As a woman farmer, whether you own, rent, or borrow the land you cultivate, it is important to learn more about your rights to the land.
Knowing more about land laws and regulations can affect the way you farm and the well-being of your family.
One of the most important parts of farming is having secure access to land. Sometimes farmers own their land. Some inherit land from their parents or family. Other farmers borrow, lease, or rent land from the government or from landowners.
Here are some reasons why it’s important for you to learn more about land and why women often have questions about land rights.
Land may be a sensitive issue in your country because more and more people need land to cultivate yet there is less and less land available.
Talking about who owns land can make people afraid that they will lose the land they already have. You may feel that some people in your family or community don’t want to talk with you or other women about land issues. But land ownership is something everyone in a family or community should discuss, including rich and poor people, young and old, women, and men. Without land there’s no food and food is everyone’s business.
If you want a loan you will probably have to show the bank a deed to your land (also known as a title deed). A deed is usually a piece of paper with writing on it that says that you own the land. A deed is the legal proof that you own the land. You get a deed from the person who owned the land before you did at the time you buy or inherit the land.
Often banks ask the landowner to sign a contract saying that the family land is a guarantee, also known as collateral, for the loan. This means that if the loan is not paid back the bank will take the land.
Sometimes women don’t know that they must have a deed for their land before they can get a loan.
Problems can arise if a husband takes a loan and uses the family land as collateral without his wife’s knowledge. The wife may later find that when the loan has not been repaid, the bank has the right to sell the land that she and her family live on and cultivate. The woman and her family could lose their land.
In every country there are laws that regulate the purchase, sale and inheritance of land. These laws may be traditional or modern.
Sometimes farmers know the traditional rules about land but not the modern laws.
Also, modern land laws made by governments can change. When farmers do not learn about new land laws, they may find themselves in a weak position if anyone challenges their rights to use land, or if they decide to sell or distribute land to family members.
So what can women farmers do to better protect and understand their land rights?
First, if you are concerned about land issues, ask a local women’s group or farming association about people or services that can help. You may also be able to receive assistance with legal documents from a local school, church or farmer training centre. In some countries, farmers can get free legal services.
Women play an important role in growing food, collecting water, planting trees, and taking care of livestock. In order to protect these resources it is important for women to learn about how land is owned, shared, or inherited.
If you improve your understanding of land rights and laws, it is likely that you will be able to better manage your land and other resources.
This script was written by Helen Hambly Odame, a researcher on women and the environment. Her address is: c/o Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, 4700 Keele Street, North York, Ontario, Canada, M3J 1P3.
The production of this script was made possible with the generous support of Nancy’s Very Own Foundation, Toronto, Canada.
Laws about land tenure are different in every country. Helpful advice about rural land issues is available from the Land Tenure Centre, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1357 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53715, U.S.A.