Secure land rights for women are linked to women’s leadership and autonomy, enhanced economic opportunities, better social security, safety, and dignified societal standing. Moreover, in the face of climate change, where women are more vulnerable to disasters and other impacts of the crisis, women’s land rights provide a solution to building climate resilience, increase communities’ adaptive capacities, food security, health, and women’s participation in political processes.
When rural women and Indigenous communities are equipped with secure land rights that are gender-equal and socially inclusive, they are better able to make investments – in sustainable farming techniques like terracing, improved irrigation, and agroforestry – that conserve soil and water and build resilience to climate change.
These are some of the takeaways of the three national workshops on the nexus between the climate crisis and its impact on rural women across Asia. The workshops were organised in Maldives, Nepal, and Bangladesh between August and September 2023, as part of the Women’s Collective Advocacy on Climate Action project initiated by Landesa, International Land Coalition (ILC), and local partners in the respective countries.
The objective of the project is to strengthen and sustain the capacity of networked, women-driven civil society organisations (CSOs) in the three countries to advance local climate resilience and emergency preparedness, effective advocacy at all levels of governance, and gender-equitable land rights. The project’s success will increase demand and accountability for women’s land rights as a tool for equitably addressing climate change with the potential for a scaled impact through national policy and programme reform.
Climate change and the livelihoods of rural women
Bangladesh, Nepal, and Maldives are three geographies that exemplify climate and land inequities, and this has caused an adverse impact on the lives of rural women in particular. Extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels in Bangladesh, for example, have a debilitating effect on agricultural land, making women farmers more susceptible to crop failures and natural disasters.
These challenges encompass not only the adverse effects of climate change but also the women’s limited access to resources, awareness of climate issues, and decision-making power. However, amidst these adversities, women in these regions have actively strived for innovative solutions to build resilience and combat such impacts.
“Empowering women in these regions to engage in climate-smart agriculture, adopt water-saving strategies, participate in early warning systems, and practice sustainable natural resource management will not only enhance their livelihoods but also contribute to the broader effort of combating climate change. In doing so, we pave the way for a more inclusive and climate-resilient society,” said Akmaral Sman, ILC Asia Women’s Land Rights Specialist, during the workshop in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, ILC member Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD), the coordinator of the Country Coalition for the project, emphasised the importance of women’s land rights as a solution to addressing the climate crisis. Rowshan Jahan Moni, Deputy Executive Director of ALRD, says that despite the crucial role that women farmers play in producing food in Bangladesh, only a fraction of them hold the privilege of having access to secure land tenure. With extreme weather conditions and extended drought throughout the country, secure land rights provide women farmers with resilience against crop failures and opportunities to access agricultural infrastructure and support services.
“Though women have made immense contributions to the [agriculture sector from the] beginning of civilisation, they are deprived in many forms due to lack of recognition and limited and no control over resources, their labour and production,” said Moni at the workshop.
During the Bangladesh event, Pinaki Halder, the National Director of Programs in India for Landesa, participated and delivered a session related to sustainable natural resource management, which provided an opportunity to emphasise the role of land rights, women’s land rights, and share lessons learned from Landesa’s efforts through other project streams related to mangroves in India and Bangladesh.
Participants at the workshop identified advocacy areas based on the geographical context of the provinces in Bangladesh. In central Bangladesh, for example, like Faridpur and Rajshahi, initiatives such as awareness programmes, meetings with disaster management committees, and local media publicity are some of the identified priority areas. While in the coastal areas, like in Satkhira and Patuakhali, participants emphasised participatory land use mapping and disaster preparedness through community engagement and drills.
In the context of Maldives, where the country is geographically surrounded by the Indian Ocean, and therefore is more prone to climate-induced impacts such as rising sea levels, civil society organisations in the country agreed in the workshop to strengthen the capacity of rural women by raising awareness of climate issues.
The Maldives workshop was organised in Meedhoo, Addu City and focused on engaging participants on how to organise at the community level, how to conduct a people’s assembly, and discussed challenges in community organising. Sessions additionally focused on local climate-smart agriculture, including a field visit to a facility from a local cooperative. As part of the event, Corey Creedon of Landesa delivered a virtual session emphasising the importance of natural resources and land rights in climate action - and the critical role of mangroves in climate mitigation and adaptation. These vital ecosystems, along with coral reefs and shrubs that are native to Maldives such as magoo and kuredhi, were recognised for their ability to reduce disaster risks and adapt to the changing climate.
The workshop was more than just a knowledge-sharing platform; it was a call to action. It empowered participants with the tools, knowledge, and motivation to become active contributors in the fight against climate change.
In Nepal, natural hazards such as landslides, flooding, and glacial lake outbursts amplify existing land issues, particularly for the landless and, notably, women who enjoy land rights in less than 20% of households.
As part of the workshop held in Kathmandu, Himal Pokhrel, Program Manager at Landesa working in Nepal, delivered the session on climate-smart agriculture policies and programs and community best practices of women, indigenous, and local communities in the South Asia region.
Participants of the Nepal workshop also highlighted numerous positive insights and opportunities related to land use planning. Representatives from 32 municipalities collaboratively assessed their areas, and remarkably, eight of them had already developed risk-sensitive land use plans, showcasing their proactive approach to disaster risk management.
The group discussions were marked by an enthusiastic exploration of the various opportunities and innovations related to land use plans, further reinforcing a collective commitment to inclusive and sustainable planning practices.
Moving forward, both CSOs and local governments in Nepal must also set accountability mechanisms to ensure that such land use plans are intended for the betterment of the community's livelihoods in the face of climate change. Sustainable agricultural practices like avoiding or minimising the use of chemical fertilisers to prevent soil degradation exemplify the best practices of effective land use planning.
Governments at the local and national levels also play an important role in ensuring that there is strong implementation of policies that protect rural women and their access to land and natural resources. At the workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal, ILC member National Land Rights Forum (NLRF) invited a Parliament member to share their perspectives on working with CSOs and the communities. Saraswati Subba, a Parliament member and the former Chairperson of NLRF, shared how, unfortunately, there had only been a limited number of non-governmental bills that turned into laws but encouraged participants to continue collaborating with the government.
“There are advocacy opportunities for policymakers and advocacy groups, particularly in the areas of land and agriculture policy development, as well as the roles of local government and CSOs in this process. If the [workshop] participants share evidence of issues with me, I will certainly discuss it,” added Subba.
Collaborative partnerships for change
The Women’s Collective Advocacy on Climate Action project is initiated by Landesa, ILC, ALRD, NLRF, and Land Sea Maldives. It is funded by the United States Department of State.
All project partners have devised a strong project implementation team comprised of both strong project managers and subject matter experts in the fields of climate change, women’s land rights, CSO coalition building, and women’s economic empowerment.
ALRD and NLRF are members of the ILC and coordinate the National Land Coalition (NLCs) in Bangladesh and Nepal, respectively. The NLCs are multi-stakeholder platforms led by national actors and include ILC members and partners to promote people-centred land governance. With a strong and growing alliance of land rights advocates in the country, the NLCs will help promote collaboration and influence change in policy and practice to achieve the project’s goals.