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Desertification and Drought Day: How land degradation, desertification impacting women, girls – Leaders

United Nations General Assembly event to mark Desertification and Drought Day brings together leaders to advance gender equality and land restoration goals

Women leaders from around the world on Friday, June 16, 2023, took centre stage at the United Nations General Assembly calling for women’s land rights at a music-filled event to mark Desertification and Drought Day.

Desertification and Drought Day
Delegates at the UNCCD High-Level Event at the UN General Assembly Hall: Her Land. Her Rights: Advancing gender equality and land restoration goals. Photo credit: UNDP/Tom Pietrasik

Speakers from countries as diverse as Canada to Chad, Iceland to Lesotho, shared their experiences and explained how droughts, land degradation and desertification are disproportionately impacting the women and girls in their communities.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said: “We depend on land for our survival. Yet, we treat it like dirt.” He blamed unsustainable farming for eroding soil 100 times faster than natural processes can restore them and said 40% of land is now degraded.

Speaking passionately about the generations of farmers in his family, Csaba Kőrösi, President of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, said: “The data could not be clearer. When women farmers have access to own land, they grow more and so do their children and nations. Together, these positive shifts in women’s empowerment have a ripple effect on income, and children’s welfare.”

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed, said: “On this Desertification and Drought Day, our message is simple: we must finally recognise and value women as owners, managers of our lands and of our resources, and we must invest in the fight against climate change. Women make up the majority of rural farmers, but less than 15% of agricultural landholders are women, and their right to inherit property continues to be denied under customary and traditional laws in over 100 countries.”

UNCCD Goodwill Ambassador, Malian artist and singer Inna Modja, was joined onstage by her daughter Valentina Conti, aged three, to read out a powerful call to action, urging world leaders to remove the legal barriers that prevent women owning and inheriting land.

Together with fellow UNCCD Goodwill Ambassadors, Senegalese musician and singer Baaba Maal and Indian producer and singer Ricky Kej, Ms Modja performed a new song “Her Land”.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an Indigenous leader from Chad, delivered a stark warning: “Despite our innovation, despite the determination of the women of my community to preserve ecosystems to block the desert, despite our collective efforts to save and share water, our land is dying.”

She said women are calling on CEOs, ministers, presidents and philanthropists to “stop pledging and start putting cash on the table to help us win the most important battle of our life”.

Less than a third of all UN Member States have ever had a female Head of State or Government. Several of them participated in the high-level event in New York in person or virtually.

Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland and UNCCD Land Ambassador, said: “Achieving land degradation neutrality requires everyone’s efforts. And women and girls are half of the world’s population. Empowering women and girls is one of the most impactful thing that we can do to achieve environmental sustainability and the health of the land.”

The first-ever female Prime Minister of Namibia, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, spoke about what Namibia is doing to go above and beyond on women’s land rights. And there were also video messages from the Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Vice-President of Spain Teresa Ribero Rodríguez.

Sonia Guajajara, Brazil’s first-ever Minister of Indigenous Peoples, delivered an impassioned plea in support of Indigenous women leaders in her country. Jennifer Littlejohn, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, represented the United States, highlighting its government’s commitment to gender equity and equality.

The event was jointly organised by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), UN-Women, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, UN Human Rights and the UN Development Programme to mark the annual Desertification and Drought Day, which falls on June 17.

UN-Women Executive Director, Sima Sami Bahous, said: “For many people around the world, land represents power and identity. Women’s control over land is therefore fundamental to the achievement of gender equality and also the economic independence of women… We must break down barriers to women’s rights to land.”

UNCCD Executive Secretary, Ibrahim Thiaw, said: “Investing in women’s equal access to land is not just an act of justice. It is an investment in our future, a commitment to the prosperity of our planet. It is an affirmation that we value not only the land beneath our feet, but the hands that work on it.”

Other speakers advocating for women’s land rights were: Alain-Richard Donwahi, President of UNCCD’s 15th Conference of the Parties, Côte d’Ivoire; Kehkashan Basu, a climate activist and UN Human Rights Champion based in Canada; Rex Molapo, Co-Founder of Conservation Music Lesotho; and Solange Bandiaky-Badji, Coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative.

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