Empowering women landowners in Bangladesh
“Communities are now respecting me and know that I fought... and won.” – Talisma Begum
In Bangladesh, women’s ownership of land gives them access to income and resources, as well as respect within their communities and family. As Lippi Rahman, Executive Director of Badabon Sangho said, “Land and assets give them decision-making power within the family”.
This sometimes puts the women at risk of displacement as they are pressured to sell their lands. Talisma Begum, a landowner in Rampal district, said:
“[When] I was not willing to sell my lands with minimum prices, each day brokers harass me in many ways. They [even] tried to influence my husband and male relatives.”
She is among many women facing high risk of displacement and harassment due to aggressive public and private land investments in south-west Bangladesh. Lipi Rahman explained:
“Firstly, there are series of harassment before displacing women landowners from the land… [This leads to] local people blaming the women and pressuring them into signing land transfer deed. Generally, women’s only coping mechanism was to keep quiet and not argue.”
To tackle this problem, Badabon Sangho, a women-led organization created in 2015, is implementing a project to improve women’s control over their land and water resources, to prevent violence and potential displacement. The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) is supporting this initiative through a special funding window set up to address violence against women and girls in the context of the current forced displacement and refugee crisis.
Badabon Sangho is focusing on three areas: prevention of violence; improved services for women survivors; and policy advocacy. In particular, it is:
- building awareness of gender-based violence, land rights and official land ownership documentation through consultations, group meetings and courtyard sessions;
- providing legal aid support to women survivors while recording cases of violence and build the capacity of police and local commission to improve service delivery in land right conflicts; and
- supporting the Women’s Land Rights Network, which includes 14 women’s rights organizations and groups, to further advocate for new policies and address land conflict-induced violence against women.
Talisma Begum said that Badabon Sangho’s rapid support, including through legal aid and assistance with key stakeholders, helped her negotiate fairly and with dignity – and to win by selling her lands at a high price. In September 2021, 22 women landowners had been supported to protect their lands from private corporations' investments. Etsehiwot Eguale, Portfolio Manager at the UN Trust Fund highlights:
“Badabon Sangho’s focus on land rights draws attention to a type of violence, i.e economic violence, that needs more attention.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lockdown measures devastated incomes and left women and girls, particularly in remote areas, more at risk of starvation, displacement and violence, including sexual and domestic violence and early marriage. Etsehiwot Eguale explains, “Existing gender inequalities leave women more vulnerable to COVID-19-related economic effects”.
Meanwhile, Badabon Sangho has had to quickly adapt its interventions including, among others, reallocating some of its budget, with the support of the UN Trust Fund, to provide emergency food and seed money to the most vulnerable women and girls.