CSD-women - Position Paper on Land Management
by Diana Lee-Smith & Catalina Trujillo & Dr. Sylvie Lacroux
This paper on CSD-women - Position Paper on Land
Management is made by Diana Lee-Smith, Gender Unit, UNCHS(Habitat),
Catalina Trujillo, Women and Habitat Programme, UNCHS(Habitat) and Dr.
Sylvie Lacroux, Land Management Programme, UNCHS (Habitat) in
consultation with the Huairou Commission 25th October 1999
Dr. Sylvie LacrouxTel. + 254 2 623 108
Ag. Coordinator Land and Tenure Unit
PO Box 30030
Fax + 254 2 624 265
PO Box 30030
Fax + 254 2 624 265
Women and Habitat Programme
PO Box 30030
Fax + 254 2 624 265
15 May 2000
CSD-women - Position Paper on Land
The situation of women and
land – problems identified
Women’s access to, control and management of land are crucial
aspects of sustainable development. Land as a resource has dimensions
of ecological diversity, productivity for human sustenance and wealth
creation in the economy. Women’s and men’s relation to land have
historically differed. Changes in the world economy have led to gender
inequities in the way land is controlled and managed in a human rights
In pastoralist and peasant societies, men and women have used land
in production systems that meet their subsistence needs for food.
Peasant agricultural production is in transition to cash crop
production in most parts of the world. This process has been ongoing
for centuries but is gathering speed with globalization. Women more
than men have been responsible for gathering water, fuel and other
wild and forest materials from the land not under direct production of
crops and livestock. Such land has often been converted to state or
public control, while land in direct production of crops and livestock
is increasingly converted to private control.
In most parts of the world, patrilineal inheritance customs have
led to land in private control being in the hands of men and not
women. It was established at the time of the Beijing Conference that
less than one percent of the world’s property is owned by women.
Historically in subsistence production systems, land was not formally
owned, but use rights were vested in men and women who produced food
for their kin. With formal ownership and especially titling of land,
the predominant pattern of men controlling the allocation of land and
this right being passed from father to son led to the current
In the current world economy, with globalization and the spread of
the money economy to the remotest communities, women are disadvantaged
because land becomes capital. Women’s lack of equal property rights
with men is a major cause of the feminization of poverty. Men inherit
land free whereas women in general do not. In many places, women may
be allowed to buy land but in some cases they cannot even do that
without offending custom. In such cases, women may obtain land as
collectives or women’s groups.
UNCHS (Habitat)’s work on women’s access and rights to land and
housing shows that women are disadvantaged in societies where male
inheritance customs are strong. This becomes especially severe in
situations of conflict and reconstruction. In such situations, the
position of widows and single women may be extremely serious. Without
husbands, even a majority of women survivors may be unable to have
their own place to live and be condemned to life in refugee camps.
They cannot return to their parents’ land, and they may not inherit
their husbands’ land. Such is the situation identified in Rwanda and
Burundi in the mid-nineties for example.
Women, like men, need land as a home – a secure place to live.
They also need land as a means of livelihood – whether for food
production or other type of workplace. Finally, and especially in a
globalizing money economy, they need land as a form of wealth or
The Kigali Plan of Action of 1998 (see below) made a global
recommendation as follows: "Women should have adequate and secure
rights to property. These rights must be equal to those of men, and a
woman should not be dependent upon a man in order to secure or enjoy
those rights". Without such a right, women may be evicted from
their homes as widows or single mothers, especially in cases of land
shortage. This particular form of insecurity of tenure for women is
separate and in addition to what they experience as members of
families whose housing lacks secure tenure and who are therefore
subject to eviction. In cases of forced mass evictions of communities
from informal settlements, women and children are most affected as
they spend more time in the home and neighbourhood.
Also because they more often carry out their income generating work
in or near the home, women need land as a form of livelihood. This may
be space in the house for productive work or small scale business, or
similar space within the residential neighbourhood. Or, it may be land
for food production. This is the case in rural and resettlement areas
in post conflict situations for example, but it is also true for women
in urban areas. Urban agriculture is mostly carried out by women,
especially those in households with incomes too low to provide
Because of their relationship with the products of uncultivated
land in traditional management systems, women have lost access to
those resources as land is alienated for other uses in modern
economies. Both the land and the women suffer. The land may be eroded
and its productivity decline, while the women lose subsistence
resources and status. The grassroots women’s environmental movements
linked to forest preservation are a symptom of this. These include the
Chipko movement of India and the Greenbelt movement in Africa for
Since they own so little of the world’s property, women lack the
numerous benefits that come with ownership and control of immoveable
property. Land as a form of capital, especially when it is inherited
free and without other types of investment of labour or resources, can
bring wealth in various ways. Land may contain wealth in the form of
rocks and minerals as well as soils and trees. It provides space for
animal and other production systems as well as crops. Its productive
capacity is not limitless but has enormous potential for wealth
generation. Those who control this asset have status and influence
apart from cash income they can generate.
Further, land title deeds are the main form of security used to
secure loans and credit. Without such pieces of paper, women find it
harder to get loans, which is why they have resorted to other means of
obtaining credit, and why numerous initiatives have to be designed to
enable them to do so. These include all forms of micro-finance, women’s
banking, revolving funds, merry-go-rounds, and so on. Women form
organizations not only to obtain credit but also to obtain land as
corporate bodies. Women need credit, but the amount and form in which
they need it must be deconstructed and understood in the context of
their lack of basic property rights as individuals.
