“Making decisions for [women and girls], without us, is making decisions against us.”

These are the words of youth leader, Natasha Wang Mwansa, who stood alongside several heads of state as they welcomed the crowd for the opening ceremony of the Women Deliver 2019 Conference, the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights and wellbeing of women and girls. It was only fitting to have a young woman on stage with heads of state discussing the importance and significance of prioritizing the rights of women and girls, because she is right; you cannot make decisions about or for women and girls without including them.

Women Deliver promised a packed and energetic week – and it absolutely delivered! The energy was amplified thanks to DJ Switch, age 11, who throughout the week rocked the audience with her melodic rhythms – which, I might add, only took her 5 days to master at the brilliant age of 9. Throughout the week national and local governments, civil society, the private sector, academic institutions and the public were urged to prioritize the rights of women and girls around the world. Speakers covered a variety of topics including sexual and reproductive health rights, adolescents and youth, climate and environment, land rights, nutrition and food security, water and sanitation, economic empowerment and more.

These topics intersect and greatly impact the overall wellbeing of women and girls. When it comes to achieving gender equality there are so many important and relevant issues to tackle, but I want to focus one foundational right that is often overlooked; access to land for shelter.

Around the world, women are routinely and systematically denied equal rights to access, use, inherit, control and own land. Written laws often inadequately protect women’s tenure rights and in some countries national laws explicitly discriminate against women. Women are more directly affected by land rights because many countries pass down land exclusively through patrilineal inheritance systems so that only men can own land. This means women and their children miss out on the advantages associated with property rights, thus compromising their health, safety, economic security and political rights.

It is critical to ensure gender and women’s rights issues are systematically incorporated into land related policies globally. Secure land rights are an integral factor in ensuring stable housing for women and their families. Access to property can decrease the likelihood of experiencing domestic violence. Studies show that women with secure land rights have increased ability to travel to the local market, health center and other destinations outside of the private sphere. Credit from financial institutions, non-governmental institutions, women’s savings groups and private sources are more available to women who can use their land or house as collateral to support a loan.

Two of the seventeen goals of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda explicitly identify women’s land rights as essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.

  • Goal 1 seeks to “eradicate poverty in all its forms” and includes access to land as an indicator. Indicator 1.4.2 measures the “proportion of total adult population with secure tenure rights to land with legally recognized documentation and who perceive their rights to land as secure, by sex and type of tenure.”
  • Goal 5 seeks to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” and includes indicators measuring countries’ legal frameworks guaranteeing women equal land rights and the proportion of agricultural population, by sex, with secure rights to land.

The main SDG indicator for tenure security within cities falls within Goal 11, which focuses on sustainable cities and communities. Indicator 11.1.1 seeks to measure the proportion of urban populations living in slums, informal settlements or inadequate housing as a means of ensuring access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services, and upgrade slums. Although tenure security is included in this target through the accepted definition of “adequate housing,” the SDG indicator itself does not require states to disaggregate data by sex, overlooking the opportunity to collect valuable information on the discrepancies between men and women’s tenure security globally.

Equal Measures 2030, released a report in June 2019 that found, “with just 11 years to go until 2030, nearly 40% of the world’s girls and women – 1.4 billion – live in countries failing on gender equality. Another 1.4 billion [girls] live in countries that ‘barely pass’…. No country in the world has reached the ‘last mile’ on gender equality.”  This report demonstrates how far we still have to go to improve the rights of women and girls. As Habitat for Humanity works toward our vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live, we are committed to ensuring “everyone” includes women.  For this reason, Solid Ground created the key principles that drive our advocacy and policy work globally in ensuring gender and women’s issues are systematically incorporated into land related policies including women’s representation in housing policy decision making bodies. Because we could not agree with Natasha Wang Mwansa more, “making decisions for [women and girls], without us, is making decisions against us.”