Women lead the change - why women’s land rights matter in Dutch and EU’s Africa strategies | Land Portal


Women own less than 20 percent of land in the world

Half of the world’s smallholder farmers are women

70 percent of Africa’s food is produced by women smallholder farmers


These numbers[1] are overwhelming. And they are more relevant than ever. All the more now that both the EU and the Dutch government are working on an ‘Africa Strategy’. But the big question is: how will women, who make up half of the population but produce the vast majority of  food on the African continent, benefit from these strategies? In order to answer this question, it is vital to know what empowers women.

Women’s land rights matter

For women in rural and forest communities to have control over land, means having power. Not only does it enable them to make decisions on land use, but it also increases their bargaining power, economic opportunities and possibility to speak out. Thus, having certainty about your land rights gives you a stronger position as a woman.

 “We need to ensure women have rights to the means of production, so that we can speak out about gender-based violence and other rights. Without this we are not in power and unable to speak out from a solid platform.”

Kalpanakarki (CSRC, Nepal) [2]


At the same time, this ‘gender just land governance’ forms the key to achieve food security and use land in a sustainable, climate-proof way.  As Lilianne Ploumen stated earlier as Member of Parliament during a debate:

‘If you gave women as much access to agricultural inputs as men, food security could be achieved for more than 100 million people in Africa'

(2019, ‘Voedselzaak’, Amsterdam)


Gender justice and women’s land rights have been gaining traction in Dutch policies since 2014. Minister Kaag in her former position as Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, stressed the importance of gender equality in her policy note. Meanwhile, in 2019, high-level officials of the Ministry emphasised the high ambitions for equal land rights for women and LAND-at-Scale is stepping up in applying a gender transformative approach.


Women lead the change

Women lead the change. That is what we have seen in recent years through the enormous call for action of many grassroots women groups. Initiatives such as Women2Kilimanjaro in 2016 - in which women from Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Senegal and many other African countries- stood up for their land rights, pushed the issue higher on the political agenda. In Mozambique, women have united to shape the national land policy. In Malawi,  rural women gather to have a collective voice towards their governments.

Now, in 2022, we see that the steps that have been taken are good, yet small. However, the structural international change needed to ensure women’s land rights is lacking. While the importance of securing land rights for women did not decrease. In order to break through the current patriarchal structures and structurally strengthen women’s land  rights, women need to be acknowledged as change agents. Oftentimes, women lead the change. As Fridah Githuku of Groots Kenya states:

“Our theory of change is that people are not beneficiaries but they are change agents themselves.”

(Fridah Ghituku, GROOTS Kenya) [3]


How to continue leading the change in the Africa strategies?

The current development of the EU-Africa and Dutch governmental Africa strategy will shape the future relations with African countries in terms of trade, economic relations and development cooperation. The intention of these strategies is‘equal economic development’, which can only be realised if the perspectives and voices of grassroots women are included in the development of the strategy ánd decision-making about it. A perfect opportunity to do so!

Equality in economic development also means a gender-just approach to trade and investment. This implies, amongst others, assessing the gendered impacts of trade and investment (and the associated policies and agreements) on land tenure security of women, men and communities, and to make women’s rights and control over land a priority in the decision-making process. Another opportunity lies in the Dutch trade missions: to align trade activities with the agenda of grassroots women, to strengthen women's land rights and to make participants of the trade missions aware of the relevance, grassroots women need to be given a safe space to participate in these missions.

While the current discussions on the Africa strategies tend to focus on the trade and investment dimension, the Netherlands and the EU can play a role in supporting and strengthening gender just land governance policies and initiatives in African countries. For example, by politically and financially supporting the further implementation of the gender plan of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, land degradation and drought that will be discussed in May 2022 during the COP 15. Including women’s groups in decisions on programming and funding related to responsible land governance is key. And in addition, women’s access to finance for land tenure security is vital. Small Grant Funds which are locally managed are a perfect example of how women themselves decide how the money is best spent[4].

It is now up to the Dutch government and the Parliament to decide  to truly put women first in the Dutch Africa Strategy, thus taking away the hurdles that hinder them to fully use their potential to lead the change.

Karin van Boxtel, Both ENDS

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