Want to halt tyranny, rape, HIV? Let women own land

Want to halt tyranny, rape, HIV? Let women own land

John Converse Townsend's picture

Did you know that women produce 80 percent of the food in developing countries, yet own just 2 percent of the world's land? So, while women feed the world, they are routinely denied the right to own the land they cultivate and on which they are dependent to raise their families. Without titles to land, women and their families are incredibly vulnerable -- they're at risk of having their livelihoods, education, health care and identities stripped away.

Today's New York Times reports that microcredit is "losing its halo in many developing countries." This is not exactly breaking news, but another headline in a constant stream of microcredit criticism revealing that women are debt's primary victims.

Where did it go wrong? What happened with microcredit's 91 million customers, the majority of which are women, all bearing the weight (and grave consequences) of over $70 billion in loans?

Radha Friedman, Deputy Director of Global Center for Women's Lands Rights, shares her insight:

"Before you can give a women a loan to help her lift herself out of poverty, first she has to have land. if she doesn't have land, she can't use a loan to buy herself a sewing machine to start a business, or buy a cow to sell milk in the market place. You have got to have land first."

Let's take a step back before we give out another million dollars in empty micro-promises. Where microloans trap women in a cycle of poverty and debt, property rights offer something better: identity, security, and a real hope for both economic and social development. In fact, studies have found that when women have secure rights to land:

  • Family nutrition and health improve;
  • Women are less likely to contract and spread HIV/AIDS and are better able to cope with the consequences of AIDS;
  • Women are less likely to be victims of domestic violence;
  • Children are more likely to get an education and stay in school longer;
  • Women may have better access to micro-credit.

So what gives? Let's empower women with the world's greatest asset: Land.