Having presented the situation, this paper advocates women’s and
men’s equal rights to secure tenure of land, based on ongoing
initiatives in the women’s movement and in UNCHS (Habitat).
Ongoing initiatives and
The international pressure for women’s equal rights to land
originated with a number of grassroots meetings, particularly in
Africa, supported particularly in the Women and Shelter Network of
Habitat International Coalition. During the preparations for the
Beijing Conference in 1995, four global women’s networks formed a
"Super-Coalition on Women, Homes and Community" to lobby on
women’s issues of homes and housing.
Two significant events occurred in Beijing. First, the
"inheritance clause", introduced by the Super Coalition and
publicized by effective campaigning, was hotly debated and became a
major item in the Platform For Action. It was eventually passed in a
watered-down form but nevertheless provides an effective base for
local and national action. Paragraph 61 (b) of the Platform For Action
states that Governments should:
"Undertake legislative and administrative reforms to give
women full and equal access to economic resources, including the
right to inheritance and to ownership of land and other property,
credit, natural resources and appropriate technologies"
Second, the Huairou Commission was formed, combining the grassroots
women’s networks in a single body with influential women
decision-makers, researchers and other professionals.
UNCHS (Habitat) has undertaken a number of activities including
research and action in the area of promoting women’s access to and
control of property. An international meeting was organized by Habitat
in 1995 in Gavle, Sweden, on Women’s Access, Control and Tenure of
Land and Property, while women’s land rights were highlighted in the
New Delhi Declaration which followed in 1996.
During the Habitat II Conference in Istanbul in 1996, the same
Super Coalition of women’s networks held workshops and events which
led to the adoption of women’s rights to inheritance, ownership and
control of property in the Habitat Agenda. Among the numerous
references in the Habitat Agenda, paragraph 40 (b) asserts the
commitment of participating states to:
"Providing legal security of tenure and equal access to
land to all people, including women and those living in poverty;
and undertaking legal and administrative reforms to give women
full and equal access to economic resources, including the right
to inheritance and to ownership of land and other property,
credit, natural resources and appropriate technologies."
Since then, members of the networks continue to use these clauses
and other international instruments to lobby for their local
programmes. The Women and Shelter Network has also worked with its
parent NGO Coalition, Habitat International Coalition (HIC) and the
United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) on issues of
women’s housing rights.
The UN Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the
Protection of Minorities passed two resolutions, in 1997 and 1998, on
Women and the Right to Adequate Housing and to Land and Property.
However, these are not yet widely known or used at local level to
bring about positive change.
A Women For Peace Network was set up at the Habitat II NGO Forum in
Istanbul in 1996, and campaigned on women’s rights to land as a
priority issue. The network joined the Huairou Commission and also
combined forces with UN agencies, especially UNCHS (Habitat). The
joint meeting organized by four UN agencies, UNCHS (Habitat), UNIFEM,
UNHCR and UNDP in 1998 on Women’s Land and Property Rights in
Situations of Conflict and Reconstruction, in Rwanda in 1998 focused
more international attention on women’s land rights.
In 1999, UNCHS (Habitat) began a process of internal reorganization
and priority setting, with a focus on setting international norms and
standards in two key areas: Secure Tenure and Urban Governance.
International Campaigns are being planned on these topics, and women’s
security of tenure is being highlighted as part of the Secure Tenure
Campaign. The campaign is planned to be implemented in collaboration
with partners, specifically the Huairou Commission and its constituent
network, Habitat International Coalition Women and Shelter Network.
Recommendations for Policy
Women’s movements and public agencies need to further coordinate
their efforts in campaigning for women’s equal rights to land. All
of these ongoing activities need to be linked with CSD activities, and
synergies built up between partners.
CSD Women’s Caucus and other International and UN Processes:
- The issue of women’s equal right to land and property should
be addressed in the outcome of the CSD.
- Women’s environmental and human settlements movements should
combine their efforts. This is already initiated in that WEDO is a
member of the Super Coalition and the Huairou Commission, along
with human settlements coalitions like HIC, GROOTS and ICW.
Continuous contact and combined lobbying needs to be sustained,
with a broader base in debate and action in international women’s
- UN agencies need to link with NGO and CBO partners. Issues that
affect grassroots women in countries that are transforming
economically with globalization need to be brought to
international attention. The effect on women of this economic
transformation, including urbanization, is a neglected aspect of
- The Secure Tenure Campaign of UNCHS (Habitat) is one such model
of partnership. It proposes to work through the grassroots women’s
movements and international networks. The Secure Tenure Campaign
can also work with the CSD process through the CSD Women’s
UN agencies, governments, NGOs and other stakeholders
- The activities of grassroots and community-based organizations (CBOs)
aimed at improving women’s land and property rights should be
supported and promoted.
- Governments and NGOs should collaborate in building support
networks for grassroots women on equal land rights.
- Both women and men should be involved in the grassroots
campaigns on equal gender rights, to overcome historical
inequities through a reflective social process.
- Information activities on these rights should be organized and
supported. These are needed at national level but also in cities,
towns and villages where women do not experience the rights in
- Grassroots exchanges within and between regions on issues of
women and secure tenure should be organized and supported
- Best practices of women’s equal access to and control of land
and property should be collected and disseminated.
- The training of paralegal advisers on women’s land rights
should be supported and extended, based on current best practices.
- National and regional workshops on women’s equal access to and
control of land and property should be supported as part of the
Beijing +5 and Istanbul +5 processes.
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Dr. Sylvie Lacroux
Ag. Coordinator Land and Tenure Unit
Women and Habitat Programme
15 May 2000