By Zoe Tabary
WASHINGTON - Millions of women worldwide are still unable to access and own land despite laws recognising their rights, researchers and campaigners said on Monday as they urged countries to bridge the gap between policy and practice.
Patriarchal attitudes towards women and girls and a lack of knowledge of their own rights "prevent millions of women from owning land", said Victoria Stanley, senior rural development specialist at the World Bank.
"Only 30 percent of the world's population own land titles, and women are often the least likely to have any land registered," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of a World Bank conference in Washington, D.C.
"Stand for her land", a campaign launched on Monday by the World Bank and advocacy groups including Landesa and Habitat for Humanity International, aims to change that by promoting better implementation of land laws for women.
Globally, more than 400 million women farm, yet only about 15 percent of farmland is owned by women, according to Landesa.
That inequality exposes women to all manner of rights abuses, rights activists say.
Throughout rural areas in Zimbabwe, for example, widows routinely find themselves harassed and exploited by in-laws claiming the property their husbands left behind.
Although Zimbabwe's constitution gives women and men equal rights to property and land, in many rural communities tradition overrides national legislation, experts say.
Godfrey Massey of Landesa Tanzania said the existence of laws in itself does not necessarily translate into better access to land for women.
"Women can own land just as men, but few women are aware of this in Tanzania," he said, calling for more initiatives at the community level to raise awareness of land rights.
"We've seen trainings lead to a rise in women joining village land councils or realising that their husband can't mortgage the family land without their consent," he said.
Rajan Samuel of Habitat for Humanity India said that efforts to improve land rights must acknowledge cultural norms like India's centuries-old Hindu caste system.
"You can have all the policies in the world, if you don't engage the community from day one you won't succeed," he said.