Women in half of the countries in the world are unable to assert equal land and property rights
despite legal protections, warned members of a new global campaign dubbed ‘Stand For Her
The new campaign aims to close the current persistent gap between law and practice worldwide
so that millions of women can realize these rights in their daily lives.
The main partners in the Stand for Her campaign include Habitat for Humanity, Huairou
Commission, Landesa, Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) and the World Bank.
Around the world, land serves as a foundation for security, shelter, income, and livelihoods. But
rights to land are not equitably distributed to everyone. This is especially true for women. In fact,
women still encounter persistent barriers to their land rights, despite laws and policies that
enshrine those rights in more than half the countries in the world.
“For men and women alike, the land is the foundation for security, shelter, and livelihood,
supports women’s dignity and creates pathways to empowerment and economic opportunity. For
women, it truly is a gateway right and without it, efforts to improve the basic rights and well-
being of all women will continue to be hampered,” said Karol Boudreaux, Chief Program Officer
with the land rights group, Landesa.
According to Anna Wellenstein, Director, Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice,
World Bank, secure land rights are essential for women’s economic empowerment and creating
incentives for investment, providing an asset that can be leveraged for agriculture or business
development, and offering a solid foundation for financial stability.
“Improving women’s access to – and control over – economic resources also has a positive effect
on a range of development goals, including poverty reduction and economic growth. We are
committed to working with partners to close the gap and make land rights for women a reality
globally,” said Anna Wellenstein.
Persistent discriminatory social norms and practices are among the strongest barriers standing
between women and their land and property rights. Weak implementation of policies, insufficient
capacity to enforce laws, and a lack of political will further compound the problem. And poor
access to legal services and a lack of understanding of laws within communities and households,
and by women themselves, build an invisible but near impenetrable wall to women realizing land
and property rights in rural and urban areas alike.
With so much at stake, there is growing recognition – and a growing movement – to strengthen
women’s land rights around the world. The ‘Stand For Her Land’ campaign aims to be a driving
force behind this movement by catalyzing a consolidated push across settings and cultures –
urban, rural, customary, and indigenous – to narrow the gap between law and practice towards
secure women’s land.
The main objective of the campaign is to drive real change on the ground – consolidating local
and national efforts by civil society groups, grassroots organizations, advocates and allies across
Experts report that women in Africa contribute 70 percent of food production. They also account
for nearly half of all farm labor, and 80–90 percent of food processing, storage, and transport, as
well as hoeing and weeding. Yet they often lack rights to land.
Land rights tend to be held by men or kinship groups controlled by men, and women have access
mainly through a male relative, usually a father or husband. Even then, women are routinely
obliged to hand over the proceeds of any farm sales to a male and have little say over how those
earnings are used.
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In Kenya, less than seven percent of women are registered landowners compared with about 30
percent of men according to a UN report making Kenya the lowest in the East African
community as per a 2014 analysis.
About 28 percent of Kenyan women jointly own land with men through processes such as
marriage. “Despite the introduction of laws on gender equality into property and inheritance
laws, a significant gender gap continues to exist in access to land,” UNCTAD said.
Article 40 of the Kenyan Constitution, that took effect in August 2010, gives women equal rights
to land ownership as men. Women also automatically become joint landowners with their
spouses upon marriage under Article 45(3).
Many women do not know that the constitution promises to eliminate gender discrimination in
law, customs, and practices related to property, leaving thousands at risk of homelessness.
Land ownership in Kenya is usually vested in fathers who customarily pass it on to their sons,
making it hard for women to secure rights except through their husbands.
The World Bank estimates that women run more than three-quarters of Kenya’s farms. But
culture often takes precedence over the law, with men owning and controlling most of the land.
Harmonizing inconsistencies across and within these systems and practices in favor of women’s
land rights are critical for strengthening the social and legal legitimacy of land.