctions between the concepts and meanings associated with home and those associated with a shack constructed as a transcendent bridgehead into the economy.

Bank provides further insights into the meaning of home in the face of the pandemic:

People are reflecting on the social and cultural identities and significance of home at this critical time, especially for people who have essentially never been welcomed in, and gained full citizenship in the city. They reflect on questions of their own belief systems, issues of moral integrity and security; kinship and close-knit social relations; and cultural identity, as well as the historical experiences of migration in the face of the increasing rapid spread of Covid-19 across the country.

In this context, home is a kind of heartland, a crucial reference to a moral community, which comes sharply into focus in times of danger. It is not an abstract place or space that is adequately defined by western science as a site of germs and disease, nor merely a spatial container of economic opportunities and structural impediments. An appreciation of the “people’s science” of home in South Africa requires that we recognise that trans-local is a national reality as households and social groups are stretched across space to ensure both survival and social reproduction.

In this context land conflicts are unlikely in rural settings as most people are not returning to farm. While there may be increasing pressure on grazing and other natural resources,  by and large land conflicts will remain focused on the cities and towns where people seek access to economic opportunities. And these conflicts will play out in many different ways. The systematic and thorough going nature of land dispossession in South Africa and the failure of land reform to gain traction has laregly delinked access to land in rural areas from meaningful economic opportunities. Access to land in urban spaces remains the primary site of struggle. 

 

Really interesting insights Rick, and seems encouraging that temporary moves back to rural homes, because they are perceived as temporary (with the pandemic) rather than permanent, will focus on identity and the social support at a time of crisis rather than being economically driven or seen as permanent. And therefore not necessarily going to aggravate land conflicts in rural areas. The issues though would be if economic effects of the pandemic are so great or prolonged as to cause more lasting loss of the former urban livelihoods, thereby creating a need for land in rural areas for survival. And, second, depending on the length of the pandemic / lockdowns / population displacement - as this affects whether a temporary move in a crisis ends up becoming more permanent. So perhaps the conclusion is that we could hope for not necessarily an increase in rural land struggles, but, as others have said in this discussion, it's still too early to tell.

Social protection programmes are essential in conveying resilience to relatively stable environments, which can however be easily affected by changes in the economic, demographic and security structures.

In stable yet risk-prone environments, social protection can serve as a powerful investment tool, if proper care is put into a mix of policies designed at creating economic opportunities and alternatives for community members.

Policy recommendations in this case should aim at strengthening the capability of those environments to sustain themselves economically, by empowering them to fully access and use the natural resources at their disposal while also diversifying their array of income-producing activities. Social protection programmes are instrumental in reducing rural poverty and food insecurity, either through cash transfers or by supporting increased households’ productivity. Policy recommendations in this case should take into consideration local or national specificities and structural vulnerabilities. For instance, social protection programmes can include investments in agricultural assets, land and related production activities and equipment, as well as regular transfers of cash supporting savings within local communities. Nevertheless, as rural communities tend to over-rely on traditional means and agricultural activities, attention should be paid to social programmes that can support the diversification of income sources, by looking for instance at ways to mix communities’ agricultural, crafts and cultural traditions with touristic potential and agricultural development and turn them into profitable activities. Micro-financing for project diversification is another policy recommendation which may assist the purpose in this case.

 

In environments characterized by protracted crises, one major role social protection programmes fulfill is to support the economic and social resilience of communities, to combat negative long term phenomena such as food insecurity. Conflicts, natural disasters and globalization have all contributed to shaping up fluid family structures, where women often assume men’s role as providers of incomes for their families. This puts heightened economic and social pressure on rural gender-sensitive entities to access basic goods and services, including healthcare and education, and even more so in the case of displaced communities. Lack of access to these basic services puts not only one individual but entire families and communities at risk, causing a spiral of social and economic insecurity to persist.

Social protection programmes are essential in conveying resilience to relatively stable environments, which can however be easily affected by changes in the economic, demographic and security structures.

In stable yet risk-prone environments, social protection can serve as a powerful investment tool, if proper care is put into a mix of policies designed at creating economic opportunities and alternatives for community members.

Policy recommendations in this case should aim at strengthening the capability of those environments to sustain themselves economically, by empowering them to fully access and use the natural resources at their disposal while also diversifying their array of income-producing activities. Social protection programmes are instrumental in reducing rural poverty and food insecurity, either through cash transfers or by supporting increased households’ productivity. Policy recommendations in this case should take into consideration local or national specificities and structural vulnerabilities. For instance, social protection programmes can include investments in agricultural assets, land and related production activities and equipment, as well as regular transfers of cash supporting savings within local communities. Nevertheless, as rural communities tend to over-rely on traditional means and agricultural activities, attention should be paid to social programmes that can support the diversification of income sources, by looking for instance at ways to mix communities’ agricultural, crafts and cultural traditions with touristic potential and agricultural development and turn them into profitable activities. Micro-financing for project diversification is another policy recommendation which may assist the purpose in this case.

 

In environments characterized by protracted crises, one major role social protection programmes fulfill is to support the economic and social resilience of communities, to combat negative long term phenomena such as food insecurity. Conflicts, natural disasters and globalization have all contributed to shaping up fluid family structures, where women often assume men’s role as providers of incomes for their families. This puts heightened economic and social pressure on rural gender-sensitive entities to access basic goods and services, including healthcare and education, and even more so in the case of displaced communities. Lack of access to these basic services puts not only one individual but entire families and communities at risk, causing a spiral of social and economic insecurity to persist.

An important thing to consider when designing national social assistance plans lies in the need to investigate risks and vulnerabilities which are specific to a particular national or local setting. In the case of natural disaster - related crises, such a strategy should include several major risk management components: risk reduction (such as ensuring microfinance for communities prone to suffer from drought due to their location or incapacity to access water sources) and risk mitigation as ex ante preventive measures. Risk mitigation may include measures such as the provision of insurance systems for communities at risk of drought, given the assumption that national social protection such as pensions are already in place. Risk reduction programs may for instance foresee securing safe delivery of water in areas known as prone to drought, before a full-fledged water crisis starts. Timely information campaigns in targeted communities should be in place and make use of both conventional and non-conventional social venues such as school and local civil networks or organisations to secure access to information, especially in case further measures such as programmed evacuation of population towards areas not impacted by drought is foreseen. The approach proposed above would facilitate the implementation and monitoring of the proposed measures. Furthermore, local authorities and organisations are very important in ensuring accurate monitoring and reporting of actions already mentioned. Co-participation and empowerment of local organisations is essential to achieving these objectives as well as to guarantee the programs’ legitimacy.

We have just concluded field work exploring COVID 19 containment measures and implications on smallholder production and productivity. The land question remains peripheral, raising the need for somewhat a holistic approach to understanding COVID 19 impacts in the land sector.

Lockdown in Bolivia has coincided with the anual harvest period in the regions with bigger population: the highlands and the valleys. Quechua and Aymara migrants in the cities have a “dual-residence”, as they have not broken their links to their communities, returning to them during sowing and harvest seasons and fulfilling their role in natural organisations; by keeping those relationships alive this return to the rural has not increased pressure for land ownership. The migrants also return to their communities to exert political positions in different levels of government, from the local to the national.  

Rural migration has predominantly occupied poor neighbourhoods in cities, usually as tenants rather tan owners and in precarious conditions, including overcrowding, and without essential services (there is an analysis saying that Bolivia has not gone through an urbanisation process, but the ruralisation of cities). As for employment, most of them work in the informal sector (around 70% of the Economically Active Population), as Street vendors, public transport drivers or masons, without access to social security systems, hence they do not have assets to leave behind.

Usually these migrants settle in areas where other people from their communities, reproducing a logic of occupying a space and of maintaining a social network. This could be a contribution to the discussion, by highlighting the importance of recovering and strengthening communal solidarity roots among those who migrate to the cities.

In Bolivian experience, “double residence” has been used as a strategy to keep communities levels of recorded population, as they are registered in these rural communities in the national census. This inflates population numbers but has helped rural municipalities increase their budgets. An issue would be about children going to school, as rural schools do not have enough students and therefore do not have the infrastructure or staff to receive those returning.

This growth in population in the communities should be seen as a challenge to promote projects of a return to the rural areas in better conditions. Investing in housing projects, improving education and health systems, internet access, through ambitious plans of food production for short market circuits in nearby cities.

A way to do this would be to improve irrigation systems to make the soil more productive, to promote innovations to give a better profit margin such as greenhouses, reforestation and soil recovery plans, technical assistance and training in production among other initiatives.

Remittances in Bolivia are two-way, migrants in urban areas cover unexpected expenses and buy assets for the rural home (tools, cars, stoves, etc.) and get food in return to compensate their low income. 

