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What We’re Reading: “Women Find Freedom through Land Ownership”

By Ruth-Anne Renaud

Every Wednesday, we highlight an article, book or a blog in our “What We’re Reading” series. We feature works that are noteworthy, inspiring, educational or relevant to the work we do at Opportunity. We welcome your comments in the comment field below–tell us what you’re reading, or respond to the piece we’ve highlighted. The following post explores a Nov. 7th article on mediaglobal.org, an independent media organization based in the U.N. that raises awareness on issues related to economic development, global health, food security and climate change in the developing world. This article, “Women Find Freedom through Land Ownership” by Charissa Sparks asserts that increased gender equality in agricultural finance and land ownership can reduce extreme poverty and domestic violence, as well as improve the lives of all people in the developing world… 

While women produce 60-80% of food in most developing countries, they own less than one percent of the world’s land.

Today, women and girls make up 70% of the estimated 1.3 billion people living in poverty around the world, and one significant solution to the cycle of poverty that often entraps women is to increase land ownership, says Winnie Byanyima, director of the U.N. Development Programme gender team, in an interview with MediaGlobal

In many places, the article reports, women are barred, by custom or by law, from inheriting or owning the land on which they live and work. They can only access land via male family members, such as husbands or brothers, meaning that they are dependent on these relationships for their economic survival. 

More equitable land ownership among women like this Opportunity Malawi client, tea farmer Sinyala Chafala, could help reduce global poverty.

With no property or other collateral, women in developing countries can find it difficult to secure loans to build small businesses and improve their lives, ensuring that the cycle of poverty and economic dependence is perpetuated. “Gender equality in the distribution of economic resources has a positive effect on the range of development goals including poverty reduction and economic growth,” says Renee Giovarelli, director of the Global Center for Women’s Land Rights

The World Bank calls investing in women “smart economics” because research shows that when women earn income, they are more likely than men to reinvest their economic gains into their families and communities at large. 

Plus, as the article reports, research in Kerala, India has shown that when women have greater control over their financial assets, it helps protect against the risk of domestic violence. According to the research, 49% of women in Kerala with no property reported physical violence compared to only 7% of women who did own property. 

Enabling women to protect their economic futures, MediaGlobal reports that increasing women’s access to microfinance and credit have proven to be successful strategies to stop the cycle of chronic poverty. At Opportunity, we’ve seen the significant positive effects of providing business loans and savings to women, and Lydia Baldridge Meier, manager of Opportunity’s Banking on Africa campaign, notes that findings like those presented here help inform effective strategies for empowering women. ”Now that we are launching a new program providing services to agriculture-based families in Africa,” says Meier, ”it’s very important to understand the roles that women play in land ownership, agricultural labor, and membership to farming cooperatives. By understanding the public and private dynamics, we will be able to see where the opportunities are for continued empowerment of women, as well as advancing thefood security of African families.”

-Written by Ruth-Anne Renaud, Opportunity’s vice president of women’s philanthropy and manager of the Women’s Opportunity Network (WON)

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