For much of history, whatever a woman owned was still under someone else’s control, her father’s or, if she were married, her husband’s. This is still the case for women in many traditional societies in developing nations. Studies of women in Ethiopia and Ghana make it clear why, to forge a better future in developing economies, women must have a right to land, writes Agnes Quisumbing of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
In the past two decades, both of these countries experienced notable reductions in poverty rates (pdf), with Ethiopia’s falling from 45.5 percent to 38.7 percent of the population (from 1995 to 2005) and Ghana’s from 51.7 percent to 28.5 (from 1991 – 2006). Agriculture played a significant role in reducing poverty by providing people with food of their own as well as commodities to export.
Quisumbing lists three reasons why the future of these countries and others rests on women having the right to own land.
1. When a woman owns land, a family’s chances of falling into poverty are reduced.
Many women still derive their land rights through male relatives or husbands, so the death of these or divorce means that women lose access to land. As women often leave their home villages to live in their husbands’, they and their children can be left highly vulnerable.
Women heads of households in Ethiopia fared worse during the 2007-2008 global food crisis. Households that owned more land and land of higher quality experience fewer losses of assets and income; owning such land was “key to protecting the rural poor from food price shocks,” Quisumbing writes.
2. Women who own land are more likely to use sustainable farming practices.
Women in Ghana who have secure, private property rights were more likely to plant cocoa trees, rather than short-term crops. Women without such rights ceased to carry out long-term growing practices like planting trees, with disadvantages for the environment as land was not left to lie fallow and regain its fertility. Women-managed households in Ethiopia have also been found to be more likely to plant trees and follow soil conservation techniques.
3. Women spend money differently than men.
Women are more likely to spend their income on food, health care and the education of their children, an investment in the next generation that contributes to overall poverty reduction.
A historic Food Security Bill passed less August in India has provided for a wide-scale expansion of India’s subsidized grain program and also indirectly empowered women as ration cards must have the name of the “women head of the beneficiary family.” As one woman explained to Women News Network, her husband has been liable to pawn the family’s ration card to purchase alcohol. As she will now be in control of it, she can use the card for its intended purpose, to buy grain to keep her children from getting hungry.
Can Extreme Poverty Be Eradicated?
This week, delegations from countries around the world will be meeting at the United Nations to work on a list of proposed “Sustainable Development Goals.” At the top of these is the eradication of extreme poverty.
From 1990 to 2010, the percentage of the global population living on less than $1.25 a day in developing countries fell by a half, to 21 percent or 1.2 billion people. The question remains, how can governments work to continue this trend?
Reducing income inequality, preventing avoidable child deaths and providing universal education are vital to reducing the number of people who live in extreme poverty, the Economist says. It’s also important to ensure that people have basic resources including clean water, medicines and family planning. These latter three are certainly areas that directly affect the lives of women, as Quisumbing makes very clear. Providing women with secure, private rights to land is a necessary first step to improving not only the lives of women around the world but also of their children and of their country’s future.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons