Poverty and land rights
Women’s land & property rights
In many countries around the world, women’s property rights are limited by social norms, customs and at times legislation, hampering their economic status and opportunities to overcome poverty. Even in countries where women constitute the majority of small farmers and do more than 75 percent of the agricultural work, they are routinely denied the right to own the land they cultivate and on which they are dependent to raise their families.
Ownership of land and property empowers women and provides income and security. Without resources such as land, women have limited say in household decision-making, and no recourse to the assets during crises. This often relates to other vulnerabilities such as domestic violence and HIV and AIDS.
In regions of conflict, the impact of unequal land rights has particularly serious consequences for women — often the only survivors. In conflict and post-conflict situations, the number of women-headed households often increases sharply as many men have either been killed or are absent. Without their husbands, brothers or fathers — in whose name land and property titles are traditionally held — they find themselves denied access to their homes and fields by male family members, former in-laws or neighbors. Without the security of a home or income, women and their families fall into poverty traps and struggle for livelihoods, education, sanitation, health care, and other basic rights.
In many cities of developing countries, more than half of the urban population lives in slums and informal settlements, in sub-standard housing, without basic services and without the enjoyment of their human rights to land and adequate housing. Women headed households form a high proportion of the population in many of such settlements.
While lack of security of tenure affects millions of people across the world, women face added risks and deprivations: in Africa and South-Asia especially, women are systematically denied their human rights to access, own, control or inherit land and property.
The vast majority of women cannot afford to buy land, and usually can only access land and housing through male relatives, which makes their security of tenure dependent on good marital and family relations. At the same time, millions of women in Asia, Africa and Latin America depend critically on land for a livelihood
Globally, an estimated 41% of women headed households live below the locally defined poverty line and close to one third of the world’s women is homeless or lives in inadequate housing. Exclusion of women from access to land pushes them towards the cities, where they often join the ranks of the increasing number of women headed households in slum areas. In Kenya, for example, where women head 70% of all squatter households, over 25% of women slum dwellers migrated from their rural homes because of land dispossession.
In recent years, international agreements have repeatedly reiterated the importance of women’s land and property rights. The Beijing Platform affirmed that women’s right to inheritance and ownership of land and property should be recognised.
The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has underscored it, referring to rural women’s rights to equal treatment in land and agrarian reform processes.
Women’s property rights are an implicit part of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, specifically Goal 1 on eradicating extreme poverty and Goal 3 on gender equality.