Sixty-second Session,
10th & 11th Meetings* (AM & PM)

Gender Equality in Land Rights, Ownership Vital to Realizing 2030 Agenda, Women’s Commission Hears amid Calls for Data Collection on Tenure Security

Unless gender equality extended to land rights and ownership, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would become an impossible vision, the Commission on the Status of Women heard today during a panel discussion, continuing its sixty-second session.

The landscape needed focused attention, panellists agreed.  Nearly half the world resided in rural areas, with one third depending on agriculture for survival.  Yet, of 161 countries surveyed, only 37 had specific laws granting equal rights for men and women to own, use and control land.

Indeed, landlessness was among the best predictors of poverty, said Tzili Mor, of the Board of the International Action Network for Gender Equity and Law.  Of urgent concern was that women had been excluded from owning property in many communities around the world, lacking the same rights as men.

Moreover, as some participants pointed out, even when land rights for women existed, some were afraid to stake their claims.  To address those and other concerns, panellists outlined challenges and proposed strategies of converting pledges made in international instruments to progress on the ground.

Ms. Mor was among several expert panellists leading the interactive discussion on the role of rural women’s land rights and land tenure security in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.  She said advancing women’s land rights could catalyse progress to empowering women.  Providing several examples, she said reducing the gap between laws and implementation was a way to trigger progress, as was leveraging the Sustainable Development Goals’ land indicators.

Suggesting additional ways to address land-related concerns, Rea Abada Chiongson, Senior Legal Adviser on Gender at the International Development Law Organization, said efforts must ensure rural women’s participation in developing and implementing laws and policies.

Land ownership was vital and educating people about their rights was equally important, said Yolanda Teran Maigua, Coordinator of Education and Culture, Indigenous Women's Network on Biodiversity from Latin America and the Caribbean.  Agreeing, Naela Gabr, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), said tools to help countries to realize the 2030 Agenda included aligning national legislation with Goal 5, on gender equality, and addressing gender disparities of land ownership, access to credit and participation in political decision-making bodies.

Data collection on those issues remained key, said Robert Ndugwa, Officer-in-charge of the Global Urban Observatory Unit in the Research and Capacity Development Branch of UN-Habitat.  Of more than 200 indicators involved with the 2030 Agenda, some focused exclusively on rural women for the first time, including land rights.  Underlining the importance of supporting data collection on tenure security and gender-based rights, he said Governments and stakeholders must support data collection to enable the creation of a strong evidence base that could be used for discussions at future sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women.

In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion on innovative data approaches for measuring progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Experts examined themes including gig data and the modernization of national statistical systems, data governance and the role of State and non-State actors in supporting gender equality.

The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 19 March, to continue its work.

Interactive Panel 1

In the morning, the Commission held a panel on “The role of rural women’s land rights and land tenure security in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals”, chaired by Commission Vice-Chair Shah Asif Rahman (Bangladesh).  Presentations were made by:  Naela Gabr, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); Tzili Mor, of the Board of the International Action Network for Gender Equity and Law; Yolanda Teran Maigua, Coordinator of Education and Culture, Indigenous Women's Network on Biodiversity from Latin America and the Caribbean; Rea Abada Chiongson, Senior Legal Adviser on Gender at the International Development Law Organization; and Robert Ndugwa, Officer-in-Charge of the Global Urban Observatory Unit in the Research and Capacity Development Branch of UN-Habitat.

At the outset of the panel, Alicia Buenrostro Massieu (Mexico), Chair of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, addressed participants via videoconference.

Ms. BUENROSTRO MASSIEU explained how gender perspectives were mainstreamed in ongoing efforts, emphasizing that achieving gender equality was a common goal.  Expressing her appreciation for the Commission on the Status of Women and its guidance on related issues, she said the Narcotic Drugs Commission had adopted resolutions on such issues and had stepped up efforts to make progress on Sustainable Development Goal 5.  Alternative development initiatives implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) had a strong gender component, empowering rural communities while ensuring that men and women benefited equally from interventions.  They often included targeted interventions to foster women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship, such as supporting women’s business groups by providing vocational training and start-up grants.

Mr. RAHMAN, introducing the panellists, encouraged participants to examine how different stakeholders could ensure rural women’s rights to land and tenure security, provide examples of national efforts and show evidence of how those issues contributed to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ms. GABR said recommendations for progress included encouraging States to adopt legislation, awareness-raising and policies to achieve rural women’s substantive equality.  In taking such measures, she emphasized that a low percentage of agricultural land was owned by women, while a high percentage of rural women made up the world’s agricultural labour force.  Environmental degradation was another pressing issue that harmed production, affected food security and encouraged migration.  Pointing to a microcredit project in Egypt as an example of protecting women’s land rights and tenure security, she said the international community must take action.  Tools to help countries realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development included aligning national legislation with Goal 5 and addressing gender disparities of land ownership, access to credit and participation in political decision-making bodies.

Ms. MOR said nearly half the world resided in rural areas, with one third of people depending on agriculture.  Landlessness was among the best predictors of poverty, and women had been excluded from owning property in many communities.  As such, they lacked the same rights as men.  Advancing women’s land rights could help empower women, she said, providing several examples, including filling the normative gap with a binding legal framework defining land rights.  Indigenous peoples had made some progress, but no clear framework existed alongside an accountability vacuum.  Reducing the gap between laws and implementation was another way to trigger progress, as was leveraging the Sustainable Development Goals’ land indicators.  Combining a development approach with a human rights-based one was essential.  She suggested a closer examination of related issues, including land conservation, pointing out that most of the world’s 6,000 national parks and 100,000 protected places had been created by the removal of tribal and indigenous peoples.  Ensuring secure land rights for rural women and their communities could ignite one of the most promising sparks for catalysing positive development and human rights outcomes.

Ms. TERAN MAIGUA said Mother Earth was the bedrock of life.  Throughout the year, indigenous peoples implemented ancestral practices that respected Earth.  Indigenous peoples also had rights, she said, presenting a slideshow of ways land was used in farming.  Turning to the Sustainable Development Goals, she said none had explicitly mentioned indigenous peoples.  However, all the Goals were interlinked and formed part of a broad vision to ensure that the needs of rural indigenous women were addressed.  Women’s rights were enshrined in international instruments, but action was needed to ensure progress on the ground.  Citing a number of challenges, she said mobile phones, for instance, were expensive in some areas, where costs would be $100 when the average daily income was $1.  In addition, all women required access to education at all levels, as well as quality and culturally-sensitive health services, including sexual and reproductive health.  Land ownership was vital, she said, emphasizing the importance of women’s full participation in the drafting of agreements and policies.

Ms. ABADA CHIONGSON said land represented economic and social assets, with ownership rights having broad development impacts.  Discriminatory laws and policies, for example, constrained rural women’s rights to land.  Of 161 countries, only 37 had specific laws granting equal rights for men and women to own, use and control land.  Implementation gaps often resulted from a failure to consider the interaction between different policies and how they collectively affected women’s land rights.  Titling and registration programmes often required processes that were inaccessible to rural women who had limited time, money and networks to engage with administrative bodies.  Problems also arose between formal and informal legal systems, whereby overlapping rights, contradictory rules and competing authorities threatened women’s land rights.  For instance, a neglected area of inquiry was between customary law and statutory law.  Sometimes, the marginalization of customary law worked against women, as when formalization programmes did not recognize various tenure systems.  To address those concerns, efforts must ensure rural women’s participation in developing and implementing laws and policies.  In addition, gender-relevant data must be collected and considered, women’s access to justice must be improved and more resources provided.

Mr. NDUGWA said land, a key resource for rural women, had been the focus of data indicators to monitor development achievements.  Of more than 200 indicators involved with the 2030 Agenda, some exclusively targeted rural women for the first time, including their land rights.  Until now, such indicators had not been broadly monitored, leaving policies mismatched with investments based on scant information.  He underlined the importance of supporting data collection of flagship indicators, including on tenure security and gender-based rights.  Raising several issues that deserved close attention, he said Governments and stakeholders must support data collection so as to enable the creation of a strong evidence base that could be discussed at future sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women.  New tools now examined the male-female dichotomy in household surveys, with a view to providing more meaningful results, supported by new technologies, such as geospatial studies, to gather more detailed information.  Much work remained to be done, however, with all stakeholders, from Governments to civil society groups, playing their part.

Following the presentations, participants provided national examples of achievements and challenges.  Iran’s representative said her Government had allocated land to rural women cooperatives to support their productivity as important members of society.  Colombia’s delegate said land ownership and reform had benefited women, particularly those who had been displaced by conflict. 

Many participants agreed that strengthening land rights for women was vital to achieving progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.  More must be done to enhance rural women’s understanding of the process of land titling and ownership, Switzerland’s representative said, describing her country’s support for projects with Governments and civil society groups in developing nations.

Holistic approaches were needed as well.  A representative of Public Services International said well-funded public services must include a gender perspective.  Women’s right to land meant nothing without respect for their rights to justice, education and human rights.

Some said scant data had been a barrier to shaping effective policy.  The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania, noting that Member States must come up with viable solutions to enhance data collection to inform policies, asked how best that could be done.

Others noted that even when rights existed, women were afraid to act, with Egypt’s representative asking the panel how best to empower women to fully enjoy their rights without any fears.

Ms. GABR responded that, with regard to legal literacy, non-governmental organizations and Government partners must help women become fully aware of their rights.  Spotlighting examples of ways that was being done, she said further efforts were needed.  For its part, CEDAW was exploring ways to implement the 2030 Agenda to ensure the protection and promotion of rural women’s rights.

Ms. ABADA CHIONGSON, describing the interconnectedness of the 2030 Agenda Goals, said the links had been examined and it was clear that some were mutually beneficial.  Women must be empowered to take their own rights into their hands and efforts must continue in that regard.  Offering one example of action, she said access to justice must be ensured. 

Mr. NDUGWA said current guides on land indicators were ready for the next phase in the collection of information led by a multi-stakeholder approach.  That included internalizing those indicators and participating in the data collection and validation, which required national-level engagement focused on local, national and global reporting.  To advance efforts, he said local projects should be supported.

Ms. MOR said the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had already unrolled a new related data collection module.  Answering a question on land expropriation, she said Governments, for their part, should hold corporations accountable outside their countries, while host countries should act to prevent exploitation.  Going forward, she said addressing land degradation was key.

Ms. TERAN MAIGUA underlined the importance of effectively educating people about their rights.  When a person understood her own rights, there was a freedom to pursue them.  Education was vital, especially for women.  Educating women meant educating a nation.  Qualitative and quantitative data must better inform decision making.

Also participating in the dialogue were representatives of Kenya, Mexico, Gambia and Zambia.

The following two non-governmental organizations also participated:  Women’s Freedom and Democracy and Catholic Women of Australia.

Interactive Panel 2

This afternoon, the Commission held a second interactive expert panel, on the theme “Innovative data approaches for measuring progress on gender equality and women's empowerment”.  Chaired by Commission Vice-Chair Koki Muli Grignon (Kenya), it featured five panellists:  Steve Macfeely, Head of Statistics, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); Jaime Sebastian Lobo Tovar, National Administrative Department of Statistics of Colombia; Nandini Chami, Senior Research Associate, IT for Change; Nnenna Nwakanma, Senior Policy Manager, World Wide Web Foundation; and Irena Krizman, co-Chair of ISI Statistical Capacity Building Committee.

Ms. GRIGNON, at the outset, said the need to advance the availability of gender statistics and their use — especially in the context of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals — was an important part of the session’s review of its 2003 Agreed Conclusions on women’s access to and participation in media and information and communications technology (ICT).  Noting that information was currently available for less than one quarter of the indicators needed to monitor the gender-specific elements of the Goals, she asked panellists to assess lessons learned and actions needed to improve the production, analysis and dissemination of gender data in the context of monitoring and implementing the 2030 Agenda; identify best practices for using ICTs in monitoring the implementation of global, regional and national commitments around gender equality and women’s empowerment; and examine how data governance in the digital age could be strengthened to empower women and girls everywhere.

Mr. MACFEELY, noting that there were 232 indicators selected to monitor the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals — compared to only 60 for Millennium Development Goals — said those were ranked according to how much was known about them and how much related data were available.  As data remained unavailable for many of those indicators, a main question was whether global performance in implementing the new Goals would be better or worse than that in implementing the previous Goals.  There existed not only a digital divide but a “data divide” between developed and developing countries, with the latter often struggling to collect information.

That gap also existed in the case of “big data”, he said, which emerged from almost every facet of modern life — from the use of credit cards to security surveillance, and from cellular phones, science technology and GPS to online shopping.  Pointing out that the “wiki experience” in which people generated their own data had shifted the conversation, he nevertheless warned against the assumption that data were widely accessible to all or that they accurately represented the world.  Many new challenges were emerging in the governance and use of data, he said, adding that new norms and standards had yet to be enshrined and more thought should be given to ethical and privacy issues.  “We need to be really careful,” he stressed.

Mr. LOBO TOVAR, noting that the body he led was charged with Colombia’s national data collection, said its work fell under the National Statistics Plan.  Some of its considerations included the use of smart data, management capacity and the role of big data.  Regarding the latter, new methodologies had been designed to complement more traditional data sources, with major innovations emerging in the areas of gender mainstreaming and analysis.  For example, big data had helped the Government study various facets of gender-based violence, resulting in more targeted responses and victim support structures.  One main goal was to identify and spotlight the gender dimension of violence, he said.

Ms. CHAMI said one lofty goal elaborated by the United Nations was that “no one should be able to say we didn’t know” about development challenges.  That put pressure on data collection, she said, calling for efforts to capitalize on the big data revolution to ensure a robust policy response that promoted equal rights for women and girls everywhere.  However, she warned against submitting to the “big data dogma”, including the idea that it could fully capture a full view of the world.  Big data was not completely representative in nature, and it was important to remember that the global gender digital divide showed no signs of receding.

Citing examples where the use of big data had proven challenging or misleading, she asked how big data could instead be deployed to improve global understanding of women’s and girls’ lives.  “Small” and traditional data, including census data, still remained critical, and experts must guard against discriminatory or exclusive results in data stemming from lack of representation.  Calling on Governments to put in place strong transparency standards to ensure broad representation, she added that women’s individual privacy must also be safeguarded.

Ms. NWAKANMA, recalling that 12 March 2018 had marked the twenty-ninth anniversary of the Internet, said today’s data explosion was a direct result of that historic innovation.  Nevertheless, the divide between those who had Internet access and those who did not was deepening inequalities and posing serious global threats.  “To be offline today is to be excluded from the opportunities to learn, earn, access valuable services and participate in democratic debate,” she stressed, adding that about 50 per cent of the world’s population still lacked access, most of them women. 

In response, she said, a group of organizations had joined together under the umbrella of the Africa Data Consensus, which called for data to be legally and technically open to everyone by default.  Noting that countries in Africa were embracing more communities into their data systems, she said it was working to develop a Consolidated Africa Gender Index and ensure all women and girls were able to realize their right to access information.  In 2016, a group of women shea butter producers had attended the National Data Forum in Côte d’Ivoire, where they had stressed the need for on-the-ground data “that matters to us”, such as how many shea producers died annually from snake bites in the course of their work.  “Data is not what matters, what matters is every woman,” she concluded.

Ms. KRIZMAN joined other speakers in raising questions about the ethical principles underlying statistics used to measure development targets around the world.  A report titled, A World That Counts had proposed a set of standards in that regard and the European Union had recently agreed on a new general data protection regulation.  In her native Slovenia, good administrative infrastructure had also been an excellent source of disaggregated data, she said, drawing attention to the role of national statistical offices, especially in the area of gender statistics where they frequently lagged behind.

In many developing countries, she continued, methodological challenges, limited resources and generally weak institutional capacity often threatened the collection of quality data.  Multi-stakeholder and cross-sectoral partnerships that involved the private sector could help address some of those challenges, she said, citing one relevant example from Slovenia.  Calling for political support and strong national commitments to smart, gender-informed policymaking, she urged gender experts to learn to speak the language of policymakers.

In the ensuing dialogue, several speakers echoed the panellists’ concerns about a global tendency to overinflate the importance of big data.  Some warned that, instead of seeing big data as a “fashionable trend”, it must be harnessed as a tool to complement traditional data and provide new insights where possible.  Many delegates also outlined their Governments’ efforts to integrate big data into national statistical systems and further disaggregate information based on gender.

A number of speakers also described innovative projects — aimed at promoting gender equality and empowering women — that were inspired by big and “small” data. A representative of We Power (Israel) said her group was engaged in a project meant to influence cities and other municipalities to promote women to leadership positions.  We Power had used big data collected at the local level to learn more about women in management and senior leadership positions, including in private companies and on city boards of directors.  That information was gathered, analysed and then used to publish a country-wide index on gender gaps.  Moreover, municipalities received a rating on their degree of female leadership, which served as an incentive structure as cities competed to get the best scores.

A representative of the group Project 1948 Foundation (Bosnia and Herzegovina) said her organization donated cameras to women to help magnify their experiences, providing both a form of therapy and empowerment.  Its Photo Voice project also employed predictive networks and other innovative technological tools and was working to build the capacity of evidence-based policymaking structures. 

The representative of Afghanistan described her Government’s establishment of a television channel — run largely by women — which reported exclusively on women’s issues.  She asked the panellists to provide examples of other countries that had used traditional media to draw attention to gender-related topics, and how Afghanistan’s women’s channel could achieve better results.

Several delegates also voiced concern about challenges their countries faced in developing the capacity to collect useful data aligned with the global development agenda, or posed questions to the panellists on related administrative and technical issues.

In that vein, the representative of Namibia said hers was among the many countries struggling with generating gender-disaggregated data.  While her Government was working to harmonize its national surveys with the Sustainable Development Goal indicators, she asked the panellists to provide more information on the use of administrative data sources.

The representative of Canada, noting that her country was committed to pursuing feminist policies across its work, asked the panellists for their opinions on how to integrate big data and gender equality objectives — which often fell under the auspices of different national ministries — at the Government level.

Ms. KRIZMA, responding to that question, said in Slovenia the national statistical office led the way on gathering all data, including those related to gender.  Various interministerial committees had been established on specific topics, she said, noting that one met monthly on media-related issues, tackling such topics as gender inclusion.  In response to the question posed by the representative of Namibia, she said that while Slovenia had decided to do away with its national census, relying more on administrative data sources required excellent organization and posed different challenges for its statisticians.  

On the question about media and gender, Ms. NWAKANMA shared case studies from Indonesia, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, while Ms. CHAMI said that in India — home to a vibrant civil society — there were numerous examples of intersections between traditional media and community journalists in the promotion of gender equality.

Also speaking were representatives of Italy, Uganda, Qatar, China, Eritrea and Côte d’Ivoire.

Representatives of the non-governmental organizations Imam Ali’s Popular Students Relief Society (Iran), Fundación Microfinanzas BBVA (Spain), United States Committee for UNIFEM (United States) and International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination (United States) also participated.


*     The 9th Meeting was not covered.


For information media. Not an official record.