By Shikha Sreenivas
It’s 2017 and formal ownership of land for women still seems to be a distant dream, with women owning less than 20 percent of land in the world. This means that their claim on land continues to rest on their identity as a man’s daughter or wife.
In developing countries, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, women own less than 10 percent of the land. The low number is even more appalling when you keep in mind that women are 50 percent of the world’s population.
According to a study by Landesa, even though equal inheritance rights have been granted in India, only 13 percent of women really expect to inherit land from their parents. Family members and government officials alike, still do not recognise a woman’s right to land, the study found through interviews. It’s apparent that powerful cultural and societal forces still overpower the law in cases of inheritance and land ownership for women.
This Washington Post report found that in India, women in land disputes are often branded as “witches”, who are practicing black magic. From 2000 to 2014, the report said, 2,413 women have been killed as witches in 12 states across the country.
But there are several movements to challenge these obstructions in the fight for equal land ownership, such as a campaign led by AROH Mahila Kisan Manch and Gulabi Gang, which, according to this report, is aimed at enabling Dalit women and other women from marginal groups fight for their land rights.
According to a report by Habitat, in Kerala, only 7 percent of the women who own property (land or a house) reported physical violence, and 16 percent reported psychological violence. This is a stark difference to the 40 percent of women without any property who reported physical violence and 84 percent reporting psychological violence. This study suggested a strong correlation between the ownership of land and a woman’s confidence and security to report or leave the abuse — 74 percent of the women who faced violence at home and owned property, left the source of violence, while only 17 percent of women with no property did.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals also stresses on the importance of reducing the inequality of land access for men and women. The report by Habitat, analysed various countries, mainly those in Africa and connected land ownership to the increased health, social status, safety (from domestic violence) in women’s lives. For many women in developing countries, especially India, agriculture is their main source of income, and land ownership can give them the social and economic power to sustain their work and businesses.