Women in Bangladesh, especially those in rural areas, rarely have access to land despite their increasing role in agriculture. For women who are considered poor and marginalised, the reality is even harsher.
The issue is far more complex than one can think. On the one hand, civil society organisations and land rights advocates in Bangladesh argue that there is a need for the government, be it at the local or national level, to improve its institutional will and governance mechanisms to protect and promote women’s land rights. On the other hand, there is also a lack of literacy and awareness of land rights among these groups of women, largely because of the existing social norms and expectations.
There are, however, progressive policies at the national level that protect women to own, occupy, and use land. However, deeply entrenched patriarchal social norms often result in weak implementation, and the lack of awareness of these rights hinders women from challenging the situation.
For example, while the Constitution of Bangladesh calls for equality regarding property rights, inheritance laws are based on religion and remain inequitable. This denies most women the ability to gain land rights because most land in Bangladesh is acquired through inheritance.
Stand 4 Her Land
ILC members in Bangladesh have convened together to launch the Stand 4 Her Land (S4HL) Campaign in the country. The campaign aims to drive lasting change on the ground through collective action and advocacy at grassroots, national, and global levels. When women have secure rights to land, they can support their families with better economic freedom and increase their decision-making power.
Led by ILC member Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD), the campaign is formed by a Country Coalition comprising ILC members, local grassroots organizations, national civil society organizations, and other non-state actors. They also work together with government agencies and civil society to realize women’s land rights.
December 2022 marked the official launch of the campaign with a formal event held in Dhaka. During a field visit in Faridpur and Dinajpur in northern Bangladesh, ILC Asia Regional Coordinator Mirgul Amanalieva had the chance to meet women farmers and learn of their struggles.
Munira Begam, a community leader from the North Channel Union in Faridpur, shared her experience of joining the farmers’ union and gaining more knowledge of crop varieties, seeds, and the government’s agricultural policies. Munira and 23 other women now collectively own a plot of land where they cultivate crops like rice, wheat, and others.
Together they create a cooperative, where they save their earnings from selling the crops so that they can buy more land. Munira is a widow and a single mother, and she juggles all these responsibilities without any complaint.
She believes, though, that the government can do more to support women farmers, like granting subsidies if the women wish to purchase agricultural land or acknowledging their contribution by giving them access to formal credit, farmer’s cards, and skill-based training.
There is still a long road ahead for women in Bangladesh to be able to enjoy their land rights fully. Social norms and behaviour change are some of the key priorities of the S4HL Bangladesh Country Coalition, and only with collective action from all stakeholders can this be realised.
Community dialogues to build literacy on land rights are imperative to create change, especially if, in the long run, the women aspire to hold administrative roles in local land offices.