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#HerLand: How the UN is Addressing Land and Gender Inequality

An image of a woman sweeping in a rural agricultural landscape

Disclaimer: This article briefly discusses the sensitive topics of sexual and gender-based violence.

Like many this weekend, you may have been celebrating. Perhaps you spent time with loved ones, made memories, and maybe even planted a few trees. No, we aren't talking about Father's Day, but International Day Against Desertification and Drought, held annually on June 17th.

Sometimes referred to as World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, it seeks to raise awareness of issues surrounding desertification, AKA the decrease and disappearance of vegetation in drylands, and drought, understood as below-normal precipitation. Human activities, such as climate change, deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, and overexploitation of natural resources, have accelerated these issues, with two-thirds of the world currently undergoing desertification. This, coupled with increasing and long-lasting droughts, raises the threat of water scarcity, crop failure, food insecurity, ecosystem disruption, and the further spread of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19. In other words, it's one of the most pressing issues facing both us and our environment.

#HerLand, Her Rights campaign

This year, the United Nations (UN) seeks to highlight not only the threats desertification and drought pose, but the unique, gendered experiences of women across the globe. Research has found women are disproportionately impacted by drought, desertification, and land degradation, while also facing limited and unequal access to land.

"Women hold a vital stake in the health of the land, yet they often don't have control over it" - the UN

Nearly half the global agricultural workforce is made up of women, and they produce up to 80% of food in developing countries - yet less than 1 in 5 landholders worldwide are female. This is partly enabled by customary, religious, and traditional laws that impede women's right to own and inherit land. For example, widowed women are not recognised as landowners, nor do they have land rights, meaning they are often forcibly evicted, displaced, and thus left without work, increasing their risk of poverty.

This lack of ownership translates to a lack of social and political influence, barring women from participating in land management and governance. There is an unrepresentative and unequal distribution of power, leaving men in control of law and decision-making efforts which affect women. These discriminatory practices mean women lack visibility in the industry, gaining minimal credit, low pay, and increased rates of sexual and gender-based violence. Their children face similar consequences, particularly girls, and are regularly sick, malnourished, and withheld from education due to low income. These children then grow up and enter the same cycle of inequality.

Despite this, the UN recognise women as powerful agents of change, dedicated to halting, reversing, and minimising land degradation. They actively work towards finding potential solutions and alternatives - like in Sabha, East Jordan, where a women-led community nursery uses state-of-the-art strategies to produce high-quality, native seedlings. While women in this region face social, economic, and legal barriers in relation to land, they found an innovative approach to land restoration, with the help of non-governmental organisation WADI.

Women possess the knowledge, skills, leadership, and resilience needed to address the climate crisis. As put by Ibrahim Thiaw, the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, "[women] restore land, they protect land, they cherish, nourish and care for the land, while also caring for others". It's time they were acknowledged for these contributions, adequately compensated, and given access to the funding and technology needed to increase the effectiveness of their efforts.

So, what can we do?

As we collectively work towards achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, we must ensure we don't leave female farmers and workers behind. And, while this year's International Day Against Desertification and Drought may be over, that doesn't mean the work is. Addressing gender inequalities is one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and is necessary if we are to achieve the other 16 SDGs. We must continue to empower women, fight for their rights and land, and bring attention to their efforts toward minimising land degradation worldwide.

Here are some ways you can help, as suggested by the UN and women within the field:

  • Support women-led initiatives, associations, and organisations

  • Apply pressure on businesses to prioritise women in their investments, and facilitate access to finance and technology

  • Hold governments to account, to ensure equal and greater rights for women

  • Highlight women's contributions, mobilise global support, and help spread the word using the #HerLand hashtag

  • Learn more! Listen to female farmers, research the causes and impacts of land degradation, and help educate others. The UN has a selection of materials on the #HerLand campaign that can be accessed here.


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