Daily Development: Interview with Mayra Gomez of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Women’s land and property rights in Africa
Today Daily Development talks to Mayra Gomez, Co-Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR). Founded in 2010, the GI-ESCR seeks to advance the realization of economic, social and cultural rights throughout the world, tackling the endemic problem of global poverty through a human rights lens. We discuss in particular the work of the GI-ESCR to promote and protect women’s land and property rights in Africa.
DD: One of the GI-ESCR’s strategic priorities is on advancing women’s economic, social and cultural rights. Why does your organization focus specifically on women’s land and property rights in Africa?
MG: Experience shows that fulfilment of women’s right to land and property has profoundly transformative effects, uplifting women’s status and improving women’s lives, making it an important focus for those concerned with women’s equality everywhere. For women across Africa, access to, and control over, vital resources such as land and property are essential to their well-being and empowerment. Yet, we have seen that African women are too often denied access to productive resources such as land, due to entrenched patterns of gender discrimination and exclusion. This situation both reflects and deepens gender inequality, and leaves women far more vulnerable to the multiple threats of food insecurity, violence, marginalization and economic impoverishment, as well in many cases to the devastating effects of HIV.
On the other hand, we also know that women’s secure rights to land and property can dramatically improve the situation for women. When women are able to enjoy their land and property rights, they are much better able to meet their material needs, and to provide for the well-being of their families. Land and property provide women with the basic productive assets and resources they need to improve the quality of their lives, and to weather some of life’s most difficult challenges.
DD: What are some of the barriers to women accessing land and property? What are the main challenges that you see?
MG: Persistent barriers remain for women, including, in many countries, discriminatory laws, policies and practices, as well as cultural attitudes that promote the idea that women cannot or should not be equal decision makers, beneficiaries and stewards when it comes to land and property. To remedy this problem, states must be encouraged to bring their national legal frameworks in line with their international and regional human rights obligations, and to take immediate and effective measures aimed at positively transforming practice and cultural norms at the local level.
DD: Have there been any successes that you have seen when it comes to resources and standard-setting in this area?
MG: There have been a lot of important successes and advances, and there are many resources out there that are available to advocates, including a United Nations handbook on realizing women’s rights to land and other productive resources. Another recent success that we have seen was the adoption of resolution 262, on women’s right to land and productive resources, of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, for which we and our partners actively advocated. The resolution contains strong language about the obligations of African states to ensure and protect these rights. On HIV specifically, the resolution acknowledges that “women living in rural areas, women from poor and marginalized communities, women living with disabilities and women infected by HIV/AIDS are more affected by marginalisation,” and goes on to urge states to “integrate into national HIV/AIDS control strategies, as well as farming and land policies, women’s right to land and property.”
DD: Finally, what can the international readers of Daily Development do to help advance women’s land and property rights in their countries and globally?
MG: There is a lot that readers can do. First, it’s important to educate yourself about the status of women’s land and property rights in your country and around the world. Let you lawmakers know how you feel, and raise your voice at the community level on behalf of women’s equality. Readers can also get involved in efforts to include women’s land and property rights in the post-2015 development agenda.
Mayra Gomez is the Co-Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.