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land rights

Closing the gap between policy and practice on women’s land rights

Chris Jochnick's picture
Momentum is building behind a land rights revolution. Last year, just prior to the World Bank’s Annual Land and Poverty Conference, I wrote about the many factors pushing land to the top of the global agenda.  To maintain this momentum we must pay greater attention to gender and women’s land rights.
Anju's Dream


For billions without formal land rights, the tech revolution offers new grounds for hope

Klaus Deininger's picture
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Many of today’s increasingly complex development challenges, from rapid urban expansion to climate change, disaster resilience, and social inclusion, are intimately tied to land and the way it is used. Addressing these challenges while also ensuring individuals and communities are able to make full use of their land depends on consistent, reliable, and accessible identification of land rights.

Creating “Solid Ground” for gender equality in land access

Jane W. Katz's picture
In Brazil, a woman trained through the School of Women Leaders explains to her neighbors what she has learned. Photo: Maria do Carmo Carvalho / Habitat for Humanity

Despite the fact that women represent about half of the global population, produce the majority of global food supply, and perform 60% to 80% of the agricultural work in developing countries, women own less than 20% of land worldwide.

Written laws often fall short of adequately protecting women’s tenure rights; while in some countries, formal national laws explicitly discriminate against women. In post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction, women face particular hurdles to secure tenure and shelter. Even in areas with strong protections of equality and non-discrimination, displaced women often struggle to assert their property rights.

On March 8, 2016, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, Habitat for Humanity International launched its first global advocacy campaign, “Solid Ground,” which envisions a world where everyone has access to land for shelter. Promoting gender equality and addressing inequitable or unenforced laws, policies, and customary practices affecting women’s rights to security of tenure and inheritance, has been a primary focus of the campaign.

Now mid-way through the campaign, Solid Ground has grown to include 37 national Habitat for Humanity organizations, 17 partner organizations, an active microsite (and in Spanish,, and has provided direct financial assistance to country programs working on gender and land issues. In its first year, over 1.3 million people are projected to have improved access to land for shelter through the Solid Ground campaign with a goal of reaching 10 million people, especially women.

Through a variety of efforts to build capacity, mobilize allies, influence policymakers, and work together with our partners, we are seeing signs of progress being made to achieve successful outcomes in helping facilitate women’s land ownership and empowering women to understand and achieve their rights. A sampling of some strategies, cases, and upcoming plans are highlighted below. 

Let’s make a deal for resilient cities

Carina Lakovits's picture
Photo credit: humphery /
JIANGXI CHINA-July 1, 2017: In Eastern China, Jiujiang was hit by heavy rain, and many urban areas were flooded. The vehicles were flooded, and the citizens risked their passage on flooded roads.
Photo credit: humphery /
For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. Although cities hold the promise of a better future, the reality is that many cities cannot live up to expectations. Too often, cities lack the resources to provide even the most basic services to their inhabitants, and cities all over the world fail to protect their people effectively against the onslaught of natural disasters or climate change.

Much of this has to do with the lack of adequate infrastructure that can defend against the impacts of floods, sea level rise, landslides or earthquakes. Most cities need better flood defenses, better constructed houses, and better land use planning. But even when cities know what it takes to become more resilient, most often they do not have access to the necessary funding to realize this vision.

It is estimated that worldwide, investments of more than $4 trillion per year in urban infrastructure will be needed merely to keep pace with expected economic growth, and an additional $1 trillion will be needed to make this urban infrastructure climate resilient.  It is clear that the public sector alone, including development finance institutions like the World Bank, will not be able to generate these amounts—not by a long stretch.

Natural disasters are in 3D – and the rights that protect against them should be as well

Luis Triveno's picture
Photo credit: studiovin/Shutterstock

The recent series of devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean has reminded the world, once again, that natural disasters are not equal-opportunity destroyers. The economically marginalized and those lacking secure land and property rights are often disproportionately affected for at least three reasons:

  • First, without secure property rights, they typically lack the long-term incentive and access to credit to build safe, resilient houses
  • Second, they can be reluctant to flee their homes to safe areas, fearing they won’t be allowed to return. 
  • Finally, they are less likely to be the recipients of government risk mitigation or recovery efforts.  Government recovery efforts – no matter how well intentioned – rarely reach those most in need.  After the floods and landslides in Nepal in 2011, for example, only 6% of the poorest received government support – compared to almost 90% of the well off.  

The increasing frequency of natural disasters with tragic human consequences should also serve as reminders that resources spent on disaster risk reduction (DRR) are much more effective at saving lives and property loss. Yes, despite substantial evidence that reducing disaster risk is more cost-effective than responding to disasters, expenditures for disaster response and reconstruction exceed spending on disaster risk reduction and preparedness at a rate of about 20 to 1.

To overcome that spending gap will require innovative thinking on a time-tested idea. Governments, the World Bank, and other donors are doing the right thing when trying to devote more resources to disaster risk reduction – and to make land and property rights reforms part of a multi-faceted DRR strategy. In doing so, they would do even better by recognizing that those rights exist in three dimensions, encompassing not just the ground beneath our feet but to the space above (and below) it.

A road by any other name: street naming and property addressing system in Accra, Ghana

Linus Pott's picture
Street names in Accra, Ghana
Street names in Accra, Ghana. Photo credit: Ben Welle/ Flickr CC
When I used to work in Rwanda, I lived on a small street in Kigali. Every time I invited friends over, I would tell them to “walk past the Embassy, look out for the Church, and then continue to the house with the black gate.” The day a street sign was erected on my street was a game changer.
So how do more than two million citizens of Accra navigate the busy city without the help of street names? While some street names are commonly known, most streets do not have any official name, street sign or house number. Instead, people usually refer to palm trees, speed bumps, street vendors, etc.

But, what happens when the palm tree is cut or when the street vendor changes the location?

The absence of street names poses not only challenges for orientation, but also for property tax collection, postal services, emergency services, and the private sector. Especially, new economy companies, such as Amazon or Uber, depend on street addressing systems and are eager to cater to market demands of a growing middle class.

To address these challenges, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), financed by the World Bank’s second Land Administration Project , is implementing a street addressing and property numbering system in Accra. Other Metropolitan areas received funding from other World Bank-funded projects for similar purposes.

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.

Securing land rights for all is key to building disaster-resilient communities

Sameh Wahba's picture

October 13 is the International Day for Disaster Reduction.

From East Asia, South Asia, and Africa to Latin America, disaster events such as hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes are on the rise, destroying homes and claiming lives.

Climate change is making it worse. Extreme weather is hitting us harder and more frequently as the planet warms, causing greater losses.

VGGT: The global guidelines to secure land rights for all

Jorge Muñoz's picture
A man holds his family's "red book," the land use rights certificate in Vietnam, which includes both his and his wife's names. (Photo by Chau Doan / World Bank)
A man holds his family's "red book," the land use rights certificate in Vietnam, which includes both his and his wife's names. (Photo by Chau Doan / World Bank)

Ground-breaking, far-reaching global guidelines for governments to help them safeguard the rights of people to own or access land, forests, and fisheries were endorsed five years ago by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), based at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome.

Today, the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT) are a true global norm of reference in the governance of (land) tenure. The guidelines are pioneering – outlining principles and practices that governments can refer to when making laws and administering land, fisheries, and forests rights. Ultimately, they aim to promote food security and sustainable development by improving secure access to land, fisheries, and forests, as well as protecting the rights of millions of often very poor people.

Sounds simple, maybe even jargony, but no – they are concrete, with real impacts. All of a sudden, we had an internationally negotiated soft law or a set of guidelines on (land) tenure navigating successfully through the global web of interests on land, reaching a common ground. The consensus at the CFS was further strengthened by the endorsement of the VGGT by the G20, Rio+ 20, the United Nations General Assembly, and the Francophone Assembly of Parliamentarians.

[Read: Land Tenure: What have we learned four years after approving a set of international land tenure guidelines?]

This journey started with an inclusive consultation process started by the FAO in 2009, and finalized through intergovernmental negotiations. Importantly, no interest group – governments, CSOs, academia, private sector – felt left behind, and the States were engaged in word-by-word review of the guidelines.

This can be seen in the result. The VGGT’s power stems from the consensus on its principles that States were to:
  • Recognize and respect all legitimate tenure right holders and their rights;
  • Protect tenure right holders against the arbitrary loss of their tenure rights; and that
  • Women and girls [were to] have equal tenure rights and access to land.

And the list goes on.

Ten signs of an impending global land rights revolution

Chris Jochnick's picture

The development community has experienced various “revolutions” over the years – from microfinance to women’s rights, from the green revolution to sustainable development.  Each of these awakenings has improved our understanding of the challenges we face; each has transformed the development landscape, mostly for the better.

We now see the beginnings of another, long-overdue, revolution: this one focused on the fundamental role of land in sustainable development.  Land has often been at the root of revolutions, but the coming land revolution is not about overthrowing old orders. It is based on the basic fact that much of the world has never gotten around to legally documenting land rights.  According to the World Bank, only 10% of land in rural Africa and 30% of land globally is documented.  This gap is the cause of widespread chaos and dysfunction around the world.