Women, Land and Development Policy
Palestine’s Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) concluded a training event on “Land, Women and Socio-economic Development” in the Arab Region at Erbil, Kurdistan Iraq on 25–26 October 2021. This event came as part of their agreement of cooperation with UN-Habitat/GLTN under the “Arab Region Program on Good Land Governance in Support to Inclusive Development, Peace and Stability”, funded by the German Foreign Ministry.
The hybrid (online and in-person) training event was organized in a seminar format with 40 Arab and non-Arab land practitioners from 16 different nationalities and practical backgrounds (government, NGOs, academics, CBOs, individuals). They shared experiences in gender-equitable land governance that recognizes equal rights to land and the different needs and priorities of women and men. The aim was, first, to consolidate definitions and normative approaches to the topic, then address how to integrate that approach into policies and institutional frameworks, including through the use of GLTN-developed tool such as the Gender Evaluation Criteria. The training also included an exercise in identifying legal and technical challenges in reaching gender-equitable land governance in the Arab countries, and how to create enabling environments for increased access to land for women, how to monitor and evaluate progress, and how to design and create awareness campaigns and communication methods to promote it within various contexts in the Arab region.
HLRN’s contribution was a review of the relevant policy and legal frameworks as presented in State reports to UN development and human rights bodies. These instruments published over the past five years since the 2030 Agenda’s adoption (2015) embody the official policies and implementation efforts at work.
The scope of this review covered the reports of all Arab states to the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on 2030 Agenda implementation, periodic reports to relevant UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies (the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women—CEDaW and Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights—CESCR) and the reports presented so far on implementation of the New Urban Agenda (NUA), which succeeded the Habitat Agenda in 2016. The method of this review was to take official governments’ official presentations of their policy, legislative and institutional frameworks and related efforts to improve women’s access to, and control over adequate housing, land and other productive resources.
The performance of states’ permanent and binding obligations under treaty and their interim voluntary commitments under the current policy frameworks was diverse. The following summary of review findings was a subject of HIC-HLRN Coordinator Joseph Schechla’s presentation on 26 October:
Arab states’ voluntary reports under the development policies have been timely and consistently improved since 2015. To date, all Arab states, except for Yemen, have presented Voluntary National Review (VNR) reports to the UN High-level Political Forum in their SDG progress. Iraq, Morocco and Tunisia have presented twice during the period, while Egypt has presented three VNRs. Yemen and Somalia have yet to submit a VNR.
Only Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia have voluntarily reported on their NUA implementation. However, Bahrain, Kuwait, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Tunisia and Yemen are up to date in their reporting obligations to both CEDaW and CESCR. (The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and UAE are not party to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.)
In Jordan’s recent reporting to CEDaW, the treaty body found “the prevalence of discriminatory practices that prevent rural women from inheriting or acquiring ownership of agricultural land and other property” and advised the state party to apply the CEDaW general recommendation No. 34 (2016) [AR] on the rights of rural women.
In its 2015 review of Morocco [AR], CESCR expressed concern about “Sahraoui refugees displaced by the conflict in Western Sahara, particularly women and children [and] that the Sahraouis’ right to participate in the use and exploitation of natural resources is still not respected,
and called on Morocco, the occupying state, to “respect… the principle of the prior, free and informed consent of the Sahraouis, and thus that they are able to exercise their right to enjoy and utilize fully and freely their natural wealth and resources” and “enable the Sahraouis to access their land and natural resources and rejoin their families”
separated by the occupation wall/berm.
In presenting their policy frameworks before the HLPF, only Egypt referred to evidence-basedpolicies and policy making in its 2021 VNR. In their VNRs, only Algeria, Iraq, Oman and Palestine inferred, or specifically cited their human rights obligations in the context of development. However, all Arab state VNRs to date have affirmed their voluntary commitments to the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. [AR]
The research pointed to a general lack of reference to human rights obligations in reports on development progress, and that may be attributed—at least, in part—to the reporting guidelines coming out of the UN Development System. This shortcoming is evident despite numerous commitments in relevant plans, General Assembly resolutions [AR] and Secretary-General reports [AR] pledging to integrate human rights obligations into SDG implementation as an example of policy coherence.
Concerning land, no Arab state has reported against SDG 1 (no poverty) no Arab state reported on progress or efforts to “ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance (target 1.4).
Likewise, no Arab state reported at all on progress or efforts to ‘adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels” (target 5.a).
That silence is despite some good policies in Oman and Egypt to favor women in the distribution of new and reclaimed lands.
In its 2020 VNR, Morocco noted that from 2009 to 2019, gender-based economic violence increased in rural areas by 9%. However, the report cited Law No. 62.17 (2019) on administrative supervision over Sulaliyat communities and their property, allowing women to enjoy ‘access’ to collective land.
Of the Arab states that reported within the time frame on their NUA commitments (Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia), not one provided information on the “presence of women’s recognized legal right to property inheritance and ownership efforts to improve women’s land tenure and land,” as called for in the NUA reporting guidelines.
Such reports to international forums are effective instruments of public relations and redound to the legitimacy of the participating state. Likewise, the policy frameworks they present are also indicators of the state’s stability and integrity within the modern criteria of statecraft. Within this review period of this research (2015–21), the states’ reports also indicate how the global policy of enhancing women’s land rights compares with other sustainable-development sectors and priorities. Amid the current urgencies of the global pandemic and responses to climate change (e.g., green transition), the absence of reporting on SDGs and NUA commitments and human rights treaty obligations related to women’s land tenure, in general, suggest that progress may be falling behind in the MENA region.
The participants in the training event at Erbil took note of this hazard and expressed the need for more capacity building programs to help empower women in their countries, each from his/her field of experience. This glimpse into official policies and development priorities as officially reported has shed light also on the need for greater monitoring and advocacy to increase women’s access to land in the Arab states, as it forms a recognized pillar of economic development in any community and a requisite for the realization of human rights for women.
Photo: Participants at the “Land, Women and Socio-economic Development” training event, Erbil, Iraq, 25–26 October 2021. Source: UAWC.