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11 Mar 2019

Francine Picard Mukazi, IISD,
Francine Picard Mukazi, IISD,
11/03/19 - Francine Picard Mukazi, IISD

Enabling voices, demanding rights: How to ensure responsible investment in land for women

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A trade war is looming between the United States and China. If they follow through, the resulting trade war would be disastrous—and not just for those two countries. The move could unleash a major disruption of world markets reminiscent of the runup to the 2008 food price crisis—when the prices of rice, wheat and corn nearly doubled over a two-year period (FAO, 2009).

What could it mean for business and the advancement of human rights, particularly women’s rights? The 2008 food price crisis pushed the number of hungry to over a billion people and triggered a global investor rush for land that weakened land rights for poor and vulnerable people all over the world, particularly in Asia and Africa. The negative impacts were disproportionately borne by women. Women were excluded from opportunities to participate and voice their interests in decisions around the establishment of lucrative investments. Failing to take gender issues into account leaves women potentially worse off than prior to an investment; entrenching gender inequality and disempowerment. But business could play a greater role. This blog explores how.

Discrimination against women’s land rights

Women across the world face systemic gender discrimination despite efforts to increase legal protections for women to use, manage, own and inherit land. In practice, women often are not able to realize their rights to the land on which they live, work and depend for survival. According to UN Women, women’s participation and leadership in rural councils responsible for major land-related decisions, including allocations and investments, remains the exception.

But increasingly, countries are recognizing the importance of women’s rights to land both as human rights and as an imperative for economic development. A noticeable progress can be found in Rwanda where the government has passed laws that embedded equal rights for men and women in marriage, to own and inherit property, making mandatory joint ownership of property in legal marriage. 

Enabling voices

One way to improve gender equality and women’s empowerment is through the establishment of secure mechanisms to ensure their participation and inclusion in decision-making when confronted with investments, particularly involving land. Companies can leverage women’s inclusion. The Balmed project in Sierra Leone project is an important example of how companies help women to be included in land investments. The model seeks to hire only women in consultation activities and encourages their participation in block farming by applying a gender-sensitive quota. The model includes a succession clause in the contract that contributes to a significant increase in the number of women outgrowers in the area. The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) together with Oxfam developed a tool for gender-sensitive community engagement in investments in agricultural land as a significant contribution towards achieving a win-win scenario for women.  Enabling voices, demanding right, provides a step by step guide on how to ensure that women can be directly involved in decision-making regarding investment decisions. The guide provides advice on how women and communities can engage with potential investors at five stages and entry points for engagement during the investment process. Business could strengthen the gender outcomes of their own practices by following these steps.

The five stages and entry points are:

  1. When an investor expresses interest in investing in (or near) your community, the entry point is to be involved in the selection of the location);
  2. When the project planning stage begins, the entry points are to participate in the consensus process, environmental and social impact assessments, and the rights to natural resources;
  3. When the parties are negotiating the terms of the investment, the entry points are to ensure the creation of a community benefit agreement and ensure international norms are respected in the event that relocation is unavoidable;
  4. Monitoring and evaluating the process during the investment
  5. Project evaluation when the investor’s contract is coming to an end —whether exiting or seeking renewal.

It is an important tool to promote and safeguard women’s land rights and to ensure effective engagement with businesses that can advance human rights.


Francine Picard Mukazi is policy advisor on agriculture and investment at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)