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Women's rights are imperative to combat desertification, land degradation and drought

A new study by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) reveals that gender inequalities are pervasive when it comes to land, and that securing women’s rights is imperative to achieve the intertwined global goals on gender equality and land degradation neutrality by the 2030 deadline. As emphasized by UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw, “Women are major actors in the global efforts to reduce and reverse land degradation. They restore land, they protect land, they cherish, nourish and care for the land, while also caring for others. However, in the vast majority of countries, women have unequal and limited access to and control over land. We cannot achieve land degradation neutrality without gender equality, and we cannot exclude half the population from land management decisions because of their gender." The new study titled “The Differentiated Impacts of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought on Women and Men” showcases how and to what extent desertification, land degradation, and drought raze the life and livelihoods of women and girls. The study advocates that gender inequalities should be addressed as part of biodiversity conser­vation, land restoration, adaptation, and mitigation of climate change. It also emphasizes the importance of efforts to transition to an inclusive and regenerative green economy, espe­cially in the post-pandemic world. “Gender continues to be one of the world’s strongest mark­ers of disadvantage. Like all crises, the ongoing environmental crisis caused by land degradation, desertification, and drought has a more severe impact on women than men. Women and girls are doubly affected—first by the crisis itself and further by enduring repercussions specific to women’s lives, which we should tackle as an equal priority,” says the study lead author Lorena Aguilar. The study shows that land degradation, desertification, and drought have a more severe impact on women than men and offers lessons on the changes needed to address gender inequalities in land access and tenure. Based on extensive literature research, expert interviews, data analysis and case studies from 55 countries, the study provides compelling evidence that without swift action, legal systems that promote equal land ownership might fail to harness the most needed transformative power of half of the global population.   Gender equality remains unfinished business The study clearly shows that gender equality remains an unfinished business in every region of the world. The non-recognition of women as farmers, lack of land ownership, the restricted access to resources, technology, education, and training, as well as limited participation in decision making continue to be main barriers preventing women and girls to thrive and prosper. In many countries, women have unequal and limited opportunities to access or own or inherit land in their name. For instance, discrimination against women’s rights to own, use and control land and non-land assets was found in over two-thirds of the countries in the East Asia and the Pacific region. In the Middle East and North Africa only 4% of women hold land titles. In sub-Saharan Africa, women represent half of the agricultural workforce but only 18% of agricultural holders. Even in countries where women have the same legal rights as men to own and access land – as is the case in Costa Rica – only 15.6% of farm ownership is in the hands of women. While strengthening women’s land rights enables better protection of ecosystems and benefits household incomes, food security, children’s education and health, women’s rights to inherit their husband’s property continue to be denied in 102 countries under customary, religious, or traditional laws and practices, and disinheritance of the surviving spouse still occurs in 96 countries. The fact that it doesn't have to be that way and that change is possible is demonstrated by the advocacy campaign called “I want my inheritance” in Egypt. The cam­paign aimed to promote women’s rights to inheritance through raising the community’s awareness and mobilizing local relevant actors in Sohag. At the end of the advocacy campaign, 100 Christian and Muslim public fig­ures and community leaders had promoted women’s rights to inheritance. In addition, 87 conflicts were settled amicably, 26 cases were referred to the courts and 10 women obtained their inheritance (they became role models encouraging other women to claim their rights). Furthermore, 17 Members of Parliament representing Sohag Governorate advocated a reform of the law to increase sanctions against those who deprive women of their inher­itance rights. “I am the last one to eat” Women and other disadvantaged groups are more susceptible to climate shocks due to the lack of diversification of their assets, as well as less access to resources to cope with and recover from the damages. Once again, not having land titles that can be used as collateral, or the lack of secure tenure, hinder women’s access to loans and credit and limit their access to extension services and technology rendering drought preparedness to a real steeplechase for women and their families.  Glob­ally, women already spend a collective 200 million hours every day collecting water. Droughts tend to increase the burden of unpaid care and do­mestic work shouldered by women and girls. When droughts become full-fledged disasters, women bear the primary responsibility for the family’s daily survival, even during natural disasters. Not only, that the result of “caring for others” is expressed partly by standing in line and waiting for water, walking, and carrying water long distances, women often tent to eat less or adjusting portions of food. In rural Latin America, women use the expression “I am the last one to eat” highlighting the dire common practice in many societies to distribute food according to sex, age and status. Under this system, males usually get served first, followed by boys, then girls, and lastly, the women. Despite these stark realities, women continue to push the needle for change. Bhungroo a women-led irriga­tion system developed by Indian women farmers that relies on rainwater harvesting. A water management system injects and stores excess rainfall under­ground and lifts it out for use dur­ing dry spells. The system serves more than 18,000 impoverished farmers (with over 96,000 de­pendent family members) and is a fully women-driven process. Advancing global gender and land restoration goals “Effectively facing the interconnected challenges of land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change requires profound structural changes. It is crucial to recognize that resolving gender inequalities is not only a matter of righting a wrong but also a significant opportunity to use previously underused and under-recognized abilities, knowledge, and talents,” UNCCD Executive Secretary Thiaw adds.  UNCCD has a long track record in placing gender equality firmly at the core of its mandate as a vital catalyst of progress. By adopting the Gender Action Plan back in 2017, Parties to the Convention already acknowledged the specific role of women in land restoration and sustainable land management, as well as the importance of gender equality as a guiding principle in all policies and decisions associated to the fulfillment of the objectives of the Convention. At the UNCCD COP15 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in May 2022, the Convention’s 197 Parties called for improving women’s involvement in land management as important enablers for effective land restoration, by addressing commonly encountered land tenure challenges by people in vulnerable situations, and collecting gender-disaggregated data on the impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought.

Women's rights are imperative to combat desertification, land degradation and drought
Women-led solutions to desertification highlighted at UNCCD COP15 photo expo

To highlight the crucial role of women as agents of change for sustainable land management during recent UNCCD COP15, the UNCCD Secretariat collected original and exceptional photos to showcase promising practices which demonstrate women’s leadership and innovation in adapting to land degradation, desertification and drought.  Efforts to combat and address land degradation, desertification, and droughts require a more thorough understanding of human rights and gender equality considerations. Numerous studies and experiences worldwide have confirmed that gender inequalities must be addressed as part of biodiversity conservation, land restoration, adaptation and mitigation to climate change, and efforts to transition to an inclusive and regenerative green economy, especially after the pandemic. Land degradation and desertification action can thus reinforce or exacerbate inequalities—or intentionally aim to overcome and transform them, for the resilience of all people. The UNCCD emphasizes that both men and women must be active participants at all levels in programs to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought. Resolving gender inequalities is not only a matter of “righting a wrong” but also a significant opportunity to make use of women’s often under-recognized abilities, knowledge, talents, and leadership.  Photos highlighting good practices that demonstrated role of women as agents of change for sustainable land management have been submitted by civil society organizations (national and international), indigenous peoples’ organizations, women organizations, foundations, UN entities and other relevant actors. The accompanying stories outline the promising practice featured in the photo, and present the impact of the initiative or project for promoting women’s empowerment and  gender equality in the context of land degradation, desertification, and drought. You can find the highlights of the exhibition under "documents" menu on the right. Photo: (c) www.migdev.org

Women-led solutions to desertification highlighted at UNCCD COP15 photo expo
Abidjan declaration on achieving gender equality for successful land restoration