In recent history, urbanization has been one of the most significant driving factors in global development. From 1950 to the present day the global urban population has more than quadrupled, with current estimates of over 4 billion people living in cities. Some of the fastest-growing cities in the world are the rapidly developing cities of Asia and Africa, as millions in developing nations seek the economic opportunity and relative stability of urban life.[1] However, in 2020 the trend of urbanization is rapidly reversing in many communities. With the onset of COVID-19 people across the world have been fleeing urban zones to rural communities where the risk of disease transmission is significantly less. For vulnerable populations, especially widows, this counterurbanization often carries significant risk. 

The Post-Covid urban to rural migratory trend poses increased risk to widows living in rural contexts. 

Disinheritance, or property grabbing, the most ubiquitous of human rights and economic crimes perpetrated against widows, (usually perpetrated with impunity) can be expected to escalate. It is entirely foreseeable that migrant workers returning to their home villages with no prospect of income, and no remittances, can be compelled to pursue doctored claims to land and property from vulnerable widows.   Disinherited widows who may have found shelter in their paternal homes or with immediate family may now find themselves uprooted -even homeless - to make room for returnees.  

Hunger will be exacerbated as food supply chain disruptions, shifts in population demand, and consequent rising local prices will invariably disproportionately impact disadvantaged widows. In India, we expect long term implications to the food chain, as lockdown and migration resulted in a missed planting season. This will have devastating impact on food stocks, supply chains, and food prices in the upcoming months, and widows will be among the most vulnerable.

Deepening health crisis is expected. Counterurbanization puts rural communities at increased risk of COVID-19. Rural communities already suffer from weak health care systems, and impoverished and ostracized widows often are the last to have access to health care. Additionally, COVID-19 is a widow maker, and could devastate rural communities, creating widows in its wake. COVID-19 widows will likely bear the debt burden of the cost of treatment of their late husbands, exacerbating their predicament.

To mitigate the human rights implications of ongoing counterurbanization, initiatives to ensure the protection of human rights and consider the needs of vulnerable populations MUST be prioritized in rural communities. It is especially important that widows property rights, inheritance rights, freedom to remarry, access to economic opportunity, and freedom from harmful traditional practices be protected. These rights are not only required by international obligations, they are critical to preventing intergenerational poverty and ensuring compliance with the Sustainable Development Goals.  

 

[1] https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-....

 

I agree, widows will be forced to be magnanimous to accommodate new arrivals.  Already in a vulnerable position, this weakness may be exploited.  There is need therefore to ensure that there are community institutions that can be reached out to ensure that we protect their interest and provide the necessary oversight to ensure there are not victimized. 

 

In Senegal, Dakar remains by far the main destination for internal migrants. Mainly because of its economic wealth, its percentage in internal migration is still significant and is mainly fueled by the rural exodus (seasonal migration). The urban region of Dakar, which covers 0.3% of the national territory, remains the main area of ​​concentration of the population, economic activities and major facilities in the country. Indeed, Dakar is clearly distinguished from the rest of the country by the size and dynamism of its economy. According to the 2013 report on the economic and social situation in the Dakar region, it concentrates 80% of the country's industrial activity ((Agence Nationale de la Statistique et de la Démographie (2016), Situation Economique et Sociale du Sénégal en 2013) and is home to more than 29% of the working population of Senegal (Agence Nationale de la Statistique et de la Démographie, RGPHAE 2013).

 

Dakar currently concentrates more than half of the country's urban population (53.7%) and with a positive migratory balance of 67,994, Dakar is one of the most attractive regions of the country (Agence Nationale de la Statistique et de la Démographie 2014).

The seasonal migration of young men and young women from the countryside to Dakar is a response to vulnerability in disadvantaged areas, especially after the rainy seasons which last on average only 3 months. The low employment rate and the high unemployment rate explain, by location, the high level of poverty and social vulnerability in the country. Even if it has fallen in recent years from 55.2% in 2001 to 48.3% in 2005, the poverty rate remains high until 2011 with 46.7% according to ANSD.

 

The very rural departments, mainly in the south, east and center, which are highly dependent on seasonal agriculture, are the most affected by monetary poverty and the most affected by the phenomenon of rural exodus and emigration (Agence Nationale de l’Aménagement du Territoire (2020): Plan National d’Aménagement et de Développement Territorial, Horizon 2035).

Covid-19 appeared in Senegal since March 2, 2020. From 1 case in March 2, 2020, the number of cases is 5247 in June 16, 2020, with 1251 healed. Today Dakar appears to be the epicenter of the pandemic (Ministère de la santé et de l’action sociale, juin 2020).

More than 60% cases of Covid-19 are located in the Dakar region, marked by the existence of community cases whose sources of contamination are unknown.

With the approach of the rainy season, the first stage of which is the preparation of the fields (June-July), the seasonal workers who were in Dakar will move to their regions of origin to prepare for the agricultural campaign. Currently, after more than two months of lockdown, Senegal allows travel between different regions of the country and the resumption of inter-territorial transport.

As every year, these seasonal workers find family farmland. The agriculture subsector employs approximately 73.8% of the rural population, concentrating 65% of the total population in 2013 in a country where 49.5% of households are agricultural (Agence Nationale de la Statistique et de la Démographie, RGPHAE 2013). Agricultural resources are the main source of food, employment and income for more than 60% of the working population in Senegal. As a result, the agricultural sector plays a key role in achieving the objectives of economic growth, food and nutrition security, job creation and poverty reduction.

Back in their territory, these workers join their land which was unoccupied during the dry season which lasts on average 7 months (from November to May). Unless these are internal problems, there are not really any land disputes related to their return to the land.

However, given the prevalence of the disease in Dakar, mainly, these agricultural workers (men and women) can probably be healthy or sick carriers and infect the communities of destination, in areas with no cases yet or with few case. Barrier measures (wearing masks, hand washing, social distancing) are hardly respected by everyone, especially in rural areas because of community life (each concession can include two or three households and even more and one household is made up on average 10 people) and the lack of means to have barrier masks. They may also be stigmatized and not welcome as they return from a location very affected by Covid-19.

This situation can have negative repercussions on agricultural productivity and jeopardize the supply of the national market with products, the achievement of food sovereignty and cause the reduction of incomes of peasant-producers. In the long run, this will cause the contribution of agriculture to the GDP of the primary sector to drop (to 61.4% in 2017).

Thank you for these observations, Oumou. Indeed, the risk of returning migrants infecting their home communities is a serious one, particularly since rural areas are not equipped to deal with influxes of infections. This is a problem here in the United States as well - we saw that during the peak of infections in New York Cities, young people were leaving to stay with family in other parts of the country. Unfortunately, they ended up spreading the disease, in some cases, to rural areas. In other cases, some people have second homes near the beach or in the mountains, and have decided to relocate there for the time being. However, some parts of the country have taken aggressive measures to ban everyone other than fulltime residents (even those who legally own property in these places). There are questions about whether this is legal, since these part-time residents are still paying property taxes and are the rightful owners of the homes. However, from the standpoint of public health, it makes sense.  

Thank you very much for this perspective, Roxana.  Your point that urban migrants settle in areas with other people from their communities is very interesting, and deserves more exploration.  I can see how this pattern would ease the burden and increase the cohesiveness of any urban-rural migration caused by COVID. I wonder what the long-term impacts will be, as certain members of communities decide to return to urban areas, and others choose to stay behind for longer. Will this result in teh fraying of the social fabric in these urban migrant communities? 

In India, it is clearly visible that this rural migration will create new pressures - more mouths to feed, and more people sharing living spaces may result in greater frustration, domestic violence, and child abuse. There will also be pressure on the commons. With more people back in the villages, there will be greater demand for agricultural work. Existing agricultural land will see intensification as well,. In remote areas, we may also see pressure on forests to make land available for agriculture. Given this, state governments should make plans to allot common lands to returning migrants. Criteria for identification of landless and land allocation to landless should be revisited and revised to embrace more people. There should be explicit guidelines to recognize and prioritise women as the titleholder.

Governments should also prioritize stronger rights and clear records for people. India, for example, has recently launched a land rights scheme called svamitva (or ownership) which will map previously undocumented rural property boundaries and provide ‘property cards’ to rural households across the country. It is important to actively engage communities when field validation of the property owners is being conducted. Without effective community participation, conflict and discontent are bound to result from processes that attempt to define land rights. And efforts such as these must prioritise clear rights to women.

Thank you for higlighting Svamitva and how it holds the potential to improve households' titles to land, unless I am understanding this wrong. This is also important since land-holding data is often lacking on many aspects. 

At present, I don’t think this will come down to a question of shelter as many will, somehow, be accommodated within rural homes as they are during public holidays. The question is how long does the lockdown last and what decisions do household start to make about how much land they need and how they use it.

