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Today, IGAD joins the rest of the world to commemorate the International Human Rights Day. Globally, the Human Rights Day is commemorated on the 10th December in 1948 – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted it,. This day also marks the end of the annually commemorated 16 Days of Activism which starts on the 25th November every year. For this year, the International Human Rights Day is celebrated under the theme: “Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All”.

In pursuit of Justice for all, most of the IGAD interventions are geared towards the promotion and protection of Women’s Rights on different fronts through its Gender Mainstreaming Strategy, and Programme specific gender related strategies. In particular, under the Land Governance Programme, IGAD Sectoral Ministries on Gender and Land endorsed the IGAD Women’s Land Rights in 2021, in a bid to respond to the existing gender inequalities which ultimately lead to violation of women’s Land Rights.

Women’s equal rights to land and property are grounded in the core human rights instruments such as: the Universal Decration on Human Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

To further emphasise the need to achieve equality in the enjoyment of land and property rights, instruments like the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, and the World Conference on Women’s Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action have been adapted.

To demonstrate its dedication to upholding human rights, the majority of these International Human Rights frameworks have been ratified by IGAD member coutries. In addition, the global goals set by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognise women’s land rights as an explicit cross-cutting catalyst to ending poverty (Goal 1); seeking to achieve food security and improved nutrition (Goal 2); and achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment (Goal 5). The roadmap to sustainable urban development is laid out in The New Urban Agenda (2016), which also provides a path for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that emphasise the need of secure land tenure for women as a means of empowering them.

Despite the progressive legal frameworks, women own less land and have less secure rights over land than men. Women make up on average less than 20 percent of the world’s landholders, but make up an estimated 43 percent of the agricultural labour force. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, 60 to 70 percent of employed women work in agriculture. Yet despite women’s crucial role in agriculture, food production, and land-based livelihood, there is no consistent national or global data on the full scope of women’s land rights or access to land to enable them to monitor and enforce their rights.

Gender discrimination in access, control, and ownership of land remains a serious impediment to socio-economic development. Women often face discrimination in formal, informal and customary systems of land tenure. As inheritance is the primary mode of transferring land and is primarily practiced according to custom, sons are much more likely than daughters to have rights to land in many African contexts including in the IGAD region. More so, when land values increase as a result of external investments, women get marginalised in the process, and risk losing their land benefits.  Women’s de facto access to and control over land is hampered by a lack of enforcement of existing laws and a lack of legal security systems to protect women from land grabs and customary law, traditional and social practices, norms, and power structures within communities and households. It’s important to appreciate that women are not a homogenous group: women in informal settlements and slums, indigenous women, the disabled, elderly and widows and refugees, those living with HIV are among the various categories of women whose land rights are disproportionately affected.

For the past three years, the IGAD Land Governance Programme has invested in exposing land related injustices that women suffer through documentaries and production of a Coffee Table book on the multi verse of women on Land. Additionally, a number of materials connected to gender and land have been produced to help land actors address the current gender disparities. These have been further operationalised through undertaking trainings on Gender mainstreaming in the Land sector, Gender responsive and conflict sensitive alternative dispute resolution mechanisms; and development of Gender sensitive land indicators.

Member states have already started the process of generating baseline information in line with the IGAD Land Monitoring Framework and will biennially produce status reports with Gender and sex disaggregated data.

In accordance with the IGAD Women’s Land Rights Agenda 2021–2030, the Programme is still committed to enhancing multi-stakeholder procedures and enhancing member states’ capacities to implement the agenda’s 10 priority programme areas:

  • Improving the policy and legal environment for gender equality on land in the IGAD Member States;
  • Addressing culture, religion, and customary practices that hinder women’s realisation of their full potential on land;
  • Reshaping urbanisation towards inclusive, resilient, and sustainable cities in the IGAD region;
  • Strengthening inclusion in large-scale, land-based investments;
  • Enhancing capacity and coordination of land institutions and actors on gender mainstreaming;
  • Enhancing public awareness/information and communication on women’s land rights;
  • Building women’s leadership and participation in land governance;
  • Enhancing youth participation in land governance;
  • Strengthening women’s rights in communal and community land (i.e., commons such as pastures, forests, fisheries, and the blue economy); and
  • Generating data on land disaggregated by Gender.

The IGAD Regional Women’s Land Rights Agenda is of unprecedented scope and significance, and is a framework for women’s land rights programme. Therefore IGAD calls upon member states, civil society organisations, the academia, research institutions and development partners to jointly work together in implementing the Agenda.

IGAD acknowledges that stronger women’s rights to land and productive assets are linked to enhanced status, improved living conditions, better nutrition and food sovereignty, improved health and education outcomes, higher earning and individual savings, and better access to credit, as well as better protection from Gender Based Violence. The time has come to close the gender gap in property and land ownership, which has been exacerbated by discriminatory land tenure systems, gender-blind land policies, lack of coordination among initiatives led by women, and traditional and social practices, norms, and power structures in communities and households.

Together we can make a big difference!

By Joselyn Bigirwa
Gender and Land Expert
Land Governance Programme
Agriculture and Environment Division-IGAD


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