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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
Experts meet to improve gender-related knowledge

Since its inception, the UNCCD has held a firm mandate on the involvement of women in policy planning and decision-making at the local, national, and regional levels. The Convention stresses the importance of ensuring the full participation of both men and women at all levels in programs to combat desertification and to mitigate the effects of drought.

Experts meet to improve gender-related knowledge
UNCCD presents webinar on land tenure

The UNCCD Secretariat held a thematic webinar on land tenure on 1 December 2021 for UNCCD country Parties, CSO panel and observers. The webinar introduced key tenure concepts and how land tenure is linked with UNCCD’s work. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) presented the draft technical guide on how to integrate the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of land, fisheries, and forests in the context of national food security (VGGT) into the Convention and land degradation neutrality (LDN). Participants who represented various countries and regions had ample opportunity to ask questions and familiarize themselves with the draft technical guide. In 2019 at the UNCCD COP14, 197 Parties of the Convention adopted a landmark decision on land tenure. Recently, the UNCCD secretariat asked UNCCD country Parties, CSO panel and observers to submit their written contributions on the draft technical guide by 23 December 2021. The outcomes of this consultation process will contribute to the final version of the technical guide, which will be presented for the consideration of the UNCCD COP15 in May 2022. For further information on this consultation process, please contact Ms. Enni Kallio ekallio@unccd.int. Access the webinar recording in UN languages here.

UNCCD presents webinar on land tenure
Call for gender case studies and good practices

Enhancing knowledge on the differentiated impacts of land degradation, desertification and drought on women and men With a view to strengthening gender-related knowledge, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) secretariat is currently conducting a "Study on the differentiated impacts of land degradation, desertification, and drought on women and men." The study aims to address the socio-economic dimensions of land degradation and desertification with a gender lens and document existing practices. In line with objective 4 of the UNCCD Gender Action Plan, this study will also contribute to developing a baseline on gender-related issues in land degradation and desertification. It builds on the efforts of the UNCCD Parties to produce gender-related knowledge and sex-disaggregated data on matters relevant to the Convention. The Secretariat seeks to collect cases studies and promising practices from Convention Parties, international organizations, civil society organizations (national and international), indigenous peoples’ organizations, academia, and other relevant actors on 5 different topics: Information and data on differentiated gender roles in the communities fighting land degradation, desertification, and drought. How women and men experience changes in environmental conditions, in particular land degradation, desertification, and drought. How land degradation affects women’s empowerment (including participation, economic empowerment, health, mobility, access to and use of resources, access to social services). How land degradation exacerbates the socio-economic vulnerability of specific groups of women. How gender is mainstreamed in national policies related to desertification and land degradation. Transformative actions taken by governments at the national level to ensure that women and men benefit equally from policies and programs addressing land degradation, desertification, and drought. Case studies submitted in English, French, or Spanish will be reviewed and collated, and the Secretariat may follow up to gather further information on individual projects or case studies. Case studies should be sent by 1 December 2021 to the following address: gender@unccd.int .You can also contact us at this address in case you have any questions. Download the questionnaire: PDF | WORD  Read more: UNCCD Gender Action Plan Land tenure

Call for gender case studies and good practices