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Women’s land tenure a critical pillar for climate action, COP26 delegates say

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(L) Jyotsna (Jo) Puri, associate vice-president of the Strategy and Knowledge Department at International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and Harold Liversage, lead technical specialist in land tenure for IFAD, participate in a panel discussion at COP26. CIFOR-ICRAF/Julie Mollins

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Worldwide, fewer than 15 percent of  landholders are women, a disparity that has significant consequences for the general status and wellbeing of women, children and their communities, hindering efforts to build resilience to climate change, said delegates during a panel discussion at the U.N. COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Secure land tenure rights encourage sustainable land management, which makes efforts to tackle and adapt to climate change more effective, but they are also important for women’s social and economic empowerment, said Harold Liversage, lead technical specialist in land tenure for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and moderator of the side-event session, which was produced jointly with the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the Alliance for Bioversity and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture(CIAT).

“Land tenure also means that responsibilities and benefits associated with climate-change response programs are more equitably distributed,” he said.

By providing a greater incentive for farmers to invest in their land, yields can increase, reducing the need to clear additional land, said Joao Montalvao, a development economist at the World Bank’s Africa Gender Innovation Lab.

“When farmers are afraid of losing their land, they over farm to guard their lands against potential expropriation,” he added. “A farmer that expects to farm their land for a longer period of time might be more willing to adopt sustainable agricultural practices.”

Montalvao conducted impact evaluations of research on land registration programs in sub-Saharan Africa where land rights are often governed by customary tenure systems, which tend to favor men. One demonstrated that participating farmers invested in soil conservation measures. Another associated tenure security improvements with higher levels of tree planting and greater cultivation of perennial crops. Yet another showed a reduction in forest loss by about 20 percent. Some households shifted to non-farm economic activities and women’s profits from operating business increased.

“The studies show that strengthening land rights can have a positive impact on the environment — especially so among women,” Montalvao said. “An important policy question is whether we can tweak these land registration programs to further increase women’s land rights.”

A possible solution is to ensure that women participate in the decision-making process, so that they can affect land titling and take up decisions in a way that better reflects their preferences. Another approach is to work directly with men, educating them so they see the benefits as well.

“It’s not OK to deny what are customary traditions in a lot of communities,” said Jyotsna (Jo) Puri, associate vice-president of the Strategy and Knowledge Department at IFAD. “What is important is that we need to build capacities and change norms in terms of land and property rights — with respect to women’s rights.”

IFAD uses three indicators to measure whether gender transformational empowerment has occurred, including access to land and income; agency and leadership; and equal burden of work.

Working with the government of Netherlands and partners, IFAD is helping women gain land rights in Bangladesh. Vulnerable to floods and erosion, investments into raised roads, embankments, drainage canals and forest plantations have helped to protect fisheries, crop cultivation and cattle rearing.

Following surveys and legal hearings, 11,000 families received land titles, giving them a sense of ownership and a strong incentive to increase their own investments into the land. This number is projected to grow to 28,000.

Yet, by 2050, 35 million people in coastal areas of Bangladesh are projected to be at risk from rising sea levels. The government plans to replicate the program in other coastal areas to help families secure land and build sustainable livelihoods.

The project has adopted gender concepts that ensure participation of both sexes in all the activities, said Sherina Tabassum, a country director for IFAD.

“Men tend to migrate in search of employment, and women often end up having to make the farming decisions,” she said, adding that although women often have not been trained, they end up managing the farm, practicing incorrect agricultural methods.

Becoming legal owners of the land allotted to them has enhanced their status and put them on a more equal footing. “The results are really, really staggering,” Tabassum said.

The vast majority – 84 percent – said they feel their status in the household has improved significantly, 94 percent feel much more secure in the community and 68 percent feel that their household decision making power has greatly improved due to the land titles that have been secured for them through the project, Tabassum said.

Through a social legal analysis, Emily Gallagher, a rural development specialist with the CIFOR-ICRAF Value Chains, Finance and Investment team, is working on an initiative to increase recognition of women’s resource rights in seven countries, ultimately generating recommendations for IFAD’s global portfolio and strategy.

“Forest-dependent communities and historically excluded groups like Indigenous people and pastoralists, landless women and women with insecure rights are made more vulnerable by climate change yet more risk averse, making it very difficult to engage them as climate champions,” said Gallagher, an author on a new policy brief titled “Enhancing Women’s Resource Rights for Improving Resilience to Climate Change.”

Gallagher characterized tenure systems over time — formal, customary interventions and individual, joint, collective — and gender-specific reforms recognizing land and resource rights.

“Through this initiative, we recognize that securing rights to land in decision-making power over land and productive resources is fundamental to achieving real development outcomes — resource rights are an essential precondition for women to mitigate against climate shocks and to proactively respond to climate change,” she said.

“Transformative change that is inclusive of women must address legal, structural and social cultural barriers to affect change in everyday and normative accepted practices.”

Land tenure security is a fundamental human right, said Esther Mwaura-Muiru, global leader for the Women land Rights Portfolio at the International Land Coalition.

“Securing women’s land rights is important if we’re committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” she said, referring to the 2030 U.N. development framework designed to address 17 key causes of poverty and inequality.

This work was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) led by the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). This work was conducted under the Global Women Resource Rights Initiative led by CIFOR-ICRAF together with The Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT and IFPRI with the support of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

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For more information on this topic, please contact Iliana Monterroso at i.monterroso@cgiar.org.
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