Women facing worsening droughts, raging wildfires and other climate change impacts have delivered an urgent message to the international community at the United Nations in New York, calling for better land rights for women and girls everywhere.
Drought, land degradation and desertification – all of which are becoming more frequent – are impacting women and girls first and worst, world leaders heard at an event in the United Nations General Assembly on Friday. June 16, 2023, to mark Desertification and Drought Day.
The theme of this year’s global observance, led by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), is “Her Land. Her Rights.”
Women make up around half of agricultural workers in developing countries and produce 60-80 per cent of food grown in these regions yet own less than one-fifth of all land worldwide. When land degrades and water and other resources become scarce, women and girls are exposed to poverty, hunger, displacement and violence.
Among the leaders and gender equality champions advocating for women’s full land rights are the Prime Ministers of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir and of Namibia Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, and the Vice-President of the Government of Spain Teresa Ribero Rodríguez. They were joined by Finland’s first female President Tarja Halonen, UNCCD Goodwill Ambassadors and musicians Baaba Maal, Inna Modja and Ricky Kej, as well as indigenous and youth activists from countries as diverse as Canada and Chad.
In a shared call to action, they showed there is a solution: women. They said that when legal barriers to women owning and inheriting land are removed, women are able to make decisions on how to manage land, and both soil health and agricultural yields improve. Women are also more likely to invest in their family’s nutrition, health and education which benefits the whole of society.
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 it.”
To coincide with the event, UNCCD launched a new analysis, which shows:
- Despite comprising nearly half the world’s agricultural workforce and producing up to 80 per cent of food in developing countries, women’s rights to inherit their husband’s property continue to be denied in over 100 countries.
- Discriminatory practices related to land tenure, credit access, equal pay and decision-making often impede their active participation in sustaining land health. Today, less than one-in-five landholders worldwide are women.
- If women had equal rights to land, agricultural production in the poorest regions would increase by up to 4 per cent and malnourishment would decline by 12–17 per cent, resulting in 150 million fewer hungry people globally.
- Countries with more women parliamentarians prioritise women and girls’ role in land protection and are more likely to ratify relevant treaties and set aside land for conservation. Meanwhile, only 12 per cent of the 881 national environment-related ministries run by elected officials are led by women.
The event builds on UNCCD’s “Her Land. Her Rights.” campaign, which was launched on International Women’s Day in March 2023.
Organised jointly by the UNCCD with UN Women, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the UN Human Rights Office, and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the high-level event “Her Land. Her Rights: Advancing Gender Equality and Land Restoration Goals” included debates and discussions on a woman’s role in sustainable land management.
A digital photo exhibition entitled “Her Land” created and curated by Inna Modja will offer an immersive experience of the daily realities facing women and girls living on the frontlines of desertification, land degradation and drought. She was joined by fellow Goodwill Ambassadors, Baaba Maal and Ricky Kej, in a live musical performance.
In addition to New York, other events to mark Desertification and Drought Day – which officially falls every year on June 17 – will take place in all parts of the world, including China, Fiji, Hungary, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Serbia, Türkiye, and Vietnam.