Celine Salcedo-La Viña is an Associate with the Land and Resource Rights (LRR) project at the World Resources Institute (WRI). Her legal and policy analysis help LRR support rural African communities’ rights to land and natural resources. Food Tank had the opportunity to talk with Celine about her recent publication,“Making Women’s Voices Count in Community Decision-Making On Land Investments,” and her work with WRI.
Food Tank (FT): How did you become interested in promoting gender-equitable community decision-making on land investments?
Celine Salcedo-La Viña (CS): Women constitute half of the population in the world. In some countries, for example, in Tanzania and Mozambique, there are even more women than men. It is, therefore, important to have women’s views and concerns included in policy and decisionmaking overall. In fact, one of the targets for Goal No. 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals, Gender Equality, is to ensure women’s full and effective participation at all levels of decisionmaking in political, economic, and public life. With increasing commercial pressures on land in developing countries, there is a need to ensure that women at the community level have a say in decisions that will have profound impacts on their lives, especially in terms of food security for them and their children.
With respect to our project at WRI, we saw that while there are significant efforts by the international development community and national and international CSOs to increase participation by local communities in land acquisition and investment processes—for example, the promotion of the principle of “free, prior, and informed consent” to any proposed project or investment in indigenous lands, or the development of international standards such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests—women have specific vulnerabilities around land investments that require specific reforms in order to strengthening their role in decisionmaking at the community level.
FT: What does the research show about gender equality in community decisionmaking on land investments? Are there significant differences among countries in various regions of the world?
CS: Research shows that women are generally excluded in decisionmaking processes on land investments. Our research at WRI focused on three countries, Tanzania and Mozambique in sub-Saharan Africa and the Philippines in Southeast Asia. But the literature shows that social and economic disadvantages faced by women in most developing countries, especially their general lack of formal land rights and secure tenure, as well as subordinate position in the household and the community, have resulted in their historical marginalization from many land use and management decisions.
FT: Why are women disproportionately affected by the loss of access to farmland and common areas from globalization and large-scale land acquisitions?
CS: This goes to the role of women in rural economies. Women are generally responsible for growing crops for household consumption while the men plant cash crops. Most of the time, they only have use rights to the land that they farm, derived from either the husband or another male relative. When the land is acquired by an investor, women lose farmland for growing food to feed their children and often don’t get a share in the compensation paid because of their lack of land ownership. Even when compensation is given to the household, it is usually paid to the men because they are considered the head of the household. Women also rely heavily on communal lands for resources such as water, firewood, and fodder, and wild fruits and plants are used for household consumption and to supplement livelihoods (such as selling at local markets). Loss of access to common lands means that they now have to walk longer distances or fork out money to source water and firewood, and they may no longer have access to wild fruits and plants that had supplemented the family’s nutrition. In other words, women face heavier burdens as food providers and food preparers, which impacts family food security.
Additionally, employment opportunities from investments are usually geared for men. Some favor women, but studies show that they tend to be poorly paid jobs under poor conditions and fail to make up for the land and resources lost. Women also face increased domestic violence due to increased social and economic stresses.
FT: Your recent working paper, “Making Women’s Voices Count in Community Decision-Making On Land Investments,” presents your findings from a research project with World Resources Institutes (WRI) and partner organizations to strengthen women’s rights in community decisionmaking in land investments. Can you talk about how the project worked to improve women’s rights and achieve this goal?
CS: The goal of the project is to strengthen women’s engagement or participation in the decisionmaking processes related to acquisitions or investments in indigenous or community lands in Tanzania, Mozambique, and the Philippines. Our specific approach is to promote more gender equitable national regulatory frameworks—i.e., rules, guidelines, and procedures governing land acquisitions and investments. In many cases, national laws mandate community participation in decisionmaking on land investments, but the mechanisms under enabling rules and regulations fall short of what is needed to ensure that participation is meaningful and that women, in particular, are able to exercise their rights under the law. Reforming the regulatory framework is, therefore, a critical step in empowering communities and women in communities to have a say in decisions that will impact their lives.
To achieve our goal, WRI and our NGO partners in each project country reviewed the legal frameworks—statutes and regulations—governing land acquisitions and investments, as well as practice on the ground as described in published reports and as gleaned from fieldwork in communities affected by land acquisitions. Then we identified gaps within the statutory and regulatory frameworks and between such frameworks and practice and developed evidence-based recommendations for reform that we put forward to the relevant government entities. In Tanzania, where villages are empowered to enact their own rules for village governance, including the management of village land, we developed model gender provisions that can be incorporated by villages in their by-laws. The model gender provisions have been adopted in two pilot villages, and we are now working to scale up at the district level. In Mozambique, we are worked with the civil society platform to advocate for gender language in the Community Consultation Guidelines and proposed Land Leasing Regulations. In the Philippines, we are engaged in dialogue with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to add a gender checklist as a supplement to the Guidelines on Free Prior and Informed Consent.
Aside from advocating or pressing for the regulatory reforms we recommended, we are conducting outreach activities to engage all stakeholders—i.e., national and local governments, women and men in local communities, companies and investors, and civil society and community-based organizations—to promote awareness, buy-in and implementation of the reforms.
FT: What roles do education and promoting awareness play in supporting women’s rights in land investment decisionmaking?
CS: Awareness-raising and sensitization activities are critical for supporting women’s participatory rights. This applies to all key stakeholders. With respect to governments, there is a need to make them aware that current regulatory frameworks may be gender-neutral, resulting in women’s marginalization in the decisionmaking processes, and therefore need to be changed for investments to be socially inclusive. Government agents at the local level may lack knowledge of the legal requirements and standards codified in international instruments and will hence benefit from sensitization activities. Investors often engage with local communities through the government, but there is a need to sensitize them on tenure arrangements of lands targeted for acquisition, the legal requirements for community involvement, and international standards and best practice on participation, not only for them to do the right thing but also to avoid conflict with local communities down the road. And, most importantly, women and men in communities need to understand the acquisition process, the nature of the investment and its implications on the community, their rights and obligations under the law, and opportunities for engaging in decisionmaking. It has to involve both women and men to avoid divisions and conflict within the community or the backlash of gender-based violence.
The type of educational material or outreach activity will depend on the audience. For example, fact sheets, “how-to” guidelines, and dialogues can be used for government agents and investors, while posters, drama groups, and focus group discussions will be used for local communities. Popular media, especially radio, can be a powerful tool for educating and promoting awareness in rural communities.
FT: One of the key findings from your project’s research was “that statutory mandates on community participation and gender equality are not followed through in the regulatory frameworks, making it hard for women to exercise their rights.” What policy reforms would make it possible for women to exercise their rights?
CS: Note that all three countries espouse gender equality in their constitutions and have laws that recognize women’s customary land rights (although not explicitly worded in the Philippines). All three countries also legally mandate prior consultation of communities to secure their consent to a land acquisition or investment. However, the use of gender-neutral language in key provisions on consultation and consent, when implemented in contexts where patriarchal traditions predominate, end up excluding women in practice. This may be because male chiefs and leaders are the ones who decide for the community, or women’s subordinate status prevent them from speaking up during community meetings, or women are unable to attend the consultation meetings because they have to prepare food and take care of the children. Even progressive provisions like gender quotas in community governance bodies may end up being merely symbolic if not supported by mechanisms such as quorum requirements. It is, therefore, important to explicitly specify women as participants and stakeholders in the law and regulations if they are to participate effectively in the decisionmaking processes.
FT: What changes do you hope to see from this research project?
CS: I hope that the regulatory reforms we identified in each country, which are intended to ensure that women in local communities are able to voice their concerns and perspectives on land investments, are adopted by the government and result in actual changes on the ground.