We, representatives of States, and institutions, civil society, forming a group of political, business and civil society leaders, committed to promoting gender equality as a means of accelerating land restoration, gather in Abidjan at the Gender Caucus of the fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in 2022, Recognize that land provides a source of food, feed, fiber, shelter, income, and social identity, and reduces vulnerability to food and water insecurity, hunger, and poverty, particularly in rural areas, Acknowledge that land remains amongst the most fundamental asset for most of the women and men living in developing countries, essential to their life, livelihoods, and resilience, Recognize that securing women’s access to land and control over land, and access to finance for land-based economic activities are central components of women’s economic empowerment and women’s rights, generating opportunities for economic prosperity and autonomy, Acknowledge that the lack of secure land tenure contributes to land and forest degradation, and exacerbates poverty, social instability and conflict over land and natural resources, Recognize that equitable land governance and land tenure security are fundamental components to enable land degradation neutrality and land restoration efforts, We will strengthen our shared efforts to: Promote all necessary measures to identify and eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in the context of fighting against desertification/land degradation, and drought (DLDD), in relation to land tenure security and access to, ownership of, and control over land and natural resources, and other forms of property and inheritance, with particular attention on the rights of older women, widows, women with disabilities and young women. Foster measures to ensure the full, equal, meaningful and effective participation of women at all levels in land and natural resource governance at the regional, national and landscape levels through the inclusive national-level coordination and promotion of women’s leadership in planning and implementation activities. Strengthen and enforce legal frameworks for women’s access to land and control over land, including common lands, and equal land rights both under customary and statutory law, and continue efforts on advocacy for women’s land rights. Facilitate access to technology, services, and resources for women and groups in vulnerable situations for their effective participation in land restoration efforts, including through gender-transformative land use planning and management that addresses the root causes of gender inequality. Actively work to close the gender gap to move towards evidence-based interventions and responses, collecting, analyzing and disseminating data disaggregated by sex, age, disability, race/ethnicity, class, livelihood source and migrant status and other relevant factors to support the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of land-related interventions and policies. Appeal to development agencies, multilateral development banks, national banks and other financial institutions and mechanisms to lift structural barriers and increase funding that specifically target women’s rights organizations and movements, women entrepreneurs, women cooperatives and enterprises led by women and indigenous groups, and civil society organizations that design and implement programmes contributing to DLDD initiatives.  Commit to working towards the inclusion of gender equality criteria in the development – and granting – of finance for sustainable land management, land restoration and drought preparedness and resilience at the regional, national, subnational and local levels. Call upon the COP of the UNCCD to incorporate these commitments into their deliberations around the gendered aspects of DLDD, and into their policy decisions accordingly. Parties and other stakeholders who wish to join the Declaration may send an email at the following address external-relations@unccd.int

Abidjan declaration on  achieving gender equality for successful land restoration
UNCCD COP15 Gender Caucus statement by Ibrahim Thiaw