To respond meaningfully in any country there need to be systems in place already now, ie from before the crisis, to be able to resolve disputes, etc. The work Namati and its partners in the global legal empowerment network is particularly relevant and important here. This builds bottom up with a network of paralegals based in communities who can monitor what is going on, intervene to use the law to protect rights, and escalate up to the national level where necessary. In the long-run, this kind of network and legal empowerment is needs to be supported and resources in every country so there is standing capacity to respond to crisis like this but also deal with the usual caseload of disputes and unlawful practices.

The rural people depend on the family network between the urban poor and the rural family.   COVID-19 lockdown was globally never planned for.   As we say in Africa that, “COVID-19 has demonstrated how all human being are equal”.      Whereas governments have intervened with varied strategies in support of citizens especially the poor, population from the South has suffered the most, because of lack of reserves that could assist the poor population in terms of livelihood.     A period of almost four months’ lock-down characterised a challenge to both the government responsible for the provision of food security and other basic and social provisions especially to the poor; and the rural poor who depend on food security chain with the rural members of the family.    Lockdown, remain a big shock to the urban poor who depend on informal jobs for income that has been lost with the lockdown.   Easing lockdown in Rwanda has seen a good number of population especially the youth, both girls and boys, going rural in search of better livelihood, because this is where their land (family land).   COVID-19 situation has seen increase of informal land sales transactions which might lead to landlessness and heighted land related disputes.

Nicaragua is one of the few countries in the world that has hardly acknowledged the presence of the pandemic in their territory. Hence, there are very few cases reported, and mostly they are categorised as “atypical pneumonia”. Thus, those who believe to be infected might be reluctant to come forward, afraid of being stigmatised. This is particularly relevant for those who have been opposing the current government, as coming forward might pose a threat to their lives.

Nicaragua relies heavily on its seasonal migration to Costa Rica, which is particularly characterised by the gender division of labour: men work in agriculture (pineapple, banana, coffee plantations) and women in domestic employment. With COVID19 most Nicaraguans were forced to leave Costa Rica, and there is no certainty when/if they will be allowed into the country again.

This has several implications: i. Decrease on remittances and access to daily cash for relatives in Nicaragua; ii. Increased pressure on the rural population who are already food insecure as relatives move back home; iii. More pressure over resources, particularly land, which could bring forest clearance and land degradation.

There is a feeling of uncertainty and frustration, particularly in rural areas, that hunger might spread across the country. However, local and grassroots organisations are working in innovative ways, aiming to reduce the negative implications of Covid 19 and avoid a bigger disaster. Partners are concentrating in increasing investment in native seeds; strengthening community bank seeds; investing in water catchments; and transferring products from the humid regions to feed the dry corridor. It is important to highlight that while Costa Rica has focused in the past in increasing its exports, Nicaragua decreased them and increase the production of basic grains (corn and beans), which is welcome news at the moment.

While advocacy might be a challenge in the country with the current situation, it is important now more than ever to strengthen the lobbying efforts around two laws that were approved a decade ago but still pending its full implementation: i. Law 717 creator of the fund to purchase land with gender equity for rural women; ii. Law 765 which promotes agroecological or organic production.

Thanks to everyone for your excellent contributions so for. Let us move on to the next two questions. What will be the anticipated impact on food systems, health services and education of adding so many new residents into sparsely populated areas? Many people in rural areas rely on remittances from relatives in cities to build and maintain their homes. What will happen as these remittances dry up? As levels of remittances drop, how can these investments be protected?

This is related to the impact of urban rural immigration and potential heightened disputes in search of alternative coppying mechanism.    Urban population are encroaching on limited resurces in the rural, that was the main source of livelihood of the rural.   With more urban rural immigration in search of alternative livelihood, land, that is already too scarce, that was being suplimented by remittances of urban that has dried given reduced jobs in the informal sector.   The only assumed alternative is depending on family rural land that is unlikely to support the existing rural in addition to urban rural immigrants.   There is a need to seek for alternative financial support to the population in informal sector that continue to become jobless, yet are the main source of family support in rural and extended families in the urban.  This intervention will reduce family disputes eminating from sharing the already scarce land related resources as the only family source of livelihood.   In most cases it is the weak, women and children that will suffer the most.

There are already impacts on food systems and health services. Supply chains are disrupted and this has immediate impact on smaller-scale producers dependent on timely arrival of inputs.

Information coming from our programs shows that the nutrition status of women and children in particular is at high risk due to immediate price shocks (mostly seen in higher value foods and not yet in staples).

Our east and southern Africa Rapid Gender Analysis (RGA) shows that, in populations where women’s responsibility for food security within the household is higher, food shortages and increased food insecurity places them under heightened pressure and could expose them to intimate partner violence or reliance on negative coping mechanisms, such as resorting to transactional sex, sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) or the forced entry of girls to child marriage. Our from RGA in Uganda includes early marriage as a coping mechanism and an increase in levels of gender-based violence.

We must ensure access to diverse and nutritious food among the urban and rural poor, especially women, pregnant and lactating women and girls, older people, displaced persons and refugees during lockdowns via food aid, cash-or-voucher based support. The promotion of nutritious value chains will be important, including the use of orphan or neglected crops – this means that access to land for women will be key for nutrition.

We can speculate about this but I think we need to start with better data on which countries this applies to and also do some rapid assessments to get a better sense of how long returnees expect to say and how it is impacting on their lives and access to services. Then we can also get a better sense of the impact on food systems as this will depend critically on what the current season is, how well food moves around the country, etc.

Pre-COVID-19, remittance incomes from migrants in the cities were usually used to provide stability to the fluctuations of the agri-economy. In the absence of this, there will be a need to stabilise farm incomes and there will be pressure on agriculture. To this end, the farming sector will see a new demand as well – for irrigation, insurance, and climate adaptivity. There will be a greater demand for contract farming arrangements. 

COVID has disrupted supply chains that cross state and national boundaries, which could provide the impetus for agro-processing to happen closer to production centres. Focusing on agri- and allied processing facilities, supporting micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), and creating a space for more financing institutions and non-banking financial companies (NBFCs), can really strengthen local economies and provide opportunities for both existing and returning inhabitants.

There is also a need to provide them with the necessary skills for the emerging times and at the same time support them through wage programs. The Government of India has a program called National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme for assured employment for 100 days to rural people. There is certainly a need to widen its scope as well as strengthen its implementation.

It’s also important to remember that the migrants who are returning to the villages will bring back a new set of skills, experience and perspective from their urban backgrounds. I am hoping they will bring lot of innovation to the rural lives, markets and economies. The adversities they have been through will likely make them even more resilient.

I am glad that there may be silver linings as Shipra Deo has eluded to here for innovation in rural life. I wish to also add that the pressure for smallholder farmers pushed into the global markets for 'better opportunities' are now also paying a significant price. The trade routes have stopped, and when once subsistent and resilient to shocks through adaptive farming techniques and or access to alternate food, the exensive reliance on cash crops and producing to quotas under contracts have emerged as yet another desperate situation from restrictions caused by COVID. The example here is from Myanmar

It beckons the question of the impacts of contract farming, foreign investment and conversion to cash crops and the reduced resilience and independence that rural farmers end up with. In this tea case, it is the reverse issue of workers and traders from towns being unable to access farms in the rural areas and continue with trade. I thought that this provided another perspective on how interconnected the rural economy is, and that we may think more broadly on the pressure of smallholder farmers who convert to cash crops which often reduces their resilience.    

Shipra, thank you for your contribution, and your observation that a drop in remitances may lead to an increased demand for insurance. Insurance products rely on an assessment of the insured asset's condition / stability / reliability. For crops / farmland, such an exercise may necessitate understanding the tenure situation on the land in question. Do you think this will in turn increase demand for land documentation? 

The pandemic has drawn attention to the urban-rural interconnectedness of income, investment and land. In India the loss of income and uncertainty of resumption of work caused by the nation-wide lock down has created a new class of the poor, who had incomes but have lost their jobs and are now impoverished. Most of these were migrants in cities, both men and women, engaged in informal work. Hundreds of thousands have had to go back to the village under extreme hardship, as Shipra has pointed out. Studies in Indian cities - Delhi, Ludhiana, Surat, Bangalore and others- have shown that a majority of such migrants practiced a frugal lifestyle in the city so that they could save money for remittances to the family in the village and investment in housing and agriculture. For most migrants, working in the city is perceived as a temporary hardship for a better future back in the village– very often, the transition from landlessness to land ownership, or bigger and more productive land. The loss of income has undoubtedly affected such aspirations and the impacts need to be studied.

