New FAO database eyes gender gap in land rights

Information on how men and women differ in access to land

17 February 2010, Rome - A new database launched by FAO puts the spotlight on one of the major stumbling blocks to rural development - widespread inequalities between men and women in their access to land.

The Gender and Land Rights Database, produced in consultation with national statistics authorities, universities, civil society organizations and other sources worldwide, offers up-to-date information on how men and women in 78 countries differ in their legal rights and access to land.

In most of the world, women lag well behind men in ownership of agricultural land and access to income from land, even though women are major producers of food crops and play crucial roles in providing and caring for their households.

"Disparity in land access is one of the major causes for social and economic inequalities between males and females in rural areas. It jeopardizes food security at the household and community levels, and has an impact on national food security and development. It is vital information for policy makers. But until now, finding information on this phenomenon in one place has been difficult to come by," Marcela Villarreal, Director, FAO Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division said as the new database was placed online.

The new information tool, available to anyone with access to the Internet, provides policymakers and other users with a better picture of the major social, economic, political and cultural factors which affect access to land and enforcement of women's land rights.

The database covers both national and customary laws governing land use; property rights and inheritance; international treaties and conventions; land tenure and related institutions; civil society organizations that work on land issues, and other related statistics.

By searching country profiles, users can find out the answers to specific questions on topics like the total number of land holders, the total number of women land holders and the number of rural households headed by women. They can also call up comparisons on a given topic between two or more countries.

"Decision-makers at all levels now have, on the one hand, a comprehensive source of information on the more relevant factors affecting the equality of land rights in their countries and, on the other hand, the possibility to make comparisons between trends and situations in their own and other countries," FAO Gender and Development Research Officer Zoraida Garcia said.

"They can then use this information to tailor their own decisions and strategies, but also to have a clearer idea of the possible impacts which those strategies might have on the real economic empowerment of women, and on the well-being of rural communities," she added.

"FAO had so many requests on a regular basis from member states and others in the international community who wanted to understand how gender disparities affected and were impacted by the land tenure situation. That's why we developed this tool, to help provide a comprehensive view of the issue," Garcia explained.

It was a positive sign that countries recognized gender and land rights as a "core issue" on the development agenda, Garcia added.

Customary norms, religious beliefs and social practices that influence gender-differentiated land rights:
  • Traditional authorities and customary institutions
  • Inheritance/succession de facto practices
  • Discrepancies/gaps between statutory and customary laws.

Theory versus practice

One of the key patterns seen in the database, said Garcia, is the great gulf between formal rights and practice. In many cases, national constitutions acknowledge men and women have equal rights to land, but the day-to-day reality is very different. Often, those rights are jeopardized by conflicting laws or long-standing traditional and institutional practices which assign land titles and inheritance to males or the man's side of the family.

As it grows, the Gender and Land Rights Database will incorporate suggestions from users and feedback on how specific information has been used in national dialogues on land use, gender and agricultural and rural development.

Photo: ©FAO/Alessandra Benedetti
Gender equality in access to land can boost food security.