Securing Women's Land Rights

It Takes a Village, Appropriate Technology, and Real Investment to Deliver

As an organization focused on advancing land and resources rights for women and marginalized people through innovative technology and services, Cadasta Foundation applauds the global commitment to ramp up progress on equal rights for women and girls. Yet, we need to ask two important questions: what does it look like in practice for women to gain rights to land, property, and inheritance? And what is needed to make this happen?

Using Cadasta's Platform, these municipal mappers sped up data collection from 2 months to just over 1 hour per household in Alto Alegre, Brazil | Photo Credit: Mauna

To answer the above questions, we turned to one of our 100 global partner organizations, Espaço Feminista (EF). EF is a Brazilian civil society organization founded in 2008 to contribute to the empowerment of women and to fight for women’s land rights, gender and racial justice, democracy, and human rights. The group has made great strides in securing land tenure for women living in vulnerable communities in low-resource peri-urban areas of northeast Brazil.

Espaço Feminista’s journey began three years ago when they undertook research using census data and found that women were disproportionately affected by inequality, poor housing and living conditions across the region. Armed with data, they were able to undertake a community process that informed women of their rights and engaged them in advocating for these rights with the municipal government. The municipality responded by proposing and passing a law that paved the way for legalizing land rights for 15 informal settlements.

Later, Cadasta joined the effort, providing its Esri-powered geospatial platform and training to local data collectors in order to speed up data collection and make it more cost and time-efficient. This cut down the time from two months to just over an hour required to survey and measure each household. Cadasta’s geospatial platform allows for data storage, analysis, and storytelling, elements that will help the stakeholders make better decisions and scale up to 3,000 more households this year and to the entire municipality in the coming year.

A few weeks ago, I spent several days with the EF team in Alto Alegre, on the outskirts of the municipality of Bonito, in the state of Pernambuco. We all celebrated as a group of community women were presented with legal titles to their land and homes by the mayor. Emotions ran high as women like Maria received a legal document for her land and home after living with tenure insecurity for 38 years.

I’ve lived in this house for 38 years, in this land, and I’ve never had a paper in my hands. And now, thanks to God, with the mayor’s, councilman’s, (Espaço) Feminista team’s help, today I sleep at peace. Because I know no one will take my house from me.

Maria Aparecida de Lima, a resident of Alto Alegre, Brazil

One of the critical elements of this project was the collaboration between Espaço Feminista, its network of community leaders, and the municipal government. EF provided the much-needed technical and legal support, while the government took the lead on data collection, hiring a 10-person team of young people using Cadasta’s Platform for each household survey. The local partnership was the glue that allowed for intentional, multi-sectoral efforts that included the community members, the notary’s office, international organizations like Cadasta, and donors to contribute to the successful outcomes. The mayor of Bonito, Gustavo Adolfo, remarked, “We embraced the cause, spared no effort, joined with the legal staff, and formed a team to go from house to house, from neighborhood to neighborhood, to do all the registrations. Then we had the pleasure of entering into a partnership instead the with Cadasta.”

This model of multi-sectoral collaboration is what will make it possible to exponentially scale up women’s rights globally. In fact, Cadasta’s partners, who work in both urban and rural settings in 44 countries, have strengthened the rights of over 5.5 million people on 20 million hectares in 3,400 communities. By using a common tech platform, the partners can use appropriate data models and tools to collect, analyze, apply, and share data that further advances their goals of improved social and economic progress.

Scaling up women’s land rights for the 500 million women living with tenure insecurity globally would have a transformational impact. Secure tenure vastly improves women’s empowerment, livelihoods, and food security and allows them to build wealth and increase their autonomy, reduce the threat of domestic violence, and elevate their role in decision- making. When rural communities achieve secure land tenure, annual family income increases by 150 percent, agricultural production increases by 30 percent, teen pregnancy is reduced by half, and school completion rates double.

Our experience demonstrates that multi-sectoral partnerships, appropriate technology, and real investment in creating community change, are the “how” of women’s land rights. These success factors allow communities to dismantle gender discriminatory practices and advocate for lasting change. The high ROI of delivering on women’s land rights makes the case for significantly increased investments by governments, philanthropy, and the private sector. The geospatial sector has a role to play, given the need for geospatial imagery, mapping, surveying, data management, and analysis, as well as for long-term, equitable land governance systems.

What we need now is targeted investment in proven models that deliver on the SDG targets and allow women and their families to reap the benefits of more secure land and resource rights.

Amy Coughenour Betancourt

CEO, Cadasta Foundation ([email protected])

Cadasta is an award-winning non-profit organization that develops and promotes the use of simple digital tools and technology to help partners share critical land and resource rights information. Betancourt also serves on the board of Interaction, the premier alliance of international NGOs working in humanitarian assistance and development.