By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK, March 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Can land rights for women drive down child marriage and domestic violence?
"Yes and more", says an international group of land and property rights specialists who are due in Washington this week to discuss how improved land management can reduce global poverty and foster development.
When women have rights to land, argues Klaus Deininger, a lead economist and organizer of this week's World Bank conference, children's health and education improves, household resources increase and there are fewer child brides as daughters do not need to be married off young for financial reasons.
Equally, women with land rights tend to have savings accounts, a factor that reduces domestic violence.
"If women have stronger bargaining power, they actually can resist. Their husbands will think twice before beating them because they can move out and take their money with them," Deininger said.
Organizers say the conference will focus on women and property with particular emphasis on gender equality and land rights which are key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The goals, adopted by the United Nations last September, provide the foundations for an ambitious plan to tackle the world's most troubling problems over the next 15 years.
Land and property rights experts say when women are included in a nation's land ownership, there can be far reaching impacts.
In sub-Saharan Africa, women make up more than half of the agricultural workforce, yet fewer than one in five own farms, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
But if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) says.
According to Rodney Schmidt of the Rights and Resources Initiative, a global coalition that works on forest and land policy reform, more than half the world's land is still held under age-old customary arrangements often arranged by gender.
Traditionally, women are most often engaged in producing and collecting food, and as such, women do play a major role in how land is used, he said.
When foreign companies enter the picture, buying land from local governments, they can find themselves on a collision course with resident communities, he added.
"These women and their families and men are watching their livelihoods disappear," Schmidt said. "You have the seeds there of major social conflict."
Some 1,400 delegates representing governments, the private sector, academia and non-governmental organisations are expected at the World Bank land and poverty conference from March 14-18, organizers said. (Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Paola Totaro and Katie Nguyen; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)