References to women's land rights in international instruments and references to gender in the draft Voluntary Guidelines | Land Portal

Resource information

Date of publication: 
February 2012
Resource Language: 

This page is meant to provide a quick overview of major reference to women's land rights in existing international instruments, as well as paragraphs related to women  - or more broadly gender - in the First Draft of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the context of National Food Security (VGs). The VGs are still under-negotiations under the auspices of the Committee of World Food Security, and are therefore still subject to change. The general principle of non-discrimination, which is included in all the international human rights treaties, is not considered here, as well as provisions on marriage, legal capacity, equality before the law, housing rights, and the right to food, which are all related to women's land rights. You can find out more on international instruments protecting women's land rights here, where I encourage you to post your comments and ideas, and more detailed country information on the FAO Gender and Land Rights database.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948) - Article 17, 1

(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979) - Article 14

1. States Parties shall take into account the particular problems faced by rural women and the significant roles which rural women play in the economic survival of their families, including their work in the non-monetized sectors of the economy, and shall take all appropriate measures to ensure the application of the provisions of the present Convention to women in rural areas.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development and, in particular, shall ensure to such women the right:

(a) To participate in the elaboration and implementation of development planning at all levels;

(b) To have access to adequate health care facilities, including information, counselling and services in family planning;

(c) To benefit directly from social security programmes;

(d) To obtain all types of training and education, formal and non-formal, including that relating to functional literacy, as well as, inter alia, the benefit of all community and extension services, in order to increase their technical proficiency;

(e) To organize self-help groups and co-operatives in order to obtain equal access to economic opportunities through employment or self employment;

(f) To participate in all community activities;

(g) To have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform as well as in land resettlement schemes;

(h) To enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications.

[For further information on rural women's access to land and property and progress towards achieving CEDAW provisions on rural women's access to land please check this ILC, FAO, IFAD publication (2004) and its 2010 update]

[Please also check relevant General Recommendations from the CEDAW Committe, i.e. "Unpaid women workers in rural and urban family enterprises" (Nr. 16, 1991), and "Equality in marriage and family relations" (Nr. 21, 1994)]

Beijing Platform for Action (1995)

[See more on this here] and in particular, paragraphs 58, 60, 61 where actions to be taken are mentioned:

58. By Governments:

(m) Enable women to obtain affordable housing and access to land by, among other things, removing all obstacles to access, with special emphasis on meeting the needs of women, especially those living in poverty and female heads of household;

(n) Formulate and implement policies and programmes that enhance the access of women agricultural and fisheries producers (including subsistence farmers and producers, especially in rural areas) to financial, technical, extension and marketing services; provide access to and control of land, appropriate infrastructure and technology in order to increase women’s incomes and promote household food security, especially in rural areas and, where appropriate, encourage the development of producer-owned, market-based cooperatives;

[...]

60. By national and international non-governmental organizations and women’s groups:

(f) Mobilize to protect women’s right to full and equal access to economic resources, including the right to inheritance and to ownership of land and other property, credit, natural resources and appropriate.

61. By Governments:

(b) Undertake legislative and administrative reforms to give women full and equal access to economic resources, including the right to inheritance and to ownership of land and other property, credit, natural resources and appropriate technologies;

Instanbul Declaration on Human Settlement and Habitat Agenda (1996)

These two important documents include obligations related to women’s housing and inheritance rights. Under the Habitat Agenda, States commit themselves toProvid[e] legal security of tenure and equal access to land to all people, including women and those living in poverty; and undertaking legislative and administrative reforms to give women full and equal access to economic resources, including the right to inheritance and to ownership of land and other property, credit, natural resources and appropriate technologies” (Sec. 40b)

Undertake legislative and administrative reforms to give women full and equal access to economic resources, including the right to inheritance and the ownership of land and other property, credit, natural resources and appropriate technologies” (Sec. 72e)

”[…] Governments at the appropriate levels, including local authorities, should nevertheless strive to remove all possible obstacles that may hamper equitable access to land and ensure that equal rights of women and men related to land and property are protected under the law […]” (Sec. 75)

Promote awareness campaigns, education and enabling practices regarding, in particular, legal rights with respect to tenure, land ownership and inheritance for women, so as to overcome existing barriers” (Sec. 78b).

United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Resolutions on Women’s equal ownership of, access to and control over land and the equal rights to own property and to adequate housing (56th, 57th, 59th and 61st session)

All the four resolutions are relevant. Some excerpts from the first one (2000/13) follow: [The Commission on Human Rights]

1. Affirms that discrimination in law against women with respect to acquiring and securing land, property and housing, as well as financing for land, property and housing, constitutes a violation of women’s human right to protection against discrimination;

2. Reaffirms women’s right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;

3. Also reaffirms the obligations of States to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise;

4. Urges Governments to comply fully with their international and regional obligations and commitments concerning land tenure and the equal rights of women to own property and to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing;

5. Reaffirms Commission on the Status of Women resolution 42/1 which, inter alia, urges States to design and revise laws to ensure that women are accorded full and equal rights to own land and other property, and the right to adequate housing, including through the right to inheritance, and to undertake administrative reforms and other necessary measures to give women the same right as men to credit, capital, appropriate technologies, access to markets and information;

6. Encourages Governments to support the transformation of customs and traditions that discriminate against women and deny women security of tenure and equal ownership of, access to, and control over land and equal rights to own property and to adequate housing and to ensure the right of women to equal treatment in land and agrarian reform as well as in land resettlement schemes and in ownership of property and in adequate housing and to take other measures to increase land and housing availability to women living in poverty, particularly female heads of households;

7. Also encourages Governments, specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system, international agencies and non-governmental organizations to provide judges, lawyers, political and other public officials, community leaders and other concerned persons, as appropriate, with information and human rights education concerning women’s equal ownership of, access to, and control over land and the equal rights to own property and to adequate housing;

8. Recommends that Governments encourage financial lending institutions to ensure that their policies and practices do not discriminate against women;

9. Also recommends that international financial institutions, regional, national and local housing financing institutions and other credit facilities promote the participation of womenand take into account their views to remove discriminatory policies and practices, giving special consideration to single women and households headed by women, and that these institutions evaluate and measure progress to this end;

[...]

