Legislative Best Practices for Securing Women’s Rights to Community Lands

Author: Rights and Resources Initiative

Date: March 12, 2018

This brief highlights key attributes of national constitutions, laws, and regulations that play a fundamental role in protecting indigenous and rural women’s rights to community forests and other community lands. These legislative best practices were derived from a 2017 analysis of over 400 national laws and regulations, Power and Potential, which evaluates the extent to which women’s rights to community forests are recognized by national law in 30 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

  • Key Findings
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Key Findings

The following broad principles of legislative reform should be understood before any of the recommendations presented are considered:

  • Reforms must be comprehensive: To adequately protect indigenous and rural women’s tenure rights, reforms of national legislation and regulatory frameworks need to be harmonized across all relevant genres of law (land, forest, succession, and family laws) and be applied horizontally across all regimes within plural legal frameworks.
  • Reforms must resonate with existing customary norms and laws that respect women’s equal tenure rights, and be led by the gender-sensitive objectives of community members and local advocates: The utilization of legislative best practices does not eliminate law- and policy-makers’ fundamental responsibility to craft legislation that is informed by the voices of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, existing customary laws/practices, and the broader context within which they operate. Even the most comprehensive legal reforms will not be successful if they do not build on and strengthen community norms and customary laws that respect women’s rights to access, use, and govern land and natural resources at a community level, as few (if any) communities rely solely on state-issued laws to define their relationship with community lands. Consequently, the first step in developing legislation impacting community-based tenure rights is to effectively consult with communities and ensure clear measures are in place to respect the perspectives and concerns of both women and men community-members who would be subject to the prospective legislation. In particular, indigenous and rural women advocates should play a leading role in determining the content of legal provisions concerning community lands.
  • Reforming and implementing legislation on community lands is an ongoing process: Finally, legislative reforms are necessary but insufficient to address the many “obstacles to tenure security facing women in indigenous and local communities.” Indeed, the realization of community-based tenure rights is also dependent on social, economic, and political factors that may require more sustained interventions. Reforming and implementing legislation concerning community lands and women’s rights should therefore be regarded as an ongoing and participatory process requiring close collaboration between law-makers, government institutions, communities, indigenous and rural women, and civil society organizations.


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