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A new blog for IIED on What Women Want to happen when their communities are affected by land deals.

Our work on gender, land and accountability, which looks at large-scale land acquisition processes in sub-Saharan Africa, has highlighted a lack of opportunities for women to be involved in key discussions that affect their livelihoods.

Consultation processes between investors and local communities commonly rely on traditional land governance structures, which are led by men. When it comes to land issues, men are considered to be the official owners of the land, and to represent the wider communities.

These consultations between local communities and investors are crucial as this is when the implications of the changes proposed by investors on land use and livelihoods are discussed. They are the opportunity for the community members to put forward demands and to highlight key needs.

All too often, only men are involved in these discussions, and women’s voices are excluded. This can have long-term and deeply felt impacts on their lives and livelihoods.

 

Read more here.

women farmers

Securing a right to land for women, we expect to find that it will protect her economic security and also her livelihoods, as well as her rights in divorce and inheritance. We don’t often think it will also protect her right to say ‘no’. Yet, some studies highlight that securing a land right for a woman, goes far beyond the direct obvious benefits of secure tenure. These additional benefits include assuring control over her sex life.

A report by OSI, called Securing Women’s Land and Property Rights’ refers to research which makes distinct connections between securing control of economic assets, in particular land, as a important for women to also have control over their sex lives.

To give some examples:

  • One study from Western Kenya shows that the integration of women’s property and inheritance rights with HIV prevention and treatment reduces HIV risk.
  • Research in Kerala, India shows that 49 % of women with no property reported physical violence compared to only 7 % of women who did own property. This is an enormous difference.

These would both suggest that feeling secure about property and livelihood, make women also feel secure in her home and regards her emotional relationships.

A quote from Rasghida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, also brings this home:

“Inequality and sex-based discrimination with regard to land ownership and its effective control, is the single most critical contributor to violations of the economic, social and cultural rights of women among the agrarian economies of most developing countries.”

As does one from Caroline Sweetman, in a paper for Oxfam:

“Efforts to fight HIV and AIDS around the world are ineffective in protecting young women in particular from infection because they fail to focus sufficiently on the need for women to have control of economic assets if they are ever to gain control over their sex lives.”(Caroline Sweetman, ‘How Title Deeds Make Sex Safer: Women’s Property Rights in an Era of HIV,’ From Poverty to Power: Background Paper, Oxfam, 2008.)

It is easy to forget or overlook the links between issues such as land and reproductive rights, yet so enlightening when links like these are made. When we work in the NGO sector, we are all too often encouraged to focus on only one topic, with little time to explore the connecting issues. Yet, when you think about it, it makes so much sense: providing a woman with secure ownership and decision making power over the place where she lives and earns her livelihood, allows her to make empowered choices in other parts of her life and most especially inside her own home.

It makes we wonder, how can we highlight these links more often into our work? Or are there ways to strengthen these benefits by being aware of them?

Further Reading:

Image Credit to Pablo Patruno

Image Credit to Pablo Patruno

A beautiful photo essay by Paolo Patruno following mothers through the journey of giving birth in Africa and highlighting the difficult reality of this journey.

In Malawi … the words for pregnancy in the local language—’pakati’ and ‘matenda’—translate into ‘between life and death’ and ‘sick’.

While documenting the lives of these mothers, I saw things that shocked me, such as a midwife yelling at a woman in labor to stop crying. I also met nurses and midwives who were heroes, saving the lives of mothers and children on a daily basis, despite strained resources and crowded facilities. I saw that the conditions in which women give birth can vary widely, even within the same community. Many women give birth in facilities without adequate equipment and services, or at home without skilled providers. Some women deliver their babies without access to power or running water.

In particular, women in poor and remote communities, far from the nearest health services, are most at risk. And of these, young women and girls are in the most danger: In many communities girls still marry when very young and contraceptive advice is poor or non-existent.

The death of a mother—an all too common outcome of these conditions—is a human tragedy. Her death endangers the lives of the surviving newborn and young children. Girl children are often pulled from school and required to fill their lost mother’s roles. A mother’s death makes it harder for the family to obtain life’s necessities and escape the crush of poverty. As I’ve traveled throughout Africa over the past ten years, I have seen how important women’s roles are, not just for families, but for entire communities.

Find full essay and images at Birth is A Dream.

 

 

PortThe next morning we travel to the town of Altagracia. The election has arrived to Ometepe. With it, unseen divisions in Nicaragua start to emerge. People group around the two forms of the main political parties: the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) and the opposition Partito Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC). Deep lines, which normally subtly mark daily life, appear like fences constructed urgently overnight. Allegiances are strong,territory is marked and tension heightens. We walk around the main part of the town. On the other side of the central square, the election results have just been announced and the town is fighting over the four votes which won or lost the seat. The winners gloat, fly party flags and explode firecrackers.

