Arguably the biggest problem facing humanity—climate change—may have a surprising solution: legally recognize and enforce the land rights of rural women in customary tenure systems.
We already know that strong land rights for women reduce poverty and increase economic empowerment and personal agency. A growing body of research also suggests that when women have secure tenure rights, climate change resiliency increases for women and their communities. Women commonly rely on community lands that [collectively] hold at least 24% of the aboveground carbon found in the world’s tropical forests—a sum equivalent to almost four times the global greenhouse gas emissions of 2014. This initial research suggests a dual approach: treating women—those hardest hit by climate change—as agents of prevention, while prioritizing women’s participation in adaptation measures.
At least 2.5 billion people derive their livelihoods from rural land-use economies, and communities hold and manage over half of the world’s land area through customary tenure systems in which land is held at the community level. Those living under individualized and community-based customary systems are likely to be among the majority of those living in poverty worldwide. They are especially dependent on rural land for their livelihoods, yet they often lack legally recognized land rights under national laws. This holds especially true for people in the lowest income countries, and those experiencing the most extreme forms of poverty due to intersecting discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, class, or caste.
These same populations are among those most affected by climate change. According to recent research, 52% of agricultural land worldwide is affected by climate-changed induced drought, just one example of a climate change-induced “slow-onset” disasters. Land degradation, another example, is estimated to affect 1.5 billion people.
Securing rural women’s rights to land may be key to the survival of our species.