Regional Dialogue | Asia-Pacific trails other regions in women’s access to land

11 Jun 2014

imageResearchers at the dialogue linked women's ownership of land to stronger family welfare and lower domestic violence. UNDP Photo.

 

Asia-Pacific continues to trail other regions in terms of women’s ownership of land, and progressive legal reforms have largely failed to change land-ownership structures, widening the gap between policies and ground realities, said experts at a land rights dialogue in Bangkok this week.

Researchers and activists from 17 countries called for stronger regional cooperation in breaking down social and cultural barriers to women’s access to land at the two-day meet titled Increasing Women’s Access to Justice in the Asia-Pacific: Programming on Women’s Access to Land and Property.

Studies have shown that in Asia only 10.7 per cent of women own land compared to the global average of 20 per cent and 18.6 per cent in Africa.

When women have access to land in agrarian societies, the impacts are felt on a range of social indicators from poverty reduction to better child survival rates, reduction in the incidence of domestic violence and increased agricultural output, according to Dr Bina Agarwal of the University of Manchester.  

“Women can gain access to land through three main sources: through family – primarily through inheritance, through governments – where they transfer land in anti-poverty and other programmes, and thirdly through the market – through purchases. There are obstacles in all three cases,” said Dr Agarwal, who was a keynote speaker at the conference.

While family inheritance laws have a traditional male bias, governments typically transfer land to male heads of households – “assuming everyone will gain – which is not the case” – and since women have fewer financial resources, they lack an equal ability to purchase land, she explained.

“In the region and many parts of the world, women’s rights to land and property are systematically denied, and laws – despite improvements and reforms – often give women fewer or less secure rights than men,” said Caitlin Wiesen, who heads UNDP’s Asia-Pacific Regional Centre.

UNDP’s Strategic Plan 2014 – 2017 is geared towards a “significant reduction of inequalities and exclusion” with women's human rights and access to justice set to strongly feature its programmes for the region. 

“Grassroots organisations in many countries where gender inequalities are the most stark are doing impressive work in overcoming legal and social barriers to women’s access to land,” said Jan Peterson, who has spent 30 years in community development and now chairs the US-based Huairou Commission. “A lot can be achieved if international actors assist that work.”

Organised by UNDP’s Asia-Pacific Regional Centre, in partnership with UNWomen, the dialogue sought to map the key and emerging issues in this area of work, in consultation with experts and practitioners from the region. The discussions at the dialogue will inform UNDP’s work in access to justice in Asia and the Pacific.