Recognition of women's right to land still a distant dream
Women with land rights have better access to health care, are lesser prone to domestic violence, and able to provide better educational, nutritional and health care facilities to their children, reveals a recent survey by UN Women and Landesa in two districts each of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar.
They also have better access to micro credit, are less vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS and, in effect, have an increased say in decision making in the household, says the report.
The organisations interviewed a total of 504 women in 19 villages (in the districts of Mahabubnagar and Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and Kishanganj and Siwan in Bihar) to feel the pulse of the land rights situation in India. The report suggests that access of and control over land by women and their feeling of empowerment are inevitably connected variables.
In a stark contrast to general belief, 22 per cent of Hindu families and 50 per cent of Muslim households were aware of the Hindu Succession Act and the Muslim Personal Law, respectively. The dismal awareness about the women’s rights to land is credited to the fact that there is lack of cohesion and association among women in the communities and societies.
The survey found that 12 per cent of the women were aware of other women who held land titles and 15 per cent of them knew women who had inherited land from their parents. Of those surveyed, 92 per cent of women held no land titles and only 19 per cent showed any willingness to own some. Of the ones who did own a stretch of their own, 78 per cent revealed that they had no official documentation regarding land ownership, making the issue of land rights awareness grimmer.
Discussing the reasons behind this scenario, the report maintained that women do not have access to fair legal recourse to demand their land rights, there is little or almost no documentation of land ownership by women and that women are reluctant to interact freely with revenue officials. Of the women interviewed, 40 per cent said that the law did not recognise their access to land. Around 20 per cent of Hindu women and 5 per cent of Muslim women suggested that their religious leaders did not recognise women’s rights to access land. Among village leaders, 60 per cent did not recognise land rights to women. Interestingly, 85 per cent of husbands supported their wives’ claims to land rights.
The report states that 39 per cent of women did not claim their land rights to keep their social reputations intact, 19 per cent of them did not want to deprive their brothers of the share and 73 per cent of the eldest sons and daughters cited fear of changing family dynamics to stay away from women asserting land rights.
“When families have secure rights to land, they can make long term investments and production decisions, are more inclined to protect their natural resource bases, may benefit from housing opportunities, are more likely to access government programs and may engage more fully as citizens,” according to the report, which supports suggestions and recommendations to positively alter and strengthen women’s share over land rights.
The report says that there should be a gender sensitive approach towards issues of land rights. Land allocation and distribution should have a women-centric trajectory. Village leaders should be informed and sensitized by gender-sensitive training to strengthen the policy base at the grassroots level. All government services related to land rights’ issues and capacity building exercises around the same should be made in a gender-sensitive way and in an easily accessible format.