This is an extremely important point that you have brought up. One thing I thought of while reading your post is that efforts should be focused on understanding how these migrant population are using their savings right now. What kind of expenses are they prioritising right now? How do they compare to those who already have invested in some land in their villages? Are they worse or better off by some measure? This can help us further the idea of land being a valuable asset. This is where Shipra Deo's post on Svamitva can also help fill in the gaps. This exercise could give us some insight into the financial gaps in coping with a sudden and unexpected shocks, especially for this population. It can also be used to formulate certain temporary cash transfer programs to help these migrant workers, so that they don't spend their savings completely. 

What you point out is a very good lead into further research and policy and on an immediate basis, cash transfer programmes. Right now there is only anecdotal information on how savings and land ownership are playing out. A migrant worker from Ludhiana lamented that now he will have to use the money he was saving for buying land for family expenses. For others, who have already buoght land, the option of cutting short urban employment and going back to farming seemed to be a reality. There were some whose land deals had not been fully transacted, even though most of the money had been paid. They were left with no savings and no land to till and an uncertain furute.

Let us turn to our final two questions. How do we protect the properties people are leaving behind?  For example, from squatters? How do we ensure these people can return once lockdowns lift?  We are also seeing increasing mobility restrictions that leave people stranded far from their homes. What are the property rights implications of this?

Protection of properties people are leaving in the city is an issue. In Bengaluru, India we know of a squatter settlement on public land, which had existed for more that 20 years. The migrant workers who lived there were all from the same village.  They had gone to the village for two days for a festival but could not return for a month because of the lockdown. In the mean time they got news that their houses have been set on fire. They rushed back somehow to find the charred remains and now the police is not allowing them to rebuild their houses. 120 families are homeless and fighting for a piece of land on which they had no claims. Investigations are going on about the arson. We do not know if there are other such cases.  

The answer to the question of protecting the properties people are leaving behind depends on multi factors. It is obvious that it has a time spec element which if becomes longer may eventually reduce the tenure security rights on ground especially if they are in informal settlements. Depending on strength of social nexus or bonds among the community members in the area where mass shifting is happening, the properties will be secure as long as these  neighbourhood protection systems will hold their stand.  In addition, we have to see the threat of squatters could have a direct correlation with the location of the property and its market value. In real democracies, one big factor contributing towards the protection of such empty properties cannot be ignored. This is the power of vote. If the migrants continue to have their voting power, the local political figures will always try to save their vote bank. In Delhi, the capital city of India, with more than 1500 unauthorized colonies and more than 600 slums, mass migration has taken place and the high value of property is always going to be a threat factor  to the tenure security of the real owners but the continuum of voting rights will provide a protection along with a strong social bond of neighbourhood to maintain the land tenure rights continuum. Besides there extra-legal rights, these socio-political and economic factors will contribute in protection of properties and subsequently deciding the retun of people. I would say its too early to assess in such cases the actual property right implication of this.

I'm not sure if protecting properties is the right question to be asking right now as very little many actors can do this during the lockdown itself. People will want to return as soon as they can and the job/work opportunities open up again and that is a big questions given the economic downturn.

At the moment it is still being treated as a temporary issue but what will mass unemployment and, potentially rising food prices in some countries, do? This may quickly lead to sustained evictions from people unable to pay rent and growth in informal settlements or return to rural homes with longer-term challenges that will bring.

The biggest threat in the short term may be that governments take advantage of the lockdown and reduced national or international presence and attention to implement mass evictions in informal settlements. Already some reported that seem at least in some way to be linked to the ‘opportunities’ that the crisis provides.

The challenge is how to mobilise and organise during the lockdown to protect legitimate tenure and human rights. BUt this could also be an opportunity in some cases to work with local municipalities to support the crisis response and in the process take one step closer to formal recognition of rights in informal settlements. Example of DFID’s partner Cadasta in Kenya/India. 

Not specific to long distance but we have evidence that school closures and restricted access to health services is leading to increased domestic care burdens for women. This has immediate implications on production as many rural women are also responsible for on-farm cultivation activities. Reduced time in productive activity is resulting in land lying fallow and may lead to the appropriation of that land by others

We are also concerned that the gender gap in access to information and technology (due to social and cultural norms, affordability, literacy etc) will lead to further marginalisation of women regarding access to productive resources – including land. Accessing and interpreting land titles, for example, will be more difficult for women for a number of reasons.

Hello Everyone,

Thank you for your rich contributions to this week’s discussion about Migration, De-urbanization and Displacement during and after COVID – 19. Reaching through these contributions, the following themes seem to emerge: 

  1. The need for better data– much of the conversation around the risk of evictions in the era of COVID remains anecdotal. We need to better understand who is on the move, where they are going, and how long they intend to stay there.
  2. The need for governments to proactively think through how to receive urban-rural migrants. This includes potentially allocating land, but also thinking through stresses on other social systems, schools, food systems, health care and transit.
  3. Disputes are likely to arise and so we must set up responsive dispute resolution mechanisms. Many of these mechanisms may not exist in rural areas, or coverage may be patchy.
  4. Many rural families rely on remittances from urban areas to survive. So, urban-rural migration isn’t only an extra mouth to feed, it’s a loss of an income. Government welfare and social programs must take this loss of income into account as they think through distributing aid. This drop in remittances, coupled with supply chain disruption, will also create pressure on agriculture.
  5. With an eye towards eventual return once the crisis settles, we must start to think about how to protect properties people are leaving behind as they flee. Will there be a meaningful way for them to return? What happens if the properties are occupied by squatters in the meantime? This question will come into focus once we better understand the duration of the crisis and the extent to which populations wish to return to urban centers.

 

 
Statement 4: Covid-19 has upended land administration systems: Communities will suffer as elites take advantage of the governance gap.
 

 

Hello everyone and welcome to the last session of the Online Discussion on the Land Rights Implications of Covid-19. In this session we will focus on the impact of Covid-19 on land administration systems and the impacts this has on the quality and fairness of land governance. The discussion statement of this week is: Covid-19 has upended land administration systems: Communities will suffer as elites take advantage of the governance gap.

What is your opinion on this statement?

In several countries the lockdown measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have led to the closing of the land administration services (e.g. in KenyaUganda). In these circumstances, land rights may come under pressure, especially for the most vulnerable groups within the society. At the same time, new or increased migration patterns and high mortality rates (especially among elderly men) increase the demand for responsible land governance at a time the land administration services are least prepared to deliver this.

Our first question is:

What challenges do you see to land administration services under lockdown, at local, regional or national levels? Have they found ways to work around the lockdown? Who suffers most from this interruption of formal land administration services?

Hello Chantal,

I think the lockdown is affecting the Land admin. services at the local level most with the chellenges like inability to maintain regularity of staff due to the fear of corona virus which affects the continuity of services for the customers. So there may be a demand for the services, the supply side may not be able to maintain the efficieny in terms of time to respond. The sufferers will be the members of the local community some of whom would have been planning or would have already submitted the forms for services of the department.

Thanks for your contribution, Tarungh. I was wondering whether you are referring to a specific context ? (I cannot see what country you are from). I would be interested to know what country you are referring to and whether this is a about a rural or urban context. Not in all contexts, people might be so dependent on formal services to register transfers/sales, but it is good to know what is happening in settings where this is the case.

Dear Friends

Recently uploaded an article regarding the experiences of the LIFT project in Ethiopia of operating under COVID-19 restrictions. It describes some of the issues we're seeing emerging around the gap in land administration, and some of the ways LIFT and stakeholders in land governance have found a way around this. Please check it out via this link.

I'm worried in particular about what happens after this wet season. Given the observed downturn in borrowing for investment mentioned in our article, and the interruptions in seed supply chains, are people going to experience low yields or a missed season? Will there be a subsequent a surge in distress-driven transactions (informal sales, rentals and exchanges) with no land administration services available to offer adequate protections and ensure fair and legal transactions?

Other contributors have already mentioned the importance of monitoring and gathering evidence from around the world. I strongly agree - let's keep sharing information.

Excellent discussion everyone - thank you for your rich ideas and insights from around the world.

At the local level, where all the major happening are, I sadly see loss of land by the most vulnerable, the peasantry. Apart from the requirement that a landowner ought to have his family (read sons) present before he disposes of his land, nothing else can protect these impoverished people from selling off their ever shrinking parcels of land. Some sons, out of unemployment are seen disposing of land at a throw-away price to acquire motorcycles to use as a passenger service cycle. Though a business venture, without acumen, many fail in sustaining it.

The local administration too, does collude with land selling dealers to bypass that requirement that the family ought to be present before a landowner disposes of his land, whether inherited from the forefathers or purchased.

Since the County or National Lands office is barely functional, greasing the hands of an official(s) for speedy service isn’t a new normal. Files are known to go missing at our national and regional Lands Offices. That government offices are working at half-capacity, corrupt dealings are easily done and gone unnoticed.

