Originally published via Thomson Reuters Foundation

By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Inadequate rights for indigenous and rural women are jeopardizing forests and common lands across the globe as demand for land and resources grows, underlining the urgent need for legal reforms, researchers said on Thursday.

Indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ lands cover more than half the global land mass, and women make up more than half the 2.5 billion people who customarily own and use these lands.

Yet, governments are not ensuring equal rights and protections to these women, and are failing to meet their international commitments to do so, according to Washington D.C.-based advocacy group Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

Legal protections for indigenous and rural women to own and manage property are missing in 30 low- and middle-income countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the report said.

“Without legal protections for women, community lands are vulnerable to theft and exploitation, which threatens the world’s tropical forests — a critical bulwark against climate change — as well as efforts to improve life in impoverished rural communities,” RRI said in a report.

Of the countries analyzed – whose territories include 78 percent of the developing world’s forests – less than a third legally mandate that women have equal inheritance rights with men, the report showed.

Community practices often relegate women’s tenure rights solely to land access and use rather than full control over customarily governed land and natural resources, which are increasingly threatened by state and corporate actions, it said.

“Unless women have equal standing in all laws governing indigenous lands, their communities stand on fragile ground,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Safeguarding their rights will cement the rights of their communities to collectively own the lands and forests they have protected and depended on for generations,” she said.

Secure tenure rights for women are especially necessary as the number of women-led households in rural areas around the world is rising.

Legal reforms are urgently needed to address the gap between the rights of indigenous and rural women under international law and rights recognized by governments, Tauli-Corpuz said.

“Governments have generally hesitated to give rights to indigenous people. It’s even harder to demand rights for indigenous and rural women, but there must be pressure for these rights and their implementation,” Tauli-Corpuz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)