International Women’s Day 2021: Women’s Right to Land Means Sustainable Livelihoods

Women’s rights to secure land and forest tenure, access to natural resources and the rights to sustainably manage and benefit from them are areas that have received a lot of attention over the past 20 years.   While there has been significant progress around raising awareness and increasing tenure security for women and vulnerable members of the community in various countries, there remain many issues that remain sensitive and difficult to address. 

A mother and her babies in Vietnam. Photo: Thinh Hoang Hai

Among these, women remain under-represented in key institutions and public consultations, limiting their ability to raise their concerns and help to craft more equitable policies and outcomes. Further, while efforts have been made throughout the Mekong region to ensure that women’s names are included alongside their husband’s on land titles and farming contracts, many women remain excluded. This puts them in jeopardy when their husbands leave to find off-farm work, or in cases of divorce. Even if we are able to secure more equitable inclusion of women’s names on these formal documents, vast land and forest areas across the region are managed by local customs, often without documentation or adequate protection. Local communities struggle to defend their claims when threatened by the counter-claims of investors or state agencies. This puts women particularly at risk, because these areas are vital to their livelihoods and a safety net when income is low, as we are seeing during the COVID-period. 

“In Cambodia, women are often more knowledgeable about customary tenure than men, as women are using land while men are focusing on making income to support the family” said Sophorn Poch, National Facilitator on Customary Tenure, speaking during MRLG’s regional training programme on gender and land governance.

The gendered aspects of land tenure remain sensitive and complex topics; there is no standard formula applicable to different contexts.  MRLG is working with our alliances in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam to develop transformative actions to address gender inequality. As we roll out these actions across in the region in the coming year, we will keep learning, improving and documenting our lessons learned, sharing these and working together with others to help to create a more equitable world for women and girls. This International Women’s Day, we salute the women and girls who have struggled for equality and fight to protect their land for the benefit of their families, their communities, and future generations.

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