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Land ownership still lagging for women in Western Balkans

Joint FAO-World Bank project aims to enable change through data-gathering, education

Photo: ©FAO
Female farmers harvesting wheat. Banovici, near Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina
15 May 2014, Budapest - Even in countries where clear legal protections for women's ownership of land and property exist, local customs often continue to work against equality for female farmers, according to new data released this week by FAO and the World Bank.

In many regions, men fail  to jointly register their wives on property deeds. This can lead to a woman losing her rights over the agricultural land on which she works following her husband's death. Long-held customs and traditions often work against the interests of a younger generation of women as well, with fathers favoring sons, rather than daughters, when it comes to property inheritance.

These issues are being widely debated in the Western Balkans.

During an FAO-World Bank Land and Gender Conference taking places this week in Durres, Albania, various stakeholders have come together to discuss concerns about low levels of female land ownership in Albania, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

Participants from across the region have already been working together to address these issues within the FAO-World Bank Land and Gender project.

The first phase of the project generated  gender-disaggregated reports from land administration systems to illustrate the low levels of female ownership, by country, province and municipality. The findings clearly illustrate that female property ownership is low throughout the Western Balkans, with rural areas performing particularly poorly.

The second phase of the project assisted participants in designing 11-monthl work plans for their countries and to bring together key players - senior government officials, land agency staff, notaries, municipalities - to devise concrete approaches to boost female property ownership.

Success stories

In Kosovo, with national levels of female ownership at around 15 percent, efforts have targeted associations of notaries, requesting that they always informing clients coming to them to register land and property about the importance of co-registering their wives or female heirs. In the town of Shtime, the Gender Officer of the Shtime Municipality and his wife set a public example of the importance of joint land registration by asking journalists to accompany them as they registered joint ownership of their property, and inviting other city residents to do the same.

In February and March 2014, the mayor of Shtime temporarily waived the registration fee as an incentive to couples to register women jointly on property deeds. The response was overwhelming, with a 21% spike in property registrations for women in the municipality. This was followed up by advocacy campaigns, television debates on the issue, and plans to replicate the campaign in five other communities.

In FYR Macedonia, land ownership averages 16 percent for women

One community, Aerodrom, has piloted activities to reverse this tendency, concentrating on the economic empowerment of women, and encouraging parents to divide property equally among their male and female children. The municipality was selected for its relatively young population - a suburb attracting young people and couples commuting to the capital of Skopje- and its strong involvement in gender issues.

The municipality involved a wide range of stakeholders to create policies that are gender sensitive. To help influence traditional customs about female land ownership, the gender team first met with local policy makers, before embarking on targeted campaigns, producing educational and promotional materials,  and holding town halls. The activities have concentrated on the positive impact of property ownership and land, in terms of economic independence and improved social status of women with property ownership. Gender equality open days were held, putting citizens in contact with notaries, Ministers, local councilmen, and gender officers who explained the benefits and practicalities of female property ownership.

Female property ownership in the municipality is far above the national average, currently at 30. percent, but the goal is to keep increasing that figure closer to true gender equality of 50%.

A first step, taken together

Despite differences in language, culture, and traditions, the western Balkan countries taking part in the project have worked together to analyze the data and find solutions to challenges to female land ownership in their countries.

The initial phase of the project is only a first step to ensuring that legal land ownership rights protected by national laws are exercised by well-informed men and women in the region.

2014 marks the second anniversary of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, which addresses these issues and more.