It’s believed we shall go the American way by reopening our Laissez faire economy, even though COVID curve is rising. Last funeral rites are certain to bright land rights fights.

 

Issues for land governance as a result of the specifics of the Covid-19 pandemic and how it is playing out in different countries around the world, are in broad terms the same issues for land governance that exist in all those same countries already. Lack of transparency, corruption, complexity, lack of accessibility to data, service centres, forms, records, archives etc. How much Covid-19 might potentially contribute to exacerbating some of these issues in different countries will entirely depend on how long lockdowns last for and to what extent/whether the pandemic increases the number of land transactions and transfers - it might actually do the reverse, as markets stall while people are locked down. 

My point being that the first impacts of the pandemic are unlikely to be an increasing demand for land administration services, and therefore we should perhaps not assume that lack of transparency, corruption etc would worsen at least in the short term. In the longer term, the context specific details are what will then determine whether communities do indeed suffer as elites take advantage of a (growing?) governance gap. Alternatively, the pandemic presents a potential opportunity for communities to step up, call out injustices and work together to create a new and fairer normal, based on improved, more transparent and more gender-equitable land governance and administration. Whether that happens or not is up to all of us, as individuals and collectively, and In personally really welcome the opportunity this online discussion has created for us to start having these important conversations.

COVID-19 uncovers the shortcomings in the current land governance system. Lack of transparency, exclusion of women and young people in land rights decision-making processes, limited access to food due to dependency on international food supply chains which do not operate properly for all, soil erosion due to increased production standards and unsustainable use of lands,… None of these are new problems. They become visible in the current crisis due to a current land governance system which is not sufficiently strengthening the resilience of women, young people, indigenous people and local communities.

We see that our partners and communities they work with benefit from the sustainable and inclusive land use approaches such as Regreening (*) and Analog Forestry (**) to foresee in their livelihood needs. We see that local food chains are being strengthened even more through 'farm-to-table' programmes in which farmers’ and fishers’ cooperatives share food and are speeding up the implementation of community gardens and urban agricultural projects. We see that land use maps and plans which have been developed in a participatory way through communities with their authorities, are more robust now land administration systems are not functioning and transparency is lacking.

These approaches now show their strengths, benefits and level of resilience. Building Back Better is rather a matter of supporting and enabling those initiatives who show resilience. In a world which is so fragile and where Environmental and Human Rights Defenders are threatened even more and civic space is shrinking increasingly (***), Building Our Future Better is showing courage and strength to upscale innovative green and inclusive initiatives.

*https://www.bothends.org/nl/Actueel/Publicaties/Communities-regreen-the-Sahel-Growing-buffers-to-ensure-food-security-livelihoods-and-biodiversity/

**https://www.bothends.org/nl/Ons-werk/Alternatieven/Rich-Forests/

***https://www.bothends.org/en/Whats-new/Blogs/Freedom/

Hi Karin, thank you for pointing out some weaknesses in the current land governance system and for providing practical examples of more sustainable and inclusive land use approaches such as regreening and Analog Forestry.

A second pandemic: how COVID-19-induced regulatory rollback threatens land rights and public health

As the world heads toward half a million COVID-19 deaths, a second pandemic is unfolding: companies in the fossil fuel, mining, energy, transportation, and agricultural sectors are scrambling to unwind regulations protecting land rights, forests, and the climate. They have also secured more than $500 billion in bailout funds for carbon-intensive activities—more than 17 times the funding that has supported green recovery. The work of these “coronavirus climate profiteers” to exploit COVID-19 to change the rules of the game threatens land responsible land administration efforts and compounds the threats COVID-19 poses to the indigenous peoples and local communities essential to protecting land, forests, and the climate. 

The advocacy group Mining Watch Canada, for example, has documented dozens of cases of mining companies seeking to profit off the pandemic, including by continuing operations despite the health risks this poses to local communities and by colluding with governments to secure favorable regulatory change while stifling public protest. Meanwhile, in the agricultural sector, beef producers and traders are continuing to destroy forests and threaten indigenous and community land rights at one end of their supply chain while exposing plant workers to COVID-19 at the other. A closer look at Brazil and Indonesia show how corporate practice and government policy combine to threaten good land governance and put indigenous peoples and local communities in a double bind—increasing their risk of COVID-19 infection while also increasing the threats to their lands, territories, and resources.

As Brazil’s environmental enforcement officials scaled back operations in response to the pandemic and indigenous groups scrambled to lock down their territories, illegal loggers, illegal miners, and other land grabbers moved into high gear, threating both land and lives. For example, a recent  report from Instituto Socioambiental shows that 40% of the Yanomami in communities within 5 km of illegal mining invasions (are now at serious risk of exposure to COVID-19. These and other land invasions have happened with the tacit approval—and even overt encouragement—of the government. The Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles told Brazil’s cabinet they should take advantage of the media’s focus on COVID-19 to “push through and change all the rules and simplify norms” –in other words, to roll back human rights and environmental protections while the public looks elsewhere. This has included sacking effective enforcement agents and continuing efforts to weakening or dismantling already cash-strapped enforcement agencies. At least one enforcement official has been violently assaulted with impunity. A new policy from FUNAI removes protections for unrecognized indigenous lands and, along with other proposed (but now stalled) legislation, could incentive land grabbing and forest conversion. Predictably, deforestation in the legal Amazon has continued to surge and stands 40% higher than it did a year ago, and at least 2,400 indigenous people have contracted COVID-19. 

In Indonesia, two proposed omnibus bills offer up 1,000 amendments to nearly 80 existing laws, some designed to weaken environmental and community rights protections under the guise of improving the ease of doing business. Some provisions would roll back requirements for conducting environmental impact assessments and reduce environmental enforcement capacity. Meanwhile, a new mining law may roll out the welcome mat for expansion of mining into forests and customary lands, scrapping size limits for mining concessions and allowing for their automatic renewal, even if required mine site remediation has not been completed.  And palm oil companies continue to grab customary land and murder those who stand in their way. As in Brazil, an expected peak in land-clearing forest fires this summer driven by irresponsible business practices and poor regulatory enforcement is likely to compound the public health threats already posed by COVID-19.

Thank you, Kevin, for your contribution and the worrying examples you provide. Also thank you for raising concerns on the broader regulatory rollback in many parts of the world, which not only threatens good land governance and people's land rights, but also puts many people at risk of contracting Covid-19.

Dear Kevin,

I believe you covered very well the situation in Brazil. Thank you!

The Movement for Popular Sovereignty in Mining (MAM) denounces situations in which local polititians take advantage of the impossibility to organize public gatherings to aprove decrees authorizing mining activities without the consent of the population. The organization also published a study concluding that in the state of Minas Gerais, the regions with the highest levels of COVID infections are those where there are mining activities. MAM argues that the insalubrity that characterizes mining facilitates the proliferation of the virus. More detail of this study can be found here: https://mamnacional.org.br/2020/06/17/coronavirus-avanca-em-municipios-c...



In addition, the bill that Kevin mentions as a potential factor of stimulation of land grabbing was initially presented as a Provisory Measure (MP 910) and was known as "the land grabbing bill", because it allowed illegal invaders to regulate the land they grabbed  from both indegenous peoples and  peasants simply through a self-declaration. Because of the mobilization of social movements, environmentalists organizations and some celebrities, the president of the Chamber of Deputies decided not to put the bill to voting on time and the bill ended up expiring. However, soon after its proponents represented the same bill with some small changes (PL 2633/2020), which means that the bill can still be approved and wide extensions of illegally appropriated land can be turned regular.

More information can be found here: https://news.mongabay.com/2020/06/illegal-farms-on-indigenous-lands-get-...

Hi Fabricio,

 

Thanks for sharing this additional information on Brazil! Much appreciated. I had not seen the MAM report - very disturbing. 

 

Yesterday, 30 internatonal investors with over US$3 trillion in assets under management sent a letter to Brazilian embassies highlighting the financial and regulatory risks of deforestation and violations of indigenous rights. They specifically called out MP910 / PL2633 as bad for business. Attracted coverage in O Globo, the New York Times, Bloomberg, Financial Times, Washington Post. Letter is here: https://www.storebrand.no/en/asset-management/sustainable-investments/active-ownership

Thank you very much, Kevin! This is a very interesting initiative! Thanks for sharing!

