- By Zoey Chenitz

Around the world, there has been a notable increase in the demand for land—particularly agricultural land—resulting in a ‘global land rush.’  The demand for cultivable land has been driven by several contributing factors.  Population growth, coupled with rising income and rates of consumption, is increasing the demand for land as a source of housing and food.[1]  In addition, a recent spike in the cost of food—due to factors such as natural disasters, commodities speculation, protectionist trade policy interventions (including export bans), increased production of biofuels, and higher energy costs—has fueled the land rush, as speculators increase investment in profitable commodities production and as governments try to secure ongoing access to affordable foodstuffs for their countries.[2]

As many commentators have noted, “land deals come with promises of great opportunity for local populations, including labor demands and investment in local infrastructure, technology, and capacity.  However, they also have serious consequences…”[3]  One such consequence, unfortunately, has been the negative impact that land deals have had on rural women in developing countries.

Frequently, land that is used predominately by women for purposes such as grazing animals or collecting firewood, water, and medicinal plants is deemed by the government to be ‘unused’ or ‘waste land’ and is among the first areas offered for sale to outside investors.[4]  When access to such areas is cut off, women may lose their source of livelihood or may have their workload significantly increased as they are forced to travel greater distances to accomplish their tasks.  In addition, women’s cultural roles—for example, their role as traditional healers in many societies—may be undermined when access to important resources is cut off by some land deals.[5]

Often it is only men who deal with investors in negotiating land sales.  As a result, the situation of women land users is often not considered in the negotiation process and women end up receiving little or no compensation for the loss of their land use rights.[6]  In addition, while large-scale land deals have often generated new jobs for certain members of the rural population, women have been disproportionately excluded from such employment opportunities.[7]

Fortunately, there have been some success stories where attention to gender issues has helped to ensure that women’s land rights are protected and that women are able to share in the benefits of land deals.  In Ethiopia, for example, female representatives have been included in the land certification process, increasing the likelihood that women will be represented and will have their interests in land better protected in the context of land deals.[8]

For all these reasons, it is important for governments and investors to pay special attention to the potential gender effects of land deals and to ensure that women are not trampled in the global land rush.