In Pursuit of Gender Equality for Strong Land Stewardship S.E. Mme Dominique Ouattara, Première Dame de Côte d’Ivoire; merci de votre leadership et votre intérêt manifeste à ce Caucus Genre. S.E Dr Mariam Mint Mohamed Vadel Ould Dah, Première Dame de Mauritanie. Merci madame, d’être venue, particulièrement, pour cet événement,   S.E Mr Abdulla Shahid, President de l’Assemblée Générale des Nations Unies. Merci aussi, monsieur le Président, d’avoir tenu à participer à cet événement.      S.E. Mme Amina Mohamed, Vice-Secrétaire Générale des Nations-Unies. Merci madame, pour votre vision et votre courage.               Je salue également tous mes collègues ici présents: Chefs d’Agence des Nations-Unies et représentants d’Organisations Internationales. Distingués invités, Mesdames et messieurs, J’éprouve un immense plaisir à vous souhaiter la cordiale bienvenue à cet événement de haut-niveau sur le genre, organisé au premier jour de la Conférence des Parties de la Convention des Nations Unies sur la Lutte contre la Désertification (UNCCD). Je savoure d’autant plus ce plaisir que nous sommes de nouveau en mesure de nous retrouver dans cette salle, après une longue et difficile période de restrictions sanitaires. Permettez-moi avant tout, d’exprimer toute ma gratitude à nos généreux hôtes à savoir le peuple et le Gouvernement de Côte d’Ivoire. Nos remerciements s’adressent en particulier à vous, madame la Première Dame, Dominique Ouattara. L’enthousiasme avec lequel vous présidez à cet événement et votre soutien sans faille, sont notés avec une grande satisfaction. Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, The negotiations on land degradation and drought at this COP are the most important in the UNCCD’s history and they can only succeed if they are built on balanced foundations, which must include gender equality. The conclusions of the study we’re presenting today are sobering. The study demonstrates that women and girls are particularly vulnerable to impacts of land degradation and droughts.    For example, when drought hits a region, food and water become naturally scarce. This affects the way food is distributed within a family. Women, the study found, tend to eat smaller portions or skip meals. They give priority to members of their family, starting with young children.  In least developed countries, agriculture is the main livelihood for nearly 80% of employed women. Yet, more often than not, they do not own the land – only 23% in Central Asia and the Caucasus, and just 4% in the Middle East and North Africa. Think about it: if we bring 100 people from that region with land titles to this room, only 4 of them will be women. And limited rights mean limited access to loans, credits, services and training, stacking the odds against the very people working the land and perpetuating poverty. Nothing stable can be built  with half the foundation missing, so there will be no sustainable development if half of humanity and half of our producers are left on the sidelines. This vicious cycle of poverty must be turned into a virtuous one of prosperity by unleashing the transformative power of women and girls to heal land and soil. They are achieving many of the land restoration successes, often with little support or recognition. In West Africa for example, women are involved in major land restoration initiatives such as the Great Green Wall.   In the Middle East and North Africa, they undertake land conservation and restoration initiatives that bring food security. Where water is scarce, they find innovative or traditional solutions like as fog harvesting, which we have seen in Morocco. Examples are plentiful from around the world where women and girl exercise their leadership on land restoration. Unnoticed and unpaid. Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues, Now is the time for action with inclusion and solidarity. To halt climate change and reverse biodiversity loss and land degradation we cannot ignore half of the population. This is a decisive decade, where we need to: ·      Change our mindsets ·      Invest heavily in education, training and access to sustainable technologies for millions of women and girls ·      Facilitate the inclusion of women into the financial system ·      Dismantle all barriers and eliminate laws and practices that prevent women and girls from accessing and using land Our UNCCD Convention is about the people and the planet. Healthy land for healthy people and healthy economies. All people. Not just half of them. With that in mind, I invite you to join « The Abidjan Declaration on Achieving Gender Equality for Successful Land Restoration". I also invite you to commit and act to improve the lives and dignity of women and girls facing the formidable daily challenges of drought, land degradation and desertification. Thank you.

UNCCD COP15 Gender Caucus statement by Ibrahim Thiaw
The First Lady of Côte d’Ivoire will chair the UNCCD COP15 Gender Caucus on 9 May 2022

