Gender Awards 2017: securing women’s land rights a key issue

By Giulia Barbanente

Plenary session with the delegates of the five winning projects, IFAD Gender Awards, 29 November 2017, IFAD HQ ©IFAD/Barbanente
The connection between gender and land tenure issues is increasingly relevant to many IFAD-funded rural development projects. Women's access and control over land and other natural resources is a central component of many projects working towards women empowerment and their improved livelihood. Due to the critical role that women have in agricultural production, securing women's access to land is also broadly recognised as a priority for reducing poverty and ensuring household food security (see also blog “Securing Women's Land Rights: A Growing Momentum With SDGS and LPI”).

The relevance of women's land tenure security was recently stressed on occasion of the Gender Awards that IFAD hosted on 29 November 2017. The awards have been created to recognise the efforts and achievements of IFAD-supported projects in delivering on the strategic objectives of IFAD's policy on gender equality and women's empowerment. By selecting one project from each region in which IFAD is active, the awards recognize the best performing projects in addressing gender inequalities and empowering women, providing them with visibility and recognition throughout IFAD and its network of partners.

The prominence of land tenure as a cross-cutting issue is reflected in the five projects that received the Gender Award:

The Char Development and Settlement Project (CDSP IV) in Bangladesh focused primarily on securing legal land titles for landless families living on newly accreted coastal islands. Every year in Bangladesh, 26,000 families lose their homes, land and livelihoods to erosion. In the south-east of Bangladesh, approximately 150,000 people live on low-lying river islands, known as Chars, where regular flooding and rising sea levels are constantly changing the coastline, creating new Chars and eroding or submerging others. The development of Chars has taken place for over 20 years since 1994. Under CDSP IV IFAD has partnered for the first time with the Government of Bangladesh and the Government of the Netherlands, in order to apply an integrated development approach to improve the economic situation and living conditions on the Chars, by securing land rights and strengthening protection from climate change; building climate resilient infrastructure; providing livelihood support, such as health services and legal education, and supporting the establishment of field-level institutions. CDSP has been working to support the rural women and men occupying land on the Chars to receive legal titles for these plots, introducing an innovative approach to address gender issues. The process firstly involves the production of a settlement map through a plot-to-plot-survey (PTPS), mapping each and every plot and to file the details on the inhabitants. The maps and the information about the families are then deposited in the Upazilla [subdistrict] Land Office. The CDSP facilitates the participation to the process for local families, by holding public hearings at the village level regarding the PTPS. Once the reviewing process is concluded and the plot for each family has been confirmed, the land registration is also carried out at the village level. Under CDSP IV, only married couples and unmarried women have access to land titling, and in case of a married couple, the wife’s name is written first in the legal document entitling her to 50 per cent of the total land. This initiative has empowered women to make economic decisions regarding their land, and to occupy a stronger, safer position within their families (see also the video 'Bangladesh Land of Our Own').

The Rural Markets Promotion Program (PROMER) in Mozambique, focusing on building the capacity of farmers' organizations, was recognised for its success in building women's capacity to sign marketing contracts, develop Savings and Credit Groups, access leadership positions and education. As part of the initiatives strengthening farmers' organizations, resources have been allocated to support land certification in 15 Districts. Ensuring women’s rights are also recognised has been identified as a key issue. This investment is supporting the country-wide programme of the Ministry of Land, Environment and Rural development, Terra Segura, that seeks to issue five million land certificates.

The delegation from CDSP IV accepting the Gender Award on November 29, 2017 at IFAD HQ ©IFAD/Barbanente
The Building Rural Entrepreneurial Capacities Programme: Trust and Opportunity (TOP) in Colombia, aims at improving the livelihood of 50,000 families in extreme poverty conditions, by supporting their collective efforts towards development, social inclusion and improvement of the quality of life. Besides being recognised for fighting discrimination of rural women, supporting their economics initiatives and promoting their leadership in rural communities, the project has also targeted young people's access to land programmes such as the National Land Credit Programme which allows the creation of young people's groups who want to settle as agricultural producers.

The Projet de lutte contre la pauvreté dans l'Aftout Sud et la Karakoro – PASK II in Mauritania, which aimed at improving the challenging living conditions of 21,000 households in the areas of Aftout South and Karakoro, distinguished itself for targeting women to improve their revenues and involvement in decision-making. One of the initiatives aims to include poor rural households targeted the sustainable management of natural resources. Land agreements have been included in interventions related to land and natural resource governance, in order to facilitate the creation of an irrigation scheme and the adoption of an integrated watershed management approach.

The Agricultural Value Chain Development Project in the Mountain Zones of Al-Haouz Province in Morocco is built upon the previous PDRZMH project, implemented between 2000 and 2011, and aims at capitalising on and ensuring the sustainability of the three supply- and value-chains for olives, apple and ovine meat. The "2-sheep initiative", made possible through microfinancing, has been enabling hundreds of rural women to step out of isolation and dependence within the household. By offering women their proper source of income, they managed to dedicate more time to shop at the Suk and attend literacy classes.

The awarded projects demonstrate how the goal of women’s empowerment is closely connected with securing their access to land. In particular, land tenure security is linked to the three objectives of IFAD gender policy: (1) promote economic empowerment to enable rural women and men to have equal opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, profitable economic activities; (2) enable women and men to have equal voice and influence in rural institutions and organizations; and (3) achieve a more equitable balance in workloads and in the sharing of economic and social benefits between women and men.

Moreover supporting women's tenure security can foster social change, as shown for example in the case of Bangladesh, where the land titling initiative of putting women first also led to a decline in child marriages. Overall, the Gender Awards succeeded in creating a space to showcase successful initiatives and demonstrate the relevance of addressing cross-cutting issues, such as land tenure security.