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Center for Human Rights - Celebrating 15 Years! Students • Partners • Research

Access to Justice for Women in Agricultural Livelihoods

November 18, 2015

On October 15, the UW Center for Human Rights (UWCHR) hosted a panel presentation with locally-based non-profit Landesa, an organization that works to secure land rights and promote social justice in some of the world’s most remote and impoverished areas. For its incredible work, Landesa was awarded the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, a $2 million prize “established to recognize organizations that make extraordinary contributions to alleviating human suffering.” Hearty congratulations to our colleagues! As long-term partners, UWCHR and Landesa seek to educate and engage the UW community in discussions of land rights, poverty and justice by sharing professional expertise with the UW and local community. This past presentation given by visiting professionals from different parts of the world was focused on “access to justice for women in agricultural livelihoods.”

All three panelists, who hailed from Kenya, India and China, shared that there are existing laws and regulations that could provide rights and justice to women, but accessing and utilizing those laws are difficult. Obtaining and providing justice is difficult because of limited resources on all sides. In some cases, for example, governments have passed laws that would benefit women, but they fall short in providing the resources necessary to enforce those laws. Jackqueline Osiako Ingutiah shared that in the case of Kenya, “I come from a city where the courts are full. You have one judge hearing over fifty cases in one day. And there is only one judge covering about 10 million people.” Often enough, the resources people need are located in urban areas, posing a very real challenge to people who live in rural places. Also, there are very few regulations for how land rights laws are implemented, so when rights are violated, people do not know to which agency they can submit their grievances. And oftentimes, the employees within the agency have not been adequately trained to respond to complaints.

Landesa Panel 2015

Ran Hao shared that in China, the general situation of women’s land rights are equal to that of the men, in theory.  But in practice, women are actually deprived of land rights due to social norms and customary biases which prevent women from exercising or even accessing those rights.  In one example, land rights are allocated to a household, but such allocations occur through a designated head of the household which is usually a man. Oftentimes, if the state takes a household’s land, the state compensates the family, but that compensation goes to the head of the household, leaving women quite vulnerable.

Speakers also addressed how, in some cases, informal or traditional justice systems have been used to assist women where the formal system failed. In the case of India, Ranjana Das shares that, informal or tribal justice systems have helped women in the fight for forest resources. However, these systems have been largely against women. Honor killings, where the homicide of a family member by others, due to the belief that the victim has brought shame or dishonor upon the family, community or religion is one example. Because informal or tribal justice systems have been harmful to women, especially in the form of violence against women, in one part of India where Ranjana Das works, they are trying to “promote more and more women-led bodies” in order to help protect women’s rights. But it is a mixed experience in the case of India because some of the informal systems are patriarchical and the women who come from these societies see the family interest as unique and important and the do not see women’s interest as their primary interest. In other parts of the world, sometimes, it is not clear where informal justice systems end and where the formal justice system begins in terms of jurisdiction.

The panel moderator, Jen Duncan, an attorney and land rights expert at Landesa, summed up the event in sharing: “I think one of the most exciting areas of research in this general field right now is looking at best comparative practices for how informal or traditional justice systems have in fact work well to protect women’s right. We are doing some of that research and others are doing other parts of that research, but it is a really important area for further investigation and sharing.”


Jacqueline Osiako Ingutiah is an advocate of the high court of Kenya with over ten years’ experience working on women’s rights issues. As a senior legal counsel with the Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (FIDA), Jacqueline oversees and implements the women’s land rights component of FIDA’s Access to Justice Program. In this role, she provides legal advice and court representation, including strategic impact litigation, to impoverished women who have suffered land and property violations. In addition to legal aid services, Jacqueline conducts capacity building training for varied audiences, including councils of elders, judicial officers, law enforcement officers, land officers, and community members on women’s land rights; and she has been engaged in lobbying for legislative and policy reform on women’s land rights in Kenya and at the continental level.

Ran Hao has dedicated her academic career to law studies, receiving a LLB and LLM, the latter in international economic law, from Nanjing University and a PhD from the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), where she focused on civil and commercial law. From 2003–2005, Ran Hao worked part-time in a postdoctoral capacity at the Law School of Beijing University and since 2003 has been working in the Law Institute of CASS. There, she has focused on researching Anglo-American property law, as well as Chinese rural land law and social law, examining in particular China’s versatile laws on rural land rights and how legal tools can support the economic development of peasants.

Ranjana Das has devoted her twelve-year career in India’s development sector to numerous women’s rights issues: women and livelihoods, gender and social exclusion, maternal and child health, and sexuality and violence against women. Ranjana has extensive knowledge in the designing, planning, and monitoring and evaluation of programs—with particular expertise in research and documentation—and provides leadership on gender mainstreaming at the organizational and programmatic level.  Currently, Ranjana is a program coordinator in Oxfam India’s Odisha office, where her responsibilities include designing advocacy programs and campaigns supporting the rights of female farmers.

Panel Moderated by Jennifer Duncan, senior attorney and land rights expert who directs the Africa Program at Landesa.

This event was sponsored by the Henry M. Jackson School’s: Center for Global Studies, East Asia Center, South Asia Center, African Studies and China Studies; and the Gates Public Service Law Program.