Land in particular is important for women because they depend on it for food, nutrition, and income security. Endowing women with land empowers them economically and strengthens their ability to challenge social and political gender inequalities. Women worldwide play a central role in ensuring family food security. They also produce goods and provide services to earn income for the family, as both primary and secondary income earners. Yet, the majority of the world's women are resource poor. Hunger is chronic among women and children in many women-headed households. The reason: they lack access and control over land including village common lands and forests. It is critical for women, who live in rural areas and depend on agriculture and related activities for survival, to gain access to, and control over land and to usufruct rights on village common lands and forests.
In India around 87.3% of women are dependent on agriculture, and yet not more than 10.34 per cent own land, which is the most important household asset. According to Agricultural Census 2010-11, of the total operational holdings in India, about 12.78 per cent were operated by women. in categories of marginal workers, cultivators and agricultural labourers, females outnumber the males.
The realisation of women's housing and land rights is intricately linked to the realisation of several other human rights, including the rights to food, water, work/livelihood, health and security of the person and home, and affects their social and economic security and empowerment in many ways. For women in particular, the realisation of their human right to adequate housing and land is intimately connected to their security, health, livelihood and overall well-being. Ensuring that women have access to, and control over, vital resources such as housing and land is essential to challenging and changing gender power structures and patterns of gender inequality. Securing women's rights to adequate housing and to land ultimately ensures greater autonomy for women in all areas of their lives. Advocating for women's human right to adequate housing and land acknowledges that gender as a social construct fundamentally impacts the ways in which women and men experience their housing situations, and that in order for women to enjoy adequate housing on the basis of equality, their needs must be understood and made visible within the framework of the internationally recognized human right to adequate housing.
Rural women's incomes in developing nations can only increase if they own land, individually or jointly, and have access to usufruct rights to common lands and forests. Women's lower status within households and in their communities is reinforced by their exclusion from independent ownership of land and resources. Women, as primary users of fuel wood and fodder, hold many of their communities' traditional knowledge systems on how to maintain the forest sources of these natural resources. Women, who are key users and conservers of the natural resource base, should be given collective rights to control and manage it sustainably. Women are also involved in initiatives to protect forests from destruction by commercial interests. Women should be supported as they work to "reverse loss of environmental resources".
When women are able to enjoy their housing and land rights, they enjoy greater security, better health, less violence, and are better able to meet their material needs, and to provide for their own and their families' wellbeing. Housing and land provide women with the basic productive assets and resources they need to realize other rights, access essential services and thereby improve the quality of their lives. Women's right to adequate housing and access to land are closely connected to several key issues, particularly in the context of: gender-based violence (and its relationship to housing); the impact of forced evictions on women; gender discrimination in law, custom and practice related to housing and land (including discriminatory practices with respect to martial property and inheritance); ostracisation and discrimination related to HIV/AIDS and housing; as well as intersectional discrimination.
HLRN uses the human rights approach to advocate for women's rights to adequate housing, land, property and inheritance in policy and practice. Our work consists of research, documentation, advocacy, and working with national and international networks and movements on women and land. We also use the economic, social, and cultural rights framework to analyze and document the interlinkages between violence against women and women's rights to adequate housing and land.
The links between women's rights, housing rights, violence against women and violation of women's rights to adequate housing have become increasingly clear with recent research. Despite this, many organizations that work with affected communities have yet to take full advantage of the advocacy and legal tools available under the human right to adequate housing and women's rights frameworks. HLRN assists other organizations in recognizing and utilizing these linkages through human rights education on women's rights to adequate housing, land, property and inheritance.