The theme for International Women’s Day this year was 'Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World’. It celebrated and highlighted the remarkable efforts made by women and girls around the globe to shape a more equitable future in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Equal access to land has always been the cornerstone of inclusive sustainable development. We know that equality of land tenure offers a safety net for women, and is essential to reducing their vulnerability by offering them collateral, access to credit and markets as well opportunities for income. It will undoubtedly be an essential economic asset for them, especially in the post-pandemic world. With this in mind, we decided to ask our Board Member, anthropologist, researcher and professor Dr. Ritu Verma, a few questions on the matter.
1. In your experience, describe three reasons why women's land rights are important in your work as a land governance expert.
Strong and secure and rights are the key to ensuring that women have the power to make their own decisions. With strong rights to land women can meet their practical needs such as sustaining their livelihoods and ensuring food security needs through agriculture, income generating activities of cash and other crops, or access to credit, for example. Strong land rights go a long way towards meeting strategic needs as well, such as increased say in community decisions and local governance as a land owner or water user. Although sometimes overlooked, land ownership is often related to women’s status, identity and voice in the community, which in turn fundamentally affects their sense of confidence and wellbeing.
2. In your view, what are the biggest challenges for obtaining women's land rights and why?
Patriarchy, patriarchy, patriarchy. Although sometimes not apparent, patriarchy is the cause of so much resistance and backsliding in advancing women’s rights, and in particular, women’s rights to land. Decades of “add women and stir” gender “mainstreaming” has failed to address what is at the heart of the matter: skewed gender relations of power that often disadvantage women in terms of valuing their time, labour, knowledge, rights – or worse, subjecting women to discrimination, exploitation, abuse and violence. We need to find new, truly gender transformative ways to tackle this problem: solutions that place women at the very centre of efforts, in the driving seat.
Added to this, the context of land struggles has changed. It has been stripped of its social, cultural and spiritual value, and more often than not seen as a mere commodity to be traded, sold and grabbed. However, this is not how it is seen from the ground. Land is more than just soil: it is tied to people’s identity, their community, their way of life, and often, spirituality and closeness with nature. It also hosts many beings and life besides us humans, and we often forget that aspect of it. Women play a key role in sustaining the biodiversity and sustainability of the land, but again, this is often overlooked. Land, therefore, becomes a cold commodity – rather than a thriving foci of environmental, cultural and social gendered interests.
With increased land grabs by big (and small) interests (multi-national corporations, tourism, horticulture, mining and extractive industries, land speculation, etc.) the commercial or economic value of land has often been emphasized, and as a result, so have the stakes. In the past couple of decades, we have also seen encroachment of urban centres into rural areas and spaces that were the domain of wildlife but are now overrun by urban sprawl, which in turn has led to increased human-wildlife conflicts. Our over-consuming lifestyles, and the devaluing of environmental costs has led to this crisis. The very custodians of the land, many of them women in contexts such as Asia, Africa and the Pacific, are pushed off the land by big interests, with grave consequences for the climate, environment, biodiversity, society and the planet as we speed towards a point of no return.
3. Can you describe the Land Portal's role in raising awareness of land and gender?
Information is power. By providing and openly sharing information across countries, continents and various land struggles, the Land Portal plays a powerful role in connecting people, knowledge and action. Access to key information at the right time can make the difference for a woman between defending her rights to land, or losing her claims. Learning and hearing about other land struggles around the world, as well as being empowered by local context-specific information, contacts and stories can make a significant difference. Here, I am referring to both statutory rights to land, as well as customary rights, within the context of legal pluralism. The Land Portal is committed to addressing gender inequalities in a digital world that often disadvantages women. The digital divide is even wider for women in the South, who are not only disadvantaged in accessing data and information, but often discouraged and barred from doing so. Women’s land struggles need to take centre stage – and the Land Portal is committed to providing the space and platform for women’s voices and experiences to be heard.