The 4th India Land and Development Conference, set to start next week, invites a wide variety of individuals and institutions to engage in thought-provoking and interdisciplinary conversations and analyses. More specifically, the Conference's theme Institutions, Innovations and Informations in Land Governance invites us all to think about us all to think about the role that information sharing can play in helping to ensure effective land governance. It is with this in mind, that we had the chance to speak with a few of the ILDC attendees, in order to gather some pre-conference perspectives and food for thought.
Shipra Deo leads Landesa’s work in India. She is a development practitioner with 20 years of experience in managing multidisciplinary programs addressing women’s empowerment, women’s land rights, violence against women, agriculture, collective action, livelihoods and institution building. Below are her perspectives on the upcoming Conference, as well as key issues which the Conference will cover.
1) Could you please introduce yourself and your work?
I am Shipra and I work with Landesa as Director for Women Land Rights in India. We work to understand and address the multiple challenges including legal, social and political, that blight women’s access to and ownership of land in various contexts. We collaboarte with government and other partners to explore and implement solutions to help strengthen women’s rights. We often focus on solutions that can drive systemwide change and deliver impact at scale.
2) What is the need for such a Conference?
In today’s world, land defines the social status and political power of individuals and households within their communities, and the wealth of nations in the global context. Given this centrality, almost every aspect of land – how we access it, who owns it, how it is governed, the resources on and within it - impacts the way we experience our lives. This conference creates an open space for various actors in the land sector - researchers, practitioners, corporates, policy makers - to come together to discuss, learn, collaborate and innovate on various aspects related to land. This creates numerous possibilities for a stronger land ecosystem in India.
3) What is the scope of your involvement in the ILDC 2020?
Landesa has been a co-organizer of ILDC since the beginning. This year we are organizing a session on women’s land rights where for the first time we have invited field practitioners for an open dialogue. The idea is to help the participants understand the ground realities of challenges around women’s claims to land, and how various organizations are developing ways to navigate through them. We are co-organizing a conclave on SDG 5.a.1, which relates to women’s ownership of agricultural land. We have also contributed to the Status of Land Report by providing an overview of women and land in India.
4) Are there particular sessions or subjects you are looking forward to discussing?
All the sessions are equally interesting, but I have been keen on seeing how gender dimensions are discussed or ignored in each of the different aspects of land discussed here. This year I am especially excited about the session on artistic expressions. For the first time this year we have invited various artists and theater groups to express connections of humankind with land in different art forms – film, theater, photographs, dance, and songs among them. Since land has an innate connection with humans, various native songs and artworks express this connection.
5) How does Landesa hope to scale up its work on women's land rights in the coming years?
To simplify complications around women’s inheritance, we have done a mapping of various laws that determine women’s inheritance in India and a deeper analysis of laws in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Jharkhand. We are now advocating for state government to adopt these policy recommendations and deliver much-needed change for millions of women. We have also collaborated with government institutions in several states to impart land literacy to women, provide gender sensitization to revenue officials and bureaucrats, and carry out studies on digitization of land records, all of which have meant stronger land rights for women.
6) In your opinion, what is inhibiting women's land rights from coming to complete fruition?
Unfortunately, today most land and inheritance laws cannot pass the test of gender equality and justice. And one of the greatest challenges, I think, is a lack of consistent and meaningful effort by the policymakers and implementers. Even when there are progressive changes being made in laws, they are undercut by legal loopholes, gaps in implementation, lax enforcement, and sex-discriminatory mindsets and practices. For an effective change, steps need to be taken to plug all these gaps. To ensure that women’s land rights are enshrined not only in law, but are upheld in practice, legal legitimacy must be accompanied with efforts to establish the social legitimacy of women’s claims. At the dawn of the 2020s, various stakeholders must come together and exhibit greater resolve to ensure that women get what is rightfully theirs.