14. Decides to consider the issue of women’s equal ownership of, access to, and control over land and the equal rights to own property and to adequate housing at its fifty-seventh session under the agenda item entitled “Economic, social and cultural rights”.

Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, African Union (2005)

This addition to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights explicitly protects women against discrimination and stipulates that women have the right to inherit equitable shares from their parents and from their husband as well as the right to buy and manage their own land. The protocol entered into force in November 2005 when it had been ratified by 15 countries.

Article 19. Right to Sustainable Development. Women shall have the right to fully enjoy their right to sustainable development. In this connection, the States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to:

a) introduce the gender perspective in the national development planning procedures;

b) ensure participation of women at all levels in the conceptualisation, decision-making, implementation and evaluation of development policies and programmes;[...] promote women’s access to and control over productive resources such as land and guarantee their right to property; [...]

Article 15. Right to Food Security. a) provide women with access to clean drinking water, sources of domestic fuel, land, and the means of producing nutritious food;

Draft Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (2011)

Voluntary Guidelines are still under negotiations under the CFS (as per February 2012). Accordingly, any provision is still subject to change. However, it is possible to identify provisions in the current draft (First Draft, October 2011) that are relevant to women's land rights and gender, taking in mind though that the VGs recognise that their interpretation and implementation should be "consistent with States' existing obligations under international law, including the UDHR and other international human rights instruments" (Part 1, 1.1) and that CEDAW is explicitly mentioned in Annex 2.

Principles of implementation [...] 3b.4. * Gender equality: Ensure the equal right of women and men to the enjoyment of all human rights, while acknowledging differences between women and men and taking specific measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality when necessary. States should ensure that women and girls have equal tenure rights and access to land, fisheries and forests independent of their civil and marital status.

Rights and Responsabilities [...] 4.6 * States should remove and prohibit all forms of discrimination related to tenure rights, including those resulting from change of marital status, lack of legal capacity, and lack of access to economic resources. In particular, States should ensure equal tenure rights for women and men, including the right to inherit and bequeath these rights. Such State actions should be consistent with their existing obligations under relevant national law and legislation and international law, and with due regard to voluntary commitments under applicable regional and international instruments.*

Policy, legal and organisational frameworks [...] 5.4. * States should consider the particular obstacles faced by women and girls with regard to tenure and associated tenure rights and take measures to ensure that legal and policy frameworks provide adequate protection for women and that laws that recognise women’s tenure rights are enforced and implemented. States should ensure that women can legally enter into contracts concerning tenure rights on basis of equality with men and should strive to provide legal services and other assistance to enable women to defend their tenure interests. *

Safeguards [...] 7.4. States should ensure that women and men enjoy the same rights in the newly recognised tenure rights, and that those rights are reflected in records. Where possible, legal recognition and allocation of tenure rights of individuals, families and communities should be done systematically, progressing area by area in accordance with national priorities, in order to provide the poor and vulnerable with full opportunities to acquire legal recognition of their tenure rights. Legal support should be provided, particularly to the poor and vulnerable. Locally appropriate approaches should be used to increase transparency when records of tenure rights are initially created, including in the mapping of tenure rights. *

Public lands, fisheries and forests [...] 8.11 States should monitor the outcome of allocation programmes, including the gender-differentiated impacts on food security and poverty alleviation as well as their impacts on social, economic and environmental objectives and introduce corrective measures as required. *

Indigenous Peoples and other communities with customary tenure. [...] 9.2. Indigenous peoples and other communities with customary tenure systems that exercise self-governance of land, fisheries and forests should promote and provide equitable, secure and sustainable rights to those resources, with special attention to the provision of equitable access for women. Effective participation of all members, men, women and youth in decisions regarding their tenure systems should be promoted through their local or traditional institutions, including in the case of collective tenure systems. Where necessary, communities should be assisted to increase the capacity of their members to participate fully in decision-making and governance of their tenure systems. *

Regulated spatial planning [...] 20.3  States should ensure that regulated spatial planning is conducted in a manner that recognizes the interconnected relationships between land, fisheries and forests and their uses, including the gendered aspects of their uses. States should strive towards reconciling and prioritizing public, community and private  interests and accommodate the requirements for various uses, such as rural, agricultural, nomadic, urban and environmental. Spatial planning should consider all tenure rights, including overlapping and periodic rights. Appropriate risk assessments for spatial planning should be required. National, regional and local spatial plans should be coordinated. *

In addition, throught out the text gender-sensitive measures, policies, and actions are frequently mentioned. Where gender-sensitive is defined as follows (VGs Glossary):

Gender-sensitive policies, legislation, programmes, processes and communication methods recognize that women and men differ in terms of needs, constraints and opportunities. With these considerations in mind, they are formulated to ensure that both women and men benefit from development opportunities and realize their full productive and human potential. Gender-sensitive policies should be based inan in-depth understanding of the gender inequalities at all levels in places where these are implemented and include strategies and mechanisms to overcome genderinequalities. “Gender sensitive” is used in the Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security.

Authors and Publishers

Publisher(s): 

Geographical focus

Share this page