BlogField Focus Blog

Aug 12 2015

Brazil’s Women Leaders Meet to Discuss: The Intersection of Interests for Women’s Land Rights

Scores of women leaders from across Brazil, including indigenous and Afro-Brazilian, rural and urban, from government and civil society, gathered in Recife, the capital of the Brazilian state of Pernambuco last week to call for concrete indicators focused on women’s economic empowerment to be among the measures of progress toward the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A plot of farmland in Brazil

A plot of farmland in Brazil

The SDGs are currently under discussion at the United Nations and will replace the existing Millennium Development Goals which are set to expire this year. The SDGs will be the roadmap and framework to guide our global development efforts in the next 15 years. Last week’s gathering was part of a series of convenings in the global south aimed at creating awareness among women and civil society organizations who work on women’s issues. The goal is for them to be aware of the SDG process and support their participation in defining indicators and implementation approaches. The next convening will be held in Tanzania on Friday.

Our five big takeaways from the event are:

  • The women’s movement, the land rights movement, and the environmental movement have a huge “intersection of interests” that has enormous potential to be turned into concrete political strategies and targeted actions in Brazil (and we suspect everywhere). This intersection has transformational potential.
  • This “intersection” on women’s land rights, which connects a diversity of stakeholder interests and approaches—rural, urban, feminist, agro-ecological, capitalist, socialist, technocratic – might make for some unusual alliances, requiring a deep process of learning and exchange among stakeholders. It is clear that a broad coalition with substantial state support already exists for land rights and women’s rights. That said, there are multiple agendas that perhaps could be further united and prioritized to good effect based on the common goals set in the SDGs translated into this local context.
  • The process of strengthening women’s land rights must, by necessity, be part of a broader change in legal infrastructure, which will change political and power relationships broadly in societies and serve to support women’s land and property rights and access to justice in urban and rural settings.
  • We need to ensure that the indicators of progress toward the new SDGs are feasible and provide meaningful information and can unite diverse stakeholders around a framework of accountability. Further, we need indicators that measure progress for women specifically. A global coalition of organizations, have proposed just such a pair of indicators that are meaningful, universal, and cross cutting. These indicators measure the percentage of women (and men, and indigenous peoples and local communities) who have documented rights to land and the percentage of women (and men, and IP, and LC) who perceive they have secure rights to land. Such indicators help track progress towards three Sustainable Development Goals: food security, poverty eradication, and women’s economic empowerment. There are a number of high-level discussions, including at the World Bank, on how to collect this data. One promising model, not discussed at the convening but of interest to us, is FinDex, an innovative survey that measures financial inclusion around the world.
  • Our final take away is that, the energy for implementation is going to ultimately come from the grassroots, from the political mobilization of the diverse groups that are fighting for women’s land rights in places like Pernambuco. Building new alliances for this process will be crucial for success. Land issues are full of local legal and historical complexity. Global commitments can shine a light into these local conditions and challenges and give them a platform of support. The old phrase “think globally, act locally,” encapsulates how this is going to work.

The convening, on August 7th, was co-sponsored by the Brazil’s Espaco FeministaLandesathe Haiurou CommissionInternational Land Coalition, and Pernambuco’s state land agency (Iterpe), in advance of the United Nations General Assembly in September, at which time the UN will adopt the final SDGs.

The diverse voices in Pernambuco showed that progress on women’s land rights calls for a big tent. Activists articulated several pathways to both women’s empowerment and environmental sustainability. The agendas proposed included agrarian reforms for impoverished, disempowered rural women; addressing the housing crisis in Brazil’s cities; strengthening smallholder agriculture; and accelerating the process of recognizing indigenous and quilombolaland rights (land rights for the descendants of Afro-Brazilian slaves). Our alliances are going to have to be broad, flexible, and tolerant of a multiplicity of viewpoints but at the same time remain focused on the long-term goal of strengthening women’s rights to the most important asset in their communities – land.


Patricia Chaves is the executive director of Espaço Feminista, a Brazilian feminist NGO dedicated to the economic and political empowerment of women

Malcolm Childress is the Sr. Practice Manager for Urban and Environment at Land Alliance, Inc

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