Arab NGO Network for Development
Monthly Newsletter

August   2015

A new development model is key for ensuring women’s housing, land and property rights


Niemat Kuku - Gender Center for Research and Training-Sudan


Bihter Moschini - Arab NGO Network for Development



From 26 to 28 August, women from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Arab region came together for an international strategy meeting organized by the ESCR-Net Working Group on Women. The meeting entitled “Advancing Women’s ESCR: Alternative Visions of development, land and property(HLP) rights” aimed at identifying common challenges for the realization of women’s HLP rights,  evaluating the existing the human rights framework, principally the CEDAW and ICESCR and explore the strategies that women use in various HLP related advocacy steps in order to advance and enhance the full enjoyment of these rights by women and finally bring together a joint agenda to enhance the progressive approaches to HLP with a gender analysis and collective actions.


HLP rights are well enshrined in international human rights law; including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, that most of the Arab states are party to. While the genuine implementation of these obligations and actual measures at national level lack, further reservations on the Conventions, in relation to respect to religious norms or customary norms embedded in national personal and family codes  create restrictions. The gender and land rights database of FAO reveals that for instance in Egypt, although no laws restrict women’s ownership and inheritance of land and livestock or access to credit, women almost never own the land they work on; in Morocco, and Tunisia women ownership of lands is minimal and reduced to very small lands due to remaining inequality between men and women in the context of obtaining credit for the purchase of agricultural land. Indeed, the banks place the conditions that rural women often cannot fulfill, including the requirement to have at least 10 percent of the value of land in the transaction. In Lebanon, the absence of fair compensation upon divorce remain as a challenge in the full enjoyment of property rights. During the meeting, including experiences shared from South Africa on customary norms, gender based violence in Bulgaria, efforts of Via Campesina against land-grabbing, indigenous women’s struggles in South America the participants identified several common challenges faced: lack of legislative framework, access to justice/remedies in case of violations, market based and growth-led economic policies, “development” projects on natural resources with negative impacts on livelihoods,  conflicts/wars, militarization...etc. Another important factor identified within the analysis was the absence of the substantive equality approach when it comes to issues related to housing, land and access to resources. While the participants shared their experiences and related advocacy work in relation to these challenges, the strategy meeting pointed out the clear need to complement the advocacy efforts done at national level, where the state is the main duty bearer of this right, towards building a global movement and advocacy on the issue through adopting a sustainable development model.


The development model that has long been implemented, based on trade liberalization, attraction of foreign direct investment, privatization, aiming at achieving economic growth without effective  and fair redistribution mechanisms and social protection measures exacerbated economic and social imbalances faced. Social justice was lost where the role of state was diminished. Women remained in a disadvantaged position than men facing these challenges, including their land rights through impacts of land privatization, land-grabbing, mega-development projects’ impacts on natural resources and as well due to rentier economic policies with loss of productive sectors including agriculture-a strategic sector for women’s employment.


Acknowledging these challenges for women, the new development agenda to be adopted in September 2015 includes Goals addressing women’s HLP rights namely Goal 1, 2 and 5:

Goal 1.4 By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the  vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance

Goal 2.3 By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment

Goal 2.4 By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality


Goal 5.a Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national law


Participants highlighted as well the importance of SDG 16, namely “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” as lack of equal access to justice for all and in relation lack of remedies and compensation exacerbate the consequences faced by women when their HLP rights are violated. Indeed, Goal 16 is key with its focus on illicit financial flows, reducing corruption  and ensuring transparency and public access to information. In addition, as noted by the participants peace is a precursor to development and occupation, wars, prevent individuals from enjoying their legal  rights to full sovereignty over their land, to control its natural  resources and develop sustainable livelihoods.


Nevertheless, the inclusion of these goals within the SDGs framework is not enough as the inequitable economic system and impacts deriving from this system on women’s HLP rights won’t be addressed, unless the financing for these goals implementation provides alternative solutions as well. Unfortunately financing for development agenda gave an extensive role to private finance in development, without binding commitments necessary to hold businesses accountable against international standards of human, labor as well as environmental rights. Commitments towards a priori and a posterior human rights and sustainable impact assessments of all trade and investment agreements lack, as well as addressing the  investor-state dispute settlement clauses shrinking impacts to states’ policy space.


Given this, the discussions during the strategy meeting, highlighted the need for inclusive dialogue starting at national level in design and implementation of the national development plans , accordingly to consult with local communities (both women and men); especially for those that envisage private sector engagement, and the need to conduct a comprehensive assessment of potential social and economic impacts of  land acquisition with its gender impacts. In response, genuine implementation of the current regulatory framework was highlighted including the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. The guidelines emphasize the importance of local consultation and protection of local tenure rights (12) and gender equality as a key principle underpinning the guidelines (3B). In addition, the strategy meeting emphasized current efforts towards a legally binding instrument for business and human rights and its importance towards ensuring accountability to transnational corporations. It was affirmed by the participants that while the SDGs framework will be used to hold governments account and strengthen participatory democracy, the process towards the Treaty should be explored as well, especially by women’s groups to ensure that the outcome ensures that corporations do not escape responsibility to safeguard women’s HLP rights, especially given their role in the decision-making processes about exploitation of natural resources. Within a holistic approach , as HLP rights interconnect with the right to food, energy, water, self-determination among others, the role private sector play, especially in terms of PPPs should also be understood and civil society engagement should ensure accountability for related violations with respect to these rights as well.


On the way ahead, civil society groups in the Arab region should also monitor and engage with the UN Habitat III Conference that will take place in Quito, Ecuador, from 17 – 20 October, 2016. This conference will be the first implementing conference of the post 2015 agenda and will provide an occasion to call for the implementation of a transformative agenda to advance women’s HLP rights.


The representatives from ANND will take an initiative to  localize the main indicators , highlight the strategic directions and develop a road map to address the HLP rights in relation to the context in the Arab region which is passing  many challenges and obstacles, particularly the unclear policy frameworks and absent of political will. Women rights to HLP will remain the main factor that hinders women equal access to and control over resources as the main productive means and more attention should be paid to it as the central strategic pillar to facilitate women’s full enjoyment of human rights and achieve the substantive equality in the region.

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