Will the Generation Equality Forum deliver for women’s Rights?

Naomi Shadrack Agriculture, Gender

The global movement for gender equality, also known as the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) is now in full speed. It is structured around six Action Coalitions: innovative multi-stakeholder partnerships involving governments, international organizations, civil society and youth-led organizations, as well as private sector companies and philanthropic foundations.

It is the continuation of efforts toward keeping the promises of the Beijing Platform for Action the most visionary agenda for the empowerment of women and girls, everywhere, to all of society. The Forum plans to launch a series of concrete, specific and ambitious commitments to accelerate progress towards gender equality in the next five years.

As someone who has worked on women’s land rights for over a decade, I can’t stop asking myself ‘Will the Generation Equality Forum deliver for women’s Rights?’. It is an important question, as different stakeholders are making commitments. Would it finish the business which the Beijing platform for action could not finish for the past 25 years? On women’s land and territory rights, I have seen stories of murder and evictions, each typically deepen, and entrench, violations of women’s rights and women bear the burden more deeply than men.

Women’s land and territory rights is one of the areas where we have seen women’s rights being violated and disregarded. While GEF leaders, including governments, corporations and other stakeholders are making commitments over the next five years, it is important for considering all forms of violence women experience and not only focus on the relationship between women and men. My experience of over a decade working on women’s land rights I see the importance of focusing on unequal power on land and territory ownership, access, and control.

For grassroots women’s groups and indigenous women whose lives highly depend on their land and territory, they see their land and territory as an extension of their bodies, so they equate violence against their territories as violence against their own bodies.

Thus, attacks and violence against their land is another form of violence against women. Land is the basis of their identity, dignity, livelihoods, housing, food, local knowledge, and sense of security. Secure access and use and control of land are critical to embedding a system of rights, responsibilities, and relationships to the natural world. These allow us to imagine and invest in an environmentally sustainable and socially just future.

When land and territory rights are violated by powerful institutions, this typically deepens, and entrenches, violations of women’s rights and women bear the burden more deeply than men.

Inequality and the abuse of power cannot be siloed. Feminism has taught us this, it is not only about the relationship between women and men. GEF commitments should ensure power is taken into the equation when dealing with women’s land and territorial rights issues: women in forest issues, women in extractives and those that work in food systems. It is important to target cultural norms which hinder women’s realisation of their rights, but it is equally important to challenge big companies and institutions which are the result of violence and discrimination women are experiencing.

GEF should lead us to a fundamental shift in power, in relationships and perceptions, Also acknowledge that it was grassroots, indigenous and women’s movements and women activists that led us, this was the spirit of the Fourth World Conference in 1995, when women gathered in Beijing with the objective of advancing the goals of equality, development, and peace for all women. We follow in their footsteps and hence we must be driven by their priorities – including, at times, directly confronting some of the most powerful groups in their society.

For Generation Equality Forum to deliver for women’s rights in the context of land and natural resources access and governance, we need to:

  • Break the silence over the sexual violence against women land defenders, including women’s land rights defenders, amplify their voices and stories to dispel the incorrect narrative which perpetuates violence against women.
  • Push for women’s voices to be front and centre in decisions about proposed large-scale land-based investments and ensure their meaningful engagement in the whole investment cycle.
  • Ensure that the women’s land rights agenda is not exploited to push for the privatisation of Indigenous, community land and commons. To some women, the land is their life hence it cannot be commodified.
  • Facilitate rural and indigenous women’s access to policy spaces to share their experiences and push their demands, this includes creating a culture where stakeholders can speak openly about gender biases and discrimination in natural resources governance and women’s leadership more broadly.
  • Push for political will for governments to protect women’s land and territorial rights.
  • Companies should commit to demonstrating zero tolerance for violence against women in their supply chains.

Naomi Shadrack

Naomi Shadrack is Oxfam International’s Women’s Land Policy Advisor