From the outset, the development of agriculture has been strongly associated with women's endeavour. In fact, women's contribution to agriculture goes back to the origins of farming and the domestication of animals when the first human settlements were established more than 6 000 years ago. Over the years, the division of responsibilities and labour within households and communities tended to place farming and nutrition-related tasks under women's domain. Nowadays, in many societies women continue to be mainly responsible for family food security and nutrition. Nevertheless, the institutional framework and policy environment have not necessarily evolved to respond to the goals of human and social reproduction; on the contrary, they have been subordinated to financial and profit-making goals.
Gender, together with other social and economic factors, determines the individual's and group's access to and control over resources. Cultural norms and social practices, as well as socio-economic factors, are among the main obstacles women face in this regard. In practice, although most national legal codes have explicitly incorporated legal provisions acknowledging gender equality in relation to access and ownership of land and other productive resources, it has been noted that women's rights to own resources on equal conditions to those of men are repeatedly disregarded or overlooked.
Most initiatives to enhance women's land rights within the past three decades have mainly focused on legal reforms. The right-based approach to development adopted by different international fora for the advancement of women pays special attention to the importance of women's rights to own land and other property. Legal reforms undertaken in this regard have increasingly strengthened the recognition of women's equal rights through independent entitlements to natural resources; however, these reforms still need to be bond to more complex institutional and cultural issues that prevent the enforcement of those legal dispositions in many countries.
Globally, the limited cadastral information available and empirical evidence on land ownership reveal that the number of women registered as agricultural landowners in most countries is extremely low, in both developed and developing countries.
Gender and Development Service
Gender and Population Division
Sustainable Development Department