Securing land rights for women are critical for their upliftment

Shobha Shukla, CNS Columnist
The threat of being evicted from ones home is a scary thought for anyone, more so for a woman. The fear of being ousted from her home forces her to live in an unsafe environment behind closed doors rather in the absence of a safe place that is rightfully her own. The Indian tradition of a daughter being ‘paraya dhan’ (her husband’s property) smacks of a patriarchal setup that implies denial of property rights to her. A land or a house which a woman owns legally is an asset which gives her the confidence and courage to fight life’s odds.

The importance of securing rights to land and other productive resources to women (and not just men) was discussed during a lively consultation on ‘Nationalizing Sustainable Development Goals’ post 2015, organized in Delhi by several organizations such as Third World Network, PAIRVI, Beyond Copenhagen, Cecoedecon, Family Planning Association of India, International Planned Parenthood Federation, CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness, South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy, IBON International, and LANDESA. Research has shown a reduction in gender inequality in social, political and economic arenas when women have secure rights to land.

According to Kavitha Kuruganti, of ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture), food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture are inexplicably linked with control over resources—more so of land--which should be in the hands of women. She shared her personal experiences of women farmers in Telangana and Maharashtra—“In my visits to these states, I have discovered that in many villages since the past 5-6 years, ownership of land by women has started happening. Men are happily transferring their land in the name of their spouse, albeit for opportunistic reasons—to have access to the sprinkler scheme that is available only to smallholders or marginal farmers. So land ownership is unconsciously moving in the hands of women in certain pockets of the country, (even though for wrong reasons), and having an empowering positive effect.”

In Kavitha’s opinion sustainable farm livelihoods and sustainable agriculture practices can be made possible through small landholders, especially women landholders, as the largest number of women workers is concentrated in agriculture. This will not only empower them but also help in combating hunger, malnourishment and poverty.

Anisa Draboo of LANDESA lamented that though 80% of rural women are engaged in agriculture only less than 10% own some land. She was, however, happy that in the post 2015 development agenda, land ownership has got a foothold in 4 out of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). The component of land ownership by women was missing altogether in the Millennium Development Goals.

It is not just about women’s access to land but their right to have secure access and control and legal rights over land. But very often women are not even aware of the favourable laws even when they exist, let alone break cultural taboos to exercise them. To achieve this, sensitization of implementing agencies is also very important. Anisa spoke from personal experience about the patriarchal attitude of the personnel of Revenue Department. They generally discourage women from fighting for their legal rights (of land ownership) in the name of maintaining family unity. Even though issues of women’s right to property and land are gaining momentum, deeply entrenched patriarchal notions still act as stumbling blocks.

Govind Kelkar, a senior advisor to LANDESA, also agreed that SDGs have better indicators for gender equality, violence against women, and land and property rights. According to her land ownership is closely linked with violence against women. She referred to a study done two years ago in Haryana (a state infamous for violence against women) that revealed that women who owned land were in a better position to resist domestic violence. They became empowered enough to threaten their menfolk-- ‘if you raise your voice or hand, I will walk out with my piece of land’.

Govind lamented that people are still hesitant to look into land and property rights of women. She said that, “We talk of joint and collective rights but we are not addressing individual rights of women. It is their individual right to land and it should not be subsumed as a part of family or community right. It has long been acknowledged that joint land pattas have not worked for women. They need exclusive ownership or partitional rights. A woman should have right to land if she cultivates it. If women have ownership of land and are given the same type of inputs as men, agricultural productivity increases and this in turn decreases nutrition based hunger.”

There are numerous examples from developing nations which show that strengthening rights to land for women can improve food security and reduce poverty. In Nepal, children in households with plots owned by women were half as likely to be under weight; in Vietnam households with plots solely under name of a woman spent more on food and less on tobacco and alcohol; rural Ghana households, where women owned land, spent more on food; in Ethiopia families of women who inherited land were less likely to be food insecure. Studies have also revealed that strengthening land rights have reduced poverty in Tanzania, Indonesia and Peru. Land ownership also empowers women and reduces gender inequality as has been documented in Nepal, Karnataka (India), and Peru. Such women were more likely to make decisions concerning themselves and their families.

Entitlement to land, house and livestock is as much the men’s concern as it is the women’s. Ill-treatment of women in their homes and communities is a shame on everyone, including menfolk. Sensitization of communities (which tend to be very patriarchal) towards women’s empowerment and gender equality is important.

While providing the foundation to  build an equitable and just society, land ownership enhances women’s rights to self determination and supports their well being as well as of their families and communities. In order to not fade into oblivion, culture and the so-called traditions will have to evolve and change with time and accept gender equality (which includes having equal rights to land and property, among other things) as an integral part of development.

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service (CNS)
25 August 2014
(The author is the Managing Editor of Citizen News Service - CNS. She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA and received her editing training in Singapore. She has earlier worked with State Planning Institute, UP and taught physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. She also co-authored and edited publications on gender justice, childhood TB, childhood pneumonia, Hepatitis C Virus and HIV, and MDR-TB. Email:, website: