Habitat for Humanity participated in a Panel Discussion organised by Landesa titled: Secure Land Rights for Women: Essential Building Block for Economic Empowerment on the sidelines of the sixty-first session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 13 to 24 March 2017.

The priority theme for this year’s CSW was “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work”. The empowerment of indigenous women was described as a focus area for the CSW 2017 as the meeting celebrated the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which has been reflected in recommendations of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (2015) and the outcome document of the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. This theme was fitting as women have long been regarded as important custodians of land.

From the perspective of the Commission, it is essential that the relationship between women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work is integrated with the comprehensive and accelerated implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the gender-sensitive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development framework.

In opening the panel discussion, Landesa underscored the importance of economic development and the empowerment of women through agricultural and forest resources, recognising that rural women face extreme poverty with limited access to land rights.

According to Landesa, land rights have the potential to raise the income of women, generate resilience, lead to an increase in their status and bargaining power, and advance their education. Additionally, access to land can improve harvest outcomes and access to credit by providing higher levels of environmental protection rights and, as a result, more sustainable use of land resources.

The panel discussants affirmed that strengthening the land rights of women is a fundamental factor in supporting agricultural and forest-based livelihoods, building subsistence and food security and are a means to advancing the economic empowerment of women. In Africa and Asia, over 400 million women farm and are employed in the agricultural sector. Women who lack the rights to the property that they farm have very little access to credit, inputs, resources and technology. Women’s economic empowerment is contingent on the ability to generate income and control assets and resources.

The organisation Rights and Resources Initiative conducted an analysis of 30 developing countries and concluded that the majority of national laws regulating 78 percent of the developing world’s forests fail to protect women’s rights to property, inheritance, community membership and community level governance and community level dispute resolution mechanisms.

The panel called for transforming policy and gender norms to recognize women as legally entitled to access and control over land and natural resources. Wairimu Kanyiri from GROOTS Kenya explained that in Kenya women’s control over land is repressed through deeply rooted patriarchal cultural practices and beliefs. Under her leadership, 3500 grassroots women collectively advocated for and achieved varying levels of land ownership. Furthermore they received training on entrepreneurship and farming technologies, which positively impacted their economic status. Other panelists emphasized the need to further support approaches that train women and communities on their land rights and to monitor national development agendas to ensure that these commitments are included, implemented and sustained.

Habitat for Humanity showcased Solid Ground as a global campaign designed to build support for the critical role land access and secure tenure play in the alleviation of poverty and present some of the greatest barriers low income individuals and families have to being able to secure adequate shelter. In addition, it was noted that the Solid Ground campaign identified land and gender as one of its four sub-themes highlighting the critical role that land plays in ensuring secure livelihoods for women and their families.

Improving women’s access to and control over economic resources has a positive effect on a range of developmental goals, including poverty reduction and socio-economic growth and sustainability. Rural women, in particular, are at the strategic center of reducing hunger, malnutrition, and poverty as they play a central role in household food security, dietary diversity, and children’s health.
In this sense the Panel Discussion acknowledged the centrality of women’s empowerment in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda.