Land rights are essential to sustainable and equitable economic, social, political development. To make all of this happen, we believe that rural women, men and communities need voices and choices regarding their rights to land.
We recognise that working on land, means working on big changes in a broader governance system with multiple socio-political, economic and environmental interests.
Photo: Eduardo Martino/OxfamAUS
Land is so much more than a mere economic resource and a means for production. Securing rights to land allows women greater political power, community representation and economic security. Land rights reflect the relationships between people and the land, and between each other. Transforming women’s land rights in rural societies implies strengthening their position within their families, communities and societies.
As well as providing food, livelihoods and income, land provides people with social status, access to power and decision-making. It is a key tool in advancing the socio-economic rights and well-being of women, their position in society and the cohesion and development of entire communities.
Globally, there is a great disparity between the genders in their access to land, which greatly diminishes women’s ability to gain autonomy and to develop greater power and representation. The gender disparities in land holdings exist in all regions. This inequality is not just an issue for women, but greatly impacts men, children, and society as a whole.
Oxfam continues to play an important role to advance women’s land rights. We help to bolster female leaders within communities, which boosts women’s representation in a broad and profound way. We also engage with international initiatives, like the Kilimanjaro initiative, to drive women’s land rights as an important issue. We advocate for gender-sensitive policy formulation and implementation. We lobby companies to ensure more responsible and sustainable gender-sensitive land investments, which in-turn support the rights of rural women and their communities globally.
“I have learnt that nothing is impossible if you persevere.”
Suresho from Sharanpur
Proud owner of 1 hectare of agricultural land in UP, India
Southern Africa #women2Kilimanjaro Caravan
My Land: My Life (WiLDAF Ghana)
Myanmar: Women's Land Rights Learning Journey
Photo: Saul Martinez/Oxfam
It affects more people than you think.
Up to 2.5 billion people, including 370 million Indigenous People, depend on lands and natural resources that are held, used or managed collectively. They protect more than 50% of the land on the planet but legally they own just one-fifth (Who Owns the World’s Land? RRI, 2015).
In 2016, a group of organizations (convened by Oxfam, the International Land Coalition, and the Rights and Resources Initiative) launched a global call to action to secure indigenous and community land rights. A number of initiatives, such as the Land Rights Now alliance campaign, were created to put pressure on governments and others in power to take action. Over 800 organizations have since joined Land Rights Now which mobilizes the public around national campaigns and yearly global weeks of action.
Photo: Tiara Audina / Oxfam
Making uneven ground even.
Massive land inequalities exist around the world and underpin wider social and economic inequalities, concentration of political power and conflicts that keep people in poverty and deny them their rights. Land inequality refers to the extreme concentration of access to and control over land, as well as to the unequal distribution of the benefits generated from use of that land and its natural resource wealth. In Latin America, 1% of farms control more land than the remaining 99%.
Without proper interventions, including addressing the policies and practices that determine land use and govern tenure security, and that drive increasing land inequality, the poor are likely to remain poor. It is not possible to end extreme inequality and overcome poverty without effectively addressing the problem of inequality in access to and control over land.
With studies on ‘land & inequality’ we seek to change the terms of debate, building momentum for policy change to reverse extreme land inequality and address its drivers. We build on the experiences of countries that have made visible the challenges of land inequality and support initiatives to address its drivers.
Photo: Kieran Doherty / Oxfam
The good, the bad, and the ugly of agricultural investments
Rural communities face increasing demand for their land and natural resources from investors. Agribusiness is particularly significant, given its large scale and impacts on both arable land and local people. While sustainable, pro-poor investments can support community development and prosperity, bad investments drive forced evictions, deforestation, soil degradation and can plunge whole communities into poverty.
Frontrunner companies with progressive land commitments s are only just beginning to operationalise these policies throughout their value chains. Many do not know what steps to take, beyond an initial due diligence or risk assessment exercise, and are asking Oxfam for advice and tools. Most private sector actors – from local to international – are not frontrunners: they may be unaware of standards or choose to ignore them, and they may not fully understand the business case for respecting land rights.
Our approach for achieving systemic change
We envisage a future in which land-based investments are made in a context of secure land rights and citizens realising their full potential. Female smallholder farmers, food producers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples and local communities should be able to decide for themselves how their land is used. Youth should have opportunities to thrive in rural areas. If local communities choose to welcome agriculture investments, they should receive an equitable share of the benefits. We stand with and for the community and their genuine interests as the starting point, even if that means supporting their rejection of external investments.
We have a long track record on engaging with the private sector through an insider or outsider approach. This can include public campaigning to press companies to commit to take meaningful action to support land-related human rights. We also engage constructively with companies taking clear steps to improve their practices. As a rights-based organization that works at the intersection of business and sustainable development, we provide guidance to companies on how they can contribute to sustainable development that supports communities to improve their food security and livelihoods. Because of this role, we’re considered a valuable partner by many private sector actors.
Oxfam works to encourage companies to ‘do no harm’, as well as to proactively ‘do good’. What do these mean exactly?
Do no harm means that companies should seek ways to decrease harmful impacts. These impacts may include loss of land, devastation of livelihoods, undermining food security, contributing to pollution, and loss of biodiversity (e.g. as a result of landscapes being dominated by cash crops such as palm oil). The responsibility of companies to “do no harm” is articulated under international human rights law.
Do good means that companies operate in ways that enrich the rights and daily lives of local people. We support citizens (particularly women and youth) in engaging the private sector to create business models that work for communities and companies; emphasizing approaches that maintain and strengthen local people’s land rights (e.g. partnering with the company, outgrower schemes or short-term land leases).
Tools and approaches
Photo: Keith Lane / Oxfam America
At Oxfam, we are deeply concerned about the worsening levels of violence, repression and even murders targeting the women and men defending human rights globally. Those speaking out to protect their land are particularly vulnerable, especially in Latin America.
According to the watchdog group Global Witness, in 2017, 207 land rights defenders were killed. Those murdered include Indigenous leaders, wildlife rangers, environmental activists, journalists and many everyday people simply trying to their families, farms and livelihoods.
These numbers only seem to be increasing. We therefore support human rights defenders working on land rights. Our key strategies include:
- Increasing visibility of abuses and helping legitimize their work;
- Supporting their engagement with stakeholders that can address human rights violations within shrinking civic space;
- Increasing local, national and global level peer-to-peer exchange among human rights defenders and their community-based organisations.
Photo: Claudia Barrientos/ Oxfam America