“We won!“ says a man from the FSLN in the square, leaning too close and wiping the sweat from his face, as if even the risky thought of change came a little too close this time.

The losers demand a recount, claim that there was rigged voting, that it wasn’t fair, that not everyone got a chance. The crowds stir. Mothers mutter, the unemployed grumble, the opposition will seek redress. We wonder how many of them will be heard.

In the church in Altagracia they sweep the town’s dust into heavy piles which they beat out into the garden. We walk around the church, and make note of its calm white interior and the wooden pews lined up in careful harmony. In the garden a chicken pecks on the ground. A PA system lifts music from the central square where a small cluster of victors celebrate with Cumbia music, shaking black and red FSLN flags. They play their part in a political process which reaches beyond their shore to Managua where they rarely go; to a President’s hand that they will never shake. As we drive away from the church, the voices and music fade. For those in Managua, for those watching from abroad, those voices will be quieter still.

This is an extract from ‘Waves’ published in Kweli Journal. Do visit their site to read the whole essay.

market3

An article from BBC Media Action in Myanmar Making a World Debate Local which explores the view of ordinary people in Myanmar about the current changes in the country.

The changes over the past eight months in Myanmar seem to mostly manifest themselves in the form of new apartment blocks, shopping malls, extra cars of the roads and meetings about the change.

“What is really changing for ordinary people?”

This article discusses an event in the World Economic Forum where recordings by BBC Media Action researchers were put to members of the government, NLD and Mizzima.

Here is an extract from the article with some of those voices and those questions:

“If we work, then we eat”

….A motor-cycle taxi driver in Rangoon … said that Burma’s much celebrated economic transformation has had no positive effect yet on his own daily life.

“For people like us, there is no change,” he said. “No change because if we work today, then we eat today.”

The government representative on the panel was challenged by questions on issues of corruption, lack of investment in rural communities and energy supply. A day labourer, for example, asked,”Myanmar doesn’t get enough electricity so why do you sell [energy] to our neighbours? When will Myanmar get electricity?”

A woman who runs a flower stall in Htauk Kyat Market on the outskirts of Rangoon also took the chance to urge government ministers to find out what was really going on in the country.

“In order to help people who really suffer,” she said. “The country minister should come down, check and analyse every quarter (of the township). They should share the feeling of what is happening in the quarter.”

Just a quick post to share this link to the New Internationalist where they share the five shortlisted stories for the Caine Prize 2013. All the stories can be downloaded in a pdf version in full and bloggers are invited to join the discussion on which should be picked to win.

I’m looking forward to reading the stories!

A sequence of human rights films last week at the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival Yangon  brought together my past life in Egypt and my current one in Burma.

A Myanmar film about a whistle campaign to prevent harassment against women in the Myanmar buses. The audience howled with laughter as men picked up whistles, desperate to also receive a free gift. One women said harassment was much better now, because of the whistle, we wondered?

“No” she replies, “because now I am old the men no longer want to harass me.”

“The men want to touch everyone”, says another woman , “so I am grateful for this campaign.”

The film seemed to go full circle as while in Egypt last year the grassroots campaign against sexual harassment by Harassmap and others was going strong. Myanmar has not had the same bad press as Egypt for its sexual harassment and violation of women’s rights, but there is an underlying problem here and dealing with sexual harassment will just be the first hurdle. (For more posts on sexual harassment see here and here).

The other film Back to the Square, brought us to the streets of Cairo themselves through the lens of Petr Lom. An in-depth and interesting documentary which explores the abuses of the Egyptian military authorities since 2011 through the stories of 5 different Egyptians. The film shows the continued corruption and abuse of authorities by the military and police through individual cases, highlighting current injustices but also the energy, defiance and humour which marks the Egyptian character.

Egypt might seem very far in distance and culture from the streets of Yangon, but the Burmese audience reacted audibly to the images of Egypt. They laughed out loud as the police officers spoke of the fairness of their system and gasped at the images of torture, manipulation and abuse. Whilst laughing as a police officer attempted to charm the camera with his version of good practice and justice, my neighbour excitedly whispered to me:

“It is just like our country.”

This moment highlighted the human nature of justice and the common understanding of abuse by authorities as wrong. Though they are worlds apart these people are tied by similar experiences and similar anger at their powerless in the face of such abuse. We so often debate the cultural nature of human rights, yet human moments like these remind us that justice its is broadest sense is something that we all hold strongly within us, whatever our cultural background.

An excerpt from Rachida Madani’s Tales of A Severed Head, translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker and published by Yale University Press in September 2012, featured on Jadaliyya.

Rachida beautifully expresses the feelings of being a woman in Morocco in a changing but still traditional society. In a world where women are both moving on and being held forcibly back.

