【Newsletter】Landesa pushes to preserve momentum on gender equity during Covid-19

    19 Aug 2020

    Michelle Obama and Melinda Gates have urged global governments not to ignore adolescent girls in their Covid-19 response, recognising the outsized impact the pandemic is having on women and girls.

    The crisis has affected women across all spheres of life — economically, socially, in health and access to education, and more.  According to the United Nations, the crisis now risks rolling back precarious progress that has been made towards narrowing gaps in gender inequality.

    Nearly 60 percent of women around the world work in the informal economy, earning less, saving less, and at greater risk of falling into poverty.

    At the same time as they are losing paid employment, women’s unpaid care work has increased exponentially as a result of school closures and the increased needs of older people.

    “These currents are combining as never before to defeat women’s rights and deny women’s opportunities,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

    Stepping up to the challenge


    Around the world non-government organisations and charities are rising to this challenge and stepping up their efforts to mitigate the impact of the virus on women and girls.

    One such organisation is Landesa, the 2017 LUI Che Woo Prize winner for Welfare Betterment.

    Landesa is an international non-governmental organisation that fights poverty and provides opportunity and security for women, men, and communities through the power of land rights. 

    For 50 years, Landesa has partnered with governments and civil society and has succeeded in securing land rights for more than 180 million of the world’s poorest families in over 50 countries.

    Its thesis is that providing families with their land does more than just put food on the table and provide enough to eat. It often also gives a better chance to women to live a better life through securing land rights, acquiring skills and obtaining knowledge, and eventually helping their families break the poverty cycle.

    Landesa has also identified how the crisis can disproportionately affect women and girls when it comes to land rights and is working proactively to empower them.

    Endangering inheritance rights


    Landesa points out that higher mortality rates for Covid-19 among men can endanger the land and inheritance rights of female heirs. If the women do not have legally recognised rights they are at greater risk of being dispossessed of land.

    “Gender inequalities and discriminatory and patriarchal social norms have been worsened and revealed during the pandemic. We’ve already seen a steep increase in gender-based violence and malnutrition,” said Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights Manager Beth Roberts. “Women are also at the forefront of care work related to Covid-19, both in community care as well as family care, which increases their vulnerability to infection.” 

    Roberts added that because men often control the flow of information, through technology (access to cell phones or radio) or social standing in society, women are less likely to obtain accurate and timely information about Covid-19.

    “These challenges are layered on top of already existing crises and inequalities: the impacts of climate change, and lack of access to land and productive resources — these are among the most significant challenges for rural and indigenous women and girls, who are already suffering the worst forms of inequality and marginalisation.”

    Law on your palm


    To help ensure timely information to women, in Tanzania Landesa has partnered with a local organisation in adapting its Law on Your Palm app to share information about Covid-19.

    The mobile application is designed to connect rural women with access to legal services and has seen concrete success in helping women to enforce their rights.

    Take the example of Asia, a farmer from a rural district who inherited a plot of land together with her sister. Unfortunately, they had difficulty in establishing ownership as another man in the village wanted to claim it as his own.

    Asia documented her case in the Law on Your Palm app and received legal advice from a community paralegal who informed her how to defend her claim. They then took the case to the village leaders who ruled in their favour.

    It’s a clear example of empowerment and shows how Landesa embodies the spirit of the LUI Che Woo Prize by embracing the concept of “helping people to help themselves.”

    Moving to a more sustainable world


     “Landesa's work to strengthen and secure land rights is a natural complement to Dr Lui's desire to build a more sustainable, positive world and to enhance the well-being of the human race.”

    Landesa Chief Development Officer Mark Ruffo

    “Landesa's work to strengthen and secure land rights is a natural complement to Dr Lui's desire to build a more sustainable, positive world and to enhance the well-being of the human race,” said Landesa Chief Development Officer Mark Ruffo. “Secure land rights are a foundation of peace and prosperity, they encourage families to be good stewards of the earth and they bring dignity and equality to women. Nothing could be more consistent with Dr Lui's vision.”

    Ruffo said winning the prize has helped Landesa to accelerate its work to strengthen women’s land rights.

    “Amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, secure land rights are a foundation for stability, shelter, and economic recovery, he said.

    Despite the dire warnings about the impact on women, the crisis also provides the opportunity to push for deep and lasting change, as long as it’s tackled head-on.

    “There is no better time than now to acknowledge the depth of gender disparities and to be persistent about elevating and empowering women,” said Landesa Chief Program Officer Karol Boudreaux.

    Tackling inequality head-on


    “We must address inequality at its root so that all of these challenges that have become exacerbated during this crisis are solved in a systematic way. We must centre women’s leadership, women’s knowledge, and women’s roles in regard to natural resource management, household food consumption, and more, Boudreaux said.

    Landesa is doing just this through a project in PepsiCo’s potato supply chain in West Bengal, India.

    PepsiCo and USAid discovered that women’s role in potato production was usually limited to labouring due to social norms that restrict their access to land.

    That’s when Landesa became involved. It reached out to two women’s Self Help Groups (SHGs), which were interested in leasing land for potato production.

    They pooled resources and leased a hectare of land. With help from PepsiCo agronomists and Tetra Tech, the women received support and training and despite adverse weather conditions harvested a potato crop that produced a profit and resulted in yields that exceeded or equalled that of other PepsiCo farmers.

    As a result of the success of the project, Landesa and its project partners will expand land leasing to more SHGs in the state.

    Reducing the gender gap


    The programme clearly demonstrates that given the right tools and opportunities women can perform equally as well as men, helping to reduce the gender gap.

    However, the impact of securing land rights goes beyond the here and now and has the potential to lift the future generation out of poverty, in particular by allowing girls to continue with their schooling.

    This handover of benefits to the future generation is another key tenet of the LUI Prize.

    Take the example of Poonam Barman, a 14-year old star student in West Bengal.

    Her family received a micro plot about the size of two tennis courts through Landesa’s partnership with the local government. Before this, the family was living with relatives and her father was earning US$14 a month as a garbage picker.

    Hope for the future


     “Women are the agents of change, and we must elevate their voices and recognise them in this way.”

    Landesa Chief Program Officer Karol Boudreaux

    This was not enough to sustain the family, never mind afford shoes, visit doctors or support higher-level education.

    However, with the plot, the family built a house and is producing enough food to sell their vegetables, doubling their income.

    Poonam can now look towards the future with confidence and wants to become a doctor, saying she’ll serve the poor of her village.

    “Women are the agents of change, and we must elevate their voices and recognise them in this way,” Boudreaux said.


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