Voluntary guidelines on land: A milestone in the movement for gender equality
Granting secure land rights to vulnerable farmers enables them to pursue income-earning activities, access credit, increase agricultural production and raise their overall living conditions. These key factors help to strengthen men and women’s bargaining power and their ability to make decisions on how their land can be used.
On 11 May 2012 the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. The Guidelines outline principles and practices that Governments can adopt, when designing land-related strategies, to ensure equitable tenure rights for both women and men. They were developed through an extensive consultation process, started by FAO in 2009, which brought together members of governments, civil society organizations, nonprofits organizations, farmers' associations and the private sector.
Granting secure land rights to vulnerable farmers enables them to pursue income-earning activities, access credit, increase agricultural production and raise their overall living conditions. These key factors help to strengthen men and women’s bargaining power and, consequently, their ability to make decisions on how their land can be used.
Martha Osorio, FAO Gender and Rural Development Officer, explains why the adoption of the Guidelines represents an important achievement for women’s rights and for the realization of the right to food, particularly for marginalized groups.
Why is it important to promote gender equality and women’s land, fisheries and forests tenure rights?
Rural women play a crucial role in agriculture and in the management of natural resources. They are involved in both crop and livestock production at subsistence and commercial levels. They produce food and cash crops and manage different and complex agricultural systems, often managing crops, livestock and fish farming. In many regions, rural women are also highly knowledgeable on traditional agricultural and conservation practices, and on crop diversity.
Recent figures show that globally women represent about 20 percent of landholders. Compared to men, female farmers in all regions also control less livestock, make far less use of improved seed varieties and purchased inputs, such as fertilizers. To promote food security and responsible governance of natural resources, the Guidelines needed to take into consideration men and women’s different access and use of agricultural inputs and resources; and push to include women in all land-related processes. Particular emphasis was given to national and local institutions concerned with administering land tenure and natural resources.
How are women’s and gender issues addressed in the Guidelines?
The process of consultation and negotiation that preceded the adoption of the Voluntary Guidelines demonstrated a great commitment to gender issues by the members and participants of the CFS, and also by the large number of practitioners and civil society members who were part of the process since the beginning.
The Guidelines are unique because they represent the first global land tenure agreement, and they adopt a sustainable development model that directly responds to the needs of rural families and communities. Within this framework, gender equality is identified in the document as one of the 10 principles for the implementation of responsible tenure governance.
In other words, the Guidelines underline that gender equality is at the core of all processes and aspects of tenure governance, including policy formulation, service provisioning, and access to legal systems and information. They also make special provisions to improve gender equality in both formal and customary systems, for instance, through amending discriminatory inheritance and property laws.
From the onset, we worked actively to mainstream gender equality issues throughout the document. We believe that if the voluntary guidelines are implemented following the main principles outlined, men and women, through greater participation in land-related institutions and processes, will have greater and equitable access to land.
What are some of the key issues that the Guidelines address in relation to gender equality and women’s empowerment?
Women’s issues and perspectives are well articulated in the Guidelines. The Guidelines call upon Governments to fully remove inequalities in the law: both in property, family and succession laws, as well as in national agrarian laws.
Among other issues, the guidelines address women's poor access to legal advice and representation; the occurrence of arbitrary evictions from their land; the need to safeguard the rights of women who hold subsidiary tenure rights, such as gathering rights. The guidelines also look at introducing legal reforms that strengthen women’s land rights, even when these come into contrast with customary tenure systems.
What are some of the key recommendations put forward to promote and protect women's empowerment and gender equality?
One of the key recommendations from the Voluntary Guidelines is for Governments to acknowledge the different roles, needs, challenges and priorities women and men have and to take specific measures to accelerate gender equality.
This includes, for example, removing and prohibiting all forms of discrimination related to tenure rights, including those resulting from change of marital status, lack of legal capacity, and lack of access to economic resources.
The Guidelines also actively encourage States to provide assistance and services that take into account women's needs and constraints; guarantee that land redistribution reforms provide equal access to land for men and women; and monitor the different impact public and private sector strategies have on male and female farmers, so that they benefit equally.
- Read here for more information on the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security