A few lines beautiful lines I want to share from the poem The Severed Head:

What city and what night

since it’s night in the city

when a woman and a train-station argue over

the same half of a man who is leaving?

He is young, handsome

he is leaving for a piece of white bread.

She is young, beautiful as a springtime

cluster

trying to flower for the last time

for her man who is leaving.

But the train arrives

but the branch breaks

but suddenly it’s raining in the station

in the midst of spring.

And the train emerges from all directions

It whistles and goes right through the woman

the whole length of her.

Where the woman bleeds, there will never be spring

Again.

in the night, in her head, under the pillow

trains pass filled with men

filled with mud

and they all go through her

the whole length of her.

How many winters will pass, how many snowfalls

before the first bleeding letter

before the first mouthful of white bread?

An interesting article to share : ‘Rights Claiming in a Rule of Law Vacuum‘ by Jill Davison on practical approaches to human rights. She argues for approaches to securing human rights which do not rely on state institutions and rule of law. As the article very accurately points out in the rural parts of Burma, rule of law is a distant dream, whereas threats to human rights are a current concern. Methods which support local approaches to securing rights will allow for rights to be obtained through informal methods.

Here is an excerpt:

“It should come as no surprise that, given the persistently closed nature of political and legal institutions in Burma, villagers attempt to prevent displacement or secure some form of tangible redress through informal rights-claiming strategies like negotiation, non-compliance, complaint and open protest.What is surprising however is the development agenda’s persistent focus on support for state institutions, rather than for the concrete ways in which communities are already attempting to claim rights without institutional support. While civil society and NGOs tend to laud the increased space since the advent of civilian government in March 2011, this is often space for their own engagement with policymakers, rather than for village-level grievance airing or access to remedy.The assumption remains that the claiming of rights vis-à-vis business will predominantly be shaped by the internalisation of international norms into domestic laws, not to mention voluntary exposition of principles in corporate charters. While this is well and good, and the exposition of sound regulatory frameworks in Burma to be welcomed, the lack of clarity that plagues business and human rights norms, not to mention the enforcing role of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), will long hinder attempts to institutionalise them, even in non-transitional contexts.

There nonetheless exists in Burma enormous opportunity for well-crafted programmatic measures that go far beyond institutional capacity building. Community rights-claiming strategies are directed not only at states or political institutions but at corporate or even non-state armed actors with financial stakes in business. They represent nascent movement towards rule of law in a transitional context. Their persistent portrait as untouchably ‘political’ and oppositional in relation to the state is flawed and hinders vital programmatic support that aims inexorably at apoliticism.

Villagers in rural Burma do not have time to wait for the institutionalisation of norms into domestic policy. For those seeking to secure some tangible remedy at the community-level, programmes that foster community empowerment and confidence building now provide a powerful complement to existing strategies.”

This is the reality that not just the Burmese communities face, but rural and urban populations worldwide who live outside of the rule of law. Legal approaches to human rights, references to declarations and recommendations will not solve their problems. Listening to their approaches to the problems that they face and finding a way for human right to interact with their understandings of their problems will lead the way to solutions.

My own research in rural Nicaragua highlights similar observations. Communities are seeking solutions to their own problems. Adherence to stiff legal mechanisms will not aid them and risks alienating them using technical language.

A other few articles to share which have inspired me on this subject:

Can Human Rights Survive? Lecture One: The Crisis of Authority by Conor Gearty,  Hamlyn Lectures 2005.

Why More Africans Don’t Use Human Rights Language’ by Odinkalu from Carnegie Council Human Rights Dialogue 2.1

Reflections on Human Rights at Century’s End by Larry Cox from Carnegie Council Human Rights Dialogue 2.1 

Human Rights for All? The Problem of the Human Rights Box’ from Carnegie Council Human Rights Dialogue 2.1

Manal El-Tibi the only Nubian member of the drafting Constitutional Committee, withdrew frustrated with a non-inclusive process in which certain parties dominated. Nubian requests were not included: for the right of return to their traditional lands, for the development of historical Nubia, and for the protection of a diverse Egypt, where Nubian history and
language would be taught in schools. Within the power struggles in Cairo, the Nubian voice blends with other rights demands, but in Aswan, the Nubian voice is impossible to ignore.

In Aswan Egypt’s ancient links to sub-Saharan Africa are clear. Alexandria collects the winds of Europe; Sinai hears the desert songs of Arabia; Cairo catches the breeze from the Maghreb. In Aswan, the Nile brings Africa tangible and buoyant into the middle of town. Africa is bold in Aswan. The Nile has travelled far to reach this point, it transports invisible burdens from the countries it has penetrated. It heaps Sudan into Lake Nasser, drops Ethiopia by the Aswan promenade; unleashes Uganda into the soil.

Read the full article in Guernica Magazine: The Capital of Nubia.

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