Dryland Forestry

Drought is a global crisis highlighting women's rights to land and prosperity: Three of our WeCaN members explain more…


Did you know that even though almost half of the global agricultural workforce is female, less than one in five landholders worldwide are women?

Women play a crucial role in land stewardship and water management but in many countries, they lack control over land, resources and decision-making processes. Women own less than 20 percent of the world's land due to unequal property rights. Women’s rights to inherit husband’s property continues to be denied in over 100 countries under customary, religious, or traditional laws and practices, and these same customs often prevent women from accessing finance. Eighty percent of women-owned businesses with credit needs are either unserved or underserved, largely because they lack collateral. This lack of influence means women are often unable to gain access to decision-making spaces, share their experiences or influence change.

However, women often bear the brunt of climate change’s consequences. For example, globally women spend a collective 200 million hours every day collecting water. That’s 200 million hours that women could be spending in education, growing their careers or providing for their families. Women are disproportionately affected by climatic changes, but do not have the access, rights and platforms to provoke change and engage in policy decisions. That’s why the theme of this year's International Day Against Desertification and Drought is "Her land. Her rights," emphasizing that empowering women with equal access to land and its associated assets is not only important for the future of gender equality, but also for the creation of sustainably managed, climate-resilient landscapes.

During WeCaN’s first Global Gathering, we spoke to three of our WeCaN members who are working to improve equality in land rights to find out a bit more about why this topic is so important.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the situation on land rights for women in your countries: Zambia, Brazil and Palestine? 

Mailes Zulu, CEO of the Save People Environment Agency (SEPA) in Zambia: Zambia has good land policy which favours women. By law, 50 percent of available land for alienation is allocated to women and 20 per cent to youths[1],  unfortunately, many women do not know about this law. Since Zambia has two types of land tenure, customary and state land, traditional leaders who administer customary land do not want women to own it. They often claim that if women own land, it will cause families to be divided. 

Fernanda Monteiro, researcher at São Paulo University in Brazil: Until the 2000s, there was no obligation for joint titling of land ownership in Brazil. Since 2003, there are legal instruments to guarantee the rights of women also as owners of the land where they live and work. However, in practice, even now less than 20 percent of land titles are held by women.

Tamador Akel, project coordinator at the Agricultural Development Association (PARC) in Palestine: Inheritance laws do grant women the right to inherit from their parents, but...for fear of deceiving their family and loosing fraternal protection, few women claim their inheritance and most chose to abandon their shares to their brothers. For the few women willing to claim their shares, they face lengthy, complicated legal procedures and expensive court fees. As a result, it is currently estimated that less than 10 percent of agricultural holdings in the West Bank are owned by women. As a direct consequence of their lack of assets, Palestinian women do not possess the collateral required to borrow money from a bank and start a business. 

Q: In your opinion, why do we need to strengthen land rights for women – and how can it be done in your country?

Mailes: We need more sensitization on women’s land rights so that women know their rights and can actively claim their lands. This can be complemented by increased advocacy targeting traditional leaders, encouraging them to support women’s and rights and give women land where possible. There is also a need to help traditional leaders with customary land administration, so that the land they give to women is secured with certificates. Women also need resources to develop their land, because when women have no resources, they sell their land to men.

Fernanda: Women must be empowered and participate in property decision-making to access land title rights. The Regional Commission of Local Communities (Codecex) in the Espinhaço mountain range of Brazil is working on developing the formal titles of community lands and guaranteeing women's rights in this process. To this end, it seeks to train women and keep them active in the decision-making process. 

Tamador: We need to work with policy makers and advocates for a broader conceptualization of land rights and access to productive resources in order to ensure that women enjoy their rights in practice. We also need to build women’s economic empowerment by providing women with effective and gender-responsive access to agricultural inputs; developing programs that promote women’s employment opportunities and access to credit; and raise awareness on inheritance renunciation and educate women and men about the negative impact of this practice.

Q: What is being done to work on this issue?

Mailes: My organisation, SEPA, has been advocating for women’s land rights in the extractive industries to both traditional leaders and state leaders, including local government. Many women we work with have been inspired claim their rights and they have been given land, and those who had put their land in their husbands’ names are now going back to the council to reverse their decisions.

Fernanda: In my area of Brazil, we have seen that women are now participating in community meetings and meeting with the government bodies directly responsible for land titling to guarantee their rights as titleholders. 

Tamador: PARC has many programs for women empowerment and the promotion of women’s property rights, including capacity building programs, yearly campaigns about women rights in ownership and property through media, social media, participating of governmental bodies, and legal support and consultation.

Women’s land rights are essential for achieving the interconnected global goals on gender equality and land degradation neutrality by 2030.  WeCaN’s Theory of Change believes that if women are able to fully and meaningfully participate in decision-making processes and attain roles with adequate and ample power, they will have more incentive to take part and invest in integrated landscape sustainable management, as well as other adaptation and mitigation efforts linked to climate change. To implement this, WeCaN will shortly be launching its advocacy strategy, setting out a path for action over the next few years.

It's time for women and girls to be at the forefront of global land restoration and drought resilience efforts – and that starts with ensuring Her Rights to Her Land.


© FAO/Sumy Sadurni

  1. Republic of Zambia, National Lands Policy, May 2021