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Vietnamese households prosper more when women hold land title - study

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 30 Jan 2014 09:37 GMT
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A woman wearing a conical hat goes past a rice paddy field in Yen Phu village, 20 km (12.5 miles) south of Hanoi, on April 14, 2010. REUTERS/Kham
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WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When women hold land title in rural Vietnam, their households are more prosperous, poverty is less and capital investment levels higher than in households where a man holds sole title, new research has found.

While family economic security improves under private land titling regardless of gender, the benefits are more marked when a woman’s name is on the document than only a man’s, researchers at Rutgers and Brandeis University found.

The findings are among the first to provide strong evidence of the economic benefits of women having documented legal rights to use of land.

The researchers compared household living standards data in Vietnam from 2004 to 2008 with gender on land use documents. They found that household poverty was 6 percent lower, capital expenditure levels 10 percent higher and women’s self employment 6 percent higher when a woman had land-use rights in her own name. Jointly held title also showed improved household economic security over a man holding land title alone.

“The results do provide evidence that when women have their names on the land title, there are beneficial effects for themselves and for their children,” Yana Rodgers, an economist who participated in the research, told a land seminar at the World Bank.

The health of their children also improves, she said. Child illness fell, health insurance coverage rose, school enrolment increased and the amount of household income used for alcohol and tobacco as opposed to food declined when women held the land-use rights, compared with male-only or jointly-held rights, according to the research.

SHIFT IN VIETNAM LAND OWNERSHIP

Gender and land ownership is hotly debated in the development community. According to some estimates, women own less than 15 percent of land worldwide, even though they make up roughly 80 percent of the agricultural workers. But the paucity of data makes it tough to analyse the impact of gender and land ownership on poverty rates.

A large amount of land in developing countries remains undocumented, and when land is titled, the household ownership often is not broken down by gender. Markus Goldstein, a development economist at the World Bank, called Rodgers and her colleagues’ findings “important” in a field where there is little concrete evidence.

But he questioned the mechanisms that might be driving the improvements in household security. For example, there was little to show that land title had strengthened women in Vietnam tapping bank credit for investment purposes.

Vietnam began moving from agricultural cooperatives to private land ownership in the late 1980s, passing a law in 1993 that gave households the power to exchange, lease and mortgage their land-use rights. This spurred one of the largest ever land titling programmes in developing countries, and within seven years, 11 million land-use titles were issued to rural households.

At the same time, women increased their participation in agriculture, which currently supplies jobs for 58 percent of the female labour force in Vietnam, compared with 51 percent of the male work force. These two factors made Vietnam fertile ground to study whether gender in land rights matter for different household outcomes.

Interviews with women in the Mekong Delta who were included in the research confirmed their findings. Women with land were more likely to hold jobs outside the home, and 68 percent said that land rights made them feel more economically secure. Two-thirds also said they felt they had more power over economic decisions such as sale or purchase of agricultural products when their name was on the deed.

The preliminary paper, “Land Reform and Welfare in Vietnam: Why Gender of the Land-Rights Holder Matters”, was researched by Yana Rodgers and Alexis Kennedy at Rutgers University and Nidhiya Menon at Brandeis University.

Memon and Rodgers’ findings on child welfare, conducted with Huong Nguyen, were published in the World Development journal last year.

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