In the Masterpiece series “Downton Abbey,“ Lady Mary Crawley, the eldest daughter of an Earl, cannot inherit the eponymous estate because she is a woman. She finds this demeaning and frustrating, but her future will be well taken care of regardless. This isn’t the case for millions of women around the world, who struggle to access, own, and inherit the tiny plots of land on which they live and work.
In China, women actually have equal rights to inherit and own land, yet rarely ever do. A recent survey in 17 Chinese provinces, undertaken by the global land rights group Landesa, found that only 17.1 percent of existing land contracts and 38.2 percent of existing land certificates include women’s names.
A gap-filled land registration system has meant that the country’s 700 million mostly poor and rural farmers often lack the legal documents for the land on which they toil. Rapid urbanization has set in motion a pattern of “land grabs,“ depriving an estimated three to four million farmers of their land every year. While land rights in China remain a broad-scale class issue, of the few that do have legal protection for their land, hardly any are women.
“Women in rural China are still in a vulnerable position,” says Xiaobei Wang, a Gender and Land Tenure Specialist for Landesa. “Most of them are not fully aware of their legal rights on land or the importance of including their names in legal documents so they seldom assert their rights in land registration by requesting that their names be included.”
These are timely findings given that a nascent land rights revolution in the country has begun. In late-2011, the continued struggles of dispossessed farmers came to a head with an historic village rebellion, signaling to the Chinese government and to the world that something finally had to change. Now, government officials are rolling out a massive initiative to register each plot of land with certificates of ownership in the hopes of protecting poor farmers. Read the rest of this entry →