The Hamilton Lugar School hosted the launch of an expert toolkit to advance women’s land and property rights as part of a global effort to connect international human rights mechanisms to advocates working at the local level. Co-hosted by the Global Initiative for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR), the HLS Tobias Center, and the Kenya Land Alliance, the panel of practitioners and HLS students presented their findings that included practical steps to bring about tangible changes in policy and practice.
The toolkit uses Kenya as a case study for how international legal mechanisms can be used by civil society and grassroots organization to advance women’s rights and human rights. This case study, developed by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), has broad-ranging implications and recommendations for how other governments and NGOs can promote gender equality.
Advancing women’s land rights is a “key element to ending endemic social and economic injustices for women,” said Lucy McKernan, the Geneva Representative of the GI-ESCR.
International treaty bodies such as CEDAW, McKernan added, can be transformative. Used by those working at the local level to advance their causes, these international structures can help “uplift women’s status in a fundamental way.”
Two HLS students who participated in the Convention on the Status of Women at the UN in 2019 and contributed to the report on Kenya that informed this toolkit also provided their perspectives.
Ivy Moore, now in her first year of law school at Duke, argued that CEDAW is a “beacon of hope” that “speaks to an obvious but often overlooked point that women’s rights are human rights.”
After working on CEDAW, a rare treaty that speaks specifically to the needs and rights of women, Moore said she learned that “we must broaden narrow social protections for women, that we must make conditional social protections unconditional, that intersectionality must be highlighted in policy, and that we must look for long-term solutions to the various forces holding women back across the globe.”
Morgan Hoffman, a current senior at HLS studying International Studies and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, carried the lessons of CEDAW to Bloomington, where she has created Room at the Table, which brings students, local residents, and asylees’ families together for a meal. Aimed at “promoting cross-cultural awareness and combatting xenophobia,” this grassroots approach to organizing can have a powerful effect on local communities.
Shina Mtsumi, a policy and legal officer at GI-ESCR, presented the toolkit, an accessible collection of observations and recommendations for human rights advocates around the world to use.
Based on her own experience in in Kenya, Mtsumi was optimistic about the usefulness of the toolkit, which includes sections on national programs, marriage and family relations, and rural land ownership. The observations and recommendations, she said, can help curb stereotypes and harmful practices and provide a basis for favorable decisions in the courts.
Faith Alubbe, CEO of the Kenya Land Alliance, concurred with the importance of these international frameworks in local court decisions. She referred to a landmark case in Kenya in which a judge—informed by international recommendations—awarded part of a deceased father’s estate to his six daughters even though traditionally women were excluded from inheriting land.
Jessica Oluoch, a senior officer for a Kenyan NGO, said that civil society organizations have “a huge role to play” in helping make this progress.
The interaction between international institutions, national political bodies, and local groups is crucial to advancing women’s rights, and this toolkit can provide a basis for measurable progress.