WASHINGTON, Sept. 23—Land ownership has a number of crucial benefits for women and their families, both economic and social. Increased security allows women to access credit to buy key agricultural inputs, or make other investments to increase food production. Access to land can also lift a woman's status and enhance her bargaining power in families and communities, boosting well-being at the household level. Some research even shows that women who own land are less likely to suffer from domestic violence.
Although women’s land rights are enshrined in national law and a growing number of international agreements, women's land ownership often involves a complex web of statutory, customary, and religious laws—along with social norms that prioritize men and boys.
Thirty-seven of 143 countries surveyed in the World Bank Group's Women, Business, and the Law 2014, still have discriminatory land laws in place, while even in countries with gender-equal laws on the books, powerful norms and customs can dictate that men alone hold title to land and other assets.
Data analyzed by the World Bank (WB) and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), under a new initiative funded by the World Bank Group’s Umbrella Facility for Gender Equality (UFGE) and the FAO, suggests that men in many regions fail to register their wives on property deeds. This means widows can lose rights to the land they farm after a husband dies, and sons often take priority in inheriting the land.
In the Western Balkans, country reform teams established by this initiative cited lack of awareness and interest among key stakeholders—such as government officials, notaries, and land agency staff—as major obstacles to reform. Lack of data broken down by gender poses an additional challenge.
A 2013 initiative offered technical assistance to mine existing databases to measure women’s land ownership in the region and establish benchmarks. The initiative gathered existing relevant data from Albania, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska, Kosovo, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia—at the national, provincial, and local levels.
Data was analyzed by studying property titles. “When we presented the data, the government was surprised to find that female property ownership can be as low as 3 percent in the region, particularly in rural areas,” World Bank Senior Land Administration Specialist Kathrine Kelm said. This helped galvanize follow-up work with government partners to improve women’s property rights.
WB and FAO teams worked with national partners to devise 11-month pilot work plans for their countries to boost female land ownership—alongside senior officials, land agency staff, and notaries.
In Kosovo, with national levels of female ownership at around 15 percent, efforts have targeted associations of notaries, to request that they always inform clients who register land and property about the importance of co-registering wives or female heirs.
In one town, Shtime, registering property in one name cost 20 Euros, while registering property jointly cost 40 Euros. In early 2014, the mayor temporarily waived the registration fee as an incentive for couples to register jointly, prompting a 20 percent jump in property registrations for women. The town now has a flat registration fee.
The Kosovo team hopes to continue its work on the gender action plan, and deploy mobile gender units during their next round of property registration, and use a randomized control trial to demonstrate the cost benefits of such teams.
In FYR Macedonia, where female land ownership was found to hover around 16 percent, one community, Aerodrom, launched outreach efforts highlighting the positive impact of property ownership and connecting residents with notaries.
Ongoing negotiations on targets to succeed the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals after 2015 have identified as a priority the need for women and girls to have equal access to financial services, as well as equal rights to own land and other assets. Most people living in extreme poverty worldwide are female.
About the UFGE
The UFGE is a multi-donor trust fund dedicated to strengthening awareness, knowledge, and capacity for policy-making that advance gender equality.
It invests in priority areas critical to closing gaps between what we know and what we do to advance gender equality. The UFGE currently supports over 70 activities in 54 countries.
Since its launch in 2012, the UFGE has received contributions from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States.