En français The First Lady of Côte d’Ivoire, H.E. Dominique Ouattara, has agreed to chair the Gender Caucus of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in Abidjan. This second edition of the Caucus, which opens on May 9, 2022, will welcome world leaders to place the issue of gender at the center of debates on climate change and desertification, and, above all, to accelerate women’s equal access to land resource management. Representing several links in the agricultural chain, women are particularly affected by land degradation and drought. Their low social status and lack of protection in rural areas make them more likely to suffer from the impacts of desertification. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, women account for half of the agricultural workforce but only hold 18% of the associated land titles. In addition, the decline in agricultural production due to desertification reduces their incomes and prevents them from having access to basic social services such as education, access to drinking water, health care, etc. Yet, Women play a key role in both irrigated and non-irrigated agriculture, and many are engaged in rainfed agriculture, producing two-thirds of agricultural commodities in developing countries. They participate fully in the collection and conservation of water. However, water policies linked to agriculture value them less. The international community stressed the importance of including women in water management, particularly for agricultural purposes, but also for other purposes, such as personal hygiene, cleaning and laundry. This large-scale gathering of world leaders will be an opportunity to define the role of women in land restoration and water resource management initiatives, while improving the livelihoods of rural populations. The First Lady’s role as Caucus Chair stems from her exceptional efforts to build the capacity of vulnerable women. The First Lady’s mission is to promote women’s empowerment by creating funding opportunities for women. The Women’s Assistance Fund (FAFCI), which she created in 2012, generated reinvestment capital of more than FCFA 25 billion. Round tables between Heads of State, heads of global institutions, the private sector and civil society will identify innovative initiatives and technologies for women’s empowerment. During this event, which will see the presence of several First Ladies, the members of the Caucus will share a statement indicating an action plan to support rural communities in a gender context. The Finnish H.E. Tarja Halonen, former Head of State and UNCCD Land Ambassador (UNCCD), and the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, confirmed their presence at this high-level segment. La Première Dame de Côte d’Ivoire présidera le Caucus sur le genre, le 9 mai 2022, lors de la Conférence des Parties à la Convention des Nations Unies sur la lutte contre la désertification La Première Dame de Côte d’Ivoire, S.E. Dominique Ouattara, a donné son accord pour présider le Caucus sur le genre de la quinzième réunion de la Conférence des Parties (COP 15) à la Convention des Nations Unies sur la lutte contre la désertification (CNULD) qui se tiendra le mois prochain à Abidjan.    Cette deuxième édition du Caucus qui s’ouvre le 9 mai 2022 accueillera des leaders mondiaux à l’effet de positionner la question du genre au centre des débats relatifs aux changements climatiques et à la désertification, et surtout d’accélérer l’accès équitable des femmes à la gestion des ressources terrestres.    Représentant plusieurs maillons de la chaîne agricole, les femmes subissent particulièrement la dégradation des terres et la sécheresse. Leur faible statut social et le manque de protection dans les zones rurales les rendent plus susceptibles de souffrir des impacts de la désertification. Par exemple, en Afrique subsaharienne, les femmes représentent la moitié de la main-d’œuvre agricole mais ne détiennent que 18% de titres fonciers associés.    En outre, la baisse de la production agricole due à la désertification réduit leurs revenus et les empêche d’avoir accès aux services sociaux de base tels que l’éducation, l’accès à l’eau potable, les soins de santé, etc. Pourtant, les femmes jouent un rôle primordial autant dans l’agriculture irriguée que non irriguée, et sont nombreuses à pratiquer l’agriculture pluviale, produisant deux tiers des denrées agricoles dans les pays en développement. Elles participent pleinement à la collecte et à la conservation de l’eau. Or les politiques de l’eau liées à l’agriculture les valorisent moins. La communauté internationale a souligné l’importance d’inclure les femmes dans la gestion de l’eau, notamment à des fins agricoles, mais aussi à d’autres fins, telles que l’hygiène personnelle, le nettoyage et la lessive.    Ce rassemblement de grande envergure de dirigeants mondiaux sera l'occasion de définir le rôle des femmes dans les initiatives de restauration des terres et de gestion des ressources en eau, tout en améliorant les moyens de subsistance des populations rurales. Le rôle de la Première Dame en tant que présidente du Caucus découle de ses efforts exceptionnels pour renforcer les capacités des femmes vulnérables. La Première Dame s'est en effet donnée pour mission de promouvoir l’autonomisation des femmes en créant des opportunités de financement pour ces dernières. Le Fonds d'aide aux femmes (FAFCI) qu'elle a créé en 2012 a généré un capital de réinvestissement de plus de 25 milliards de FCFA.   Des tables rondes entre chefs d'État, chefs d'institutions mondiales, le secteur privé et la société civile permettront d'identifier des initiatives et des technologies innovantes pour l'autonomisation des femmes.   Lors de cet évènement qui verra la présence de plusieurs Premières Dames, les membres du Caucus partageront une déclaration indiquant un plan d'action pour soutenir les communautés rurales dans un contexte de genre.    La finlandaise S.E. Mme Tarja Halonen, ancienne cheffe d'État et ambassadrice des terres de la CNULD (UNCCD), et le Président de l'Assemblée générale des Nations Unies, M. Abdulla Shahid, ont confirmé leur présence à ce segment de haut niveau.

The First Lady of Côte d’Ivoire will chair the UNCCD COP15 Gender Caucus on 9 May 2022