As Uganda went into lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID 19, the ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development also closed Ministerial zonal offices, The Land Information and land registries, District Land Offices, District Land Boards, District Physical Planning Committees Area Land Committees and Lower Physical Planning Committees, “to ensure that no land transaction (Searches, transfers, subdivisions, Caveats, assessment and payment of Stamp duty) are being handled by any Land office during this COVID 19 period until the quarantine is lifted and all Court Orders on evictions, whether issued before or during this period must not be enforced until after the COVID 19 quarantine is lifted,” said Kamya Minister for Lands Housing and Urban Development. The closure of these offices meant that no land transactions are to be done meanwhile the government had defined “construction” among the continuing works but any construction work on registered land requires boundary opening. When the land administration offices closed the surveying activities are at a standstill and construction also at a standstill. 

Despite the Ministry’s earlier directives on land evictions during this period of Covid-19, evictions have continued to take place. The State House Anti- Corruption Unit that they had registered 1,514 land-related complaints on evictions mostly in the districts of Sembabule, Masindi, Masaka, Kampala, Kyenjojo, Mubende, Luwero, Namutumba, Waskiso, Tororo, Mukono, Kassanda, Amuru, Abim, Kayunga Pallisa, Kazo, Kyangwali, Mpigi, and Kyegegwa. The closure of land administration offices and agencies halted the implementation of land laws and regulations and stopped the process that provides tenure security and protection of farmers and people in their quest for land rights.

In the same development, Uganda Revenue Authority has decried the effects COVID-19 to revenue from land and real estate sector as it is among others which have been hit hard given the fact that Ministerial zonal offices and Land Registries have remained closed making impossible to make transactions.

All land services in the country are paper-based and must be done in person, this calls for reassessing the preparedness and resilience of the land administration systems in the country. Most people are connected to the internet and some services like checking the particulars of a plot of land, processing conversions from customary tenure to freehold, assurance of search report on information from the land Administration registry on the ownership status of the land , Plot number. issuance of search report for information in the map records office to establish the status of the land should be one remotely. Land administration agencies should recognize the facts and allow clients to access land-related services and information remotely. There is a need to identify the capacity gaps and also opportunities for ICT based land administration.

Thank you Teddy for your input and for sharing how the lockdown in Uganda has an effect on land administration services. The current crisis might indeed increase the need for the digitalisation of, or ICT-based land administration.

 

While the land administration services in Uganda went into lockdown, did you notice if people have found ways to work around it?

Several areas of land administration in Burundi function as a hybrid between democratically elected positions and locally recognized elders. Elected positions in land governance have been particularly vulnerable during Covid-19 to manipulated policies by national and provincial leaders. Unlike other countries which have enforced widespread lockdown measures, the Burundian government largely maintained a view of Covid-19 as an external threat. These policies shut down borders with Tanzania, Rwanda and DRC along with the suspension of international flights. Internally, the Burundian government largely allowed the free movement of people and avoided lockdown measures. While reported cases of Covid-19 remained low in Burundi, many suspect the actual number of cases were much higher. Despite growing concerns of spreading Covid-19, Burundi permitted campaigning and held elections for key national and local government positions on 20 May 2020.

The ruling CNDD-FDD party largely ignored international trends towards lockdown measures, yet blocked opposition requests on several occasions to campaign due to the threat of Covid-19. This limited campaigning by opposition political parties for elected positions and subsequent dominant election results in favor of the CNDD-FDD may alter land governance dynamics in Burundi where ruling party members are over-represented in these institutions. These strategic local positions, along with those in higher areas of government, permit ruling party authorities to influence land governance by appointing positions according to political preference rather than merit.

This will likely have further effects on land mediation teams which attempt to resolve conflict during registration. Returning refugees often feel these mediation teams of “locals” and CNDD-FDD loyalists discriminate against them as “outsiders” for fleeing during the 2015 election violence. Further bias towards ruling party members in land mediation institutions can fuel distrust, ultimately perpetuating court cases and the potential for violence.

The Burundian case opens up a number of questions for other countries where Covid-19 policies have been strategically employed to benefit those in power. Using public health measures to stop the activities of opponents allows ruling elites to act without the checks and balances of political contestation prior to coronavirus. Land governance institutions, actors and policies may be tipped in favor of those in power during coronavirus for years to come.

The lockdowns, restraint to free movement and ability of the government to arrest people who break Covid 19 restrictions, has created an environment where it allows government officials to legitimately stop agitators. 

Self isolation makes it hard for people to congregate or discuss, unless they break the Covid 19 restrictions. In a way this has stopped agitations. Communities, now without work, need to consider growing food for households that include people who brought income from rural centers. These events have restricted the ability of communities to respond to outside pressure. 

 

For several months already, every nation has been struck in one way or another by the impacts of this global pandemic (Covid-19). Yet, as these impacts vary considerably across localities, countries and regions, the challenges that we observed in respect to land administration services are also context-specific. Moreover, the challenges to land administration services depend considerably on the posture of ruling regimes in relation to the global pandemic. Whether national governments have enforced lockdown or not, this has affected land administration system in various ways. 

Here are some of the challenges I foresee in some developing countries under lockdown:  

—In settings undergoing land and agrarian reform programmes with the support of aid agencies, there may have been a shift in the priorities from the land administration system to the public health system. Reduced funding or increasing awareness to assist the public health sector may have affected the continuity of reform programmes on the ground and delayed expected outcomes.

—National guidelines to address the pandemic (e.g. closing of offices, physical distancing, cancelling of activities on the ground, restrictions of mobility, etc.), especially where there were lacking alternative technologies or solutions to ensure the continuity of service provision, may have reinforced inequalities and exclusion in land dispute resolution, and formalization of land transactions and land rights. Nevertheless, in some areas, these may have increased the room for all sorts of informal arrangements and practices in land access and land use at the local level.

—In areas of large-scale displacement (as a result of violent conflicts, natural disasters, drought…), the closing of borders may have prevented most displaced from returning to their early communities, and therefore offering opportunities to others to grab the land of absentees. In situations of re-displacement or seasonal migration, the new restrictions on people mobility have eventually exacerbated the stigmatization of displaced groups as they were (and are still) often alleged/identified as major vectors of the virus, and hence their disqualification in accessing land services.

—The framing and enforcement of national health and security guidelines may have strengthened the power and legitimacy of decentralized government authorities in land governance, and enhanced their control in local processes. Likewise, as state authorities distributed new roles to their allies (e.g. community leaders, customary authorities, law enforcement officers) in Covid-19 driven operations on the ground (e.g. sensitization campaigns, distribution of food, equipment, medicines, …), this has potentially supported personal interests, hidden agendas and new forms of power abuses.

—The longer the duration of the lockdown, the most devastating and lasting impacts on the already marginalized and vulnerable groups, and thus the most difficult it will be to redress the already complex situations aggravated by the lockdown.

  • The inability of communities to access the regular land service in the local or national offices is a big challenge. There has been closure of these services in countries such as Kenya where transactions are over 80% analogue. This means the rural folks, the pastoral communities, the smallholder farmers cannot access services or undertake any transactions. The implication of this is the economic constrains that makes the communities very vulnerable.  The second dilemma to the rural poor is the information flow on the progress and the unpredictability of the timelines for possible changes with regards to the COVID 19 Pandemic and the resumption of services. In the past years now, the establishment of the Land Information Management System (LIMS) has been on the table and recently the legal discussion and process has started with regulation being developed but the big question is, who is the potential users and benefactor?
  • RECONCILE is closing the gap at the county level with online and radio talk shows on these issues and the organization has lined up these discussions to run throughout the year. Consistently, we have kept an eye on the legal changes, reviewed and shared opinions with policy makers.
  • There are other implications that the COVID-19 pandemic has created on the rural economies and livelihoods especially amongst the pastoralists and agro-pastoralists. Shutting down of key economic institutions like markets has presented significant impacts in terms of income and the social interactions amongst the rural communities. Supply chain from the producer to the market has been interrupted in cases where lockdown has been imposed in cities and this has cut off rural based producers without markets. The activities in land or the land based production are halted.
  • RECONCILE through the Participatory Rangelands Management (PRM) project funded by the European Union (EU) in response measures is intensifying awareness through production of awareness material and emphasis on the importance of adherence to set out guidelines by the WHO and enforced by the Kenya government’s Public Health guidelines.  RECONCILE however recognizes that there should be even greater policy conversation on the expansion of social protection coverage to pastoralists and agro-pastoralists who are largely in the rural areas.
  • Specific measures should be tailored towards women pastoralists in this pandemic with care responsibilities at home.
  • Strategies to enforce protection systems for pastoralists’ livelihoods systems including water and pasture.

With the lockdown, it becomes difficult to undertake some activities which are vital to land administration. In the SSA context, land information is secured after in-field surveys, requiring the participation of community members. Oftentimes, land transactions (sales) necessitate to be authenticated in their immediateness so as to avoid reversals. As such surveys are unlikely in those circumstances, acquirers run a big risk to be confronted with reversals from sellers. On the other hand, structures involved in land disputes settlement are not operating either and, as land administration services cannot play their preventative role, conflicts can aggravate. It seems important to underline, again in the context of SSA, that it is difficult, even impossible in some areas, to imagine the pursuit of the activity in distance, due to the obvious lack of adequate equipment and technology.  

