The path to gender parity: beyond the board room
For rural women in developing countries, improving corporate culture is a lower priority than increased access to, and ownership of the resources of production, particularly land.
To move toward gender parity, we need information on women’s current land rights. For years, advocates of women’s land rights relied on the highly publicized fact that women only own 1 or 2 percent of the world’s land. This unsubstantiated statistical claim was supported with documented cases of where women had no land rights or where the rights that they did have were systematically violated.
Nationally representative data sets with information on women’s land rights – ownership, management and decision-making over land – are beginning to provide the much needed baseline to allow us to understand the impacts of policies and structural transformation on women’s property rights. The data is still limited to a relatively small number of countries, and in most cases is only self-reported land rights rather than documented or officially recognized rights, but it is a start. Women’s land rights are included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and thus, there will be increasing pressure on governments to collect such data.
The many dimensions of women’s land rights
Even as we want measures of women’s land rights that can be compared across countries and across time, we are aware of the complexity of these rights. To understand land rights with respect to agricultural productivity and rural livelihoods, we need to better understand two dimensions, in particular, of women’s land rights.
First, there are a bundle of relevant land rights. We often consider the rights to access, control and own land. While there are no standard definitions, access usually involves the right to farm a piece of land and obtain at least some of the produce. Control encompasses more rights, including the rights to make decisions about what is grown and often to make improvements on the land. Finally, ownership is the most comprehensive bundle of rights, usually defined to include the right to transfer the land through lease, sales, or bequest.
Second, the security of these rights is also key. There is strong evidence that secure tenure is associated with higher levels of investment and productivity in agriculture. Not all reported land rights are necessarily secure. But these analyses have been done at the household level, rather than considering the tenure of individuals, particularly men and women, to the land. Women often face an additional layer of tenure insecurity when their household, kin or community does not recognize their land rights.
Thus, quantifying land rights is a challenge. Yet, if we ignore these dimensions of land rights, including the rights of individuals within farming households, we are likely to miss some of the factors that will not only affect technology choices but also agricultural outcomes.
For agricultural researchers investigating the varied dimensions of women’s land rights, the “who” is equally, if not more important than the ‘what’ and the ‘why.’ Who decides how the revenue is allocated? This begs the question - are a woman’s rights to access the land therefore dependent upon her relationship with her husband?