Bonn — The following opinion piece is part of series to mark International Women’s Day, March 8.
When it comes to land, gender inequalities are pervasive. Today, nearly half of the global agricultural workforce is female – yet less than one in five landholders worldwide are women 1.
Women’s land rights are essential for their economic empowerment and the sustainable development of rural communities. However, women continue to face significant barriers to accessing and controlling land resources, which limits their ability to participate fully in agricultural production, improve their livelihoods, and contribute to broader economic growth.
Moreover, the lack of access to land and other productive resources adversely impacts on women’s enjoyment of human rights.
According to a landmark study by UNCCD, gender equality remains unfinished business in every part of the world. For instance, in more than 100 countries today, women cannot inherit their husband’s property under customary, religious, or traditional laws and practices.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some women tragically lost not only their spouses but also access to their land. Even in countries where women have the same legal rights as men to own and access land – as is the case in Costa Rica – only 15.6% of farm ownership is currently in the hands of women. In the Middle East and North Africa region, just 4% of women hold land titles.
Discrimination related to land tenure, credit access, equal pay and decision making often keeps women from playing an active role in sustaining land health. When they do have property rights, women often own smaller plots, and less fertile lands, compared to male landowners.
And when land becomes degraded and water is scarce, rural women are usually the worst affected, often skipping meals in favour of other family members.
Globally, women already spend a collective 200 million hours every day collecting water. In some countries, a single trip to fetch water can take over an hour. Droughts make the situation even harder–they tend to increase the burden of unpaid care and domestic work shouldered by women and girls.
But women are not only on the frontline of climate change and land degradation impacts; they can also be major actors in the global efforts to restore the land back to health and boost drought resilience.
Evidence shows that when women and men have equal land tenure rights, women are more likely to invest in soil conservation and sustainable land management practices. For example, in Ethiopia, land certification and registration undertaken in the early 2000s increased tenure security for women and men and boosted landowners’ likelihood of investing in soil and water conservation measures by 20-30%.
Gender equality is vital to deliver sustainable, progressive, and meaningful action to advance sustainable land stewardship. The recognition of women’s land and resource rights will accelerate land restoration efforts by opening doors to markets and finance, training and other services, and gender-appropriate sustainable land management tools and technologies.
It will also enable women to step up their contribution to the achievement of climate and biodiversity goals, keeping global temperature increase to 1.5°C and restoring at least 30% of degraded ecosystems by 2030.
Already, women worldwide use traditional knowledge and innovative solutions to address desertification, land degradation and drought. In India, irrigation systems developed by women farmers rely on rainwater harvesting. In Jordan, a plant nursery entirely run by women using state-of-the-art methodologies and protocols is producing high-quality native seedlings for land restoration.
The UNCCD has a long track record in placing gender equality firmly at the core of its mandate as a vital catalyst of progress. Gender-responsive land restoration is an obvious pathway to reduce poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.
When women are empowered to have a say in decision-making on land matters, entire communities and societies benefit, and these benefits can be passed on to future generations.
We must urgently change the way both women and land are treated. We must invest more in women as the custodians of healthy land and thriving communities. It’s time for women and girls to be at the forefront of land restoration efforts.
For this, governments must take action to assess and reform legal and regulatory frameworks, promote gender-responsive policies and public services, and support successful programmes that promote women’s rights to land and resources.
Ending discrimination against women in their access to, use of, and control over land and other resources is crucial. In doing so, we can create a more just and sustainable world for all.
Andrea Meza Murillo is Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Prior to joining the Convention, she served as Minister of Energy and Environment for the Government of Costa Rica. She brings over 20 years of expertise in sustainable development, having worked in more than 15 Latin American countries to formulate public policies, participate in international negotiations, and execute climate, conservation and restoration projects.
IPS UN Bureau