Working together for change
Encouragingly, in the last decade international commitments have been made to regulate the governance of land and natural resources. Protecting the land rights of small farmers, vulnerable communities and particularly women is explicitly mentioned in the Sustainable Development Goals. International, national and local civil society organisations are speaking out loudly, building solidarity and mobilising communities. They aim to hold governments and private actors accountable to what they promised on paper. Many are taking action, but more remains to be done.
What can individuals do?
Land is an issue that involves relationships between people and within society. The actions of individuals can have a positive impact in the long term only if they are part of larger joint efforts. In their own capacity, individuals can:
- request information about their land and resource rights according to the law, and research ways of resolving disputes
- seek support to find the best and most cost-effective way to document and protect their individual and/or community rights. This could involve reaching out to organisations working in this area.
- once they have gained this knowledge, educate and mobilise other family and community members about the need to protect land rights
- stress the importance of including all members of the community in decisions.
What can grassroots
Grassroots organisations have a key role to play in helping communities and specific groups (eg women) to come together and work on land-related problems. Grassroots organisations can:
- help communities to educate, mobilise and organise themselves to take action on land rights
- collect information about the land tenure situation and existing disputes in their local communities. Organisations need well documented evidence to do successful work on land rights.
- equip themselves with the right tools and skills to collect land data (eg participatory mapping techniques)
- reach out to other organisations and/or government bodies to get the legal and technical support they need
- represent communities’ interests in discussions with potential investors
- build alliances with other organisations to advocate with regional and national governments.
What can we ask our
governments to do?
Governments have a duty to protect their citizens’ rights. We can ask the government to:
- develop and enforce land policies and laws that will benefit poor people. These may include policies for redistributing land, as well as for recognising and formalising customary and collective rights.
- develop policies and laws that benefit women in terms of land. These regulations should be included in land law, but also in other frameworks such as family and inheritance law. Promote and enforce programmes such as joint land titling for husbands and wives, and provide incentives for this. Make sure that women are included in land decision-making bodies at all levels.
- ensure there is an open and affordable process for documenting and registering land rights and for resolving disputes
- combat corruption around land issues.
Barbara Codispoti is the Global Land Programme Lead at Oxfam.
Question: I know that advocating about land rights can be dangerous. How can my community keep safe while trying to protect our rights?
Answer: When an organisation speaks out in a difficult environment or on controversial issues, it can be risky for the people involved. Violence, threats of violence, imprisonment and even death threats may be made against those doing the advocacy, their friends and family, and people in the communities involved.
Below are some examples of ways of reducing risks associated with doing advocacy.
- Work with organisations outside the country or context who are not under the same threat.
- Undertake advocacy with others, as part of a network or alliance, to keep a low profile and give strength in numbers.
- Build strong relationships with those in power who could help you in difficult situations.
- Show respect to decision-makers and give them clear explanations if they ask for them.
It is a good idea to do an advocacy risk analysis to identify and manage risks. Tearfund’s Advocacy toolkit can help with this. If any risk is too high, it is wise to consider alternative options for advocacy, such as asking an external spokesperson or overseas organisation to advocate on your behalf.
It is good practice to ensure that everyone involved is aware of the risk, is still happy to proceed and is aware of what to do to minimise the risk. This will probably involve ensuring that they know who to go to for help. There may be some situations where the risk is so high that we cannot do any advocacy at all. However, it is worth remembering that, sometimes, there may be a bigger risk in not doing advocacy than in going ahead with it.
Answer adapted from Tearfund’s Advocacy toolkit by Joanna Watson. Visit www.tearfund.org/advocacytoolkit to download a free copy, or contact us to order a printed copy for £12.
Land tenure means the right to hold, use, manage and transfer a piece of land.
Customary means according to the customs or usual practices in a particular setting.
Statutory means according to the law.
Gender justice means valuing women and men equally and ensuring they have a fair share of power, knowledge and resources.*
*This is a simplified definition for the purposes of this edition. For a fuller definition of gender justice, see Tearfund’s Transforming Masculinities, available at www.tearfund.org/transformingmasculinities