It takes more than a law to ensure equal land rights for women

Fri Apr 15, 2016 11:32am EDT
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By Astrid Zweynert

OXFORD, England (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Laws giving men and women equal rights to land are not enough to ensure equality if they are not accompanied by efforts to empower and educate women, said the head of an organization working to put the power of the law into people's hands.

In more than half of all countries, laws or customs hinder women's ownership or access to land, undermining development and the fight against poverty, studies have shown.

"Our starting point is the law … but it has to be an approach in which you can take the power of the law and put it in the hands of people," said Vivek Maru, chief executive of Namati, which trains and deploys grassroots legal advocates to work with disadvantaged communities.

Maru, who spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation before being awarded the $1.25 million Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship at a conference in Oxford, cited Myanmar as an example where women are at risk of being left behind even though a new land law does not discriminate against them.

Land ownership is a complex issue in the Southeast Asian country as it emerges from decades of military rule. Fighting between ethnic insurgents and the army, which flared up in Kachin state in the north after a ceasefire fractured, has weakened communities' rights and driven more than 100,000 civilians from their homes.

Many worry whether they will still be able to access their farmland when peace returns and have accused the army of seizing swathes of land.

Fresh land disputes were fueled by the semi-civilian government of former President Thein Sein whose liberalization policies drove up land prices and attracted foreign and domestic investment, according to analysts.

Women in Myanmar have benefited far less from land registration efforts - 80 percent of more than 2,000 applications came from men, Namati said in a report published this month.   Continued...