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Dec 10 2020

OPINION: Why governments should strengthen land rights for women and youth

This article was originally published by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

By Grace Ananda and Tizai Mauto

From domestic violence to low wages, insecure land rights exacerbate inequalities

In the past year, the global community has been forced to learn many hard truths, brought on by COVID-19 and its immediate fallout. One of the cruelest truths has been the ways that the deadly virus has seemingly doubled-down on existing threats to human rights.

And so it is that stay-at-home orders to fight the spread of the virus were accompanied by dire warnings of a global surge in gender-based violence. Women widowed by the coronavirus lost their husbands and then their land. Lockdowns left millions without work – and low-wage workers bore the brunt of the economic fallout.

These injustices existed before COVID-19, but the pandemic has acted as a force multiplier, ratcheting up pressures on human rights into a crisis virtually unprecedented in modern memory.

And each of these problems share another commonality: insecure rights to land served to further exacerbate and deepen existing inequalities.

Thus, it comes as no surprise as the world observes International Human Rights Day on Thursday, Dec. 10, that this year’s theme, “Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights”  reflects the need to center recovery efforts on improving human rights. As the above examples illustrate, the global community should begin by standing up for land rights for women and youth.

Renewing the platform for action

The year 2020 had women’s rights and feminist organizations from all over the world ready to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the landmark Beijing Platform for Action and its 12 critical areas for improving gender equality, with renewed hope and optimism for progress for women and men, girls and boys. Unfortunately, the outbreak of COVID-19 has revealed just how fragile such gains can be.

What’s needed now is a second Platform for Action, focused on the specific needs of the world’s youth.

Prior to COVID-19, young women and men in many parts of the world already faced an uphill climb in realizing their economic, social, and political rights.

The pandemic has made things worse: more than one in six young people are out of work due to COVID-19, which could lead to a “lockdown generation” – a significant number of young people with limited rights, employment, educational and mental health opportunities.

In Africa, where 60 percent of the population is 35 and under, both the challenges and the opportunity are enormous. First, the challenges: Each year, 10-12 million young Africans enter the labor market, but only 3 million formal wage jobs are created, leaving millions unemployed or underemployed. These conditions trap millions of youth in poverty, fuels migration out of Africa, and sows conflict across the continent.

But Africa’s 420 million youth also represent a tantalizing opportunity for policymakers – a “demographic dividend” that could grow agricultural productivity, improve food security, and transform the economy.

Securing youth land rights is vital to ensure productive youth engagement in agriculture and land-based livelihoods, particularly in Africa, where the majority of youth live and work in rural areas and small towns where agriculture is a central source of livelihoods.

COVID-19 has further constrained young people and especially young women’s ability to access and exercise various rights. Securing youth land rights is an integral part of young people’s economic, social and civic participation rights which have been eroded by the pandemic.

Doing so will also help governments mark progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those concerning poverty alleviation, gender equality, and employment opportunities (Goals 1, 5, and 8).

There are other key levers for ensuring the realization and fulfillment of youth rights in national, regional, and global COVID-19 recovery efforts.

The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT) calls on governments to implement equitable tenure rights for all, including young women and men.

And land rights are central to achieving the goals set forth in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which prioritizes equitable development and the achievement of a more modern, profitable and productive agriculture.

It is within our power to answer the urgent appeal of this year’s Human Rights Day, to recover better and to stand up for human rights. By rallying governments, donor institutions, civil society and other stakeholders to work collaboratively and fulfill the promises set forth in the SDGs and the AU’s Agenda 2063, we can help end the inequalities that have been surfaced by COVID-19, restore human rights and build the future we all want.

Grace Ananda is a women’s land rights and gender expert with extensive experience in policy, influencing, and advocacy engagements around the African Union, the Regional Economic Bloc, civil society organizations and governments.

Tizai Mauto, Land Tenure & Youth Specialist for Landesa, provides land policy analysis and implementation expertise on rural land tenure security and the importance of youth access to land for improving livelihoods and promoting economic development.

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