Land and Property Rights

Securing and strengthening women’s land tenure and property rights as well as improving land and resource governance can provide a powerful pathway to improved wellbeing, livelihoods, and resilience.

Sector Overview

Globally, women are often the primary laborers and users of land, yet their rights to land and resources such as forests, livestock, and trees are often not recognized, and women’s rights to property, such as housing, moveable property, or inventories, may likewise not be recognized. This is despite that rural women’s equal rights to own, manage, use, and dispose of land are recognized by international human rights law. When these rights are secure, the results include higher economic gains, improved access to markets, new entrepreneurial opportunities, increased empowerment to make household decisions, more efficient and sustainable land use, increased agricultural investment and production, and improved food security. In some contexts, women’s secure and documented ownership of land may also improve their access to credit or to commercial supply chains.

Women’s secure access to and use and ownership of land and property is particularly important in cases of divorce and widowhood to support children and prevent loss of housing and land. When inheritance or family laws and gender norms create barriers to women and girls securely owning marital or family property, they are vulnerable to forcible displacement, GBV, and land-grabbing from in-laws and others. Research also shows that the next generation of women experience larger benefits from gender-equitable inheritance rules. Given the continued relevance of customary governance systems in many areas where USAID works, it is important to engage with traditional leaders and their communities to affect change related to women's land rights.


Women, Land Rights, and Food Production

Women’s secure rights to land are essential for food production and sustainable, more stable livelihoods. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization reports that “[f]ewer than 15 percent of agricultural landholders around the world are women and 85 percent are men. The largest gender inequalities in access to land are found in North Africa and the Near East, where only around 5 percent of all landholders are women.” More recent research on the topic of women’s land ownership finds significant differences in levels of ownership. These range from a reported low of 2 percent in the Middle East and North Africa to a high of 54 percent in three countries: Burundi, Cambodia, and Rwanda.

Globally, land rights are often dependent on natal and marital affiliations. At least 60 percent of countries still discriminate against daughters’ rights to inherit land and non-land assets in either law or practice. The resulting insecurity undermines economic and social benefits, as land rights provide economic access to key markets and social access to non-market institutions, such as household and community-level governance. Land rights can support women’s economic independence and bargaining power and reduce vulnerabilities to harmful behaviors, such as transactional sex.

Promising Approaches

  1. Support efforts to draft and adopt gender-equitable land and natural resource laws and policies and develop gender-responsive guidelines and methodologies to implement them.
  2. Strengthen women’s participation in land and natural resource governance institutions and in spaces where land-related decisions are made.
  3. Work with the private sector to support women’s land rights and bring more women landholders into supply chains.
  4. Take steps to mitigate potential backlash, including GBV, associated with shifting power dynamics as women gain more influence and resources.
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