Indisputably, the SDGs cannot be reached if women – half of the world’s population – are left behind. Achieving gender equality implies, inter alia, giving women equal access to and control over resources to enable them to equally benefit from sustainable development. If the SDGs are to make a real difference for gender equality, however, the global vision they enshrine will have to be realized at the local level. This article provides an example of what such processes of localizing the SDGs can look like.
Access to land is particularly important in realizing the SDGs in Sub-Saharan Africa. Women constitute half of the agricultural workforce, but only control around 22 percent of arable land. Insecure access to land enforces the gender gap in agriculture. According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) estimates, crop yields could rise between 20 and 30 percent, and 100 million to 150 million fewer people worldwide would be undernourished, if women had equal access to land and other resources.
Addressing Tenure Insecurity at Intra-household Level
Women’s access to resources is largely determined at the local level. Changing traditional tenure arrangements towards more equitable access to land therefore needs locally-led and culturally sensitive processes. It is against this background that we, at Berlin-based TMG Research gGmbH – Think Tank for Sustainability, together with our partner GRAF, a burkinabé network of experts specialized in land governance, piloted a mechanism to secure land user rights for women in Southwestern Burkina Faso.
The tested mechanism essentially aims at securing women’s land use rights within the family farm, and builds on traditional systems of governing land. Intra-household arrangements on tenure were negotiated between the head of the household and his spouse or other female relatives. The objective of these negotiations was to change existing tenure arrangements towards enhanced equality and security for women. Concretely speaking, permanent land user rights of fields belonging to the family were transferred from men to women.
In the village of Tiarako, Southwestern Burkina Faso, where this mechanism was tested, over 228 women today have secure access, individually or collectively, to 185 fields amounting to a total of 411 hectares. GRAF experts facilitated these negotiations on tenure arrangements in the village. The district administration and public extension agents participated in regular meetings and village assemblies, awareness raising activities, as well as GPS recording and documentation of secured fields.
Success Factors for Locally Driven SDG Implementation
Three factors were key to the success of this process: 1) effective participation and ownership by local actors; 2) transparency and trust; and 3) social legitimacy.
Previous research by GRAF and TMG underlines that limited involvement of local institutions constitutes a major bottleneck to the sustainability of rural development projects in Southwestern Burkina Faso. Local actors are usually only involved after the project design phase, and their participation is rarely meaningful.
Therefore, we paid special attention to effective and inclusive participation of local actors in piloting this process. These actors included the local community, their traditional leaders, village committees on land governance, the district administration, and public extension service providers. They were involved from the start and given decision-making power over the design and implementation of the process. Encouraging and enabling them to assume key roles allowed them to build ownership over the process.
Multi-stakeholder workshops, village assemblies, focus group discussions, and informal meetings gave space for regular dialogues. During these meetings, outcomes of each milestone activity, such as the type of tenure arrangements (permanent or limited land use period) and geographical locations of transferred fields, were discussed. This high level of interaction and honest discussions about benefits and risks contributed greatly to the transparency of the process. Endorsement of the land right transfers by traditional village leaders, village committees and the district administration, as well as close accompaniment by GRAF experts speaking the local language, underpinned the trust built between the local community, GRAF, TMG, and other local partners involved.
Furthermore, the land allocations were well accepted by the village community, because the process was carried out in congruence with traditional practices of transferring land rights, while respecting the statutory law. The community’s acceptance as well as the endorsement by important local actors strengthened the social legitimacy of these land right transfers.
An Enabling Environment for Upscaling Pilot Initiatives
This process of securing land access for women is an excellent example of how local processes can drive SDG implementation. Local action needs, however, to be upscaled to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at global level. The piloted process described above bears important lessons on how to foster an enabling environment for its upscaling.
Adaptive management approaches that allow alignment with local realities are key to successful implementation of the SDGs on the ground. In the case of Tiarako, the land securing process was prolonged and adjusted because it took longer time for some men to give up patriarchal norms and practices. We believe that it was very important for positive, long-lasting impacts to allow participants to take decisions at their own pace.
Moreover, strong involvement of actors responsible for implementing rural development initiatives, such as public agricultural extension institutions and the district administration, is key to bringing these initiatives to scale. For example, by means of their active participation throughout the process the district administration acquired the necessary institutional knowledge to replicate this process in other villages.
Finally, any such local initiatives must be supported by coherent policies for sustainable development. Securing land access for women is an urgent entry point for tackling further obstacles to closing the gender gap in agricultural production. Secure tenure is a prerequisite for sustainable land management, and contributes to improved food security. The accelerating potential of secure tenure for rural development is acknowledged in the 2030 Agenda, and features prominently in three concrete targets, namely under SDG 1.4 on ensuring that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic and natural resources, SDG 2.3 on doubling the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, including women, through, inter alia, secure and equal access to land, and SDG 5.a on undertaking reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources and access to ownership and control over land. Hence, securing land rights for disadvantaged groups and promoting sustainable land management (SLM) practices in an integrated way is crucial to live up to the principle of “leaving no one behind.”