Securing Women’s Land and Property Rights: A Critical Step to Address HIV, Violence and Food Security

Open Society Foundations


This briefing paper examines the importance of women’s land and property rights in the contexts of HIV and AIDS, violence against women and food security. Land and property rights increase women’s autonomy—decreasing their dependence on men and entrapment in abusive relationships, enabling greater control over sexual relations and improving their ability to produce food for themselves and their families. The paper examines where and how these rights are protected under international human rights standards and offer strategies to help women effectively claim and enforce their rights.

Key Findings:

In order for women’s equality to be achieved, rights must be protected in both law and practice. Making rights a reality for women requires working both to strengthen the legal standards that protect women’s rights and transforming biased cultural norms and practices that discriminate against women. Effective strategies to help claim these rights for women should:

  • Take it to court. It is critical to challenge discriminatory laws that violate the constitution and international human rights treaties in court, making these protections meaningful. The court can strike down discriminatory provisions and move the legislature to action.
  • Make the law work for women. Pressure governments to repeal laws that discriminate against women and to adopt new laws that protect women’s land and property rights.
  • Impact policy. Bring international human rights instruments that protect women’s land and property rights to the attention of national and local government officials. It is critical that women’s secure rights to land and property are integrated into national strategies to address HIV, violence against women and food security. Moreover, state authorities at all levels are obligated to ensure that policy development and implementation is participatory and reflects women’s rights and priorities.
  • Invest in implementation. Good laws and policies are only the first step for change on the ground. Awareness-raising and trainings form an essential part of the implementation strategy around any law or policy reform, as it is vital to ensuring that rights-holders know about and are able to claim their rights.
  • Provide a remedy. For good laws to have impact, they must be enforced and there needs to be a remedy for violations. To increase access to justice and provide holistic care, legal services should be integrated into health care settings. This has proven particularly effective when it comes to helping women impacted by HIV.
  • Advance women’s empowerment. Women must evaluate unequal power relations at all level and challenge them. Often women are socialised to think that they are lesser than men or that demanding their legal rights will threaten the social fabric. Therefore, it is vital to support women to challenge those unequal power relations and encourage them to view themselves as equal rights-holders, worthy of dignity and respect.
  • Make change at the local level. Train community watchdogs and paralegals to protect women’s rights at the local level. Other good strategies include engagement with customary justice structures within communities and participatory community mapping and documentation, which enables grassroots women’s organisations to document community knowledge about local land issues and develop projects that lead to advocacy and action planning.


Open Society Foundations (2014). Security Women’s Land and Property Rights: A Critical Step to Address HIV, Violence and Food Security. New York: Open Society Foundations.