October 15, 2021
The International Day of Rural Women is observed on Oct. 15, the day before World Food Day, to bring attention to the “significant contributions [of women] to agricultural production, food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management, and building climate resilience.” This year’s theme is “building women’s resilience in the wake of COVID-19.”
The pandemic has really magnified global gender inequality as it has done for so many other forms of inequality. When it comes to the loss of employment and livelihoods, women have lost the most during the pandemic due to working in hard-hit economic sectors. The U.N. Women and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that this year, 47 million women and girls will be pushed into poverty as a result of COVID-19. And worldwide, women have been charged with managing most of the extra unpaid care work generated by the pandemic. Furthermore, growing food insecurity and the prevalence of lockdowns have led to increasing rates of gender-based violence, including domestic violence and sexual violence.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has also had negative implications for women’s land rights. Before the pandemic, women already experienced challenges to land ownership worldwide. In fact, less than 15% of global landowners are women and 40% of countries limit women’s property rights. With the onset of the pandemic, many more women have been widowed due to the virus, leaving many without rights to land, property or inheritance. In many countries, when a woman is widowed, she and her children could be evicted from their land and home, which means they would lose their shelter, food and livelihood security. In fact, it is quite common for the death of the male head of household to lead to family conflicts over land. Despite many countries having laws that protect the rights of women to land, there are breakdowns when it comes to the implementation of those laws. If social norms don’t change, legislation alone is not enough to change the lives of women.
Further, the pandemic has hampered women’s land rights advocacy efforts, impeded government land registration and titling procedures, and some lockdown policies have made it difficult for women to farm which leaves their land fallow and open to potential land grab.
Land rights are not only necessary for securing shelter, food and livelihoods for rural women, but they are necessary for women’s meaningful participation in society. Often, participation in decision making bodies within communities requires landownership. Without land ownership, women’s role in society and access to resources and livelihoods will always be limited and insecure.
The Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) has partnered with Action for Rural Women’s Empowerment (ARUWE) in Uganda since 2016 to promote the rights of women to land and property in the Kyankwanzi district. ARUWE has made it its mission to educate women and men on the land rights of women under the law and has assisted women in accessing land services and securing land registration. Agnes Mirembe, the executive director of ARUWE, states, “We continue to dedicate our efforts to promoting equitable access and control over land as a production resource for rural women to enhance their meaningful contribution to food security and economic development.”
Women’s rights to land are foundational to insuring all other human rights, including food, housing, work and education. Without land rights, women are left in a constant state of insecurity; unable to meet basic needs, lacking a sustainable income, and vulnerable to economic and health shocks such as those posed by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Supporting rural women’s land rights is vital for empowering the resilience of women in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Eileen Schuhmann, Mission Specialist for International Hunger Concerns, Presbyterian Hunger Program
Today’s Focus: International Day of Rural Women
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Susan Barnett, Coordinator, Research Services, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
David Barnhart, Associate, Story Ministry & Documentary Filmmaker, Compassion, Peace & Justice, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
Gracious God, we pray that you shine your light of knowledge and awareness. Help us to see more clearly the inequalities that exist in the world and where we need to take action. Let our thoughts, words and actions be yours. We pray for the strength and courage of rural women worldwide as they struggle for human rights and security. May we be allies in their struggle. Amen.