Women’s Land Rights and Climate Change

by Basim Hussain

What You Can Do:

In Lesotho, women have begun to break into the world of commercial agriculture. One farmer, a woman named Thakane Mphatsoane, has quadrupled her agricultural production by stepping out of the traditional role of women as subsistence farmers and moving into commercial farming [1]. Yet despite the obvious benefits to food production displayed by Mphatsoane’s success, women all over the world still face barriers to land ownership. By fixing the inequalities present in women’s land use rights, both women and their communities stand to gain many benefits, in particular greater strength in the battle against climate change.

Women do a huge amount of agricultural work, but make up a much smaller portion of its ownership. According to a report from the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), women make up 43% of the international agricultural labor force but less than 20% of the world’s agricultural landholders [2]. In several parts of the world, this disparity is caused by the legal barriers women face to land ownership. For example, in many African countries, land rights are held by men, with women only having access to land through male relatives [3]. However, even in countries where women have legal rights to land ownership, many women still face social and cultural barriers. In Afghanistan, even though Sharia law guarantees wives and daughters a portion of their husbands’ and fathers’ land by inheritance, only 2% of Afghan women were found to actually own land [4]. Women also struggle to compete with men for land ownership due to men’s informational advantage, stemming from educational patriarchy. For example, in Nepal, men were found to possess more information about land rights than women, with only 12.9% of women surveyed even knowing about the documents required to complete the land registration process [4].

Guaranteeing women’s rights and access to land serves to benefit both women as well as their communities. Women’s rights to land and property are shown to protect them from violence, as the ownership of land gives women more freedom to leave violent relationships [5]. Women’s rights to land are also essential in their ability to combat HIV, as their current status of being economically dependent on men often forces women to hide their HIV status, barring their access to treatment [6, 12]. Furthermore, women’s ownership of land also empowers them, increasing their social and political status in their communities [6]. As for their communities, reducing women’s barriers to land ownership is shown to increase agricultural productivity, which benefits everyone [5]. Furthermore, in nations where women lack land ownership rights, their children also suffer, with children in these nations being on average 60% more malnourished [6]. In contrast, evidence shows that women who have access to land ownership are more likely to allocate their spending on food security and their children’s nutrition [5]. Women landowners also protect their communities’ land from privatization. For example, women with formal land rights in Indonesia’s Riau province have prevented commercial plantations from taking over the forest land [7].

One of the most prominent benefits of securing women’s land rights is their role in combating climate change. According to a report by the Landesa Rural Development Institute, women with access to land tend to employ more sustainable agricultural practices than their male counterparts, helping to fight climate change [8]. Furthermore, by increasing women’s rights to land, the food security will render them and their communities more resilient to climate shocks [7]. Land rights for women also gives women farmers greater incentive to stop pulling water from drained sources for crops. When women do not reap the benefits of their farmwork, they have little incentive to properly irrigate their farms [8]. By properly irrigating the land they own, women landowners reduce water scarcity, preventing desertification due to climate change.

All over the world, women still face barriers to land ownership. Many women still lack legal rights to land, while many others fail to have their legal rights enforced due to social and cultural patriarchy. Securing women’s land rights stands to benefit women’s safety and empowerment, the food security and nutrition of their communities, and the fight against climate change worldwide. 


  1. https://allafrica.com/stories/202102150751.html
  2. https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/WRGS/Womenslandright.docx
  3. https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2008/women-struggle-secure-land-rights
  4. https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/barriers_to_women.pdf
  5. https://europa.eu/capacity4dev/file/74042/download?token=gU13OPKi
  6. http://espacofeminista.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Realizing-women_s-rigths-to-land.pdf
  7. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-landrights-women-trfn/seat-at-the-table-womens-land-rights-seen-as-key-to-climate-fight-idUSKBN2AB1NV
  8. http://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a6e0958f6576ebde0e78c18/5ab294e72483d636f1909c81/5ab295042483d636f190a0b7/1521652996709/160224-CEDAW-written-submission-day-of-discussion-gender-climate-change-final.pdf?format=original
  9. https://stand4herland.org/
  10. https://www.landesa.org/resources/womens-land-rights-and-the-sustainable-development-goals/
  11. https://www.landesa.org/what-we-do/womens-land-rights/ 
  12. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/uploads/0e82bca7-6ede-4fbf-b2d9-5a0dac3ba071/Securing-Womens-Land-Property-Rights-20140308.pdf

Photo credit: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-43294221