A Woman’s Right to Own Property: A Critical Connection to Personal and Economic Growth

March 3, 2015

By Anjali Bean, Program Manager, International Housing Coalition


Women in many parts of the developing world are frustrated by roadblocks and discrimination due simply to their gender. While these challenges exist across sectors, one significant impediment to greater personal and economic independence for women is the right to own land and property. Though progress is being made, women in many countries lack this right entirely, or are faced with legal or customary obstacles to exercising their rights. In fact, while women represent half the global population, produce the majority of global food supply, and perform 60 to 80% of the agricultural work in developing countries, women own less than 15% of all titled land worldwide.[i]

In a new paper published earlier this year by the International Housing Coalition (IHC), former CEO Susan Corts Hill explores the complexity of improving land and property rights for women in the developing world. Her work expands on a 2012 paper to provide additional background on the issue as well as specific examples of how these challenges are being addressed. The paper argues that while legal reform is vital, robust education programs, supportive judicial enforcement, and affordable and safe access to the legal system are equally important. 

The linkage between property rights for women and positive increased economic and political empowerment is clear. Studies show that women with secure property rights enjoy increased security, improved autonomy, greater and more dependable income, and better health outcomes. Women’s property rights, when fully realized, can increase economic growth, address inequalities, and reduce poverty.

As the world recognizes International Women’s Day 2015, the IHC hopes that greater attention is paid to this foundational right for women.

[i] While global estimates of this type of data are inherently difficult to compile, there is universal agreement that the figure is less than 15%, and possibly as low as 1 to 2%. See U.N. Food & Agricultural Organization, Property Rights and Livelihoods in the Era of Aids, Proceedings Report of FAO Technical Consultation 10 (2008), available at ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/ai521e/ai521e00.pdf; Int’l Fund for Agricultural Development, Women & Rural Development (2011), available at http://www.ifad.org/pub/factsheet/women/ women_e.pdf.

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