Land Rights and Sustainability
A recent report by Rights and Resources and presented at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples argues that recognizing the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples living in tropical areas must include securing their rights to their land and thus, to their livelihood, and that this would not only help indigenous peoples economically, but would also help to maintain the forests. As the report states, “Secure local land rights are increasingly recognized as a low-cost strategy to reduce forest carbon emissions; a means to reduce financial risk to investments and secure a sustainable supply of commodities; and a basic human right of the people whose lives and livelihoods rely on local resources.”
Vulnerable Populations and Property Rights
An interesting story from the Asia Foundation discusses various property rights issues that have emerged in Asia. They write that there are key areas that are impacted when land tenure is insecure: “displaced women in conflict and post-conflict countries, urban land tenure for youth, and innovative technologies improving land tenure for vulnerable populations.” This echoes both the report mentioned above written by Rights and Resources and another I had blogged about published by the Open Society Institute a few months ago. Taken all together, there is an emerging consensus among advocates worldwide that property rights matter to a stable and healthy society in part because they protect some of the most vulnerable people in a society.
Yes indeed, here’s my obsession again: The Washington Post had a fascinating story this weekend about volcanologists — no, they are not people who study Vulcans. They study volcanoes… Sometimes, this involves running and finding cover as hot ash and red-hot rocks fly at them. Sometimes they get to stand back in awe and just watch. No matter what, they have interesting jobs. The story is great and covers some of the current volcanic activity and includes some beautiful and dramatic photos.
The Open Society Institute released a brief titled “Securing Women’s Land and Property Rights: A Critical Step to Address HIV, Violence and Food Security.” The brief examines the way in which women’s property and land rights can enable women to have greater autonomy, greater control over their relationships, and improve their ability to provide food for themselves and their families. It summarizes the work of several organizations on this very important issue, and then provides some recommendations. Please read it, even if you’re not particularly concerned with the fate of women in other countries. Autonomy, economic empowerment and ownership matter everywhere.
In many parts of the world, women have fewer rights of ownership than men, are subjected to discriminatory attitudes and practices, and even if they have declared rights, securing them can be difficult if not impossible. Since land resources are highly contested in many places, large-scale land acquisitions often removes women farmers from their land. Citing several reports, the brief points out that women who are unable to maintain their autonomy through ownership are economically disempowered. These women are also at greater risk for HIV, AIDS, and abusive relationships. Intimate partner violence is an important part of this story. Being able to own land provides women with the ability to control their own housing and food, while also allowing them to maintain independence from their husbands and fathers. Taken together, property and land ownership can not only allow women to avoid situations in which they may be subjected to violence and put them at risk of contracting HIV or AIDS, it also provides them with a greater ability to cope with disease and violence when it does occur.
In many ways we should not be surprised that economic empowerment is tied to ownership and property, and that health and food security are connected to both. But what is important here is to recognize that ownership is not an option for women in many places in the world. And in some places, the idea of women owning much of anything (let alone enough land to grow food for both their families and to sell for profit) is a radical concept. We sometimes take it for granted in the US, but we should not. Even here there are places where ownership is difficult for women, and women farmers face many obstacles in the form of discriminatory practices and local customs in their communities that make it difficult for them to farm successfully. But if we take seriously the idea that autonomy and the ability to decide for yourself what you want to do is fundamental to humanity, then it is also important to understand that one of the most basic rights we can grant people to help themselves is the ability to own land and produce food from it. Along with the right, however, has to come the practices that allow women to exercise ownership. That can be difficult all over the world.