Commitments, collaboration and connections – takeaways from a Strategy Workshop on Women’s Rights to Land and the Rio Conventions

Article by Annabel Kennedy, Project Coordinator – Green Livelihoods Alliance ‘Forests for a Just Future’ (GLA); cover photo by Manuel Frauendorf

During 3-5 July 2023, I had the privilege to participate in a Strategy Workshop on Women’s Land Rights and the Rio Conventions (climate change [UNFCCC]; biological diversity [UNCBD]; and combatting desertification [UNCCD]). Co-organised by the TMG Think Tank for Sustainability, the Robert Bosch Foundation, and the UN Convention on Combatting Desertification, the workshop was the first time that actors working across the three conventions were brought together to exchange and develop concrete actions on strengthening women’s land rights. 

The issues of land ownership, rights and governance are deeply connected with WECF’s and our partners’ work on climate action, sustainable development, food security and various other areas. Particularly in our engagement as gender technical partners of the Green Livelihoods Alliance ‘Forests for a Just Future’ (GLA) programme, we work with partners to address systemic challenges which prevent women in all their diversity from enjoying their rights to land. With the view that strengthening women’s land rights supports “reducing systemic inequalities, mitigating and adapting to climate change, and conserving biodiversity through nature conservation, sustainable land management and restoration”, the workshop was therefore a valuable opportunity to learn and exchange on the thematic areas which feature in WECF’s action and advocacy.  

“The global sustainability agenda is built on land use, but it doesn’t consider who owns the land”

Presentations and panel discussions identifying how women’s land rights are integrated into the frameworks of the three conventions set the scene during the first day. Key to discussions was the idea that land is at the heart of the transformations needed to address the multiple crises we face. Alexander Müller, founder and managing director of TMG Research, noted that “the global sustainability agenda is built on land use, but it doesn’t consider who owns the land”. We therefore need to be alert to who owns or governs the land, who is at higher risk of dispossession, whose voices are missing or silenced, and whose rights – land or otherwise – are already not guaranteed.

Photo by Manuel Frauendorf  

Together with colleagues from the UNCCD Youth Caucus and the UNCBD Women’s Caucus, WECF had been invited as a member of the UNFCCC Women & Gender Constituency (WGC) to take part in a panel discussion addressing the provisions, gaps and needs for women’s land rights per Convention. It was striking that, despite being a key issue for mitigation and adaptation, land rights are rarely explicitly named within the UNFCCC framework and decisions.  

First, to mention what does exist: the enhanced Lima Work Programme on Gender and its Gender Action Plan (GAP) is key, particularly the activities planned for implementation such as: 

  • facilitating access to climate finance for grassroots women’s organisations 
  • protecting local, Indigenous and traditional knowledge 
  • engaging with women’s groups, movements and institutions during the development and implementation of policies and strategies 
  • collecting disaggregated data and undertaking gender analysis.  

Despite this, there are a number of gaps and work areas which could further threaten women’s land rights if not handled carefully – for example, Article 6 on market and non-market mechanisms. In a policy brief, the WGC identified that instruments such as emissions trading and carbon offsetting are often linked to land grabbing and human rights violations. When such carbon offsets are ‘achieved’ through industrial tree planting schemes, the resulting monoculture tree plantations harm rather than strengthen biodiversity. There is a need to mainstream gender-just and rights-based approaches, plus pay more attention to non-market mechanisms, of which strengthening women’s land rights is a prime example.  

While gender-just solutions already exist, building political will is often half the battle

I also mentioned the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture. Despite women and girls’ vital roles as farmers, peasant and food producers, they are often systematically excluded from owning the land they use. At the recent Bonn intersessional meeting, Parties appeared unwilling to have even basic language on gender and this was removed from the proposed text. Throughout the land rights workshop, this was a recurring theme: while gender-just solutions already exist, building political will is often half the battle. Rather than focusing on controversial technological solutions like ‘climate-smart agriculture’, Parties should support approaches like agroecology. This is just one of the sustainable practices more likely to be implemented by women in all their diversity when they own and make decisions about the land they use.

Photo by Manuel Frauendorf  

After many interesting presentations from diverse stakeholders, attention turned to breakout group work with the objective to formulate concrete actions to address five broad issues: approaches needed for strengthening the work of (grassroots) civil society organisations; aligning and building synergies between the work of the National Focal Points; coordinating joint advocacy on women’s land rights; best practices on gender-responsive land rights assessments and meaningful participation/leadership of women; and developing innovative funding approaches which support work on women’s land rights. 

In the Civil Society Organisations (CSO) group, we first noted that many CSOs operate in a challenging civic space environment. Diverse and multiple solutions are necessary to create a more favourable environment, including but not limited to financial, technical and legal support. There is a need to channel more flexible and holistic funding directly towards grassroots women’s organisations, and this funding should cover not only direct project expenses, but also coordination and operational costs. We discussed alternatives to traditional funding models such as sub-granting and developing innovative reporting mechanisms. 

Women’s knowledge, perspectives, needs and priorities must be at the heart of decision-making at all levels

We agreed that mapping initiatives and actors plus stimulating collaboration can strengthen work on women’s land rights, avoid double work, and make visible existing projects which could benefit from increased support. At the international level, the women’s caucuses and constituencies of the Rio Conventions (plus other groups like the Women’s Major Group) can learn from each other and will benefit from increased knowledge sharing, exchanges and coordination of our work. 

Photo by Manuel Frauendorf

I highlighted the Gender Just Climate Solutions award as a great example of showcasing best practices, strengthening women’s capacity to scale their initiatives plus supporting their meaningful participation in high-level policy processes. It is vital that they are supported to be part of these processes so that their contributions are taken seriously. Women’s knowledge, perspectives, needs and priorities must be at the heart of decision-making at all levels.  

On the final day, participants reflected on the summary documents that had been produced by each group. I particularly took note of ‘four Cs’: collaboration, coordination, capacity and commitment. During the closing session, CSO representatives highlighted the well-known saying of ‘nothing about us without us’. The three days of joint work, open conversations and new connections were deeply inspiring, and I am thankful to the co-organisers for bringing together diverse stakeholders to deepen our commitment to the vitally important topic of women’s land rights.  

An excellent overview of the various discussions can be read on the TMG Thinktank website Blog – Harnessing Synergies and Mobilizing Joint Action: A Historic First Workshop on Women’s Land Rights with all Three Rio Conventions | TMG Think Tank for Sustainability (  

Examples of our partners’ work on land rights can be found across our website, such as CFLEDD’s work on women’s land rights in DRC and ARUWE’s work to sensitise communities on land rights