Restoration, women and land rights – join the debate

Photo by Sirsendu Gayen, 2015 GLF photo competition

By Ruth Meinzen-Dick. Originally published at WLE’s Thrive as “What would it take to strengthen women’s land rights?”

The evidence base is growing: strengthening women’s land rights contributes to women’s empowerment and household welfare.

Evidence is also showing that women who have more secure land tenure are more likely to plant trees or make other investments to improve the land and generate ecosystem services. This means efforts to improve women’s land rights can also create enabling conditions for land restoration.

But strengthening women’s land rights isn’t that simple. Unfortunately, there’s also evidence that changing property rights is not an easy process in any case. There are always vested interests to protect the status quo, especially when it comes to something as important as land rights. And when it comes to women’s property rights, there are additional layers of gender norms that make it even more challenging to bring about changes.

The issue of women’s land rights for land restoration will be discussed at a high-level panel “This Land is Our Land: Gender perspectives on tenure and rights” at the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris, December 6. In preparation for that event, we have asked a number of experts:

“What would it take to strengthen women’s land rights, in practice?”

There are a number of debates to consider when answering this question. A few are highlighted below to guide responses.

Can women’s property rights be secured through changes to the law? Legal and policy reforms are important in many cases, but do not always translate into change on the ground. To be effective, not only do reforms need to be implemented on the books, but men and women also need to know about the changes. Furthermore, cultural norms and customary rights are powerful in many contexts, with varying definitions of men’s and women’s rights over resources. How should statutory law interact with customary law, in such a way that creates lasting cultural change?

And then there are debates over whether women’s property rights are more secure under individual, household, or collective tenure. To be secure, do women’s property rights need to be registered and held by an individual woman, or can they be secured as part of households or within community land rights?

On the positive side, there are good examples of projects and policies to strengthen women’s land rights that have worked or are being tested. But gender relations and property rights are both highly contextual, so it is dangerous to impose “models” from one country to another. For example, how does the type of terrain (e.g. forested versus agricultural), land tenure context, or economic activity of the land imply different bundles of rights, and different threats to women’s tenure security?


Global Landscapes Forum partner WLE is asking you: “What would it take to strengthen women’s land rights, in practice?”

Read responses from experts and join the debate by sharing your thoughts in the comments section on WLE’s blog.