Marginalised people's land rights and access: ethnic minorities, the poor and women


The poor, ethnic minorities and women in particular suffer marginalisation that is exacerbated by circumscribed access to land and insecurity of tenure. Ethnic minority land use practices, notably shifting cultivation, are criminalised, while citizenship issues and outright discrimination and ethnic chauvinism have excluded or displaced minorities from access to resources as majority farmers have increasingly availed themselves of land and other resources since upland margins have become more accessible. In some cases, security-oriented programs have distanced ethnic minority communities from land and other resources that are the basis of their livelihoods. Women have seen customary rights in land weakened by formalisation that privileges officially designated heads of households, who are usually male. Decisions and meetings often mainly involve men, and land use planning can neglect land-based resources that are primarily in women's work domains.

Key reform issues:

  • Recognition of ethnic minority land-based livelihood practices in establishing tenure rights based on existing land use
  • Support for indigenous and other ethnic minority claims to land and farming practices thereon
  • Appraisal of investment projects with specific reference to impacts on land tenure security for women and ethnic minorities
  • Legal recognition of women's tenure over household land
  • Inclusion of women in relevant public meetings and decisions affecting land use and tenure

Current critique and debate:

Land titling programs have been criticised for potentially marginalising women, but in some cases (eg Laos) there are more women's names on title deeds than men's. Nevertheless, there are often discrepancies between customary practice and official registration with regard to gender, for example in inheritance. Elsewhere, particularly in Vietnam, women continue to be marginalised in formal household-held land use registration certificates. There is thus considerable debate over the gender implications of land formalisation. Similarly, ethnic minorities suffer disproportionate insecurity in land tenure, but the reasons for such insecurity are embedded in wider societal discrimination, the status of lands and land use practices commonly associated with minorities, as well as the incorporation of many minorities into marketised systems that have their own inherent processes of accumulation and dispossession. Simplified representations of marginalisation based on ethnicity and gender are thus subject to challenge.

Open extended synopsis in new tab

Download the bibliography: