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India fails to protect property rights of indigenous and rural women, says report

25 May 2017: Equal rights and opportunities for women are not only matters of justice and dignity. When women and girls have equal rights in law and practice, their communities and countries also benefit. Indigenous and rural women make up more than half of the 2.5 billion people who customarily own and use the world’s community lands, yet they have been largely absent from discussions of women’s property rights and broader development agendas.

Up to 2.5 billion people hold and use the world’s community lands, yet the tenure rights of women—who comprise more than half the population of the world’s Indigenous Peoples and local communities—are seldom acknowledged or protected by national laws. Although gender norms and women’s forest tenure security vary widely across community-based tenure systems, this analysis concludes that national laws and regulations on the rights of indigenous and rural women to inheritance, community membership, community-level governance, and community-level dispute resolution are consistently unjust, falling far below the requirements of international law and related standards.


In what could be a wake-up call to global conservation efforts, a new report by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) says that legal protections for indigenous and rural women to own and manage property are missing in India and 29 other low and middle-income countries, together which account for 3/4th of the developing world’s forest.

The study analysed 80 legal frameworks in these countries and said that although they all have ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), not one met the minimum standards outlined in the Convention.

The lack of legal protection for women’s land rights can make community lands vulnerable to theft and exploitation, threatening the world’s tropical forests—a critical bulwark against climate change, adds the report. This also undermines the efforts to empower indigenous peoples and local communities, conservation efforts and reduce poverty.

Regarding India’s Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, the RRI report said that, “Although the act recognises the inheritability of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers' land, women's inheritance is not explicitly acknowledged, making women's rights to forests particularly vulnerable.”

The FRA, 2006 in India is one of only two legal frameworks (out of 80) where women's community-level voting and leadership rights are guaranteed through a quorum requirement, it said. It explicitly recognises women as community-members, one of only 23 legal frameworks of the 80 identified in this analysis to do so.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples said, ““Unless women have equal standing in all laws governing indigenous lands, their communities stand on fragile ground. For many indigenous peoples, it is the women who are the food producers and who manage their customary lands and forests. Safeguarding their rights will cement the rights of their communities to collectively own the lands and forests they have protected and depended on for generations.”

Only four countries—Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela—were shown to have adequate legal protections concerning the rights of women to constitutional equal protection, property ownership/management and inheritance.

The report also highlights that protections for women in community tenure systems were markedly weaker than protections in national constitutions.

It said that legal frameworks which acknowledge communities as forest owners provide the greatest protections for women’s rights. In contrast, frameworks established for conservation purposes offer the fewest and weakest protections for women.

“This surprising finding is a wake-up call to global conservation organisations. Ensuring the rights of indigenous peoples, and particularly indigenous women, is paramount to successful conservation efforts,” Tauli-Corpuz added.

Other highlights of the report

  • Only 57 per cent (17 of the 80) countries analysed affirm women’s property rights.
  • Only eight (27 per cent) mandate that daughters, widows, and unmarried women in consensual unions have equal rights to inherit alongside their male counterparts.
  • More than a third of the countries assessed have laws that either discriminate against daughters, widows, and/or women in consensual unions, or defer to religious or customary law without safeguarding women’s inheritance rights.
  • In many countries, including Mexico, Pakistan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, migration from rural to urban areas has been led predominantly by men, leaving behind women to work the farms and care for their families. These demographic shifts increase the stakes of women’s long-running efforts to achieve equal rights under law.
  • Indigenous peoples and local communities manage at least 24 percent of the total carbon stored above ground in the world’s tropical forests, which is more than 250 times the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global air travel in 2015. Yet indigenous peoples and communities globally have legally recognised ownership rights to only one-fifth of their customary lands.
The full report can be downloaded from his link

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