5-6 JUNE 2018 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

My community, my land, my rights!

The Land Rights Now campaign for secure indigenous and community lands and how to ensure equal land rights for women

Lab debate
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
14:00 to 15:15

The session discusses evidence of challenges and opportunities to secure women’s land rights within indigenous and local communities that enjoy collective rights to natural resources. It will do so by connecting research and action. Special focus will be given to the Land Rights Now campaign, a major international alliance campaign aiming at securing indigenous and community land rights. Claims for community land rights based on traditional norms may appear to be contradictory to equal rights for women – yet indigenous women are the forefront of grassroots movements for land rights, because of their strong and deep connection with their land and profound knowledge of nature. Experiences from the ground demonstrate the relevance of community land rights for women and their crucial role in claiming and defending such rights. The gathers different voices to discuss how these seemingly conflicting claims can converge. It would also discuss how research can improve influencing and campaigning.

Key points

  • Women’s right to land should be secured as a guarantee for food security.

  • Existing discriminatory practices must be identified and norms remodelled in a gender-sensitive fashion.

  • Customary practices may perpetuate gender injustice and discriminatory norms

  • Corruption linked to formalised land registries form a major challenge to women’s land ownership.


When customary norms limit women’s participation in decision-making over the right to the use of land, those norms should evolve. Women risk being left without a voice if they do not possess rights to their land. Currently, more work is done by indigenous groups to secure women’s formal rights to their land.


In general, customary norms limit women’s participation in decision-making over their land as women tend to have lesser representation in communities that apply customary systems to land management. As a result, women face a struggle, but that also applies to systems where public land registers have been introduced.


In fact, the allocation of land titles can form an even bigger obstacle to women as the granting of titles opens up competition that involves coercive practices and extortion. The latter can take the form of sexual abuse, affecting women almost exclusively. Research indicates that every second African has had to pay bribes in connection with land-registry procedures. And this applies both to customary systems involving traditional community leaders receiving bribes as well as public administration officials requesting bribes. Land grabs and forced evictions are big problems, as even the threat thereof is a cause of insecurity that affects food production.


It seems that granting land titles is not the way to build women’s legal rights to their land. Instead, a wider approach could be helpful, whereby women’s participation in traditional administration should be recognised as legally valid. Customary norms could be rejuvenated by raising awareness in local communities and by bargaining for the right to land between families and within a collective.


Paradoxically, land-rights recognition based on individual land rights causes a lot of problems for women, as the registration often is allocated to men only. Formalised landownership then becomes a way of disempowering women. Hence strengthened communitarianism, whereby the community decides collectively over the use of land, tends to give women a better position, though special attention must be paid to women’s land rights.


Women should fight for the benefits of land use. In indigenous communities, women are often custodians and stewards both of land and other resources, which guarantees a livelihood for future generations as well as greater biodiversity. Collective land rights seem to provide more food security and knowledge transfer between generations. In that regard, indigenous people form more resilient communities.


Both individual land titles and systems based on collective rights should be geared to granting women land rights. Community-based land rights should expressly include women to ensure individual land use within the collective. Women are crucial for the longevity of farms; men tend to have greater opportunities for livelihood elsewhere, whereas food security is assured by women staying on the land.

Organised by


Imke Greven
Land Rights Policy Advisor
Oxfam Novib
Elisabetta Cangelosi
International Land Coalition
Annette Jaitner
Land Programme Lead
Transparency International
Joan Carling
Indigenous Peoples Major Group