28.10.2013

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Why do you care about women’s land rights? Isn’t it enough for the household to have land?“ This question is a common refrain Agnes Quisumbing, researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute, IFPRI, hears from many corners of the developing world, but most disturbingly from policymakers and government officials.

The answer, why secure land rights are so important, are threefold, as extensive research has shown:

Less poverty, less vulnerability

First, secure land rights reduce poverty and vulnerability. Having rights to land reduces the chance a family will fall into poverty because secure land often means a secure food source. It is also an important form of collateral. It is important for a woman to have her own land rights just in case her marriage dissolves, whether through divorce or widowhood. In many societies, women’s land rights are derived through their male relatives, whether through their fathers or husbands. A husband’s death or divorce often results in a woman’s loss of access to land, leaving her and her children vulnerable.    
During the 2007–2008 global food price crisis, women household heads in Ethiopia reported more than men that their assets, household income, and consumption had fallen due to high food prices. Because female-headed households are also poorer and cannot meet their families’ food needs for a greater number of months than male heads, they coped by cutting back on the number of meals they provided their households during good months and by eating food that they would normally not eat, such as food gathered in the wild.   
We also found that households who owned larger amounts of land, as well as more high-quality land, were more protected against high food prices. Strengthening women’s ability to own and control land, particularly land of high quality, would therefore be key to protect the rural poor from food price shocks.

Incentive for sustainable management

Second, secure land rights also increase women’s incentives to manage that land more sustainably by planting trees and adopting more sustainable farming techniques.

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