MUMBAI, Aug 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Indian state of Maharashtra will give women slum dwellers equal ownership rights with men, the first such move by the state where millions live in the very poor neighbourhoods.
About 55 slums in the city of Nagpur will be regularised under a plan to recognise the more than 25,000 families who live there as legal residents. Each family will be given a land title that gives joint ownership to the man and woman, a senior official said.
"We have given land titles in the past to slum dwellers, but this time the titles will have the name of the woman as well," said Shrawan Hardikar, commissioner at the Nagpur municipal corporation.
"We wish to empower women with equal rights to property as men. Especially for the poorest of the poor who live in slums, land and property are a means of security," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Hundreds of millions of people live in slums in Indian cities because they cannot afford to buy or rent a home. They are often migrant workers who move in search of better economic opportunities.
Many live in shacks with no running water or toilets, under the constant threat of eviction or displacement.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis last week said Nagpur's lead may be applied to slums across the state.
While Indian law gives women equal ownership rights to land and property, women are seldom aware of their rights and are often denied access, said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network in India.
"We welcome this move to give joint ownership titles, but while these rights exist on paper, in reality women aren't allowed to access these rights," said Chaudhry.
"These steps need to be accompanied by ways to increase women's awareness of their rights and some measure of protection of these rights. Implementation also needs to be monitored to ensure women are really able to access these rights," she said.
India ranked 59 of 128 countries in the International Property Rights Index 2016. The index measures factors including the legal and political environment, physical property rights and intellectual property rights.
India fared particularly badly in areas such as gender equality that measured women's access to land and to bank loans for property, as well as inheritance rights for widows and daughters.
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)