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women's land rights

Why strengthening land rights strengthens development

Mahmoud Mohieldin's picture
Also available in: Français | Español | العربية
Aerial view of the landscape around Halimun Salak National Park, West Java, Indonesia.
© Kate Evans/CIFOR

This blog post was originally published on Project Syndicate.

Today, only 30% of the world’s population has legally registered rights to their land and home, with the poor and politically marginalized especially likely to suffer from insecure land tenure. Unless this changes, the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals will be impossible to achieve.

For most of the world’s poor and vulnerable people, secure property rights, including land tenure, are a rarely accessible luxury. Unless this changes, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be impossible to achieve.

Land tenure determines who can use land, for how long, and under what conditions. Tenure arrangements may be based both on official laws and policies, and on informal customs. If those arrangements are secure, users of land have an incentive not just to implement best practices for their use of it (paying attention to, say, environmental impacts), but also to invest more.

To close the gap in women’s land rights, we need to do a better job of measuring it

M. Mercedes Stickler's picture
Also available in: Français
A woman holding her land certificate in rural Zambia. © Jeremy Green
A woman holding her land certificate in rural Zambia. © Jeremy Green

There is broad global agreement that secure property rights help eradicate poverty and that securing women’s land rights reduces gender inequality. But our understanding remains strikingly limited when it comes to the extent to which women’s land rights are – or are not – secure and the impact of women’s tenure security (or lack thereof) on women’s empowerment.

This is true even in Africa, where the most studies have been published, due to shortcomings in both the quality and quantity of research on these questions.

Let’s work together to make land rights for women a reality

Victoria Stanley's picture
Video: Land ownership for women prevents fears of uncertainty


Around the world, rural women are a major provider of food and food security. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations argues that improving women’s access to productive resources (such as land) could increase agricultural output by as much as 2.5% to 4%. At the same time, women would produce 20-30% more food, and their families would enjoy better health, nutrition, and education.

But women in rural areas often face both formal and informal barriers to accessing and owning land. Today, only 30% of land rights are registered or recorded worldwide, and women are the least secure in their access to land rights, with major gaps existing between law and practice in many developing countries.

Advancing women’s land and resource rights

Renée Giovarelli's picture
Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT)
Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT)
Development practitioners know secure land rights for women are important for the well-being of rural families, whether a woman is head of her household or lives in a household headed by a man. We know the research shows that women’s land rights are associated with family improvements, such as:
  • Increases in food expenditures
  • Children less likely to be severely underweight
  • Improvements in child educational achievements
  • Increases in share of expenditures devoted to healthcare
 

How joint land titles help women’s economic empowerment: the case of Vietnam

Wael Zakout's picture
Photo credit: CIAT/Flickr
Vietnam is my first love working for the World Bank. It is the first country I worked in when I joined the Bank back in 1994.
 
At the time, the country was still opening up to the outside world, and the Bank had just set up a small office there. I recently returned to Vietnam after 15 years, this time as the Bank’s Global Lead for Land. I saw a completely different country: while the old city charm is still there, Hanoi has transformed to the point that it is really difficult to recognize… as if I had landed in Japan, China, or any other Southeast Asian country.
 
The airport used to be one gate; now, it is a modern airport not much different from any airport in Western Europe or the United States. I remember that, when I worked in Vietnam in the mid-90s, GDP per capita was averaging US$200, and around 50% of people lived in extreme poverty. Today, GDP per capita has soared to about US$2000, while extreme poverty has dropped to around 3% according to the US$1.9/day extreme poverty line... An impressive achievement in less than 20 years.
 
My trip to Vietnam had the goal of helping the government modernize and automate the land administration system. In the early 90s, the country launched an ambitious reform program to transform the land use model from communal farming to individual household ownership by breaking up the communal land structure and distributing land to individual households. This reform was then credited with changing Vietnam from a net importer of rice to one of the largest rice exporters in the world in only a few years.
 
In accordance with the Land Law of 1993, the first Land Use Certificates (LUCs) issued under the program were in the name of the “head of household”, i.e. in the name of men only. Later on, the Vietnamese government, with support from the World Bank, strove to change things around by issuing LUCs bearing both the wife’s and the husband’s names.