Friday, 13 June 2014

Women’s rights are the true indicators of progress

World leaders are debating on how we can best tackle pressing challenges facing India and the rest of the world.
In their dialogue on the framework to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) — set to expire in 2015 — these leaders must guard against "observational bias". We must carefully select goals and indicators that best guide the fight against global poverty and inequality, and best measure progress, rather than choosing indicators that are less meaningful but can be measured relatively easily.

India is one of the countries taking a lead in determining the shape of the post-2015 development agenda through its role in the Open Working Group. It must use its successful experience with anti-poverty efforts — in particular its leadership in the field of land rights for the landless — to help an informed debate.
Efforts are on to provide poor landless rural families with secure land rights in many states, including West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.
Across India, more than a million rural landless families have obtained land rights. So, India's leaders can join the growing chorus of voices calling for land rights for women and men to be explicitly included in the post-2015 development agenda. Strengthening such rights, particularly for women, can help address multiple development goals.
Most recently, the Open Working Group co-chairs identified rights and access to land, property and other assets and resources as a critical crosscutting issue and priority concern under four focus areas: poverty eradication, gender equality, food security and rule of law. A target to increase and strengthen land rights for women and men will contribute to other goals as well. But we need to meaningfully measure progress.
Take women's land rights in particular. Consider three different ways to measure the extent to which women have secure land rights in any country. One, the degree to which a country's laws recognise women's rights to control, inherit and own land and other productive resources. Two, the ratio of women to men with documented rights to land. Three, the per cent of parcels owned by women.
Measuring legal frameworks may be the easiest route, but is fraught with the potential for false positives.
The existence of non-discriminatory and gender-sensitive legal frameworks, while a critical step, does not necessarily mean that women realise their land rights on an equal basis with men.
For example, India adopted the Hindu Succession Act amendment in 2005, to ensure that daughters enjoy equal rights to inherit their parents' land. Yet, a new study released last month found that a majority of women surveyed did not inherit any land from their parents and did not even know of another woman who had inherited land.
So, there is good reason to consider instead a measurement that better reflects whether women in fact have secure rights to land, such as documented evidence of such rights.
While not perfect, it would reveal whether women are realising their rights on the ground.
But there is a huge difference between measuring the per cent of land titled to women versus measuring the per cent of women who have title or other documentation to land.
  Measuring the per cent of land owned by women in India would, no doubt, be skewed by wealthy urban elites. Such a data point would mask the fact that in India today, nearly 73% of rural women labour in the fields, but only a tiny fraction of them actually have secure rights to the land they rely on.

We need to ensure that current efforts to formulate a new path and identify the missing dimensions of the MDGs are not an exercise in futility.
To ensure that India and other developing countries achieve gains in poverty eradication, gender equality, food security, rule of law and environmental sustainability, we need to focus areas previously largely unmeasured, such as the per cent of women who have documentation of a range of rights to land.
It will ensure that a growing number of women have real secure rights to land and other productive resources and a path out of poverty. 


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