Equally, land administration in this particular context operates, at least partly with external funding. So are support organizations, CSOs and media often working to ensure transparent processes and accountability. Interventions in the SSA might be hit by the pandemic, cuts in budgets making it difficult for them to continue in the medium and long run. This will have consequences especially on land administration systems still under construction.

Camille, you raised a valid point: What will happen with donor support for constructing/improving land administration in places where this is very much still work in progress? And what may be the consewuences of support is withdrawn? While we should certainly not be uncritical about the real impact of donor-supported land administration services on tenure security of the poor, giving up on the efforts now, without a well-thought through exit strategy, seems to carry many risks.

After having read previous posts, it is not easy to add something new. However, my feeling is the following:

In the international arena the asymmetries of power have increased in these last years and not in favour of weaker actors. Peasant movements have less capacities to lobby for better conditions (in terms of securing access and what follows). 

Big actors as FAO have lost ground in the field (and I say this after having passed almost 30 years with the Land group in FAO). The strategy of pushing VGGT as the core instrument to preserve local rights has been a clear failure. VGGT have eliminated all other areas of work, particularly the field projects we used to enter into policy arena in countries like Mozambique, Angola, Kenya and others. 

With these elements in mind, I’ll try to answer the first sub-question: for LA services certainly the lockdown has not had a positive impact and I guess that their strategy is simply a survival one, which will not be easy because it might be expected a reduction in international aid (I think this will be the combined effort of the economic crisis that is starting in the North together with Donor’s fatigue on land issues after having invested millions in the VGGT programme) and also because there will be less possibility to provide direct (physical) technical assistance in the coming future as a result of the overall “greening” strategy to reduce carbon print and to reduce health risks (few field missions will be approved and financed because of that).

The last sub-question makes me feeling that local communities and/or IPs will not be affected by this interruption, simply because the LA services are, in many cases, designed as a top-down governance instrument. The recognition of historical/ancestral land rights by communities and/or IPs needs an approach that combine both NGOs type of work and, later, formal LA systems, as we demonstrated in Mozambique, Angola, Bissau. The lockdown and the economic crisis will reduce drastically the support that NGOs can provide, thus leaving formal LA alone: this was the main bottleneck, because what they lack is a paradigm shift from what their hierarchical superiors tell the LA officers, towards one that is exactly the opposite. Starting from the bottom with the communities, understanding the variety and complexity of their territories, and then transforming these info into the documents needed by the LA services. Leaving the (weakened) LA alone will only worsen the situation. 

In theory this period could have been an interesting opportunity for the world players to stop and open their minds but, as is happening for the critical problem of deforestation, nothing is happening. In few years we will have new Covid, resulting from the anthropic pressure that human beings (corporations) are exerting into tropical/subtropical forests. The same cycle will continue.

 

My personal dream would be for UN, Donors and other important players to make serious political pressures over Gvts in order to change completely the way tenure security is tackled. We need to start from the people below, and certainly not from the “investors”. Only when local communities/IPs will be secured with their historical/ancestral rights, then it will be possible to open a serious discussion on the type of LA services they need. 

Before I propose any "solutions" to alleviate these situations, I'm leary of proposing generalised strategies in response to this issue. Each situation needs to be described, explained and different strategies/designs examined that best fit that situation.

Firstly, I think there are parallels in conflict / post-conflict and emergency/post-emergency  land administration situations, and we can draw on the literature on how those different situations have been addressed.

In most of my field work it has emerged that it is important that people have a piece of paper to show that they have rights or interests n their land and what those rights and interests are. Some people believe there is no value in such a piece of paper, at least on some of their land. A document that describes how they acquired those rights and the stories behind the land tenure system might reduce incidents where the oral history and oral tradition are manipulated by some individuals or groups, possible in order to sell vacant land or sell land without a household knowing about it until it is too late. 

Technology is on part of the response. There are a number of tools to keep information up to date. However, one needs to examine the advantages and risks of doing these. Without agreed protocols and institutions, technology can be an aid to land grabbing. 

 

I have observed one "succesfully" functioning community operated digital land information system in the Monwabisi Park informal settlement in Cape Town. Lessons from that is the NGO that drove the project spent an enormous amount of time developing leadership capacity, participatory planning, land tenure related protocols, and volunteer driven information gathering. IThe community and the NGOcreated the critical success factors for the information system before they implemented it and since then the NGO has sustained support for the system. I think this community will be in a much better position than most to deal with the risks of land loss and evictions due to Covid19. It is a different approach which embraces hybrid governance which many people (including myself) have been advocating for years. However, it requires a substantial level of resources, a long term commitment by external agents and it may be difficult to replicate, especially where the local politics dynamics are volatile.

 

I certainly agree with Mike that each situation needs to be described, explained and different strategies/designs examined that best fit that situation. In the formal modern system of land tenure, a written piece of paper is the evidence of land tenure rights however in case of customary land rights it is the word of chieftan. What he has described is the need of the hour generally termed as Fit-for-Purpose approach for land administration to determine the land rights. An FFP approach to ensure land tenure security continuum could be to make it a part of DRM efforts.

Mike has also raised a very valid point of technology which can be an aid to land grabbing; an issue which has attracted attention in recent times in African continent. Land transfers committed and secured through a blockchain technology system can create an almost unchallenged and conclusive land titling system which can work in favour of land grabbing companies and countries. COVID19 pandemic is making people with social tenure rights or extra-legal rights to land and property more vulnerable. The mass migration or evictions will make it easy for the land grabbers to ascertain their claims and technology could play as an important tool.  As Mike has rightly mentioned a community operated digital land information system can go a long way in protecting the rights of covid19 migrants with its accessibility, social acceptance and reliability verified through community participation. 

It is clear from the reactions so far that the impact of COVID19 and the mitigation measures (the lockdowns) on land administration - and with that on security of tenure- is not straightforward. An important question is who is loosing out as services close down. I would like to add an element to this debate: How are pressures on land changing in particular places as a result of COVID19? Where many people may see their livelihoods severely threatened, others might be in fact gaining from the situation. Will this lead to distress sales and the ' squeezing out'  of poorer houdeholds from access to land? And what will the move to the city, registered in some countries, mean for local pressures on land and the configuration of local land markets? How will a weakened, disrupted land administration respond to this? I would be curious to hear about any experiences or observations participants have regarding this issue- including perhaps those of you who might say that these shifts seem to be only minor for the moment.

In Costa Rica, COVID is not without consequences for land administration. Some activities of the Institute for Rural Development (INDER), the public institution that is also responsible for the management of land redistribution mechanisms, have been put on hold: particularly field visits and meetings.  In other words, one can certainly speak of a (land) governance gap in the country.

Whether one can also speak of elites taking advantage of that gap is another question. But what cannot be denied is that a small but important segment of the Costa Rican population is jeopardized by the partial lockdown: the indigenous communities. For over 40 years now, they have had a hard time reclaiming their ‘ancestral territories’ that they have lost over the past five centuries. In 1977, a law was passed that ordered the government to restitute those lands, but the results have been limited: not just for bureaucratic reasons but also because other, non-indigenous, peasants refused to leave those territories, or invaded them after having left. Despite several verdicts by the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights (CIDH) ordering the Costa Rica government to enforce the 1977 law, progress has been slow: the government is remarkably passive in the face of the invasions and other conflicts.

Just as in a football match with a pusillanimous referee, such passivity is a fertile ground for persisting conflicts and antagonism between indigenous and non-indigenous peasants, none of which can be called elites. Things have gotten worse in the past year, with two indigenous leaders having been murdered over land conflicts, despite supposedly enjoying police protection: Sergio Rojas Ortiz (18 March, 2019) and Jehry Rivera (24 February, 2020). The suspects are free on bail; local judges are seldom of indigenous origin.

Following new remonstrations by the CIDH (who were quick to condemn the murders and put even more pressure on the authorities), last March president Alvarado signed an executive order exhorting all relevant pubic institutions  to speed up land restitution and ensure protection of indigenous land rights, as well as of the activists defending those rights. Passivity was no longer an option; all media condemned the murders and the way they were dealt with by the judiciary. However, the Corona crisis could not have come at a worse time: for a while, it looked as if finally something was going to be done (although, on past performance, one should not be too confident), but the indigenous population will have to wait - again. Without INDER field visits, conciliatory meetings and on-site enforcement measures (all rendered inviable by the crisis), delay seems, once more, inevitable.

Thanks Jur, for sharing this example. I find this case very telling and am afraid it might be pointing to a common pattern. Just as a crisis can provide an excuse to act in ways previously unacceptable ('never waste a good crisis'), it can provide an excuse to not act.

