Can Women’s Land Rights Combat Climate Change?

Suggestive Links Between Gender Equity and Sustainability

LANDESA: One of the world's top think tanks on land rights and policy in the Global South
LANDESA: One of the world’s top think tanks on land rights and policy in the Global South

I suppose that the holy grail of environmentalism, and environmental scholarship, is integrating equity concerns with global priorities. The environmental justice movement has sought to do this, sometimes with success and sometimes less so.

Now Jennifer Duncan of Landesa, one of the most innovative think tanks focusing on land rights and the Global South, thinks that drawing a new connection is necessary:

Securing women’s rights to land is one approach that can offer a range of benefits tied to both climate change and socio-economic development. This approach can be particularly effective in developing countries, whose rural populations tend to depend on land, forests, and agriculture for their livelihoods, where women make up the majority of agricultural labor, and where women’s land rights are the most insecure. Since the agriculture, forestry, and other land use (AFOLU) sector produces roughly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, the confluence of land, women and sustainable development—and how nations manage that confluence—has critical implications for climate change.

Research suggests that secure land tenure leads to a greater sense of ownership over land, better prevention of soil erosion, and increased likelihood of afforestation (tree planting) which is an important method of creating emissions-mitigating carbon sinks, and which can also provide immediate benefits to rural women who depend on ecosystem health to continue successfully farming, gathering firewood, and accessing potable water.

As I read this, here is how the causal chain goes:

  1. Climate change is severely and significantly exacerbated by bad land use and forestry practices;
  2. Bad land use and forestry practices derive from insecure land tenure and property rights;
  3. Insecure land tenure and property rights derive at least in part from the fact that so many of the users of land are women; thus
  4. Improving land rights for women will improve the security of tenure, which will improve land use and forestry practices, which will mitigate climate change.

It’s a nice argument, and theoretically makes some sense. But that’s a causal chain with several steps, and I wonder if there is leakage there. Improving gender equity and women’s land rights makes sense on its own terms, but if priorities are to be set well, we need to know a little more about whether we are getting bang for the buck. Certainly this seems like an area that could use a real investment in research — for example, seeing if we can find a relationship between women’s land rights and emissions. Moreover, we should also find out which way the causation runs — I could easily see more progressive countries, which are more proactive on climate policy anyway, also establishing greater land rights for women. An enterprising graduate student — or even some professors — should move ahead on this.

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Reader Comments

3 Replies to “Can Women’s Land Rights Combat Climate Change?”

  1. While I fully support better land rights for women, I agree the logic may be flawed. While land use change is certainly the story in much of the tropical emissions, those emissions are driven less by small farmers than by large land owners in the big emitting countries such as Brazil and the “greater Amazonian countries” Indonesia and Congo, most of whom have strong or at least defensible land rights. So the rights=less deforestation is a bit fatuous. This by the way is not an argument against stronger land rights for small holders, but the question also has to be raised about the complexity of many kinds of other land access regimes. There are communal lands and other non private systems, and they cover a lot of terrain and access to many kinds of resources. Does this author assume that prized individual holdings are the only way to go? Again the dynamics of clearing, where it occurs, tenurial regimes, even things like migration dynamics affect this a lot. So it seems a bit simplistic to make this argument ( I am not sure its premises would hold in a lot of Amazonia for example) but that is not the same as being strongly in favor of women’s land rights.

    1. Susanna, one absolute fact of life we must all agree with is that men are totally responsible for our failures to protect the environment and quality of life throughout the world.

      Until we achieve worldwide equal rights for women, especially including positions of leadership in all social, political and economic institutions, we do not stand a chance of controlling our environment ever again.

      We can make a great beginning toward recovery by electing Hillary as POTUS and returning control of the House and Senate to the democratic party.

  2. Dear Jonathan,

    It’s encouraging to see that while you may not be convinced of the full causal change, you note that it could use a real investment in research – definitely a worthwhile area have more evidence on and some donors, including USAID are investing in rigorous impact evaluations to do exactly that.

    You might find this “Women, Land and Food” panel discussion from last October of interest: http://www.usaidlandtenure.net/video/panel-discussion-women-land-food – Landesa’s CEO and USAID’s Gender Coordinator provide additional details to the connection between women and land, and Lauren Persha fills in the details on the evidence base, both as it currently exists and ongoing research.

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Loc…

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