March 8, 2013

Gender in Tenure

We often discuss land and resource tenure here on the Landscapes Blog, whether it’s in relation to climate-smart agriculture or financing sustainable land management. Having that clear delineation of responsibility and a strong sense of ownership is fundamental to long-term sustainable management of natural resources and the various activities within a landscape. This is such an important topic that last May, the Committee on World Food Security officially endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security.

With people around the globe observing International Women’s Day and placing gender considerations in the limelight today, why discuss tenure of all topics? As noted earlier in the week, women play a vital role in food production, making up the majority of the agricultural work force in many developing countries. Moreover, women farmers are often seen as the potential game-changers for sustainable agricultural land management and overcoming food insecurity. Yet this means little when women continue to face significant hurdles in their rights on the land – including inability to inherit land, use extension services, or access financial credit. In a recent report, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, noted that a lack of land ownership rights and access to farm resources (e.g. credit, technology, fertilizer) for women is actually correlated with more malnourished children and lower productivity in agriculture.

In one attempt to address the shortcomings in gender equality, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations launched a technical guide explicitly addressing gender equality in tenure governance. The new publication, Governing Land for Women and Men, supplements the voluntary guidelines and addresses the importance of bringing the differing gender needs and roles into tenure regimes. While the different constraints, challenges, and opportunities men and women face should always be a consideration in designing policies, projects, and incentives related to land management, guidance documents like this will help make that principle a reality.

As De Schutter wrote, “the most effective strategies to empower women who tend farm and family — and to alleviate hunger in the process — are to remove the obstacles that hinder them from taking charge of their lives.” On today’s 102nd observance of International Women’s Day, we can acknowledge the great strides that have been made over the century and the work that is still ahead.

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