Our Perspectives

Land and property governance – a matter of development and human rights


Woman farmerAccess to land for women is a key development issue. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/ UNDP India

Although more than 115 nations recognize, in their legal frameworks, women’s equal rights to property and inheritance, in many countries women continue to face discrimination when it comes to land and property rights,

Land plays a critical economic, environmental, social, cultural and political role in the development of states and people. Control of land and related natural resources is linked to power and identity, and can be a source of conflict and crisis. Land and natural resource management also lie at the core of ensuring environmental sustainability, including the maintenance of ecosystems and biodiversity. For indigenous and tribal communities, access to land and the protection of their traditional tenure practices are critical to their existence and identity. Failed land policies can also cause massive migration of workers from rural to urban areas.

Having access to land and security of tenure provides a gateway to a range of economic, social, civil and political rights. Hence, when people, in particular indigenous communities, women, the rural poor or urban slum dwellers achieve secure access to land or property, they can start to enjoy a greater sense of economic security, improve their livelihoods, but importantly also, gain capacity, interest and influence in decision-making.

We have been engaged with governments, the justice sector, parliamentarians, civil society and indigenous peoples to address land related issues. In Sierra Leone, for example, we supported pro-bono legal representation and legal counseling by civil society organizations (CSOs) in relation to access to land and property rights, particularly for women. In Viet Nam, UNDP conducted an in-depth study on women’s property rights, to gather evidence and propose concrete solutions. Assistance to the government of Ukraine resulted in the adoption of a Law on Free Legal Aid and the Law on State Land Cadastre, and also included awareness campaigns in rural areas, and capacity development for land titling and for the provision of legal aid at the community level.

The governance of land and property thus needs to be addressed from a human rights based approach to development, with due consideration of the social, economic, environmental, cultural and also political implications of land and property related policies. It requires a thorough understanding of the local context, state policies and laws, formal law and customary law and practice, as well as the impact of culture and religion on the way people and communities perceive the issue of property in the relationship between men and women, rich and poor, powerful and oppressed. 

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