This relates to Question 1, but not quite. Many institutions related to land governance in India seem to have found a way of functioning partially and selectively, but the pandemic has closed avenues for justice and democratic processes, which the poor often use to fight for the right to occupy land.

Several Indian courts have directed state and local institutions not to evict people or demolish homes during the COVID-19 lockdown. Despite orders and advisories, Housing and Land Rights Network (an advocacy that campaigns against forced evictions) has recorded at least 22 incidents of forced eviction across India during the national lockdown (25 March to 31 May) and after it ended (1 to 16 June). These incidents have affected over 13,500 persons (conservative estimate calculated by HLRN) and resulted in the violation of multiple human rights. The reasons for these evictions include ‘beautification’ projects, government land clearance, and ‘smart city’ projects. (https://www.hlrn.org.in/documents/Press_Release_Evictions_COVID19_June_2...)

What is more alarming is that many of these evictions did not follow the due process of law accepted in the country and internationally. Advance notices were not always served and proper resettlement and rehabilitation was not carried out. (https://www.article-14.com/post/under-cover-of-covid-india-s-poor-lose-t...)

Why this contradiction?

To look into this question, we will briefly review land governance in India. National and state governments in India can be credited with many reforms, including institutional innovations and adoption of new technologies to improve land governance and administration. In a three-tier national, state and local system, land is a state subject with the land revenue department as the responsible institution. In practice actual responsibility is shared by a number of departments and agencies at the national, state and local levels, making land governance complex and layered with overlapping jurisdictions, often resulting in contradictory institutional actions and disputes. The courts are called upon to settle land related disputes and also protect the rights of individuals and communities to occupy and use land. The protection of rights can emanate from the right to a particular property or fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of India or various international human rights conventions.

During instances of forced evictions, people, communities and civil society organisations invariably approach the courts, which ensure due process of law at the very least and are also known to delay or stop evictions altogether. But courts were not working during the pandemic lockdown and even now they are not fully functional. The pathways of protest or collective representation to elected representative or government offices were also blocked by the curfew-like restrictions imposed during the lockdown.

So, state and local government agencies faced no resistance in carrying out evictions during the pandemic to “free up land” for projects – beautification, smart city, roads and flyovers. In the process 13500 were deprived of their homes at a time when staying at home was supposed to be one of the effective ways of countering COVID-19.

Thank you, Banashree, for drawing our attention to the role of the courts and how their current inactivity removes or weakens those measures meant to protect the poor against evictions. This situation may serve certain parties very well, the crisis as a "window of opportunity". And what is very worrying about it is that these forms of dispossession may be hard to revert once the courts re-open, making the effects of this crisis felt long after the lockdown is over.

Thanks, Gemma, for pointing out the long term impacts of dispossession during the lockdown. The evicted people will not get back the lands they occupied. At best, they will be resettled somewhere else, which might affect livelihood opportunities and lead to further impoverishment.

In your earlier post you had raised the question of the opportunistic bahavior of land markets during the pandemic. The examples from India show that this applies equally to state agencies. It would be interesting to see if this kind of behaviour is observed in other counries as well.

Mushrooming of markets and market places across the country with powerful landlords operating outside the state operation became a business with strong political connects too.  Most have been untouchable.  COVID 19 has helped to dismantle some of these cartels that were actually in charge of these trading places.  I guess one would say, that it has helped to restore some order, however, since almost all have no form of insurance, those who had invested in these stalls/shops, they have been victims and are now faced with losses. In kisumu, Kenya, we are witnessing  a land reorganization and  the pandemic has made it easier, in my opinion to shut down markets in the name of social distancing and then taking further action to rellocate "genuine" traders.  What these means is those those who have been operating along the streets (street hawkers), will ultimately loose on on acquisition of spaces where there is a guaranteed security of tenure  Once these land have been vacated there is no chance that these spaces will revert to their earlier operations and activities. 

Thank you, Banashree, for drawing our attention to the role of the courts and how their current inactivity removes or weakens those measures meant to protect the poor against evictions. This situation may serve certain parties very well, the crisis as a "window of opportunity". And what is very worrying about it is that these forms of dispossession may be hard to revert once the courts re-open, making the effects of this crisis felt long after the lockdown is over.

You are both providing very relevant examples of how the disruption and dislocation associated with lockdown is indeed taken advantage of by state agents or other powerful actors. Your statements reminded me of what happened after the 2004 tsunami. A somewhat similar process was seen there: for example, in Sri Lanka, fishing families were not allowed to return to the coastal strip in order, it was said, to protect them from similar disasters in the future. This was also a way to vacate that land for tourism development. Such dispossession is sold us as 'resilience building', 'development' etc etc. What this also means is that we have to be very attentive of the 'building back better' rhetoric that is also popping up in the debates on COVID19: better for whom exactly? We might potentially see numerous examples similar to the ones you contributed.

COVID threatens the progress made in integrating customary and statutory land governance

The dualism between statutory and customary systems of land governance is one of the great challenges when it comes to making land governance and land administration effective, equitable and accessible in many countries around the world. In all the countries where we are working on land issues, be it Uganda, DR Congo, Myanmar or Burundi, systems of legal pluralism make it extremely difficult for citizens to know how to most effectively protect their land, for administrators and officials to ensure the rule of law and for customary authorities to administer and protect their communities’ land according to custom. In some countries, such as Burundi and Uganda, attempts have been made to integrate customary and statutory land administration and governance. While the results have been far from perfect, some very relevant progress has been made. The COVID19 epidemic now threatens what has been achieved. For example, in the case of Uganda, Area Land Committees consisting of local officials, customary leaders and community volunteers demarcate land in the presence of the household and all neighbors. The lockdown makes this impossible. When I attended a mediation between two families about a conflict concerning land some time ago, more than 50 people were present. That too is currently impossible. In Burundi, people have to travel for miles to the communal land service to pick up their certificates but also if they want to raise a complaint against falsely demarcated land. If a lockdown is enacted they will no longer be able to do that. All these restrictions might erode the slowly emerging systems of integrated land governance that bridge the gap between customary and statutory. If the limited visibility of the state, land grabs by elites, failures to resolve land conflicts and general anxiety and mistrust during the lockdown erode the trust in emerging systems of cooperative and integrated land governance, this might bode ill for the progress made through hard work in recent years. I am wondering if others have the same impression or if there are even stories of unexpected cooperation that strengthened the attempts of bridging the gap between customary and statutory? That would be most encouraging.

Thank you for your contribution, David. I think it provides a good example of how the current crisis might exacerbate already existing challenges within land governance and land administration, and even erode progress that had already been made, in this case on integrating or bridging the gap between statutory and customary systems of land governance. Your follow-up question also provides a good bridge to move our discussion forward.

Thank you all for your contributions so far! While we have identified several challenges for land governance and land administration services under lockdown, what are your observations what happens in the face of these challenges? ;

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    Who is jumping into the gap left by state services? Who is taking action when the official land service is not? Are the chiefs filling in the gaps? Are land agents attending the population informally (e.g. from their homes)? Are there any stories of unexpected cooperation?

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    What can be done to prevent the lockdown from resulting in a lasting, irreversible erosion of capacity and legitimacy of land administration services?

Land agents and local administration are the risky-entities in dispossessing the poor of their land. Many of these look at their ‘cut’ at the bargaining table. Land Rights advocacy groups such as NAMATI who have paralegals in the rural areas, are themselves overwhelmed, considering paralegals are volunteers and as of now, cannot present a case at the court of law.

Unless we have a volunteer lawyer or a family member aware of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to seek pauper’s brief , justice won’t be served. Sadly commoners aren’t thus informed.

 

Land transfers should be suspended at the moment. If land is needed desperately by the purchasing party, then renting it out for a year or a couple of years sounds fair enough. Families should hold a common land title deed. This will deter the temptation of disposing of land on individual basis. Agreements should be written down with knowledgeable peoples as key witnesses. Women should effectively be involved in such land transfers

Based on my observations, this ‘gap’ may be covered by the same state land agents, but through rent-seeking and shadow networks; thanks to their expertise, knowledge, connections and influence. This may not necessarily happen ‘from their homes’, but rather ‘on the ground’, as in most situations land issues have to be attended in situ. However, in some cases, they may attend their diverse clients behind closed doors in land offices, particularly when issuing official documents despite the broader official discourse underlying the lockdown.

Dear Rosine, thank you so much for your contribution to the discussion. You share your insight on possible actors that may jump into the registration gap. Can you specify your solution to the registration gap more to the dilemma's mentioned in the discussion before on registration? This will allow us to place your solution better in the right context. I look forward to that. Kind regards, Alke